Only a boy named David. And yet prepared by God as a boy for his future work, work that included leading God’s people Israel as king, as well as writing Psalm 23, the theme of this year’s convention. It is this preparation of David by God that we consider now.
There are especially two events recorded in the Bible in which we can see evidence of how God prepared David at a young age for his work (1 Sam. 16–17). In the first scene, we are taken to a grassy hilltop surrounded on every side by more rolling hills, by green pastures and quiet streams. Nestled there in the hills is the little village of Bethlehem. Standing on that hilltop, leaning on his shepherd’s staff is a boy, handsome and youthful, but toughened by the hours spent outdoors and the encounters with wild animals. Scattered around this boy is a flock of sheep, well-fed and cared for. As the boy stands watch over his sheep, a messenger arrives and tells him to hurry to his father’s house. The boy shoots off and arrives at his father’s house panting and sweating, only to be greeted by a strange scene. There stand his seven older brothers and his aged father, with surprise written on their faces. But another old man is there as well. His name is Samuel, and, the moment the shepherd boy arrives, Samuel takes the horn of oil in his hand and pours it out upon the boy’s head. While his undoubtedly angry and jealous brothers look on, that young shepherd boy is anointed king of Israel and filled with the Holy Spirit to qualify him for this task.
Fast forward a few years. Now you are standing on a ridge, looking across a valley at the camp of the hated Philistines. You are filled with fear because for thirty-nine days now a ten-foot giant named Goliath has stepped into the breach and reproached Israel and her God. Now it is day forty, and Goliath is at it again. But this day is different. After Goliath stomps forward and opens his mouth, someone steps forward from the ranks of Israel. As you look closer you notice that it is not even a soldier, but it is only a young shepherd boy with nothing in hand except a sling. But that boy is not afraid; he rebukes Goliath and tells him that the vultures are going to feast on the bodies of his comrades today. And then that sling goes round and round, and the giant comes tumbling down with the shepherd’s stone in his enormous forehead. And just as quickly the shepherd boy removes the giant’s sword and lops off his head. Certain defeat has become a resounding victory, thanks to that young boy.
Obviously, the young shepherd boy in both scenes is David. And in these two events – his anointing by Samuel and his defeat of Goliath – we see David prepared by God for his future work.
There are five points worth noting about God’s preparation of David.
First, David was a young man raised in a covenant home.
Before discussing his family, it is worth noting that David was a young man at the time these two important events took place. In 1 Samuel 17:33 Saul says to David, “Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” In verse 42 we read that Goliath “disdained [David]: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.” The Bible does not tell us exactly how old David was, but he was certainly in his teens and probably no older than 18 or 19 years old. That is, David was about the same age as you young people.
This teenage young man grew up in a covenant home. The story of this covenant home began with David’s great-grandparents, Boaz and Ruth. The Moabitess Ruth was born and raised in idolatry, but by God’s grace she became a woman of great faith. Recall her stirring words to her mother-in-law Naomi: “Intreat me not to leave thee…thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God…” (Ruth 1:16–17). This God-fearing woman married Boaz, a man who was equally as God-fearing. Together they established a covenant home in Bethlehem where God blessed them with a son (Obed) and grandson (Jesse).
Jesse continued the covenant home begun by Grandpa Boaz and Grandma Ruth. He married a young woman, and he and his wife established their own God-centered home on the family inheritance in Bethlehem. God caused David to grow up in a large family, for he gave to Jesse and his wife ten children: eight sons and two daughters (1 Sam. 17:12; 1 Chron. 2:13–16). Interestingly, Jesus Christ also grew up in a large family with at least seven other siblings (Mark 6:3). Jesse and his wife taught David and his nine siblings the word of God and spoke to them of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people Israel. They guided those children to walk according to God’s law and disciplined them when they strayed. Because of this God-fearing instruction, David had a great love for his parents. When he was forced to live life on the lam because of Saul’s persecution, David made sure to protect his aging father and mother from the murderous king (1 Sam. 22:3–4).
Through the means of those God-fearing parents, David was prepared for a life of service to God. The same is true today. God is pleased to raise up spiritually-minded young people from the covenant homes of God-fearing parents. This does not mean, of course, that God cannot raise up strong young people from unbelieving or spiritually-weak homes, but this is the exception. The rule is that God uses the means of covenant parents giving instruction in a covenant home to prepare young people for a life of service to him. That is reason for you young people to give thanks, for God has placed you in such covenant homes.
