David The Shepherd Boy
Kate Dickinson Sweetswer
from the book
Ten Boys From History
A rare good fortune it is to have a friend so true and so faithful that it is as safe to tell him a secret as to whisper it to yourself, one to whom your interests are as important as his own, and who would do any sort of unselfish act to show his devotion to you. It was just such a comradeship as this which existed between two boys of long ago, the story of whose intimacy has come down to us from Bible times as a most wonderful example of what a friendship can be.
Those boys were David, the son of Jesse of Bethlehem, and Jonathan, the son of Saul, King of Israel, and when you hear two persons spoken of as "a David and a Jonathan" you may know that they are the closest kind of friends.
To appreciate thoroughly the friendship between David and Jonathan, and what it meant to both of them, let us go back a little into the history of the time in which the boys lived, and look at the circumstances which led up to their friendship, for that is very important to a clear understanding of the story of David and Jonathan.
At that time the kingdom of Israel was in a deplorable condition, for the Philistines, a war-like tribe who lived in a small territory on the coast, had over-run and conquered most of Israel, and Samuel who was the aged guide and advisor of the Israelites, as well as the last of the judges and the first of the prophets of Israel, saw that the only hope for his people lay in having a higher moral standard and a central government. To bring this about, Samuel established the schools of the prophets in Ramah and other cities, where men could be trained to teach their nation how to live wiser, purer lives—and Samuel also anointed Saul as King of Israel, and for a while Saul ruled wisely and well. Then he disobeyed the command of God, and began to care for conquest in war only when it brought him glory or the spoils of battles, and Samuel seeing this, was much troubled, and finally went to Saul and told him that he must repent and do differently or he would no longer be worthy to be the King of Israel, that God demanded more honest service than he was giving. Saul was considerably troubled at this plain speaking of Samuel and promised to do better in future, but when Samuel left him, it was with a heavy heart, for he felt sure that there would be need of a new king—that Saul would not keep his promises.
And so Samuel at once began to look for a man whom he could anoint as the future King, although no one knew of this purpose but himself, and the voice of God within him inspired him to go to Bethlehem and seek among the sons of Jesse for the King he wished to find. So Samuel went to Bethlehem, but in order that the real purpose of his visit might not be discovered, he took with him beside the horn of oil with which he would anoint the new King if he should find him, also a young calf to offer as a sacrifice, that he might have a suitable excuse to give to the people for his visit.
Of course the coming of Samuel created a great excitement in the little town of Bethlehem, for the people feared that he came to reprove them for some wrong-doing, until Samuel assured them that this was not so, that he came peaceably, and in proof of it invited them to the sacrifice which he was preparing to offer on a hill just outside the gate of the city. According to the rule of Oriental hospitality, it was customary that some prominent man from the village should invite Samuel to return to his home after offering the sacrifice, to break bread with him and to pass the night under his roof if Samuel desired to do so, and as Samuel had invited Jesse to the sacrifice, it came about quite naturally that, as Samuel desired, it was Jesse's home to which the aged Prophet went.
After they had arrived there, Samuel and Jesse sat and talked together alone, for although Jesse had eight sons and two daughters, and they were no longer children, the Eastern custom forbade a man's family to enter his presence unless he expressly asked them to do so. And so Samuel and Jesse were alone together, until Samuel asked Jesse if he had no sons. Jesse replied that he had, and Samuel then requested to see them. It was natural for a father to be pleased at such a request and Jesse at once sent for Eliab, his eldest son, who promptly came into the presence of his father and the aged Prophet, and Samuel looked earnestly at the tall, handsome fellow, but a voice within him told Samuel that Eliab was not the king-to-be, and after a brief talk with the young man, he was dismissed, and Jesse called another and then another of his sons, until Samuel had seen seven of them, but the prophet only shook his head as he saw each one of them, for the voice of inspiration or instinct said within him:
"Neither hath the Lord chosen this." Then Samuel turned once more to Jesse and asked:
"Are here all thy children?" And Jesse answered reluctantly:
"There remaineth yet the youngest, and behold he keepeth the sheep."
Then Samuel bade Jesse send for David, which he did, and David, who was as usual roaming with his flock in the Judean pasture-land, was greatly surprised to see a messenger coming to him in breathless haste, and still more was he surprised to receive his father's message that he was to come home at once, as the prophet Samuel had asked to see him before leaving. It was an unexpected command, but young David was always ready for any emergency, and so, simply taking up his shepherd's staff, which was a long stick with a handle crooked in such a way that by its aid David could examine the limbs of his flock, or roll a sheep over with it, when unruly and without further preparation, David accompanied the messenger, although filled with wonder as to the reason for being summoned to appear before the aged prophet Samuel.
See him as he enters his home and stands before Samuel, red-cheeked, fair-skinned, glowing with health and happiness, with arms strong enough to break a bow of steel, and with limbs like a deer's in their swiftness to escape a foe or to scale a wall. Sturdy and fearless he stood before Samuel, the picture of youthful vigour and courage, and when Samuel had scarcely more than glanced at him, the voice of God spoke within the prophet saying:
"Arise, anoint him, for this is he."
