By Jason Herring
The Giant of Gath was dead. A young shepherd from Bethlehem was the giant-slayer and destined to be the future king of Israel. No one would have suspected that someone of questionable pedigree with 3/16 Canaanite blood could sit on the throne of the Chosen. But the prophet had made it clear: David was to be king. The anointing had taken place in a private ceremony at his father’s home, but the best kept secret of the House of Jesse didn’t remain a secret for very long. As David’s star began to rise, so did public knowledge of his destiny and divine appointment.
What is clear is that David had no desire to replace Saul as king. David must have believed that Saul would live to a ripe old age and appoint him as successor on his deathbed. In the meantime, David would serve his king, and learn everything he could on how to govern a nation. And initially, this seems to be exactly how Saul felt.
David was like a son to Saul. David lived at the king’s residence and ministered to Saul with music – no doubt many of the Psalms that he composed as a shepherd. When David slew Goliath, Saul appointed him as a captain in his army. And Saul’s son Jonathan formed a friendship with David that was stronger than brotherhood.
Everything was great until the day that Saul heard the women of Israel singing a popular ballad that went: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Saul became insanely jealous, and his jealousy turned into paranoia. Why had he been so blind? All of this from the beginning had been a carefully designed plot on the part of David to worm his way into the king’s good graces before usurping the throne. He would have to assassinate David before David assassinated him. He could never defeat David in one-on-one combat. This would be a battle of wits, and he was certain that he held the upper hand in this arena.
While his protégé played his harp, distracted in song and worship, he would kill him with a javelin. Oblivious to the impending danger, David twice escaped impalement. He probably chalked it up to the intense mood swings and melancholia of the monarch with which he was all too familiar. Failing to vanquish his nemesis, Saul had to get more resourceful.
If you should keep your enemies closer, what can be closer than family? Saul came up with an elaborate scheme. He would offer David his daughter’s hand in marriage – an offer that David could not refuse. And for a dowry, David would have to circumcise 100 Philistines, which would certainly result in his death. But David succeeded in his bizarre mission and married Saul’s daughter Michelle, becoming son-in-law to the king.
It was time to go to the next level, and Saul would need reinforcements. The king held conference with his son and his staff and announced that they should take every measure to kill David. Jonathan sent David into hiding and then had a heart-to-heart talk with his father to dissuade him from his madness. Saul swore an oath that he would not try to kill David again. Believing his father to be a man of honor, Jonathan told David that it was safe to return to the palace. Everything would be like it was before. They could put this quarrel behind them and move on like family.
And they did for awhile. Until Saul threw a javelin at David for the third time. And missed. Normally it’s ‘three strikes and you’re out’ unless you happen to be driven by anger and jealousy. Saul sent a group of thugs to kill David in his sleep in his own home. But David was warned by his wife, and having escaped death for what would be the fifth time, he finally went into hiding.
When David told Jonathan everything that had happened, Jonathan was sure that his best friend was mistaken. Unbeknownst to Jonathan, he had fallen out of favor with his father since advocating for David the first time. Jonathan proposed that he would discern his father’s attitude towards David at the next family dinner. Taking precautions, he came up with a code. He would return to David’s hiding place for archery practice. He would shoot his arrows and send his servant to fetch them. If he said to his servant, “The arrows are beyond you” that was the sign that Saul intended to kill David and he needed to remain in hiding. But if he called out, “The arrows are on this side of you” it was a sign that everything was safe for David to return. The storm of the king’s anger had blown over.
You can guess what happened next. Saul asks why David is not at the king’s table, and when Jonathan offers up an excuse, Saul curses his son and throws a javelin at him as he had done to David. Jonathan returns to warn his friend and confirm his fears about the mad king. The arrows were beyond him. And what transpired over the next few years was the greatest test of David’s life – not how he fought and conquered the giant but how he faced and handled the former mentor hellbent on his destruction.
Everybody at some point in time faces the loss of a valued relationship. Someone with whom you have considerable history. Someone that you deeply care about. So what do you do when the arrows are beyond you?
Don’t respond reactively. David never attacked Saul. Not even once. He could have easily dispatched the aging king, but he never went on the offense. Twice David had an opportunity to assassinate Saul in his sleep while the king pursued him in the wilderness. But David considered it a sin against God to take matters into his own hands.
Rest in the sovereignty of God. David trusted in God to vindicate him. Yes, there were times when his faith lapsed and went over to the Philistines for support. But David believed that God would ultimately deliver him and set the record straight.
Pursue your calling and purpose. What did David do during this season of exile? He raised a family. He mentored the men that would become his captains and mighty men of valor. He composed scripture. It was Nietzsche who said, “He who has a why to live can endure almost any how.” Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl expounded on this truth in his memoir of life in the concentration camps and it became the basis for his philosophy of logotherapy. The will of God is the raison d’etre of the believer. And God always has a plan and purpose for His children.
Finally, don’t bankrupt someone for making a withdrawal. David had long been bankrupt in the eyes of Saul, but David still held gratitude for the investment and impact Saul had in his life. In David’s moving eulogy of Saul in the opening of Second Samuel, David focused on the positive things of Saul’s life and reign. It must have baffled those closest to David, but it was the path of honor. And it remains a powerful lesson on what to do when the arrows are beyond you.