David, the Shepherd Boy
T HE years had gone by since Saul had been made king and the people had shouted so triumphantly, "God save the King!" in their joy at having an earthly ruler set over them. The old priest, Samuel, had grown more and more sorrowful as he watched over the people and saw how often both they and their king did what was wrong in God's sight.
It was true that Saul was mighty in battle and ruled well; but Samuel soon saw that the king was growing proud and self-confident. He boasted himself of his strength, and of the great standing army which he had made, and he forgot that he owed everything to God's help. More and more disobedient and self-willed he became, until at last God's message came to Samuel, telling him that Saul was no longer fit to rule, and another king must be chosen.
Now at that time there lived, in the little hill town of Bethlehem, a man called Jesse, who had eight sons, seven of them tall, strong, grown-up men, and the youngest still a boy, who looked after the sheep in the fields. The people of the little hill town did not trouble themselves much about what was going on in the outside world. There, on the pleasant slopes of the Judean hills, they fed their flocks, and lived their busy, peaceful lives, far away from the noise of strife and battle.
But one day a stir of excitement and fear spread through the town. The people crowded to the city gates and gazed with anxious eyes across the cornfields and pleasant vineyards to where the white road wound like a ribbon up to the town. It seemed strange that they should be so anxious and terror-stricken. No armed enemy band was marching along that mountain road, only an old man could be seen climbing slowly upwards with weary steps, driving a heifer before him, and carrying a horn of oil in his hand.
But from mouth to mouth passed the word that Samuel, the prophet of the Lord, was on his way to visit the city. The people knew that he was God's messenger, and they feared the message he might bring. Was it a message of peace or of punishment? It was surely one or other, and in their hearts they were afraid that the visit boded them no good.
"Comest thou peaceably?" they asked anxiously, as the old man reached the gates.
To their great relief the old man looked kindly upon them, and answered quietly, "Peaceably: I am come to sacrifice unto the Lord: sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice."
It was to Jesse's house that Samuel made his way to offer the sacrifice; but he went there with another purpose as well. Among those sons of Jesse was one whom God had chosen to be king over Israel, and He had bidden the old priest go and pour the anointing oil upon his head. It was a secret errand, for no word of it must reach Saul's ear, or his vengeance would be swift-winged and sure.
So the feast for the sacrifice was prepared in Jesse's house, and Samuel bade the father call all his sons to the service. They must pass before him one by one, he said.
The first of the sons to stand before Samuel was Eliab, and he was so handsome and strong, and bore himself with such a kingly air, that the old priest felt sure this must be the one God had chosen.
"Surely the Lord's anointed is before Him," murmured Samuel to himself.
But he was mistaken. This was not the king. God does not take count of outside beauty, for He looks at the heart.
So the young man passed on, and one by one his tall, handsome brothers followed; but there was no sign from God to show which was the one He had chosen.
Samuel was perplexed and troubled. He could not understand what it meant, and he turned to Jesse and asked, "Are here all thy children?"
These were all his grown-up sons that counted, was the father's answer. There was certainly one more, but he was scarcely more than a child, and was out on the hillside tending the sheep.
"Send and fetch him," ordered Samuel at once: "for we will not sit down till he come hither."
So messengers were sent quickly to fetch the boy David, and at last he came hurrying in. He was only a little lad, holding his shepherd's crook in his sun-browned hand as he gazed with wondering eyes at the old priest who had summoned him. His fair face was still flushed with running, his golden hair had been tossed and tangled in the wind, and he seemed to bring in with him the very breath of the hills.
"Arise, anoint him: for this is he," sounded the voice of God in Samuel's heart, and rising slowly, the old man poured the anointing oil upon the sunny head of the little shepherd boy.
Those who looked on were puzzled. Perhaps the elder brothers were envious, and wondered why this mere child should be singled out for such a special favour. No one knew exactly what it meant, but no one thought of questioning God's messenger.
Nothing further happened just then. Samuel returned as he had come, by the winding white road, and before very long his visit was forgotten by the village folk as they settled to their work again.
Only David thought more and more of this strange happening. Alone in the fields all day he pondered over all that had been done, and grew more and more certain that it had been a call from God to do some special piece of work for Him. The wonder of it filled his mind, and he felt God's Spirit within him.
But the thought of something great in the future did not make him neglect the daily common tasks he still had to do. He was as watchful as ever in guarding his sheep from the fierce prowling beasts that lurked around, as quick and brave in defending them. Even in his leisure time he was busy too, and there was not one of the sunny hours of daylight that he wasted.
He loved music, and he taught himself to play upon the harp, practising so carefully and patiently that his fingers grew most wonderfully skilful, and the songs he made were so beautiful that they became famous in all the country round about. He learned, too, to use his shepherd's sling so that he could aim at a mark and hit it every time, and there was no boy in all Bethlehem who was as straight a shot as he was. Whatever was worth doing was, for him, worth doing well. It was no great thing, perhaps, to make music or hit straight; but it was a great thing to do what lay nearest to his hand with all his might. Perhaps some day God might make use of his singing, or might want the services of one who had a quick eye and a sure aim. Who could tell?
At any rate David made up his mind that he would learn well and thoroughly all he could, so that he would be ready whenever God's call should come.