Then Samuel rose with simple earnestness and laid a hand on David's shoulder, looking long and solemnly into the clear bright eyes which answered his glance, then more solemnly still, Samuel took up the horn of oil which he had brought with him, and with the customary ceremony, anointed David, the fair-haired young shepherd boy, to be the future King of Israel. As only kings were anointed and Samuel always performed this ceremony, Jesse could not have failed to understand the solemn rite, although he must have marvelled over it, wondering why it should be performed over this, his youngest and least important son. Doubtless, although the Bible narrative does not tell us so, the aged prophet later spoke to Jesse of the meaning of his act, and one can imagine Jesse's flutter of heart at the thought that one of his boys should have been chosen to fill such a great position. David also, young as he was, must have understood in some measure what the ceremony meant, although he must have been completely at a loss to understand how he, a mere child, could be the Lord's anointed. Probably, like any other boy of to-day, he wanted to ask questions, but there was not the freedom allowed young people in those days that there is now and David, looking from the awe-struck face of his father, to the solemn one of the prophet, doubtless kept silent. Then with an appropriately reverential farewell to the aged prophet he must have been sent from the presence of Jesse and Samuel, sent back again to his accustomed task and to await the fulfilling of that destiny which, from the moment when he thrilled at the touch of the prophet's hand on his head, and the sound of his solemn words, he felt sure was in some way to link his life in consecrated service to that of the people of Israel.
But that belief did not alter his conduct in his daily routine of duty, and with the faithfulness which was one of his marked characteristics, he continued to care for his sheep, tending them with increased watchfulness under the stimulus of his new day-dream.
And from that moment David had unconsciously taken the motto which was his through all his adventurous life:
"I shall not raise my hand against the Lord's anointed."
From that hour when he went back to tend his sheep, after Samuel's visit, to the time when his destiny was fulfilled, David, even under the stress of fierce temptation, never moved a finger to hasten events; never tried to force his way to the throne of Israel, but with buoyant courage, did his duty day by day, and the monotony of his early shepherd's life was varied only by an occasional unexpected adventure.
Look—listen—as he wanders over the hillside at dusk, he shows alarm—he hears a dreaded sound! Ah, yes, one he knew too well—the stealthy glide of a creeping foe coming to attack his flock.
Alone, with only his sling for weapon, in that wild unpeopled country, the shepherd boy stands, brave and alert, ready to protect his sheep. Ah, a lion! the stealthy beast creeps nearer, nearer.
Suddenly David draws his sling, the stone strikes the lion between the eyes, he falls by a single shot. But look—this is not the end of the battle. Even while David is encountering the lion, that most dreaded of all foes of the flock, a huge bear glides with stealthy steps, and seizes a lamb. Quick as an arrow David hurls himself upon the monstrous beast, who drops his prey and rises in angry power on his hind legs to hug and crush his enemy. But David is too quick for him, he grasps the bear by the jaw with iron force, grapples with him, the great creature snarls, moans, writhes and is no more, while David, hot with the joy of victory, turns back to quiet his frightened flock.
Does not this encounter give a hint of the fearless courage that made David such a famous warrior in later life?
Now let us note another side of his many-sided character while we listen to the melodies he so dearly loved to play on his harp as he wandered over the hills and plains with his flock. David had in him the making of a mighty warrior, a great king, but he had too, a dreamy, sensitive, poetic side to his nature, which made him deeply appreciate and enjoy all the beauty of nature which he tried to express in his music, and which long years later, came out more clearly in those wonderful psalms which he wrote, and which have comforted and helped so many generations of Christian people.
In those days Saul was becoming less and less of a dignified, self-controlled leader, as he began to realise that he was not powerful enough to hold his people, and he frequently gave way to fits of terrible anger or prolonged melancholy, from which no one could rouse him. At that time when the Philistines were gaining so many victories over the Israelites, it was most important that Saul should not give way to such attacks, as they unfitted him to perform his public or private duties, and every means of quieting him was tried, but in vain. Finally, it was suggested that music has a soothing effect on troubled spirits, and when the idea was mentioned to Saul it pleased him, and he at once commanded that a musician be found and brought to him. Then came the question of who that musician should be, and one of Saul's counsellors said:
"Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing and a comely person, and the Lord is with him."
The description pleased Saul and he at once sent a messenger to Jesse, saying:
"Send me David, thy son, which is with the sheep."
And so once again, there came to David a new experience for which he had had no preparation, and again, as before, he neither refused nor questioned the call to a different life, but while Jesse, his father, was preparing a present to send to Saul by David, according to the custom of the times, David was making hasty preparations to leave home. Soon he was ready to set off, and taking with him an ass laden with bread, a bottle of wine and a young kid, which were Jesse's present to Saul, on he journeyed over the hills and through the valleys until he reached the court of the King, and presently stood in the presence of Saul, who almost as soon as he had looked at the lad with his fair, bright face and sturdy figure, took a great fancy to him, and commanded him to become one of his household and to come and play to him whenever he should be summoned, and also sent this message back to Jesse:
"Let David, I pray thee, stand before me, for he hath found favour in my sight."
So David stayed at the King's court, and whenever Saul gave way to an attack of anger or depression, the young minstrel would hasten to him, and play melodies grave and gay, sweet and brilliant, playing with such skill that before he knew it, Saul would be in good humour again, or drop into a deep, refreshing sleep, and little did he dream that the lad who had such power to soothe and amuse him had been anointed by Samuel to rule over Israel in his place. That David thought often and earnestly about this, would be only natural to suppose, and we can but fancy that in those days amid surroundings such as he had never had before, the young lad learned much of the manners and customs of a king's life, and learned too, from the weakness that he saw in Saul's nature what a king ought to be and do. Probably much of David's tact in dealing with men and circumstances at a later day came from his observations in those early days when he was but a minstrel at the court of Saul.
How long he remained there, we do not know, but until Saul's attacks of passion and melancholy had been entirely overcome. Then, in the same spirit of unquestioning obedience as he showed before to the call of circumstances, as soon as he was no longer needed by Saul, David went back again to his home in Bethlehem and again tended his father's flocks in the Judean pasture-lands.
