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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 31–39
Verses 31–39

David is at length presented to Saul for his champion (1 Sam. 17:31) and he bravely undertakes to fight the Philistine (1 Sam. 17:32): Let no man’s heart fail because of him. It would have reflected too much upon the valour of his prince if he had said, Let not thy heart fail; therefore he speaks generally: Let no man’s heart fail. A little shepherd, come but this morning from keeping sheep, has more courage than all the mighty men of Israel, and encourages them. Thus does God often send good words to his Israel, and do great things for them, by the weak and foolish things of the world. David only desires a commission from Saul to go and fight with the Philistine, but says nothing to him of the reward he had proposed, because that was not the thing he was ambitious of, but only the honour of serving God and his country: nor would he seem to question Saul’s generosity. Two things David had to do with Saul:—

I. To get clear of the objection Saul made against his undertaking. “Alas!” says Saul, “thou hast a good heart to it, but art by no means an equal match for this Philistine. To engage with him is to throw away a life which may better be reserved for more agreeable services. Thou art but a youth, rash and inconsiderate, weak and unversed in arms: he is a man that has the head and hands of a man, a man of war, trained up and inured to it from his youth (1 Sam. 17:33), and how canst thou expect but that he will be too hard for thee?” David, as he had answered his brother’s passion with meekness, so he answered Saul’s fear with faith, and gives a reason of the hope which was in him that he should conquer the Philistine, to the satisfaction of Saul. We have reason to fear that Saul had no great acquaintance with nor regard to the word of God, and therefore David, in reasoning with him, fetched not his arguments and encouragements thence, how much soever he had an eye to it in his own mind. But he argues from experience; though he was but a youth, and never in the wars, yet perhaps he had done as much as the killing of Goliath came to, for he had had, by divine assistance, spirit enough to encounter and strength enough to subdue a lion once and another time a bear that robbed him of his lambs, 1 Sam. 17:34-36. To these he compares this uncircumcised Philistine, looks upon him to be as much a ravenous beast as either of them, and therefore doubts not but to deal as easily with him; and hereby he gives Saul to understand that he was not so inexperienced in hazardous combats as he took him to be.

1. He tells his story like a man of spirit. He is not ashamed to own that he kept his father’s sheep, which his brother had just now upbraided him with. So far is he from concealing it that from his employment as a shepherd he fetches the experience that now animated him. But he lets those about him know that he was no ordinary shepherd. Whatever our profession or calling is, be it ever so mean, we should labour to excel in it, and do the business of it in the best manner. When David kept sheep, (1.) He approved himself very careful and tender of his flock, though it was not his own, but his father’s. He could not see a lamb in distress but he would venture his life to rescue it. This temper made him fit to be a king, to whom the lives of subjects should be dear and their blood precious (Ps. 72:14), and fit to be a type of Christ, the good Shepherd, who gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them in his bosom (Isa. 40:11), and who not only ventured, but laid down his life for his sheep. Thus too was David fit to be an example to ministers with the utmost care and diligence to watch for souls, that they be not a prey to the roaring lion. (2.) He approved himself very bold and brave in the defence of his flock. This was that which he was now concerned to give proof of, and better evidence could not be demanded than this: “Thy servant not only rescued the lambs, but, to revenge the injury, slew both the lion and the bear.”

2. He applies his story like a man of faith. He owns (1 Sam. 17:37) it was the Lord that delivered him from the lion and the bear; to him he gives the praise of that great achievement, and thence he infers, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. “The lion and the bear were enemies only to me and my sheep, and it was in defence of my own interest that I attacked them; but this Philistine is an enemy to God and Israel, defies the armies of the living God, and it is for their honour that I attack him.” Note, (1.) Our experiences ought to be improved by us as our encouragements to trust in God and venture in the way of duty. He that has delivered does and will. (2.) By the care which common Providence takes of the inferior creatures, and the protection they are under, we may be encouraged to depend upon that special Providence which surrounds the Israel of God. He that sets bounds to the waves of the sea and the rage of wild beasts can and will restrain the wrath of wicked men. Paul seems to allude to this of David (2 Tim. 4:17, 18), I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion, and therefore, I trust, the Lord shall deliver me. And perhaps David here thought of the story of Samson, and encouraged himself with it; for his slaying a lion was a happy presage of his many illustrious victories over the Philistines in single combat. Thus David took off Saul’s objection against his undertaking, and gained a commission to fight the Philistine, with which Saul gave him a hearty good wish; since he would not venture himself, he prayed for him that would: Go, and the Lord be with thee, a good word, if it was not spoken customarily, and in a formal manner, as too often it is. But David has somewhat to do likewise,

II. To get clear of the armour wherewith Saul would, by all means, have him dressed up when he went upon this great action (1 Sam. 17:38): He armed David with his armour, not that which he wore himself, the disproportion of his stature would not admit that, but some that he kept in his armoury, little thinking that he on whom he now put his helmet and coat of mail must shortly inherit his crown and robe. David, being not yet resolved which way to attack his enemy, girded on his sword, not knowing, as yet, but he should have occasion to make use of it; but he found the armour would but encumber him, and would be rather his burden than his defence, and therefore he desires leave of Saul to put them off again: I cannot go with these, for I have not proved them, that is, “I have never been accustomed to such accoutrements as these.” We may suppose Saul’s armour was both very fine and very firm, but what good would it do David if it were not fit, or if he knew not how to manage himself in it? Those that aim at things above their education and usage, and covet the attire and armour of princes, forget that that is the best for us which we are fit for and accustomed to; if we had our desire, we should wish to be in our own coat again, and should say, “We cannot go with these;” we had therefore better go without them.