Not Just a Sheep-Boy

Katy Morgan | Feb. 28, 2023

The following is an extract from Chapter 13 of The Songs of a Warrior, an imaginative yet biblically faithful account of the first two kings of Israel by Katy Morgan. This extract retells the story of Samuel’s visit to David told in 1 Samuel 16 v 1-13 and the story of how David started off in Saul’s service documented in 1 Samuel 16 v 14-23. 

“Why did you come down here?” He should have known Eliab would react that way. David had spent half the spring shuttling back and forth between the army in Elah and the farm back in Bethlehem, trying to do his duty by both his father and the king. The sheep at home needed looking after, but Saul did too. David had lost count of the number of early mornings when he had swung his lyre over his shoulders and his legs over his mule’s back and set off to the valley of Elah in the dark. Was it not fair enough that he wanted to see how the army was getting on? Couldn’t he even ask a question without his brother calling him arrogant? 

I don’t want to be arrogant, he thought fiercely as he peered between the lines of soldiers, hunting for a better view of the giant Philistine. I’m just trying to do what God wants.

God had chosen Saul as king, so David had to serve him. And God had said in his law that you must honour your parents, so David had to keep his father’s sheep.

And now, this Philistine… what would God say about him?

David had a feeling that he knew the answer to that question.

He caught sight of Saul seated on his horse at the end of the line. The king was too far away to see his face, but David could just imagine it: it would have a hard look, stony and unreadable, but behind the surface there would be a boiling torrent of anxiety. Or anger… You never quite knew with Saul.

In normal times—when they weren’t at war, and when it wasn’t lambing time—it was David’s job to play his lyre and soothe the king whenever he was seized by rage. Saul’s cousin Abner had pinned David against the wall last year when he’d first turned up in Gibeah and been given his duties: “No one is to know how bad the king gets,” the commander growled, “do you understand? No one.”

“I’m loyal to him, I promise,” David had answered, gulping. “He’s the Lord’s anointed king.”

Abner had rolled his eyes and let him go.

And David was loyal—not that that had ever mattered very much before. He was just a lad, a boy everyone liked but, he knew it, just a sheep boy and the youngest of eight sons. His father, Jesse, was not a particularly important or wealthy man and David had to earn his keep. He might live only half a day’s journey from Gibeah, but his life had always been a world away from the goings-on of royalty.

Until Samuel had turned up.

David had been out in the hills with the sheep—this was a year or so ago, well before he’d gone to Gibeah to become the king’s attendant. He’d been tuning his lyre while the sheep grazed, all peaceful beneath a green tree. Then he’d heard the slap of sandals on stone and seen one of his brothers haring towards him.

“You’re wanted,” Abinadab had said, and then, “You’d better wash." But there had been no more information; he’d just given David a shove and settled down in his place.

David had stared at him. 

“Go on,” his brother had said. “I’ll watch the sheep. Go!"

So David had scurried away, and when he’d got home he’d found the table set out ready for a meal, and his father and all his other brothers standing around looking impatient, and Samuel in the middle of them.

The prophet was bent-bodied and white-bearded, his face as lined and pitted as a cliff. He’d looked at David very carefully, then stood up slowly, keeping his gaze on the youth the whole time.

Everyone else was looking at him too. David had never been more aware of the muddy stains on his tunic, the grazes on his knees and the red calluses on his fingers. And the smell of sheep, which no quick splash of water to the face was ever going to get rid of.

Samuel had a polished ox-horn in his hand, hollow and filled with something. With oil, David saw as the old prophet came towards him. Suddenly Samuel’s withered hands were trembling over his head. The thick, fragrant oil was slipping over David’s hair and running down his cheeks.

David shut his eyes and held his breath. Partly because of the oil, but partly also because it felt like something was happening—something tremendous…

“So this is the one the Lord has chosen? Out of all my sons?” His father’s voice was confused, unbelieving.

“He’s a good lad, I’ll give you that, but… Well, to put it frankly… Why him?”

Chosen? What for? David opened his eyes just a crack, in time to see Samuel shake his head.

“The Lord knows,” was the prophet’s only answer.

But David could see a whole range of emotions in the old prophet’s cloudy eyes. Pride, the way his mother looked at him; hope, like he saw in Eliab’s face when the betting was going his way; and something else… a kind of sadness.

Then David’s father had clapped his hands impressively, and they’d all had to sit down to eat. It was a feast—olives and fresh bread and boiled mutton all steaming and rich, and then honey cakes and pressed figs for after, and the best wine to wash it all down with—but David hadn’t been hungry. He’d sat at the foot of the table, watching Samuel, wishing he could ask a thousand questions.

It was a few months after that that he’d been summoned to Gibeah to play his lyre for the king.

And yes, Saul had been… well, he hadn’t been quite what David expected. But they had something in common—not that David would ever have dared to tell Saul that. They’d both been anointed by Samuel. Saul for kingship, and David for… for something. David had seen the seriousness in Samuel’s eyes, and he knew God didn’t make mistakes. Saul was the king, and that was that, however out of control he got.

But what was Saul going to do about Goliath?

Katy Morgan

Katy Morgan is an editor at The Good Book Company and loves helping children and young people grow in knowledge and love of Jesus. She was previously part of a school chaplaincy team and now volunteers in the youth work at her church, King’s Church Chessington in Surrey. She holds a master's degree in classical Greek literature and is the author of The Promise and the Light.

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