The Israelites and the Philistines were still at war, and the two armies were now encamped against each other on opposite ridges that overhung a valley, called the valley of the Terebinth, about sixteen miles from Bethlehem.
Battles in those days were sometimes merely encounters between two champions chosen by the opposing armies to fight for them; but the Philistines had given no hint to the Israelites that this was to be their plan of action, when suddenly, out from their camp there burst forth Goliath, the last and mightiest of the giants of Gath, and shouted out a challenge to the Israelites, saying:
"Why are ye come out to set your battles in array? Am not I a Philistine and ye servants to Saul? Choose you a man for you and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me and kill me, then will we be your servants, but if I prevail against him, then shall ye be our servants and serve us!" And he added in a mighty voice that rang through the valley:
"I defy the armies of Israel this day! Give me a man that we may fight together!"
Colossal and terrifying, the great monster stood, like a glittering mountain of power as the rays of the sun fell upon him, for he was over ten feet tall, and his coat of mail was as heavy as bags of gold would be, and shone like a mirror, and on his head was a huge helmet of brass, and even his mighty limbs were covered with shining metal. He carried a brass spear with a head heavier than that of ten ordinary spears, and the staff of it was as huge as a young birch tree, while before him walked the bearer of his shield, glittering too in the rays of the sun. A mighty monster, he, Goliath, the giant of Gath, as he faced the army of the Israelites and thundered forth his challenge to them to find a warrior bold enough to fight with him, and the Israelites were filled with fear as they saw him, and Saul's heart was heavy with terror, and he at once offered great riches and the hand of his daughter to any warrior who would accept Goliath's challenge. But for forty days not a man answered the challenge or attempted to win the reward offered by Saul.
Then David, who was still tending his father's flocks, but whose three elder brothers were with the army of the Israelites, was sent by his father to carry supplies of food to them. Of course, David had heard much at home that interested him deeply in the armies and their manœuvres, and now he could scarcely restrain his joy at the thought of seeing the encampments for himself, and he got up early the next morning and leaving his sheep with a keeper, set out gleefully, even though what he had to carry was a heavy burden, for he was taking a large quantity of parched corn and ten loaves of bread to his brothers, as well as ten cheeses to the captain of their division of the army. But he was so happy at the change in his monotonous life that he did not mind the length of the journey nor the weight of his burden.
And when he saw the tents of the encampments lying before him, he thrilled with the courage and the desire of a born warrior, and quickly leaving his provisions with the keeper of supplies, he ran forward to the division of the camp where his brothers were, and eagerly greeted them, but they seemed not at all glad to see him, even though he had come to bring them sorely needed food.
Jealousy is one of the worst faults a person can have, and it is to be feared that David's family all felt it and showed it for this youngest brother, who though a mere boy of seventeen, had received honours, and shown ability far beyond their own, instead of rejoicing in his good fortune, as they should have done.
But David was evidently accustomed to their manner, and was unconscious then of everything but his keen desire to know what the plans of the two armies were, and poured out question after question, without heeding the impatience of his brothers' answers.
And as he stood talking, there suddenly stood before him the glittering monster Goliath, and again his challenge rang through the valley; and as always when Goliath was seen or heard, the men of Israel turned away and fled in terror. But not so David. He was thrilled at the sight of the mighty giant and asked the men who stood by him:
"What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine and taketh away the reproach of Israel? For who is this Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?"
And the men answered him that Saul had promised riches and honour and his daughter's hand in marriage to him who should kill Goliath.
And Eliab, David's oldest brother, listened while David questioned the men, and being very angry at David's presence, said bitterly:
"Why camest thou down hither, and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride and the naughtiness of thy heart, for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle."
But David, instead of showing anger at such an unkind speech, merely answered:
"What have I now done? Is there not a cause," and paying no further attention to Eliab, turned away, asking every man he met the same question he had asked before, until finally his persistency attracted so much attention, that Saul was told about this lad who was showing such unusual interest in the rewards to be given for facing Goliath in battle, and Saul at once sent for David, who by this time was flushed with excitement, and with the contagious enthusiasm of the battlefield, and he answered Saul like an old and mighty soldier.
"Let no man's heart fail because of him. Thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine."
Think of it, a slender inexperienced young shepherd lad taking up a challenge like that of Goliath!
Saul was astonished at David's words, and exclaimed, "Thou art not able to go against this Philistine and fight him, for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth."
Throwing his shoulders back, and standing with head held high and eyes bright with determination, David answered proudly:
"I kept my father's sheep, and there came a lion and a bear and took a lamb out of the flock, and I went out after him, and delivered it out of his mouth, and when he rose against me, I caught him by the beard and smote him and slew him. The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion and the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine."
For a moment Saul looked in silent awe at this brave young warrior—then in a voice trembling with admiration and with emotion, he said with solemn emphasis:
"Go, and the Lord be with thee."
And then roused by the contagion of David's fearless enthusiasm, and by the excitement of trusting a mere boy to give battle to the great Goliath, Saul, with his own hand, dressed David in his own suit of armour for the encounter, giving him his heavy coat of mail, his glittering brass helmet, and even bound his own sword at David's side. At first David's delight was great that he was wearing the armour of a real warrior. But when he tried to walk or run, the heavy coat of mail hindered him and the weight of the sword and helmet made him feel like a captive in chains, and at last he cast them off, saying to Saul:
"I cannot go with these."
And although Saul showed his consternation at this young champion of the Israelites against Goliath, going to battle without armour or sword, he made no attempt to persuade David into doing other than as he desired. And David stood before him again, this time, wearing his simple shepherd's dress, and feeling both free and happy again. Then taking up his staff, he went to a near-by brook and from its bed picked out five smooth white stones,—notice how careful he was to choose smooth stones. These he put in a bag which hung at his side, and then with only his sling in his hand, he advanced towards the giant, who having heard that David had accepted his challenge, had advanced to meet him in all his power and show of glittering armour and weapons.
