I T was not long before the call came to David; and when it came it found him ready. Saul, the king, still reigned over the people, and still led them to battle; but he was no longer the strong, confident leader, God's chosen servant. Dark hours had come upon him. He sat alone in his tent, his head bowed in sullen misery, a terror to himself and his servants.
"An evil spirit from God troubleth him," whispered the servants one to another. They scarcely dared go near him or speak to him. But at last one ventured to suggest that music might cheer him and help to cast out that evil spirit.
"Let our lord now command thy servants to seek out a man who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well," they said.
Saul caught at this hope at once. "Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him to me," he said eagerly.
Now where should they find this maker of music? Why, of course, said one of the servants, we must send and fetch the shepherd boy David, the son of Jesse, for they say he has wonderful skill, and can not only play the harp, but himself makes the songs which he sings.
So the shepherd boy was brought to the king's darkened tent, and came into the gloom like a ray of sunlight, his harp in his hand, its strings all twined with lilies to shield them from the fierce burning sun, which might warp them.
"God's child, with His dew
On thy gracious gold hair, and those lilies still living and blue,
Just broken to twine round thy harp strings, as if no wild heat
Were now raging to torture the desert."
In that darkened tent David could but dimly see the great form of the king, crouching there with bowed head, and he longed to help him. As he took his harp and began to play, all his heart was in his music, and into the blackness he brought the wild freshness of the sunlit hills, the call to the sheepfold, the happy song of workers in the fields, the music of birds in the cool, green woods. And the sweet music acted like a charm; the misery was lifted from Saul's heart, and the evil spirit was put to flight by the song of the shepherd boy.
So God made use of David's skill in music, and before very long there came another call, this time for one who had a quick, well-trained eye and a steady hand, one who could aim straight and true.
The country was in danger. The fierce Philistines had come out in battle array again to conquer the land, and they were so mighty and so strong that the armies of the Israelites seemed helpless before them. On either side of a narrow valley, divided by a stream which ran below over smooth stones, the armies were encamped, like wild beasts ready to fly at each other's throats. Every man who was old enough to fight was there, and David's elder brothers had joined the army to defend their country. David himself was still but a boy, and must stay at home; but one day, to his joy, he was sent by his father to carry food and gifts from the Bethlehem farm to his brothers on the field of battle.
It was a wonderful sight to see those great armies covering the steep hillsides. David could only gaze at them spellbound; and as he was looking there was a stir in the enemy's camp, and a mighty challenge sounded across the narrow valley. Out of the Philistine ranks stepped a giant warrior, so tall, so terrifying in his great strength, that he seemed to dwarf the hills around him. His voice, too, was like the sound of a mighty trumpet.
"Choose you a man for you," came the ringing challenge, "and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us. I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together."
David looked eagerly on the ranks of his own side. Surely the challenge would be answered at once. Some man would spring forward then and there to force the words back into the boaster's throat.
But a great silence reigned. No one moved or spoke. David's cheek burned with shame. What were his people doing to allow a heathen Philistine to defy the armies of the living God? Eagerly he asked the soldiers of the camp what it meant, and he was told that the Philistine giant, Goliath, uttered that challenge twice every day, and no man was found brave enough to dare to go out and give him battle. It could not have been pleasant for those soldiers to meet the astonished, indignant look that blazed from the eyes of the little shepherd boy, and David's brothers were very angry with him.
"Why camest thou down hither?" one of them asked, "and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle."
But David was quite ready to act as well as to ask questions. He would go out to meet this giant, and would fight him for the honour of God and his country.
"Thou art not able to go out against this Philistine to fight with him," said Saul, when David was brought to him: "for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war."
It seemed madness to think of this slender boy standing out as champion against the mighty soldier; but David answered steadily and wisely. He was strong and skilful, he said, and had once fought a lion and a bear single-handed when they had tried to rob his flock.
"The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine," he ended, with triumphant confidence.
It was an echo of the confidence which Saul had once felt himself in the old days when his whole trust had been in God, and he recognized the true ring of the boy's courage.
"Go," he said, "and the Lord be with thee."
Then they began to bring out heavy armour and a great sword with which David might defend himself; but he would have none of them. He could not move freely, cased in armour, and he had never learned how to use a sword. No, he would do his best with the only weapon which he thoroughly understood.
So in his shepherd's coat and his sling in his hand he set out to cross the dividing brook, and, in passing, to fill his wallet with smooth stones fit for his purpose. Then with springing steps he began to climb the opposite side.
The rage of Goliath was great when he saw this fair-faced boy, without either armour or sword coming so boldly to meet him.
"The Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David."
"Am I a dog," he thundered, "that thou comest to me with staves?"
"I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied," rang out the clear answer. "The Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord's, and He will give you into our hands."
The great giant in wrath poised his spear, ready with one blow to put an end to this unequal fight. But David did not wait to come within reach of the spear. Long before Goliath could reach him he stopped, fitted a stone carefully into his sling, and let fly. The stone whizzed through the air, straight as an arrow, and hit the giant fair in the middle of his forehead. The huge figure swayed and fell, and David, running forward, seized the Philistine's sword and cut off his head.
So God's people were saved, and so God again made use of the shepherd boy's skill and training. Many adventures still awaited David before he became king, as Samuel had promised; but always, in every danger and difficulty, he was ready to do God's bidding, just as he had done his duty faithfully when he tended his sheep on the hills of Bethlehem.
David King over Israel