Further Musings on the Life of David and Saul, Kings of Israel

Recently, I have noticed a few subjects that I want to tackle in the following weeks, but for today I wanted to carry on with some of my observations pertaining to the 1st and 2nd kings of Israel: Saul, the Benjamite; and David, the Judean.

A Comparison of Two Kings…

The first king of Israel, Saul was the people’s choice not God’s. I believe this is a biblically accurate argument that can be logically defended.  Although, some might attempt to question the aforementioned conclusion by showing that God did in fact choose Saul as king, I think that speaks more of the act of God than the motive of God having chosen him.

There are other historical figures we might highlight that God chose to raise up, but not for a good purpose humanly speaking. That is not to say that God didn’t have a good reason for choosing them, only that God’s goodness does not have to always benefit fallen man. (You might find that somewhat distasteful, and you are privy to your opinion but I, as of yet, have not heard a sound biblical argument to contradict it.)

The second king of Israel, David was God’s choice not the peoples. People do not normally think of humble shepherds as king worthy. That’s fine, but again God’s mode of thought/action is not driven by human opinion. What we see about reality is not always the way in which God sees reality. Even when our desire to reflect God’s viewpoint our creaturely limitations have a way of manifesting themselves.

Two Types of Image Bearers…

When you look at Saul and David you are witnessing two different types of image bearers. The shadow they cast in life is dependent upon the image their hearts are reflecting.

One passage of Scripture that offers a wonderful contrast between the two types is found in 1Sam 17. This is a pretty popular chapter among students of Scripture. It tells the tale of a young man who faced a giant, while the rest of the nation and the king who led them peed their pants.

The setting of the battle is picturesque. Two armies standing on opposing sides with a valley of death separating them. The Philistines have their champion who is much taller than a head above the competition (cf. 1Sam 10.23). Depending upon the measurement for a cubit, Goliath is estimated to be about 9 ½ feet tall. A mountain of a man, who has spent his whole life being trained in battle. He is war-tested, and to most men a terror to behold.

Each day Goliath would stand before the armies of Israel and her king and challenge them to combat. He promised that if someone were able to slay him in a hand-to-hand death struggle, then the enemies of Israel would lay down their arms is submission (cf. 1Sam 17.8-10). But the sight of this giant drove fear into the hearts of the armies of Israel, and Saul trembled at his words (cf. 1Sam 17.24, 11; respectively).

Get this now, the king of Israel had shaky knees. Saul had been battled tested and he was not a small man, but he was a coward. This man that God had put in the position to fight for the people as their champion, refused to do what he was called to do. Rather than fight he sought to bribe another with the promises of riches and a daughter.

In walks David…

David is the youngest of eight brothers. As this battle is being waged (perhaps flirted with is a better way to describe this event, as no fight has yet broken out), David’s father Jesse relieves him of his duty to tend sheep to take food to his older brothers in order to bring news back to his father (1Sam 17.17-18). Something to bear in mind at this point is the warning that God gives the prophet Samuel before he anoints David to be the next king in Israel. God says, “…the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1Sam 16.7b; emphasis added).[i]

What does that mean? That God does not make decisions based on assumptions or biases driven by superficial knowledge. God is not a man to think like a man, He is God. He sees the heart, He discerns the motives, He recognizes the desires of the person in question. And of David it is said that he is better than Saul (1Sam 15.28). He is identified in Scripture as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13.22). He is shown to be one who trusts in the Lord God above all else, as we shall see in just a moment.

Saul was rejected as king over Israel by God. He is told that his kingdom, which might have lasted if he obeyed, would be torn from him (cf. 1Sam 13.13-14). Saul’s problem was that he had no faith. He did not trust the Lord. He refused to lean upon His Word. And therefore, proved (to the people, not God) that he was unfit to wear the crown.