Now Goliath had not heard of David's youth, and when he saw that his adversary was only a fair strong boy, the giant grew scornful, and seeing David's staff and sling, he shouted contemptuously in a voice that rang from ridge to ridge, across the great valley:
"Am I a dog that thou comest to me with stones?" adding:
"Come with me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the fields."
But David paid no heed to the scorn, but sturdy and strong he stood and faced Goliath, answering:
"Thou comest to me with a sword and with a spear and with a shield, but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee with my hand and take thine head from thee, and I will give the carcasses of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear, for the battle is the Lord's and he will give you into our hands."
A pretty long speech and a pretty decided statement to be made by a shepherd-boy—was it not? David's positive assurance that he could kill Goliath, and that God was with the army of Israel, showed the boy to be no ordinary boy, carried away by warlike enthusiasm.
Goliath heard with mighty contempt and anger, the retort of David and his taunt, and advanced in all his power and glory towards him, while David, never taking his eyes off the giant's face, quietly put his hand in his bag, slowly took out one of the stones he had so carefully selected, and slung it with the unerring aim for which he was famous.
With fatal accuracy it struck Goliath between the eyes. The mighty giant groaned, and fell—slain by the hand of David, who, as he had no sword of his own, hastily knelt on Goliath's body, drew his sword from its sheath, and with it cut off the giant's head, and stripped him of his valuable armour, to carry to Bethlehem as a trophy.
David, so young, so inexperienced in the art of war, had killed the champion of the enemy. It seemed incredible. Through the ranks of both armies the news spread like wildfire, and when the Philistines realised what had happened, they were so terrified for fear of what might follow, that they fled, with the victorious Israelites in hot pursuit, who with cheers and shouts and great slaughter pursued them to the nearest city, and then returned to despoil the tents of the vanquished enemy, singing loud songs of triumph.
And then David, flushed with victory, came before Saul carrying with him the head of the giant. It is easy to picture Saul's absolute astonishment when he realised that the conquering hero of his army was this mere youth, so unlike his other warriors.
But he talked long and eagerly with David, asking all sorts of questions about his manner of slaying Goliath, and while they talked, Jonathan, Saul's son, stood near them, listening and watching, and as he heard David's stirring tale of victory, he was filled with admiration for the boy who had done such a mighty deed; and, in that instant, as the Bible says, "the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David," and the friendship of David and Jonathan was begun. David's eyes flashed back an answering glance of interest to the King's son, and there was a quick response of each to the other. And that being so, you can imagine the joy of both the youths when Saul told David that he was to go no more home to his father's house to tend his flocks, but was to be thereafter his armour-bearer, or the member of his household who came into the closest relation with the king. On hearing this great piece of news, David glanced proudly at Jonathan, and Jonathan at once led David away and took from him his shepherd's dress, and clothed him in his own garments, giving him even his girdle and his sword, which was the greatest honour he could have conferred on David, the sign that he felt David had, by his courageous act, proved himself more worthy to be the heir to a throne, than he, the king's own son, was. And, too, he felt such a thrill of affection for this new friend, David, that he could not help doing something to show it. And then and always, Jonathan's friendship for David was absolutely free from all taint of jealousy, and he always stood aside, that honours might be heaped upon his friend, even those which by the rights of inheritance, should have been his own.
And so David began his new life at the court of Saul, with Jonathan, his new friend, and the first happy days passed only too quickly. David went out wherever Saul sent him, doing the King's bidding so well and so wisely that Saul set him in command over his men of war, who all gladly obeyed David. Although he was so young, he ruled so tactfully that all the people, and even Saul's ministers grew more and more fond of the youth who had killed Goliath, while Jonathan rejoiced in every honour paid to his friend, and had not one bit of envy in his heart, that David was so popular and so powerful. But Saul was less noble in nature than Jonathan his son was, and when one day, not long after David had killed Goliath, the men, women and children from all the cities of Israel, trooped out to meet King Saul, singing and dancing and playing musical instruments in celebration of David's victory, and the women sang—
"Saul hath slain his thousands and David his ten thousands."
This made Saul very angry and very jealous, for it was a revelation of the strength of the national feeling against him, and as he heard the shrill chant he exclaimed with fierce jealousy:
"They have ascribed unto David his ten thousands and to me they have ascribed but thousands, and what can he have more but the kingdom?"
From that moment, Saul was never fond of David, but always bitterly envious of him, and watched to see how and when he could do the lad an injury.
The violence of his rage and jealousy threw him into one of his old paroxysms, and as of old, David was called to soothe him by the music of his harp. But the sight of David threw Saul into a still worse fever of madness, and in anger he hurled his spear, the symbol of his royalty, at David, crying:
"I will smite David even to the wall with it," but David was quick enough to avoid it, and when at another time Saul attempted the same thing, David again slipped aside, and the spear simply struck the wall. This agility of David's made Saul even more angry than before, and increased his fear of the wonderful youth, whom Saul felt had the blessing of God, which had been taken from him. So strong was Saul's dislike of David now, that finally he sent him away from the house, giving him a position where he would have less influence than formerly, for he would be only captain over a thousand men, but the new position only increased David's popularity. He ruled those under him with such wisdom that all the people loved him, and Saul was, of course, more jealous and angry than before, and yet afraid of him too, and he began to think of another way to rid himself of the troublesome rival.
