David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
Note that Saul’s inquiry does not concern David, who he knew from his court, but rather David’s family. Saul’s likely initial interest was with which family he would be contending after sending their child to certain death.
55 As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is that young man?” Abner replied, “As surely as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know.” 56 The king said, “Find out whose son this young man is.”
57 As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head. 58 “Whose son are you, young man?” Saul asked him. David said, “I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.”
One can only imagine the shock with which King Saul received this most unlikely conquering hero. Now his interest in David’s family would have turned to with whom was he contending for the fate of his throne.
David’s victory confounded every calculation made by every player in this sordid game. The Philistine’s “win-win” scenario had been transformed into a crushing humiliation that glorified the God Whom they had intended to discredit. David’s three spiteful older brothers had been shown up to be cowards. And, King Saul’s supposed “way out” of the trap had turned into a path of destruction for his reign.
The only person whose spirit remained untainted was David. Note that he does not address the king with pride, but rather in humble submission, “the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.” It is easy to imagine David giving God all the glory for this victory, just as he had while going into single combat against the giant Goliath.
David, though, must also have recalled Samuel’s anointing. Perhaps he saw opening up before him the path to kingship that just a few moments ago had seemed to be an impossibility. Yet that path clearly contained many thickets with deadly thorns. For the Lord God had chosen to leave King Saul in place as a powerful and deadly foe.
And so David started down that path opened up before him by the Lord God. Along the way there would be love, terror, immorality, friendship, death, glory, humiliation and an eternal covenant of blessing. Again and again David would have to count on his own God given wits and prowess to survive. Even so, he would always give the glory to God, by the Spirit’s intervention knowing that “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty.”
Our path forward is no less full of challenge and moral ambiguity than that which faced David. Too many of us Christians choose to be passive in the face of these challenges in order to protect our own idolatrous sense of moral purity. In so doing we become one with the character Captain Vere from Herman Melville’s novella Billy Budd, Sailor, who when faced with a fraught moral decision:
“Very far was he from embracing opportunities for monopolizing to himself the perils of moral responsibility.”