But it is also something which you ought to remember as you begin dating and having some fleeting thoughts of marriage. Your marriage and the covenant home you will establish is the means which God uses to raise up God-fearing generations. Especially you young women ought to remember this. God is especially pleased to use you—your rearing of the children God gives, your faithful instruction and care day after day as a mother in the home—to produce spiritually-minded children and young people. Ordinarily, God calls a young woman to be a wife and mother in the home, not to be a career woman. This does not mean that you young women may not or cannot go to college or get a job. But if God sees fit to give you a husband and children, he is pleased to use your faithful instruction of those children in the home to raise up a God-fearing generation. What a blessed calling that is!
Second, David was prepared through his labors as a shepherd.
As the youngest of Jesse’s sons, David was assigned the task of caring for his father’s flocks. His care for those flocks gave to him an understanding of the nature of sheep; bove all he learned that the predominant characteristic of sheep is their absolute dependence upon a clever, compassionate shepherd. This knowledge prepared David for his later work of guiding God’s flock Israel. He knew that Israel, like his father’s sheep, needed a shepherd to guide and protect them. And David learned as well that from a spiritual point of view he and all God’s people needed Jesus Christ, the powerful yet compassionate Shepherd.
Not only was David prepared by learning the nature of sheep, but he also grew and developed the nature of a shepherd. There was a two-fold aspect to this nature. First, David was prepared at this time to be a courageous fighter. It was required of a shepherd not only that he feed and guide the sheep, but also that he protect them from ravenous lions and bears. He must be willing to fight for the lives of the little lambs. And David certainly did, as he tells Saul: “Thy servant kept his 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 smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him” (1 Sam. 17:34–35). David was also called upon to ward off the thieving bands of Philistines that encroached upon his family’s inheritance. This is very likely the reason why David earned a reputation in Israel as “a mighty valiant man, and a man of war” (1 Sam. 16:18). By defending his father’s flocks and fighting against these enemies, David was prepared to be a strong, courageous defender of God’s people.
But there was another side to David’s nature. Not only was he a valiant fighter, but David also possessed a spiritual, meditative spirit. He was not always called upon to fight lions and bears; much of his time was spent silently observing the flocks. This gave David ample opportunity to become a “cunning” harpist (1 Sam. 16:18) and accomplished writer of songs and poems. During these long hours David spent his time meditating on God’s word as he had heard it from his parents and as he saw that word revealed in the spacious heavens, grassy pastures, babbling brooks, and woolly sheep.
There is a sense in which every young person ought to be characterized by this double-sided nature. We need to have the nature of courageous warriors. Our battles, of course, are not physical ones against lions, bears, and uncircumcised Philistines; we “wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12), but against a host of spiritual enemies: the devil and his demons, the wicked world, and our own sinful flesh. And we fight against these enemies not with swords and shields or even with slingshots and stones, but with the spiritual armor spoken of in Eph. 6 and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. We need to be courageous in these battles and valiantly fight against these enemies that seek to destroy us. We need courage to stand alone, as David did. When everyone else shrinks in fear, we do not fold, but we fight. We fight now, as young people. This is not something that we do only when we get older, but this is a battle we wage already now when we are young.
But we must have that spiritual, meditative spirit as well. We read God’s word and meditate upon it. We study that word and hide it in our hearts. We go to that word for comfort and encouragement, and we speak that word to one another. In this way we will have the strength to be courageous warriors. David found the strength and courage to fight by meditating upon God’s word, and we too are able to stand against our enemies only if we learn to wield that powerful sword of God’s word.
Third, David was prepared by God in such a way that he stood in a right relationship with God.
This is evident, first of all, from the fact that David was filled with a burning desire for the glory of God already at a young age. That was his motivation in going up against Goliath. David did not fight the giant out of a desire for personal glory or even to receive the reward that King Saul promised, but he stepped into that valley with Goliath because the he had reproached the God of Israel (1 Sam. 17:26, 36, 45). David told Goliath that he intended to feed the Philistines to the vultures in order that “all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.” He went on to say, “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” (1 Sam. 17:46–47). To put it simply, David was willing to go toe-to-toe with that giant because he was a “God-intoxicated man.” This was something that the enemies of John Calvin threw in his teeth because of his desire for God’s glory. But what they intended as ridicule could not have been higher praise. That was the case with David as well.