When David had fought Goliath, he was promised the hand of Saul's eldest daughter in marriage, if he should be victorious, which promise had not been kept as yet, and now Saul remembered this, and offered to redeem the promise by giving David his daughter, Merab, as wife, hoping that in this way, he would not only rouse David's gratitude, but make him feel in honour bound to fight the Philistines again, for his wife's sake, and Saul hoped that they might kill him.
Although in our day, David would have been far too young to think of being married, in those days such things were different, and David accepted the hand of Merab, but at the last moment, through some new caprice of Saul's, the promise was broken and Merab became another man's wife. But Saul's younger daughter, Michal, who had admired David's behaviour ever since he had been her father's armour-bearer, was as fond of him as her brother, Jonathan was, and when she told her father this, he was greatly pleased and said to himself that she should marry David, who would then fight the Philistines for her sake and be killed by them. And when David objected to marrying her, saying that it was no easy matter for a poor man to marry the daughter of a king, Saul's messengers answered:
"The King requireth no dowry from him, only that he kill a hundred Philistines."
This pleased David, for he was a born warrior, and he did not know that the King's purpose in this agreement was to have him fall by the sword of the enemy. So even before the marriage took place, he was so eager to fulfil the king's request that he and his men went out and killed twice as many Philistines as Saul demanded, and came home unhurt, and although Saul was angry at this, he was obliged to give him Michal in marriage, but from that moment, Saul hated David more fiercely than ever, and was determined to kill him, especially when he saw that the people loved David more and more deeply for his wisdom and bravery. Intent on this purpose, Saul even called his ministers and servants together and told them that they must kill David, and he told Jonathan this too, and Jonathan, loving David as he did, was filled with fear that his father's wishes would be carried out, and so he hurried to David with the news of his father's command, and begged David to hide until the next day, saying that meanwhile he would go to his father and try to alter his feelings.
When David heard Saul's command, it did not frighten him as much as it did Jonathan, for he was almost fearless by nature, but he listened to Jonathan intently, and promised to do what he asked, and as soon as Jonathan had left him and gone to Saul, David fled to a secret place and hid there, while Jonathan, having sought his father, began to say good things about David, even though he saw there was danger of arousing his father's fierce anger by what he said.
But he spoke boldly, because of his love for David, saying: "Let not the King sin against David, because he hath not sinned against thee, and because his works have been to thee very good. For he did put his life in his hand and slew the Philistines, and the Lord wrought a great salvation for all Israel. Thou sawest it and did rejoice, wherefore then, wilt thou sin against innocent blood, to slay David without a cause."
It was a brave thing for Jonathan to speak so frankly to his father, and he would have been more frightened in doing it, had not his love of David given him courage. And he had his reward, for not only did Saul listen attentively to him, but was touched by his plea, and when he finished speaking, swore solemnly:
"As the Lord liveth, he shall not be slain."
Jonathan scarcely waited to hear the words, before he hurried from his father's presence and ran as fast as he could run to David's hiding-place to tell him the good news, that he was not to be killed. And then he insisted that David should go back with him to the king's court, which David did, and when Saul saw him, old memories stirred in his heart and he welcomed David affectionately as he had done in times past.
For a while David remained with Saul and Jonathan and as all went on peacefully, he and Jonathan had many happy hours together. Then there was war again with the Philistines, and David was sent out to fight them, and was again victorious over them, slaying them with such a great slaughter that those who remained alive fled from him, in fear and dismay. And although Saul was glad of David's victory over the enemies of Israel, the old jealousy of his young and powerful rival again overcame him and he had or pretended to have one of his old attacks of rage, and as in old times, David was called to soothe his inflamed spirit. But while he was playing, Saul was filled with jealous fury, and again hurled his spear at the young musician, and again David slipped aside and escaped it, and the spear hit the wall instead of his body—then he fled to his own house, more worried than he had ever been before; for now he saw clearly that Saul would never give up his purpose to kill him.
This he told his wife, Michal, who knew her father's cruel, jealous disposition, even better than Saul did, and was much alarmed for her husband's safety.
That night, Saul, following out his determination, to rid himself of David, sent watchers to guard David's house and make sure that he did not escape in the night, and though they did not go into the house to kill him at once, because of an old Oriental superstition that only evil would come to those who entered a home by night, they planned to enter at daybreak and arrest him.
Michal, with a woman's keen instinct, when she saw the messengers outside, guessed their purpose and at once she said to David:
"If thou save not thy life to-night, to-morrow, thou shalt be slain," and then she told David of her plan to save him, which he thought was a good one. After a hasty farewell, she assisted her husband to escape through a window on the opposite side of the house from where the king's messengers were crouched, and David under cover of the darkness crept stealthily away and escaped once more from Saul's hand. When she had seen him creep away in the darkness, Michal went back into the house and dressing up an image, as if it were a man, she laid it in David's bed, and covered it, head and all, with a long thick coverlet, and at dawn when Saul's messengers forced an entrance, demanding David, Michal answered:
"He is sick."
The men went away and told Saul this, but he did not believe it, and sent them back to bring David to the palace in his bed, if they found him too sick to walk, and it must have been a moment of triumph for Michal, who had worked so hard to save her husband's life, and who knew that he was, even then, far away, when she led Saul's messengers to the bed, where they found, not their victim, but only an image.
When Saul heard of this, his rage was almost beyond bounds, but Michal did not care, for she knew that David was safe now, and her answers to her father's reproaches at her conduct in helping David to escape were as fearless as possible.
