The boy shaded his eyes as he squinted in the bright midday sunlight. Yes, there it was again. Dust rising. He reached for his sling.
Whatever was moving out there was narrowing the gap at a fast pace. It was heading directly towards his flock.
Still too far to be an immediate threat, David nevertheless checked the pouch hanging from his belt.
But there was no need. The cry came again, and this time he realised someone was calling his name.
Now he could make out the man through the dust haze. Shimon, one of his father’s shepherds, was striding towards him.
Checking the perimeter of his flock to make sure no predators were lurking, David went to meet the newcomer.
“Greetings, Shimon,” he called before the two men reached each other. “Is all well at home?”
It was rare for anyone to visit David. He was a good shepherd, taking care of his father’s flock, ready to fight off any marauding animals – even risking his own life once or twice. His father called him foolhardy but spoke of him with pride to his friends and David’s older brothers.
“All is well, David. But Jesse wants you at home. I have come to watch the flock whilst you go to him.”
David nodded, wondering why his father needed him. He went to fetch his pack.
“Do you have food, Shimon? There are dates and unleavened bread here, together with some wine. Watch the rocks there. A bear is using them to sleep and has been around the last two nights, looking for easy prey. A couple of well-aimed stones have seen him off, but they haven’t stopped him trying.”
“I’ll watch for him, David. I’m almost as good with my slingshot, as you are with yours. You know that.”
David laughed and clapped Shimon on the back.
“Almost, but not quite, my friend. Not quite good enough to beat me in the last contest we had.”
Shimon grinned. “You’d better hurry home and leave me to practice. Then I’ll beat you next time.”
The young men clasped hands and parted as David turned to go. He had not gone more than two dozen paces when something landed to one side of him, sending up a scatter of small stones which stung his legs.
Shimon was laughing.
“I’m good enough to miss you on purpose when I want to,” he called.
David waved and continued on his way, knowing the flock was in good hands. He and Shimon had practised with their slingshots throughout their childhood. David had won their last contest by one shot. The sheep were safe with Shimon.
It was late in the afternoon when David reached home. A servant was waiting with a bowl of water and David washed the worst of the dust off himself before going in to see his father.
“Shalom, Abba,” he greeted the old man sitting at a table eating grapes.
“Shalom, my son. So Shimon found you. Come, eat and drink. I have a task for you and need you to leave at dawn tomorrow.”
A servant brought in platters of food and a jar of wine. David joined his father and bowed his head for the familiar blessing over the food he was about to eat, then grabbed a chunk of lamb and filled his plate with vegetables. He realised how hungry he was and began to eat with enjoyment. After the simple fare he had in the hills with the sheep, this meal was a feast.
“I have heard from your brothers,” his father said. “They are running short of supplies. I need you to take food and wine to them.”
David stopped eating. He had taken food to his brothers on the battle lines before, but it had been a while since he had last gone there. It was a task that could be done by a servant. Why was he needed?
“I want you to do it, my son, because I need you to bear a message to your brothers. There seems to be something blocking the army’s advance. I want you to find out from them what is really happening. Sometimes they have to change their messages to favour the king and I can trust no-one else to carry news which may be different to that which comes from the court.”
“I understand, Abba. Tell me what you want to say and I will leave at first light with the supplies you wish to send.”
They talked long into the night. David was the youngest of his father’s sons, and it was the first time Jesse had talked to him as an adult. The young man was intrigued to hear his father’s views on the events that occupied Saul and the Hebrew army.
Late that night they parted, to meet again before sunrise, as David was about to leave.
“May Yahweh go with you, my son. Come home to me with your brothers’ messages. I will watch for your return.” The old man clasped David to his chest, then placed his right hand on his head in a paternal blessing.
David was humbled by his father’s affection and the responsibility of the task with which he had been entrusted.
“Abba, I will return as soon as I can,” he said, leading the donkey out of the courtyard and into the desert.
It took him two days to reach the army’s encampment. There were many men, and no-one seemed to know his brothers. At last David asked a soldier, not much older than himself, and the lad knew where he could find the section of the camp where his brothers were based.
