“He chose David His servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep He brought him to be the shepherd of His people Jacob, of Israel His inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” Psalm 78:70-72
From the sheep pens to mighty warrior. From Kingdom’s Most Beloved Son to Kingdom’s Most Wanted. From Kingdom’s Most Wanted to King.
David has always been my favorite Old Testament hero. I’m not exactly sure why, but out of all the histories of all the lives in the Old Testament, time and again I’m drawn to David’s story.
He started out as the little guy, the most unlikely of heroes, the forgotten son left to tend the sheep while his older, more favored brothers stood before Samuel to determine which of them would be the next king. Anointed as king, David still stayed behind tending the sheep, while his brothers marched to war. He was delivering bread and cheese to his brothers when he first heard Goliath’s challenge and his heart burned within him at the way the Philistine maligned the name of the Lord and the Lord’s people.
After killing Goliath, he became a favorite among the people and gained a prominent place in Saul’s army. The Lord gave him victories wherever he went, until Saul was so jealous that he tried to kill David. Forced to flee, David became an outlaw. And for years, he lived on the run, hunted by Saul, yet refusing to lift his hand against his hunter.
Until at last, Saul was slain in battle and David became the second king of Israel.
He was described as a man after God’s own heart. How that one phrase has captured me! What does it mean to be after God’s own heart? And how could David, a man who sinned grievously so many times in his life, be described as a man after God’s own heart?
It puts in my mind the image of a man on the hunt, pursuing his quarry, never halting, never tiring, ever fixed on the chase. Though he might stumble and fall, tripping over unseen obstacles, wading through the mire, still he rises up and continues on again. On the hunt. After his quarry.
Likewise David, even when he stumbled and fell, even when he sinned, always turned back to the hunt. He pursued God and sought Him with all his heart. When he sinned, he acknowledged his sin and repented, and sought after God once more.
And God blessed him.
Since we know the story, we can see how all of the trials that David faced as a shepherd, a warrior, an outlaw, prepared him for the kingship. But David didn’t know the end of the story.
As a shepherd boy tending his father’s flocks, practicing with his sling, saving lambs from wild beasts, he couldn’t possibly imagine that one day he would face a giant with naught but his sling and his faith in God.
As an outlaw, he couldn’t possibly see the path that would eventually lead him to the throne of Israel. Sure, he was the Lord’s anointed and he trusted that God was sovereign – we can see this in the psalms that he wrote. But David was living each day on the run, barely evading Saul’s forces, bluffing his way through Philistine camps, and all the while trying to protect his people from foreign raiders, never knowing whether the next battle might be his last.
And yet, from the very beginning, the Lord was preparing David to be King. David was faithful as his father’s shepherd, God raised him up to shepherd His people Israel. David was faithful as an outlaw. God lifted him from the caves and set him in the palace.
From lowly beginnings to a mighty end, David’s path was not straight. It twisted and turned a great deal. It crossed a number of mountains and wandered through a great many valleys as God molded David from a humble shepherd boy into a mighty king.
Wherever you are right now, no matter how much your path is twisting and turning, know that God is molding you into His image and preparing you to become who He wants you to be. And His plan is greater than anything you could ever imagine.
David learned to lead and to serve while tending the sheep pens. The sheep pens were his training ground.
Are you in the “sheep pens” right now? Or can you point to a “sheep pen” in the past were, looking back, you can see how God was preparing you for something else?