All this took time, and meanwhile, David, now an outcast from his home, had hurried to Ramah, a city on a height about three miles west of Gibeah, where he found Samuel at the School of Prophets, and when he told Samuel all that Saul had done to him, Samuel felt sorely against Saul, and went with David to Naioth, hoping that they might in that way escape Saul's messengers, who David knew would surely discover and follow him. And he was right. No sooner had David reached Ramah than Saul did find it out, and sent soldiers to arrest him, but three different bands which he sent, one after another, when they came to the School of Prophets became filled with religious excitement, and neglected their errand. Then Saul himself was frenzied with impatience and started out for Ramah, but before he reached the city, he, too, was overcome by the spirit of religious excitement, and for a day and a night forgot his own errand. So David had time to escape, and went straight back to Saul's court, the place where he had been in such high favour only a short time before. He went to find Jonathan, his friend, who had been eagerly waiting for news of him. The meeting of the youths was a glad one, but there was no time for discussing anything except what David had come to get advice about. At once he asked Jonathan:
"What have I done? What is my sin before your father, that he seeketh my life?"
And Jonathan loved him with a great love and was deeply troubled for his safety, and he answered David:
"God forbid. Thou shalt not die. Behold my father will do nothing either great or small, but he will show it to me, and why should he hide this thing from me? It is not so."
But David knew the truth and he answered:
"Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found favour in thine eyes, and he said 'Let not Jonathan know this lest he be grieved' but truly, as the Lord liveth and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death."
A solemn thing for a young man, so strong, so full of the joy of life, to believe and to say, and as he said it, his voice trembled, and Jonathan's cheeks were white with fear. Only for a moment was Jonathan silent, then looking straight into David's eyes, he said:
"Whatsoever thy soul desireth, I will even do it for thee."
Could there be any better proof of friendship than that?
Then David, who had been thinking what was wisest to do, told Jonathan of the plan which must be carried out in order to find out Saul's intentions with regard to him. There was to be a great festival on the following day, to which Saul had invited David, just as if he and David were on the best of terms, and David told Jonathan that instead of going to the feast, he would hide in a field near by, while Jonathan must go to the feast and see how his absence affected Saul, and also draw him on in every way, to show his feelings for David. Then, as soon as Jonathan had found out his father's feeling towards David, he was to go to the field where David was hiding and shoot three arrows as if shooting at a mark, and send a boy to pick them up. If he should shoot on this side of David's hiding-place, it would mean that David could come out in peace and safety, but if the arrows were shot beyond the place where David was, it would be a sign that he must again flee, for his life would be in danger if he remained.
And so David hid himself in the field and Jonathan went to the feast, as they had planned that he should do, and at first Saul did not notice David's absence, then presently, he asked Jonathan where David was, and Jonathan answered as David had told him to, that David had gone to Bethlehem to attend a family festival there. Then Saul was very angry at both David and Jonathan, and exclaimed:
"Thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion. Surely as long as he liveth, thou shalt not be established in the kingdom. Wherefore, now send for him that he may die."
Although Jonathan was perfectly conscious of his father's bribe of the kingdom should he bring David to be killed, and of the cleverness of Saul's appeal to his desire for power, he had no thought for himself, but only anger that his father could be so hard at heart. But he controlled his temper and merely said:
"Wherefore shall he be slain? What hath he done?"
At this Saul's fury knew no bounds; that he, King of Israel should lose not only his sovereignty, but the loyalty of his own son, because of this lad of Bethlehem, was more than he could bear. With the rage of a frenzied animal, Saul hurled his spear at Jonathan to kill him, but as David had done, Jonathan dodged the deadly weapon, and left the feast, refusing to sit any longer at the table with a father who was so cruel and capricious.
And as soon as possible, Jonathan hastened to David's hiding-place, taking with him his bow and arrows, and a lad to fetch his arrows for him.
And he said to the lad:
"Run, find out the arrows which I shoot!——" and as the lad ran, he shot an arrow beyond him.
And when the lad found the arrow that Jonathan had shot, Jonathan cried after him:
"Is not that the arrow behind thee? Make speed—haste—stay not."
And Jonathan's lad gathered up the arrows and brought them to his master, and he knew nothing about the meaning of that which he had done. Only Jonathan and David knew that, and then because he was eager to be alone with David, Jonathan gave the lad his bow and arrows and bade him take them to the city.
As soon as the lad was out of sight and hearing, David who had heard all that had passed between Jonathan and the boy, came from his hiding-place, and as there was no one to see or hear them, those lads of Israel in that far off land, sat together and talked as lads of to-day might talk, while the sun was sinking low in the west, although by doing so, they took a very great risk should they be found together. But both of them were forgetful of all but the joy of being together. Then with slow step and arm linked in arm, they walked together to the spot where David had been in hiding, and with a quick realisation of the danger ever shadowing David's life, both boys were overcome by the depth of their affection for each other, and by the fear that something was going to part them, and in the custom of the Orient at that time, they clasped hands and made a solemn covenant, or vow, of eternal friendship and mutual help, to extend after the death of either to their descendants.