In 1 Samuel this truth has been established on other grounds, but contrast between two different types of image bearers is highlighted the 17th chapter of the book. David, upon his arrival to the encamped army of Israel, hears the challenge of Goliath. Rather than expressing fear he becomes furious. David is filled with a righteous indignation that some unbeliever[ii] would dare speak against his God in order to deface Him (1Sam 17.26)!

The Battle is the Lords…

News of David’s comments eventually reached Saul, the king. When an audience had been granted Saul says to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth” (1Sam 17.33).[iii] David is not cowed in a corner. He has greater confidence than others around him, because of who he ultimately trusts in:

But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the Living God’” (1Sam 17.34-36).

In other words, David saw Goliath as nothing but an animal fit for slaughter. He recognized that Goliath was not only mocking His Lord and Savior, but attacking the sheep of God’s pasture. As a shepherd your responsibility is to the flock. You are the one responsible to stand in their stead. To fight for those who are incapable of defending themselves.

These words ought to have struck Saul’s heart, for this was the purpose to which he was anointed as king, but it does not appear that David’s courage had any lasting effect. Why would it when you are more concerned about building monuments to yourself (1Sam 15.12), rather than defending the honor of your Creator and the people you were sent to protect?

David’s not finished though; he adds these words to his testimony before he departs:

“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1Sam 17.37; comp Josh 10.25).

Saul says, “David, you’re not able.” David responds, “My king, yes, I am.” Saul’s confidence was in man, in the flesh; but David’s confidence was in the Lord, in the Spirit.

Trusting in what God had equipped him with, he heads into battle with a staff and five smooth stones from a nearby brook for his sling. As he approaches his enemy, he is not timid but exuding confidence. David is strong and courageous before this mighty foe, and in response to the mocking he receives he proclaims,

“[Goliath], you come to me with a sword and a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defiled. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the hosts of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword or spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand” (1Sam 17.45-47).

And then, David charged his enemy—running to the forefront of the fight—and using a stone from the brook sunk it into the head of his enemy; taking Goliath’s sword and chopping off the man’s head.

What this proves…

David’s heart was not like Saul’s. David’s faith was in his Creator. Saul’s faith was in himself. The reflection of their hearts was rooted in the source they imaged. The difference between the two is that one of them “had a heart after God’s own heart.” David desired for the will of God to be carried out in his life, and in the life of others as vv. 46b-47 illustrates.

David was consumed with glorifying God; Saul was consumed with glorifying himself. David wanted this event to be a universal monument to the Lord above, so that all would know the truth. Saul desired himself to be the monument that men looked to (1Sam 15.12). Saul’s leadership led the people into sin (they doubted God which is sin; cf. Rom 14.23; Heb 11.6); whereas, David’s leadership pointed men to God.

Obviously, David wanted to image God in his life and as a result was shown as dependent upon him. The same cannot be said of Saul, for unlike David, his heart was far from the Lord. “But,” you say, “David sinned too! David’s future behavior would lead others into folly!” True enough, but we will have to leave room for that discussion for a later date.

On a more personal note, I think it is a question we ought to ask ourselves: “Whose image do we desire to reflect in our lives?”


[i] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[ii] To be called “uncircumcised” was an epithet for being an unbeliever. Someone outside the assembly/congregation of God.

[iii] Some assume that this means that David is a small child. Various children’s books depict him this way. As a result, many fanciful interpretations come from the statement about David wearing Saul’s armor (cf. 1Sam 17.38-39) as if this boy barely in his teens (it is assumed) was just too small. Saul was a big man, but David a little boy. The text merely says, “he had not tested them” (1Sam 17.39) twice to emphasize that David was a shepherd not a trained soldier. Why would Saul have them put on him if they wouldn’t have fit? There seems to be a subtle point being made by the author of 1Sam that what men trusted in (i.e. physical arms, etc.) is not what David trusted in (cf. 1Sam 17.47). David knew that the tools of deliverance were not as important as the One Who Delivers!