When Saul sets forth at the head of the Israelite armies to counter the Philistine invasion, David is not needed at court to soothe the king’s fits with his harp. It seems that he should accompany Saul to the battlefield since he is now the king’s armorbearer (16:21), but perhaps this is only an honorary title. In any case, David returns to his home in Bethlehem and resumes caring for his father’s sheep. Indeed, verse 15 seems to indicate David has been attending to both duties for some time, simultaneously serving the king of the land and beasts of the pasture with no apparent discontent. In so doing he exhibits a humble heart, as well as a desire to honor his elderly father and to serve God’s anointed monarch. But God does not intend to allow David to remain with his sheep throughout this confrontation with the Philistines, and He now sets in motion a series of events that will bring David to the front at a crucial moment.
While David is at home, the three oldest of his seven elder brothers are with Saul at the front. As the days drag by with no word of battle, their father, Jesse, begins to wonder what is happening. He does not know that the armies of Israel have been paralyzed by Goliath’s challenge for 40 days. Finally, Jesse can wait no longer and decides to send David to the army—the boy will take provisions for his brothers and their fellow soldiers and will bring back news of the confrontation. David dutifully obeys his father, rising early to make the necessary preparations for the roughly 15-mile journey to the Valley of Elah. In God’s providence, he arrives at the camp just as the Israelite troops are headed out to line up in battle array. Quickly leaving the provisions he has brought with a quartermaster, David races to catch up with his brothers. Then, as he talks with them, Goliath makes his daily appearance, stepping out from the Philistine ranks to taunt the Israelite armies once again. And so it happens that David hears the giant’s defiant words.
The Israelite soldiers have heard the same words for 40 days, but they are no more used to them than at the first. Despite a show of bravado (v. 20), they are so unnerved that they break ranks and actually flee from Goliath. But David’s reaction to Goliath’s taunts is radically different, as we will see in Monday’s study.