It was indeed a solemn moment, and the deepest feeling in the boyish hearts was stirred when they made their vow under the wide blue sky, and looked long and sadly into each other's eyes. Then Jonathan said to David:
"Go in peace because we have sworn, both of us, in the name of the Lord, saying, 'The Lord be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever;' and then, with a lingering good-bye, Jonathan went back to his home, with a heart aching, not only with loneliness for David, but full of fear of what he would have to suffer and bear in the coming days, and of regret for that weakness of character which he knew his father had allowed to go beyond his own control. And David went to Nob, a city north of Jerusalem, where there was at that time the chief place of worship of the Israelites, and where David naturally turned his steps for instructions and also for food. The story of his flight had not reached the little town among the hills, and he was received with the honour due to the King's son-in-law, although Ahimeleck, the chief priest, was astonished that he came without an armour-bearer or a retinue of attendants. Seeing his surprise, David pretended to have come on urgent, secret business for Saul, and begged for food. The priest, believing this, felt that he must treat him with all possible honour, and as there was no other food ready, gave him the bread which was for use on the altar. Meanwhile, David's quick eye had caught a glimpse of a face staring at him through the cracks in the simple forest building. It was Doeg, the Edomite, Saul's savage herdsman, who David felt sure had recognised him. A chill of foreboding crept over David and made him at once demand arms from the peaceful priest. There were none to give except Goliath's sword, which David had taken from the giant when he killed him, and which had been there at Nob, wrapped in a cloth, ever since. With eager joy, David exclaimed:
"There is none like that, give it to me!" and seizing the matchless weapon, he fled with it, knowing that Doeg was even then hastening to Saul with news of his whereabouts, and that soon Saul's messengers would be in hot pursuit of him. His next move was a bold one. Leaving Nob, he and his few followers struck across the country in a southwesterly direction, keeping well within the dense forests, until they looked down on the city of Gath. David's condition was desperate now and he resorted to desperate measures. The nearest Philistine city was Gath; the glen where he had killed the giant was close beside him. It was a dangerous thing to trust himself in Gath with Goliath's sword dangling in his belt but David was nothing if not courageous. Danger in some form he must face, the Israelites were behind, the Philistines before him, and he made the plunge and took refuge in Gath. But the move was a fatal one, his identity was at once discovered, to have his life he resorted to the least heroic trick of his whole life. Pretending to be a madman, he raved and stormed and twisted about with horrible contortions, pounded upon the gates of the city, let the spittle run down on his beard, and acted his insane part so perfectly that he completely deceived the King, who laughed at the report that this was David, the Israelite, and ordered him sent from the city, saying that there were enough madmen in it for all practical uses.
David's hasty flight ends this episode and we can fancy his sigh of relief when he had once again escaped so narrowly from danger.
Once more a fugitive, and a real outlaw now, he took refuge in the cave of Adullam, where as soon as it became known that he had taken up an outlaw's life, he was at once joined by a number of men who for some reason were either discontented with their position at court, or fugitives from justice, and had trust in David's ability to achieve victories over enemies and circumstances. Even his own brothers, who had hated and envied him in his earlier days, and his parents, who were now old and feeble, came to join his band of followers, and soon he was the chief of a band numbering about four hundred outlaws, among them some famous warriors who later became noted captains in his army, after he became King of Israel.
Although the wild, free life of the forest was what exactly suited David's own youth and vigour, he felt that his parents were too infirm to bear it, and with characteristic thoughtfulness, he went at once to the King of Moab and begged him to give a home to the old people until he should have a safer place of shelter for them. David's grand-mother was Ruth the Moabitess, which according to the rule of Eastern hospitality, entitled all her relations to whatever aid they needed from any of the tribe of Moab, and so the King of Moab cordially assented to David's request, and received Jesse and his wife as inmates of his home.
Among David's first followers were some clever warriors of the tribe of Gad, men fierce in war, and strong and swift of foot. With him also was the prophet Gad himself, and there were even some men from the tribe of Benjamin, the tribe to which King Saul belonged, who joined David's company. It seems to have been a peculiarity of the Benjamites that they could use either hand with equal skill, and those who joined David were armed with bows, and were very valuable allies because they could use both the right hand and the left at once in hurling stones, and shooting arrows, and never miss their aim. At first David feared treachery from these Benjamites, but when he asked them frankly what their intentions were, they said:
"We are thine, David, peace be unto thee and thy helpers, for thy God helpeth thee." Then David received them, and made them captains of his army, and they became enthusiastic admirers of their young leader, as were all David's band.
One incident shows what passionate affection his men felt for him. Saul's army in losing David had lost the one captain who could keep the Philistines in check, and they were over-running the country in numerous bands, having their headquarters in the valley of Rephaim, near Jerusalem. One night, in a moment of fond recollection of a happier past, David cried out in an intense longing for a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem by which he had often driven his sheep in his younger days. At once, three of his men, without telling him what they were going to do, forced a passage through the Philistine lines and brought him the water for which he longed. Touched by the act, but always modest, David refused to allow men to risk their lives simply for his gratification and poured out the water as a sacrifice to God, according to the religious ceremony of that time, for it was as good as blood, David said, and the three men who brought it to him were afterwards counted among the mightiest of his heroes.
Besides these men, all the others of his little band were devoted to him, seeing his courage and his unconditional dependence on God under all circumstances. The wild, rough life brought out all the manhood there was in his little band of outlaw warriors who were occupied mainly in guerilla warfare with marauding tribes and in eluding the pursuit of Saul, and in this way several years passed, during which time, David's life was full of stirring events, but many a night as he wandered underneath the stars, his thoughts turned in passionate longing to Jonathan, for whom his heart cried out—for Jonathan, whose life was as different from David's, for he had all the comforts of luxurious living, and all the elegance and pomp which were the natural surroundings of a King's son. And yet he was far from happy, for he too longed for David, and he was obliged to spend a large part of his time in watching over his father, whose weakness of character he understood perfectly, and to keep the King from dangerous acts and damaging outbursts of temper, required all of young Jonathan's tact, and most of his time and strength.
Meanwhile, the prophet Gad whose advice was supposed to be divinely inspired, told David that it was no longer safe to remain in the cave of Adullam, so the little band of outlaws left the place where they had been for so long encamped and as outlaws have always done, they took refuge in a forest, somewhere among the hills of Judah.
