Although today’s Jews look to the fathers and prophets of old with great admiration, especially Moses, it is David who continues to be Judaism’s and Israel’s great hero. In spite of his failings, which caused him to fall from power and from grace, he still captures the imagination and admiration of anyone who studies the Old Testament. Certainly, the story of David and Goliath is a favorite of all who have read the Bible.
King Saul’s pride had cost him the Lord’s support. God had decreed that He would raise up another more worthy to lead His children. Still, Samuel mourned over Saul’s transgressions… “And the Lord said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Beth-lehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons” (1 Samuel 16:1).
Samuel was afraid to go. Such was the jealousy of Saul. But the Lord instructed Samuel to take an animal and pretend he was going to offer sacrifice. Samuel followed the direction of the Lord, and his experience at the house of Jesse in Bethlehem (which is a near suburb of Jerusalem) is a lesson not only in following the promptings of the Holy Ghost, but in understanding how the Lord looks upon His children.
Samuel proceeded to prepare the sacrifice and called upon Jesse and his sons to sanctify themselves and join with others who were also taking part. When the men had gathered, Samuel looked with favor upon Jesse’s son Eliab. But the Lord said, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Others of Jesse’s sons were introduced to the prophet: Aminadab, Shammah, and seven others. But the Lord rejected all of them. Samuel had to inquire of Jesse as to whether he might have still more sons absent from the occasion. Yes, there was one other, the youngest, David, out tending the sheep. They summoned him, and when the youth arrived, Samuel saw that he was “…ruddy [probably with reddish hair], and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the Lord said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he” (1 Samuel 16:12). Samuel anointed David in the midst of his brethren, and from then on, the spirit of the Lord that had forsaken Saul now rested upon David.
This seems like a singular event, not one that would ever transpire today, and yet in part, it happens very often in the Mormon Church. Not that children are anointed to become rulers of countries or kingdoms, but that through the power of the priesthood an elder can lay his hands upon the head of a child, youth, or adult and pronounce a prophetic blessing that can foretell a future role in earthly or spiritual pursuits. Parents become aware of potential in their children that they could never glimpse in any other way. All of the modern prophets have had their callings foretold in this way, at least in part. In addition, each member, usually in his or her teenage years, receives one patriarchal blessing, which reveals to the person his or her lineage among the tribes of Israel, and also gives prophetic guidelines for the future. One’s patriarchal blessing is an anchor at times of confusion or at turning points in one’s life.
In several verses the Bible says that the Lord sent an evil spirit to trouble Saul, but this is a mistranslation. Joseph Smithretranslated this verse to read as follows: “An evil spirit which was not of the Lord troubled him” ( JST, 1 Samuel 16:14 ; emphasis added). Recorded here are the first effects of Saul’s rejection of the Lord. More and more Saul failed to find peace with himself until at last he became a miserable, guilt-ridden man.
Saul’s attendants recommended some soothing music to calm Saul’s troubled spirit, and it was David, who was evidently an accomplished harpist, who was summoned. Obviously, the hand of the Lord was in this. Saul loved David and made him his armor-bearer. Saul went up against the Philistines in the Valley of Elah, which is southwest of both Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Philistines sent out their champion, Goliath of Gath, who was about nine feet, nine inches tall! Goliath’s armor is estimated to have weighed about 150 pounds. In those days the “champion” was “the man who undertakes to settle the disputes between two armies or nations . So our ancient champions settled disputes between contending parties by what was termed camp fight ; hence the campio or champion .” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:261.) The Bible cites a race of giants many times, called the “anakim.” It seems that they were mostly killed off by the conquest of Joshua, but that a few remained in Gath, Ashdod, and Gaza among the Philistines.
At the time of the battle, the three eldest sons of Jesse were with the troops in the Valley of Elah, but David had gone to nearby Bethlehem to look after his father’s sheep. For 40 days (an idiom in Hebrew usually meaning “a long time”), Goliath bid the Israelites choose someone to face him in a deciding battle. But the Israelites had no champion willing to face Goliath, even though Saul had offered riches, glory, and even his daughter to anyone who could defeat Goliath. David was sent to the battlefield to take food to his brothers and to check on the progress of the battle and bring the news back to Bethlehem. He was appalled at what he found in Elah. He said, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:26)?
When David offered to fight the giant, all doubted him, even Saul, but David recounted that he had fought and killed both a bear and a lion to save his sheep. “David said moreover, 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. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the Lord be with thee” (1 Samuel 17:37).
David went against Goliath with his shepherd’s staff, his sling, and five smooth stones. “Then said David to the Philistine, 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” (1 Samuel 17:45). David slew Goliath with a stone to the forehead, and then beheaded him with his own sword. (We find in the story of the battle, more problems with the King James translation
Once the Israelites had soundly defeated the Philistines, the fame of the heroes spread through all Israel. David received more praise from the populace than did Saul, and thus began Saul’s unrelenting jealosy of David, even leading Saul to many attempts on David’s life. However, Jonathan, Saul’s noble son, loved David and did everything in his power to protect him. The story of the friendship between Jonathan and David is one of the greatest Bible stories. Jonathan loved David “as his own soul.”
David now lived in the King’s court and was adored of the people and of Saul’s children. Saul’s second daughter, Mical, fell in love with David, and since her older sister had been given to another, Saul thought to offer her to David. However, Saul was really planning David’s death at the hands of the Philistines. The price for Michal was 100 foreskins from fallen Philistine soldiers. Saul was certain that David would fall at the hands of the Philistines, but instead, David returned with 200 souvenirs of the battle. David always behaved wisely, both in battle and at court, but when Saul saw how Michal and Jonathan adored David, his jealosy grew.
