by Kristin Fontaine
David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper…
~1 Samuel 17:20
David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage
~1 Samuel 17:22
It is not a new thing to say that we are all bit players in the lives of others. In the section of 1 Samuel for this Friday’s Daily Office we see David heading to Elah where Saul’s army is fighting with the Philistines. He has been sent by his father to deliver a care package to his three older brothers and to their commander. He is also charged with bringing home some word of how his three brothers are faring.
This is simlar to 1 Samuel 9:3-14 where we see Saul sent off by his father to find the missing donkeys.
In each of their stories, both young men were sent on an errand that changed their lives forever.
In this story we are not to that point, yet.
David must first leave the sheep with a keeper before he can set out on his errand.
Then once he has arrived at the camp he must find the keeper of the baggage and leave his things in the that person’s charge before going to find his brothers.
Both of the keepers in this story are mere bit players. They have no names, only duties that allow David to go further into his own story.
While David is talking with is brothers he hears, for the first time, the challenge of Goliath. He begins asking questions of the men around him.
David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” The people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done for the man who kills him.”
His eldest brother Eliab heard him talking to the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David. He said, “Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle.”
~1 Samuel 17:26-28
One thing about siblings, they sometimes know more than you do about your motivations. It is interesting that David’s focus is more on what ‘a man’ might get from defeating Goliath, than on what it might take to do so in the first place. I wonder if the focus on the spoils of victory was one of the things that alarmed Eliab?
Whether Eliab knew his brother was going to challenge Goliath or not, he does seem to be trying to put his brother back in his place as a bit player in Eliab’s own story and not as a principal in the narrative.
This reading ends with David asking:
David said, “What have I done now? It was only a question.”
Which I personally tend to imbue with a certain whiny, self-justified tone that I can’t figure out how to convey in writing. However, I think most folks have either used that phrase or had it used on them (especially by the above mentioned siblings) that it is not a unique experience.
Later in the story we see David rise from youngest son in a large family to King of Israel in Saul’s place.
However, for those inside the story, nothing is certain. David is still the annoying youngest brother who seems to be more interested in what is going on at the front than in accomplishing his twin errand of delivering goods and then returning home with news of his brothers for his father.
His brothers don’t yet know that David will slay Goliath. There is much that they know of David that is not in this story.
I do think it is helpful to look at the one piece of information about David that comes from his brother: ‘I know your presumption and the evil of your heart’.
Given the messy and complicated nature of David’s time as King, Eliab may have given us insight into the future king.
All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
Image: David by Michaelangelo. Public Domain