The question is, “Are you a God-intoxicated young man or young woman? Would someone say that of you or of me?” If they looked at you—how you act, how you talk, how you dress, with whom you hang out, what you do for fun—would they say that you are filled with a desire for God’s glory as the teenage David was? Or is it the case that you are self-intoxicated or pleasure-intoxicated?
Not only did David seek the glory of God as a young man, but he also had a firm trust in God. It is not surprising that David is listed with the other heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, but what might be a bit surprising is that David manifested this strong faith at a young age. He had this faith when he chased down a lion and a bear, and he had this faith when he confronted the giant. David said to Saul, “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” (1 Sam. 17:37). And then he said to Goliath, “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” (v. 45). At both of these times, David saw himself as a sheep. He was the little lamb that needed to be delivered from the paw of the lion and the paw of the Philistine. And he trusted in God as his shepherd to deliver him. And without this experience, David never could have written Psalm 23. David’s confession that he is the sheep and God is his shepherd is not merely intellectual but arises out of his own experience. In this way too God was preparing David for his future work.
God is our shepherd as well. He is our strength and defense, our shelter and comfort in times of need. He gives to us the gift of faith so that we trust in him as little lambs trust in the Good Shepherd.
Fourth, God worked in David’s heart at a young age a heartfelt love for the church.
This love was nurtured in David through his compassion for the sheep and lambs of his father’s flock, and this translated into a love for the sheep that belonged to his heavenly Father. David exhibited this love for the church in his battle with Goliath. David was chiefly motivated by a desire for God’s glory, but he was also driven to fight by his love for the church. Not only had the giant reproached God, but he had also “def[ied] the armies of Israel” (I Sam. 17:10). David says in v. 26, “What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” By referring to Goliath as that “uncircumcised Philistine,” David does not intend to ridicule the giant, but rather he points out the fact that Goliath stands outside of the covenant of God and does not belong to the covenant people of God whom he has reproached. David fights in order to remove this reproach.
This love of David for the church ought to characterize all God’s people. As young people this love for the church ought to manifest itself in your being members of a true instituted church and by making confession of faith in that church. Love for the church means that you do not leave the church for a boyfriend or girlfriend, for a college education or a job offer. Your love for the church shows itself by your attendance at the worship services of that church. This might mean that you do not accept a certain job opportunity or pursue a certain career path because it prevents you from worshipping God on the sabbath day. You show love for the church of which you are a member by speaking well of her to others and by refusing to allow others to speak reproachfully of her. This love shows itself in your desire to be instructed in the truths taught in that church. This especially means faithful and (dare I say it?) enthusiastic attendance at the catechism classes. As young people, your love for the church also manifests itself in your active involvement in the life of the church. Besides your involvement in the young people’s society, you ought to take part in the activities and functions of the church and especially ought to seek out opportunities to give of your time and abilities to serve the other members of the congregation.
Finally, David was prepared by God to be a type or picture of Jesus Christ.
When we consider the life of the young man David as we have done, there is instruction for our lives. David was a king and outstanding type of Christ, but he was first of all a believer and a sinner. That is David’s perspective in Psalm 23; he writes not as the shepherd but as one of the sheep. “The Lord is my shepherd,” David sings, “and I am one of his sheep.” David is therefore an example to us. But even when we consider David as an example, we ought to see that David’s great faith and mighty deeds were all done in the power of Jesus Christ.
But David is much more than an example. He was prepared by God to be a type of Jesus Christ. He was prepared at a young age to be the great warrior king who would deliver God’s people from their enemies. In David, then, we see Jesus Christ as the high king and captain of our salvation who has defeated all our enemies by his death on the cross.
Not only was David prepared to be a type of Christ, but even in the preparation itself we are pointed to our Savior. Born in the little village of Bethlehem, raised in a covenant home by God-fearing parents, claiming only humble origins, faithful in the seemingly menial tasks—young David in every way pointed to the humble birth and early years of Jesus.
But especially in his calling as a shepherd does the young man David direct our gaze to the good shepherd, Jesus Christ. Our strong and loving shepherd leads and protects us his sheep now in this life, and he will lead us for all eternity to the fountains of living water and will cause us to dwell forever in our Father’s house.
Only a boy…but what a Savior to whom he points!