“After David escaped from Saul through the help of his wife, Michal, Saul sent messengers to kill him ( 1 Samuel 19:18–24 ). But David had sought refuge with Samuel in what scholars called ‘Schools of the Prophets’ (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 2:2:199).These scholars showed that such prophets as Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha conducted special schools that were called here ‘the company of the prophets’ ( v. 20 ). Elsewhere, the men who attended these schools were called ‘sons of the prophets’ ( 1 Kings 20:35 ). This fact is of interest to Latter-day Saints because Joseph Smith set up a similar school in Kirtland, Ohio, to help teach priesthood holders their special duties.
“When the messengers from Saul and finally Saul himself came, they came under the influence of the Spirit, and thus David’s life was spared. The fact that the people said, ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’ ( v. 24 ) is explained this way: Saul ‘threw off his royal robes or military dress, retaining only his tunic; and continued so all that day and all that night, uniting with the sons of the prophets in prayers, singing praises, and other religious exercises, which were unusual to kings and warriors; and this gave rise to the saying, Is Saul also among the prophets? By bringing both him and his men thus under a Divine influence, God prevented them from injuring the person of David.’” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:274.)
As Saul’s ire grew, Jonathan made a covenant with David, swearing his friendship and loyalty. When Saul threatened David’s life again, Jonathan warned him. No longer could David remain at court. It was too dangerous. David began to gather followers and fled from place to place, even to Gath, the home of Goliath. The priests who showed David kindness were slain by Saul. In fact, this was a great slaughter to satisfy his need for revenge: “and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword (1 Samuel 22:18, 19).
Saul even gave Michal to another man. David had to live among the Philistines and send his parents to live among the Moabites for protection (see 1 Samuel 22:3–4 ). Thus, David’s distress was great. “Besides his friend Jonathan, whom he was now about to lose for ever, he lost his wife, relatives, country; and, what was most afflictive, the altars of his God, and the ordinances of religion.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:277.) However, the Lord was with David. David had the “spirit of prophecy.” The Lord spoke with him, warned him, and directed him personally. The Lord sent David and his hundreds of men to save an Israelite city from the Philistines, but then warned him to leave, since Saul was coming after him. Eventually, David and his men went to Ein Gedi (“goat spring”).
Ein Gedi is a camper’s paradise. In the mountains on the west side of the Jordan Rift Valley where the Dead Sea lies, an oasis of ferns, reeds, and bamboo grace the rugged landscape. Springs and waterfalls create fresh ponds of water. Wildlife abounds. The visitor senses David’s spirit and wonders if the time David spent hiding in Ein Gedi, there communicating with the Lord and enjoying the camaraderie of his men, might have been the best time of his life. Saul actually went to Ein Gedi with three thousand men, trying to find David to kill him. Instead, David had the opportunity to kill Saul, but being honorable, refused to do so. David did, however, slice off a piece of Saul’s robe with his sword: “Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand: for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that there isneither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it. The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee. As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee” (1 Samuel 24:11 – 13). Saul realized that David would surely be king, and he won a promise from David that David would not destroy Saul’s family.
David then left Ein Gedi and went north. Near Mt. Carmel he was treated poorly by Nabal. However churlish Nabal was, his wife Abigail was wise and gracious. She saved the estate from the wrath of David’s men by bringing offerings of food and sweet words to David. When Nabal found out that only the good judgment of his wife had come between him and destruction, he suffered a heart attack or stroke. David took Abigail and then Ahinoam to wife, but Michal had been given to Phalti the son of Laish.
David then had another opportunity to slay Saul, but did not do so. He then dwelt with the Philistines 16 months. Saul had lost the spirit of God and sought advice from the witch of Endor. She appeared to be communicating with Samuel the Prophet, who had passed away.
“Those religionists who attempt and frequently attain communion (as they suppose) with departed spirits are called spiritualists . Their doctrine and belief that mediums and other mortals can actually hold intercourse with the spirits of the dead is called spiritualism . Such communion, if and when it occurs, is manifest by means of physical phenomena, such as so-called spirit-rappings, or during abnormal mental states, such as in trances. These communions are commonly arranged and shown forth through the instrumentality of mediums . . . .
“. . . No matter how sincerely mediums may be deceived into thinking they are following a divinely approved pattern, they are in fact turning to an evil source ‘for the living to hear from the dead.’ Those who are truly spiritually inclined know this by personal revelation from the true Spirit; further, the information revealed from spirits through mediums is not according to ‘the law and to the testimony.’
“. . . In ancient Israel, spiritualistic practices were punishable by death. ‘A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death.’ ( Lev. 20:27 ; Ex. 22:18 .)” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 759–60.)
The revelations received by the witch of Endor were not from the Lord, but from the adversary. However, the evil spirit’s predictions did come true. “Israel was delivered into the hand of the Philistines, and Saul and his three sons and his armor bearer and the men of his staff were all slain. It was therefore a true prophecy.’ Admitting that as perfectly correct, the position taken in this article is not in the least weakened. If the witches, wizards, necromancers and familiar spirits, placed under the ban of the law, did not sometimes foretell the truth there would have been no need to warn the people against consulting them. If the devil never told the truth he would not be able to deceive mankind by his falsehoods. The powers of darkness would never prevail without the use of some light. A little truth mixed with plausible error is one of the means by which they lead mankind astray. There is nothing, then, in the history of the interview between Saul and the woman of Endor which, rationally or doctrinally, establishes the opinion that she was a prophetess of the Lord or that Samuel actually appeared on that occasion.” (Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:108–9.)
*This article was adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.
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