Children in the Bible
David The Shepherd Boy
p amongst the hills, perched like the nest of a bird on one of the long low ridges, lies the little town of Bethlehem. It was but a small town at the time this story begins, and there was nothing about it to make it at all famous. It lay out of the beaten track, and any one wanting to visit it must needs climb the long winding road that led from the plain beneath, through olive groves and sheepfields, up to the city gate--a steep, difficult road, leading nowhere but to the little town itself.
It was in these fields on the slope of the hills that David, the shepherd boy of Bethlehem, spent his days watching his father's flocks. That father, whose name was Jesse, was one of the chief men of the town, and David was the youngest of all his sons.
There were seven big brothers at home, and it was no wonder Jesse was proud of his sons. They were tall, splendid young men, all of them doing men's work now, and taking very little notice of the youngest, who was still only a small boy, chiefly useful in looking after the sheep.
But though David was but little thought of, no one could say that he did not do his work well. There was not a more careful or watchful shepherd on all the hills around Bethlehem. He knew each one of his sheep, and never allowed one to stray. He always led them to the best pasture, and found the coolest and freshest water for them to drink. Then, too, he was as brave as a lion, and if any wild beast came lurking round hoping to snatch a lamb away, David was up at once and would attack the fiercest beast single-handed. Nothing could ever do any harm to his flock.
Now it happened that one day while David was, as usual, out in the fields that a sudden stir of excitement awoke in the little town of Bethlehem. Men gathered round the city gate, and with anxious, fearful eyes looked down the long white road that led up from the plain below. And yet there seemed nothing there to make them look so terrified and anxious. Only an old feeble man was slowly climbing up towards the town. He was driving a heifer before him, and carrying what looked like a horn in his hand.
But the people whispered together that the old man was none other than Samuel, the prophet of the Lord, who carried God's messages. He must be bringing a message to them, and who knew if it was good or evil. They tried with uneasy minds to remember if they had been doing anything wrong of late as they watched the old man drawing nearer and nearer. Then at last the chief men of the town went out to meet him.
"Comest thou peaceably?" they asked anxiously.
The old man lifted his head and looked at them kindly as he echoed their words.
"Peaceably," he answered at once; "I am come to sacrifice unto the Lord."
A great sigh of relief went up from the people. The visit was a mark of God's favour and not of His displeasure.
It was true, indeed, that Samuel had come to offer sacrifice, but he had come also on a secret errand about which no man knew but himself. God had bidden him take his horn of oil and anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be king over His people instead of Saul, the present king, who had displeased Him. But it was to be done secretly. Saul must not hear of it, or his vengeance would be swift.
It was in Jesse's house that the feast of the sacrifice was prepared, and Samuel ordered that all the sons of the house should pass before him as they went to attend the sacrifice.
The first to come was Eliab, Jesse's eldest son, and when Samuel saw him he felt sure that this was the man who was to be anointed king. He was a splendid young man, tall and strong and handsome, looking almost as kingly as Saul himself.
"Surely this is he," murmured Samuel to himself. But God's answer came quickly. No, this was not the man. Samuel saw only the outward signs of strength and beauty, but God saw deeper into the heart.
So the eldest son passed on, and one by one the six brothers followed, all sons that a father might well be proud of. But God sent no sign to show that any of them was the chosen king.
Samuel was puzzled. What could it mean? Then he turned again to Jesse.
"Are here all thy children?" he asked.
Surprised at the question, Jesse suddenly remembered the little lad, his youngest son, who was out in the fields tending the sheep. Was it possible that Samuel had any use for him?
"Send and fetch him," ordered Samuel instantly, "for we will not sit down till he comes hither."
So a messenger was sent in haste to bring David; and presently he came hurrying in, and as soon as Samuel saw him he knew his search was ended.
He was only a little shepherd lad with the breath of the hills about him, his golden hair tossed by the wind, his fair face flushed, and his sunburned hand holding his shepherd's crook. But there was no doubt that God had chosen him.
"Arise and anoint him, for this is he," said God's voice in Samuel's heart.
Slowly, then, the old man rose and held the oil aloft and poured it upon the boy's bowed head, while the rest of the company looked silently on.
They were puzzled to know what it all meant. Perhaps the elder brothers were envious, and wondered why this mere child should be singled out for special favour. But no one dared to question God's messenger.
Nothing further happened just then. Samuel returned as he had come by the winding white road, and before long his visit was forgotten as the people settled to their work again.
Only David, out in the fields, thought more and more about what had happened, and grew more and more certain that it had been a call from God to do some special work for Him. The wonder of it filled his mind, but it never interfered with his work.
There was little time for idle dreaming in the boy's life. He was as watchful as ever in his care for his sheep and as courageous as ever in guarding them from prowling beasts. Even in his leisure time he was busy too, and there was not one of the sunny hours of daylight that he wasted.
He loved music, and he taught himself to play on the harp, practising so carefully and patiently that his fingers grew most wonderfully skilful. Then he made songs to go to the music, some of the most beautiful songs that ever have been made in all the world. Almost every child to-day knows his beautiful song about the Good Shepherd: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
There was another thing, too, that he learned to do with the same care and patient perseverance, and that was to use his shepherd's sling. There was no boy in all Bethlehem who could shoot as straight as he could. He never missed his mark.
It was no great thing, perhaps, to make music and aim straight, but it was a great thing to do what lay nearest his hand with all his might. Perhaps some day God would make use of his singing or have some work for a boy who had a quick eye and a sure aim. Who could tell?
So David learned to do his very best, and before very long God's call came to him.
Saul, the King of Israel, sat day after day in his darkened tent ill and full of misery. No one dared to go near him, and his servants whispered together, "It is an evil spirit from the Lord that troubles him."
Then some one suggested that perhaps music might help to cheer him and drive the evil spirit from him.
"Let our lord now command thy servants to seek out a man who is a cunning player on a harp," they said to the king, "and it shall come to pass that, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well."
Saul listened to their words, and hope crept into his heart.
"Provide me now a man that can play well, and bring him unto me," he said eagerly.
Now the fame of David's playing and singing had spread even beyond Bethlehem. "We must send for David, the son of Jesse," said the king's servants at once. He was the very person they wanted. Not only could he sing and play, but he was a good boy, brave and fearless, and best of all, as the servants said, "The Lord is with him."
So the shepherd boy was brought to the king's darkened tent, ready to do his bidding. Sitting there in the dim light, he drew such magic music from his harp's strings, and sang such sweet songs, that the very song of the birds seemed to be filling the tent. The king, as he listened, seemed to feel the breath of the mountain fields, to hear the call of the sheepfold and the murmur of the dancing streams. It acted like a charm. The black misery was lifted from his heart, and the evil spirit was put to flight by the song of the shepherd boy.
It was no wonder, then, that the king, for a time at least, loved the boy with his bright face and sunny hair, and wanted to keep him as his armour-bearer. But perhaps, as Saul grew well and had no further need of the music, David was no longer wanted, and so he went back again to the Bethlehem fields to look after his sheep.
God had made use of David's skill in music, and before very long another call came to him. This time the need was for one who could aim straight, who had a quick eye and a steady hand.