It was now the end of harvest time in May, and news was brought to David that the town of Keilah was being harassed by plundering bands of Philistines. As the town evidently did not belong to Judah at this time, Saul did not move a finger to protect it, although the enemy had shut up the citizens within their own walls and were robbing the loaded threshing floors outside. David deliberated long and prayerfully, together with the priest Abiathar, who was one of his followers, deciding whether he might successfully attack the bands who were robbing Keilah. His men were rather fearful of the enterprise, but when Abiathar decided in favour of it, David's band at once marched over the highlands of Judah, and surprised and defeated the Philistines with great loss, and took much booty. David even established himself in the town, but when Saul discovered that fact, he called out all the forces of Israel, and prepared to besiege David, full of fiendish joy that the prey he had so long sought was in his hands at last, for the capture of four hundred men in a fortress however strong, could only be for his large army, a question of time. All this became known to David, who was warned by Abiathar that the inhabitants of Keilah would be compelled for their own safety to give him up to Saul, and his four hundred men only saved themselves by a hasty flight breaking up into detachments, and fleeing wherever they could go, while David with only a handful of his army, made his way once again into the hospitable wilderness which stretches from the hills of Judah to the shores of the Dead Sea, and there he hid in secret places among the crags and tangled brush, while with fiendish perseverance, Saul sought him every day. But every day God saved him from capture, yet as the days passed he became weary and discouraged in heart. Then in a lonely hour there came a rare joy to David—Jonathan, his friend, stood beside him with outstretched hands and beaming eyes, joy expressed on every line of his sensitive, delicate face.
David has no words ready for such a joyous moment—he is no longer the brave warrior—leader of men. He throws his arms about Jonathan's neck, and tears come,—yes, tears,—and Jonathan too, is unnerved, but there is no time to lose, they may be discovered any moment and that will mean death for at least one of them. Jonathan is the first to speak, clasping David's hand closely.
"Fear not," he says in a clear, calm voice, "the hand of Saul, my father, shall not find thee, and thou shalt be King over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee, and that also my father knoweth."
So spoke Jonathan, and the words came from his heart, for knowing as he did of all the courageous acts of David, and of all the diplomacy he had used to help others as well as himself, Jonathan's heart told him that his friend was truly worthy to be King of Israel rather than he, the rightful heir to the throne, and with deepest love and admiration in his eyes and voice, and at peril of his life, should he be found with David, he told David this, and David's eyes shone with joy and pride in his friend's appreciation, and his hand-clasp grew firmer, and there was deep, intense silence while the two friends thought of past and future, and looked into each other's eyes as comrades look who trust and understand.
Then, Jonathan renewed his covenant of friendship for David, and of loyalty to his descendants for ever, and David began to give his answering promise, but he could not finish the words because of a great sob which burst from him. And Jonathan could say no words of comfort, for his soul was full of misery too, because he must so soon part from David. Then David who was quick to see and feel Jonathan's pain, turned away, and hastily, with a mighty effort controlled his misery, that his friend might not see sorrow on his face, and with one last look Jonathan turned and silently went from the forest, out into the larger world and back into the less free life that was his at the Court of his father. Back to his own duty which he never shirked, went Jonathan, and to David remained only the fulfilling of that renewed covenant of comradeship. And fulfil it he did.
In the following months Saul still sought daily to kill him, but daily failed to do so, and instead David had an opportunity to capture and kill Saul, when he came upon him by night sleeping, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and surrounded by Abner and his people who were sleeping too. Think what a temptation that was for David to resist! But even though it would have freed his life of a dangerous enemy and raised him to the throne, David would not yield to it, for he said:
"Who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed and be guiltless? The Lord shall smite him, or his day will come to die, or he will descend into the battle and perish, but God forbid that I should stretch my hand against him."
And never did he raise his hand against Saul, though still Saul pursued him with relentless hatred, but still David escaped from his hand, and he and his band of followers became daily more famous for their deeds of valour, and for the brave warfare they waged against their enemies.
War again broke out between the Israelites and the Philistines. David and his men who were not now with either army, but who had just captured the Amalekites and taken from them large booty, were rejoicing over this victory, when joy was turned to sorrow. News was brought to David that both Saul and Jonathan had fallen in battle against the Philistines at Gilboa.
Jonathan gone from him! Jonathan, his friend, gone beyond his sight for ever! David refused to believe this until he who brought the sad tidings had again and again given proof of its truth. Then David gave way to his grief, and he and all his men who sorrowed with him, wept and mourned and fasted until evening, for Saul, the king, and for Jonathan, his son, and David mourned as one who cannot be comforted.
Although David had known only too well the truth about Saul's great weakness, and had feared him as his most dangerous enemy, still to him was Saul always the King of Israel, mighty in strength of character, and in all the pomp and power of a nation's ruler; still the king of a shepherd boy's dreams and also he was the father of Jonathan, and because of David's childhood's ideal of Saul, the king, and because of his great grief for Jonathan his friend, David, who was now the King of Israel, expressed his true feelings in this wonderful poem in memory of Saul, and of Jonathan his friend:
The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places
How are the mighty fallen!
Tell it not in Gath
Publish it not in the streets of Askelon,
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph,
Ye mountains of Gelboa, let there be no dew,
Neither let there be rain upon you!
For there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away,
The shield of Saul, the anointed of the Lord.
From the blood of the slain,
From the fat of the mighty,
The bow of Jonathan turned not back
And the sword of Saul returned not empty,
Jonathan and Saul
Were lovely and pleasant in their lives
And in their deaths they were not divided;
They were swifter than eagles,
They were stronger than lions,
Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
Who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights,
Who put on ornaments of gold on your apparel,
How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!
O Jonathan, thou wast slain
I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan!
Very pleasant hast thou been unto me,
Thy love to me was wonderful,
Passing the love of women,
How are the mighty fallen,
And the weapons of war perished!