They were delighted to receive fresh supplies and allowed their young brother to join them around their campfire. As the light faded, a loud shout echoed off the surrounding hills.
David jumped to his feet in alarm.
”What’s that?’ he asked, shocked at the volume of the man’s voice.
“That’s Goliath,” Eliab, the oldest of his brothers, said. “He does that morning and evening. He taunts us. He accuses us of cowardice, saying our gods are useless, and we should turn to his gods. It makes us angry, but we are helpless against him. Two of our best swordsmen went forward to fight him. The first died within two breaths of walking into the reach of Goliath’s sword, and the other seemed to walk straight onto the point, so fast does the giant move.”
“Giant? What do you mean giant?”
“David, you must see him. This man is taller than a man with a child on his shoulders, and broader than three men standing side by side.”
“But why should he stop the whole Hebrew army?”
“As Eliab says, he taunts us. He tells us night and day that the Philistine army will acknowledge defeat and go home if one of our soldiers kills him. But he is too big for any of us. Whoever stands against him is walking to his death.”
“Take me to see him.” David was not making a suggestion, it seemed, so much as issuing an order.
“What do you mean?” Eliab’s scorn was evident.
“I want to see him. I can defeat him.”
“Don’t be so sure. That’s insane. You have no idea what you’re saying.” Eliab was indignant. “What would Abba say if we have to go home and tell him you’ve been slaughtered by the enemy of Israel?”
“You won’t have to. Take me to see him.”
“Stubborn kid,” Shammah muttered. David turned on him.
“I am no longer a kid. I am a man. I have fought off bears and lions while protecting the sheep. If I can defeat them, I can defeat a mere man!”
His brothers laughed, but Abinadab said, “Let the boy see him. The sight of the giant will show him the enormity of the task. It may help him change his mind. Who does he think he is to even consider standing against Goliath when more experienced men have either stood down or been defeated?”
So the brothers took David to see Goliath. They stopped half way down the hill, well out of reach of the enormous sword the giant was swinging as he continued to taunt Israel.
“This day, I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.”
David’s hand went to the pouch on his belt as he considered the giant Philistine.
After a while of silent contemplation, David turned back to his brothers who were standing a little distance behind him.
“I can do it. But I need better light. At sunrise tomorrow I will go against him.”
The brothers looked at one another. Their contempt was evident.
“Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle,” Eliab said.
Frustrated, David turned away and approached another group of men trying to convince them he could defeat Goliath. But they laughed at him, mocking him, calling him a boy. David went from group to group with the same result.
At one fire though, a man rose to his feet and slipped away in silence. He went to Saul himself and told him about David’s persistent request.
Intrigued, Saul sent for David.
When the young man came into the presence of the king, Saul too laughed at the idea that he thought he could defeat the giant.
“You’re just a child! I can’t send a child to fight that monster who has defeated the best men in Israel.”
David was determined. Nothing anyone could say would make him change his mind.
Saul, still unconvinced, gave way in the face of such persistence.
“Go, and may the Lord be with you.”
The king clapped his hands and ordered his servant to bring his own armour and a sword for David to use in the battle to come. David objected, but the king insisted he try it on. The servants strapped the young man into the armour, as tight as it would go. But still it was too big for him as Saul was a mature man, and David was not yet fully grown into manhood.
David staggered as he picked up Saul’s heavy sword. It unbalanced him so he put it down, tugging at the armour’s straps.
“No,” he said. “No, I don’t want to be encumbered with all this. It’s too heavy. I’m not used to it. I need to move freely,” and he had the servants remove the armour which was making him slow and clumsy.
The king and David’s brothers objected again, but David was adamant. No armour. No sword.
“But how do you intend to fight the giant?” the king asked.
“I will show you in the morning, majesty,” the boy replied, “but now I must rest. When Goliath challenges the Hebrew army tomorrow, it will be with his last breath and he will trouble you no more. The victory will belong to Israel and to Yahweh.” With that, he bowed to the king, and, with his permission, left the tent.
