He was a man after God’s own heart and, in one lifetime, rose from lowly shepherd boy to king over the nation.
Samuel the prophet anointed him to replace Saul son of Kish. Saul, who as Israel’s first king preceded David, seemed unable to follow a prophet’s orders and stay within the righteous boundaries of his kingship. Because of his disobedience his reign was shorter than necessary.
David first appeared on Israel’s national scene when he delivered supplies to his brothers who were serving in Saul’s army. While there, he saw Goliath, the Philistine giant, who was terrorizing Saul’s soldiers, challenging any one of them to fight him.
No one would accept the challenge. The war was at a stalemate. So David came forward, declaring that, in the name of the LORD, he would fight Goliath. It was a strange match — a young stripling fresh from the care of a few sheep going against a seasoned warrior who at a little more than nine feet tall towered above him.
Disregarding Goliath’s taunts, David ran toward him, swung his sling above his head several times and released a stone from its pocket. The stone struck the giant in the forehead. Stunned, he collapsed on the ground. David took the giant’s sword from its scabbard and made the victory complete.
The Philistines ran away terrified, with Saul’s soldiers in pursuit. It was a great victory for Israel.
This achievement and David’s general giftedness brought him fame and later a position as the royal musician in the palace. Later still it brought him a leadership position in Saul’s army.
His popularity made King Saul jealous and afraid, filled with hatred. His moods became dark and his impulse to kill David grew out of control. Twice he flung his spear at him to pin him to the wall. David nimbly jumped aside. All this took place although David in all circumstances was faithful to Saul, and had no designs on the throne.
Finally, David’s only option was to flee the court. For about 20 years he was a hunted man. In time he gathered about him a fighting force of men who were also fugitives in the wilderness.
They slept on the open ground when necessary and sometimes in caves when available. They foraged for food. Their goal was survival, knowing the king and his soldiers were often hot on their trail.
David, was also a poet and at some stages of those twenty years he must have jotted down prayers and snatches of poetic reflection about faith in God or life’s perplexities.
It appears that some of his poetry found its way into the hymn book of the temple, and that Psalm 11 may have been one of them.
It is a poem that reflects two opposite ways of responding when facing imminent danger. David declares his own fixed resolution in its first line: In the LORD I take refuge.
But this robust faith is not shared by some of his advisers. Who can blame them for being exhausted by the constant threat of death? Still, he quotes back to them what may have been their frightened advice:
How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain, for look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings, to shoot from the shadows against the upright in heart. When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
It appears that his advisers’ counsel is to take his cue from a little bird that, when threatened by a bird of prey, flies like an arrow across the skies to the safety of the nearby hills. They argue that the very foundations of life are crumbling and flight is their only alternative.
Then comes David’s response. In essence he says: The LORD is on his heavenly throne. For him, everything flows from that conviction. God reigns. He elaborates this certainty in several ways, but he concludes with the following assurance to the beleaguered and fearful:
For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.
David affirms for himself and his companions that however the days seem to be going in the moment, by God’s power they will end well.
For the righteous, in testing times the foundations of life may shake but they will not crumble — and we can rest in the larger perspective that God forever rules and our future prospect is to see his face when perfect justice will prevail.
Photo credit: Jimmy Brown (via flickr.com)