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Contrasting Characters
(Exhortation - September 2006)

As childen, we are masters of imagination but, as we mature, we seem to neglect this God-given ability. As we consider a well-known portion of scripture, let us draw upon our imagination to enable us to enter into the emotions and aspirations of two powerful characters, David and Saul. Hopefully, the exercise will serve to highlight the contrast between trust in God and self-reliance, love and hate, forgiveness and jealousy, wisdom and stupidity.

Peace and tranquility
The scene is set on a sunny middle-eastern day in an arid land, undulating as far as the eye can see. There are gullies forged by little streams heading towards the river Jordan, and sheep nibble away contentedly on the sloping grassy banks. A ruddy good-looking young man gently guides the sheep with his shepherd’s crook. He notices the pasture is becoming depleted, so he looks for a safe glade amongst the rocks and encourages the sheep to move along to higher ground. Although only a simple young shepherd, David has faith that his God will lead him to good pastures and still waters, restoring his soul and protecting him from harm. Remembering the promises made regarding the very land upon which he is walking, David’s heart is full of peace and contentment. The sound of harp and spiritual songs resounds with joy as he worships the God he knows and loves.

In the distance, the sharp eyes of David see the familiar figure of a household servant carrying a message: his young master is needed at home. Upon his return, David is instructed by his father: he is to take provisions to his brothers and the captains of the army, encamped in battle readiness against the Philistines.

Anguish of mind
As David makes his way to the valley of Elah, a man dressed in kingly robes sits disconsolately in his tent. King Saul is very tall; he used to be very proud of the fact that he towered above other men. Today, however, his face reflects concern and his shoulders are hunched, lessening his usual imposing appearance and stature. His pride has been laid low by the repetitive daily challenge of Goliath the Philistine champion. Although the king had issued a command that the ranks be searched for a man of courage and valor — a man willing to respond to Goliath’s taunting — none had been found. What a paradox that Saul, the man chosen by the people for his height and prowess, was now looking for someone with these same qualities, to confront Goliath.

The tent flap opens and Saul is informed that the Philistines are forming ranks. He sighs deeply, dreading the defeat which he feels is inevitable. The Philistines possess weapons far superior to those of Israel. Having made inroads into the land of Israel, the Philistines had confiscated all weapons of war; they had even insisted upon supervising the sharpening of the Israelite’s agricultural tools. Heavy with worry and anxiety, Saul gives the command to form the battle formation and alerts his armor-bearer to make ready.

During this period of hectic activity, David arrives at the supply camp and thankfully unloads his burden. Straddling the brow of the hill, he sees the Philistines’ impressive battle array of thousands and turns to observe the corresponding mustering of the Israelites. Catching sight of his brothers, he quickly makes his way over to them. The adrenaline surges in his veins as he anticipates the battle he is about to witness. He is convinced that an army of brutal heathens, however numerous and experienced, would have no chance when opposed by a nation trusting in the living God.

Lesson in contrasts
Suddenly there is a stir in the ranks of the Philistines; the sea of men parts to allow a huge figure to pass through, affording David and the Israelites a full view of the giant from Gath. There is a gasp from the men of Israel — and no wonder: Goliath is clad from head to foot with impressive armor. On his torso is strapped impenetrable chain mail, bronze greaves cover the lower part of his legs, and his huge head is encased in a helmet the size of an earthen water urn. A shield-bearer staggers in front of this arrogant character, carrying a shield that looks like an oversized cart wheel.

Observing carefully, David comes to the conclusion that Goliath is encumbered by too much weight and suspects that the hands, which have too many fingers, will find the spear the size of a weaver’s beam difficult to handle. The young man feels that the revered soldier of the Philistines is no match for the army of the most high God. Nevertheless, to his amazement, he sees that this very army is cowering in fear. He calls out encouragement: “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever” (Psa. 125:1). Sadly, the only result is disparaging looks from those in his immediate vicinity.

The reaction of Saul is in stark contrast to David’s faith. He shudders when, from the countless numbers of fierce Philistine soldiers, their monstrous champion steps forth. Saul suddenly feels dwarfed, not only in size, but in courage and confidence. He had relied on his stature all his life and his strength had served him well, setting him above other young men. Nobody picked a fight with Saul: he could plough faster, carry more water; and perform any physical task more successfully than any of his peers. It was this fact that had brought him to the status of kingship.

The reward of faith
Saul’s mind ran along these lines: “The enemy has produced their biggest and strongest champion. This puts attention upon me as the only contestant. This cannot be, for I am needed; if anything happens to me, who will rule the people? I cannot believe that this is happening. Where is God in all of this? I thought that God was supposed to protect his own! What we need is more time.” He then orders the retreat to be sounded.

Having gained his equilibrium, Saul decides upon a solution to his dilemma; he will sidestep the problem and pass the responsibility on to someone else. The announcement is rapidly circulated around the camp that the man who brings the head of Goliath to the king will receive a bounty of fame and riches, the king’s daughter for his bride, and exemption for his family.

Interestingly, the reward of fame and fortune is of no interest to David. He is later to be called “the man after God’s own heart”. Very soon, it is reported to the king that a young stripling has been furiously posing the question to those who would listen: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” Needless to say, he is quickly ushered into the presence of King Saul, who demands an explanation. We know the ensuing conversation well:

“Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

Saul replies: “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.”

David recounts the details about the protection God afforded him in his successful battles with wild animals. Saul is impressed: “Go, and the Lord be with you.” There follows the exercise of dressing David in Saul’s armor, which proves useless because David is not used to battle dress. He intends to go forth in the protection of the Lord his God, as the succeeding events proves.

Five stones are carefully chosen, one expertly flung and the battle is won.

Reliance on God
In the contrast between these two stalwart men, there is a wealth of exhortation for us. Saul trusted in his own strength, and the praise of the people. Finally, in extreme crisis, he turned to witchcraft.

In contrast, however, David had complete trust in the Lord. Saul gave lip service to God when it suited him, but David throughout his life had praise to God on his lips. Saul relied on his physical prowess, whereas David relied on God.

We see that to rely on one’s own strengths and talents will lead to weakness, pride, lack of faith, fear in times of crisis, and possibly (as with Saul) jealousy, rage. and hate. When we make the commitment to trust in God, putting our lives in His hands, we can obtain courage, unshakable faith, love and forgiveness.

Now we must turn our thoughts to the one whom we have come to remember, the Lord Jesus Christ. He fought the greatest battle of all time and achieved the victory over sin. With this supreme example, there is no comparison.

Wynton Perrott, Christchurch, NZ

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