David was up the next morning before daybreak. He went to the stream to find suitable stones for his sling. His practised gaze swept across the banks around him. He picked up four smooth brown stones. He was about to return to the camp when he spotted another one. Never one to leave a suitable stone behind, he picked it up and examined it. It was smooth and round, one of a kind, with flecks of bright colour speckled across its surface. For a fleeting moment he wondered where it had come from, but a distant shout from the camp pulled him back to his current situation. He slipped the pebble into the pouch.
The Hebrew camp was abuzz with activity. Word had spread about David’s boast so every soldier wanted to witness the event. Dressed in full armour they stood in silence as David walked out of Saul’s tent, accompanied by the king and followed by his brothers.
David wore his shepherd’s tunic with his leather sandals and carried his shepherd’s staff. That’s all. No armour, no helmet. Just the clothes he’d arrived in. No sword either, but his hand continually reached for the pouch at his waist.
Saul stopped and put his hand on David’s shoulder.
“May Yahweh go with you,” he said quietly.
“He will, Majesty,” said David, “He will.”
The king nodded, and his hand dropped to his side.
At that moment an ear-splitting shout shattered the silence.
“Is there no-one in Israel who is prepared to take on the power of the Philistines?” the giant roared.
In the echo which resounded off the hills, a determined reply rang out.
“I am prepared to do so.”
The giant searched for the one who dared to defy him. His glance swept over David, ignoring him as insignificant. Goliath scanned the ranks of the silent, armed Hebrew soldiers.
No one stood out, but one.
A boy standing alone.
Goliath threw back his head and roared with laughter. The Philistine army followed his lead. The sound was like thunder.
“Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” He cursed David by his gods. “Come here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”
David’s clear voice carried across the valley.
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day, the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give all of you into our hands.”
The giant laughed again. He stepped toward David, but the young shepherd did not flee.
Instead, he lay his staff down on the ground, unhooked his sling from his belt and pulled a handful of pebbles from his pouch. He held them in the palm of his hand glancing down at them.
One stood out. It was smooth and round, one of a kind, with flecks of bright colour speckled across its surface.
One of a kind.
“Is this the one you have chosen for this task, Yahweh?” he whispered. “Then let it fly like the wind and strike true as it leaves my sling. Give me a strong arm and keen eyes.” He picked up the unusual stone and slipped the rest back into his pouch.
He slotted the stone into his sling.
There would be no time for a second shot. Goliath would be upon him. David’s heart beat fast as he thought about the consequences of a missed shot.
“Yahweh? Yahweh, help me – for your glory and for the sake of Israel.”
He took a deep breath and raised his arm.
He began to swing the sling around his head.
Round and round and round, gaining momentum with each rotation.
Not one pair of Hebrew eyes looked away. They all watched the sling.
Round and …
With a whoosh that seemed to encompass the whole Hebrew army’s sigh, David straightened his arm and flung the curiously coloured pebble. The on-lookers followed its flight as the flecks of bright colour glinted in the early morning sun.
The pebble struck Goliath in the centre of his forehead and with a grunt of surprise and pain, the giant staggered.
A murmur ran through the Philistine ranks.
The giant sank to his knees.
The Philistine soldiers tensed.
Their hero fell forward, on his face.
In the ensuing shocked silence, David ran forward and seized Goliath’s sword. He leapt onto the giant’s back, and with one almighty blow cut off his head.
Now a roar erupted from the Hebrew army! As one man, swords were drawn and the whole army rushed forward as the Philistine soldiers turned and fled.
David jumped down onto the ground and stood there, head bowed, lips moving as the Hebrews streamed past him.
“Thank you, Yahweh. The battle is won by your hand. Thank you.”
The soldiers swept by and put their enemy to flight.
That evening, around the fires, David was feted as Israel’s hero.
Saul kept David close to him and the young man moved in high circles, becoming a close friend of Saul’s son Jonathan.
But David never forgot the way Yahweh had caused the strange stone he had found on that morning to fly, sparkling through the air. It was as if Yahweh had picked it out especially for David to find.
David marvelled at the fact. Yahweh was almighty and in later years David wrote many songs of praise for Him, trying to express his feelings for the One God of Israel.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!