David sat on his rock, the sun slowly descending in the sky from its position at noon. While his eyes watched the sheep and his staff rested at the ready in his hand, his mind was far from the wandering animals and their grassy field. He recalled Samuel’s eyes that stared into his soul, and his ears rang with the prophet’s words, “You, David, are a man after God’s own heart. You, David, will be our next king.”
The shepherd scratched his neck. He had already ruled out the possibility that it was all some fanciful dream. After all, the teasing from his older brothers had only gotten worse. David gritted his teeth when he remembered Nethaneel’s sneering face. It took every ounce of the shepherd’s strength not to pommel his brother every time he saw it. And unfortunately, he saw that sneer all the more often now, as Nethaneel and Ozem—who apparently had all the time in the world suddenly—made sure to visit the grazing field every day and taunt their little brother. They would take his staff and his harp and parade around the sheep, saying, “Your majesty, surely this shepherd work is beneath you! Please, let us do these menial tasks while you bask in a palace out of the hot sun.”
A sheep bleated at him, startling David’s reverie. Glancing around, he felt something was off. The sheep looked up at him, their eyes lazy but communicating some kind of concern. He strummed the harp to call together the herd, only to find one sheep missing. Panic crept up his spine. If he lost a sheep, his brothers would never let him live it down. Already, he could hear their taunts: “The mighty king of Israel! He will be a great ruler, seeing as how he couldn’t even keep a herd of dumb sheep.”
David quickly led his herd to the pens, hoping that no one would notice the sheep back so early. Then he raced back to the field and began to search for the missing animal, calling its name as his sharp eyes darted back and forth for any kind of movement. He moved across his father’s field and into the next, and the next, and the next. Dusk approached. His heart sank. The sheep couldn’t have gone this far in the short time he lost it. It must have gone the other way… to the cliff…
His feet flew, urged on faster by panic. David reached the cliff and skidded to a halt, closing his eyes to listen. Only the soft whistle of the wind greeted his ears. Peeking over the edge, a held breath escaped his lungs. There, caught in an outstretched olive tree merrily crunching on leaves, was the missing sheep. David called its name, and the animal looked up at him. Though the creature couldn’t speak, the shepherd saw its eyes say, “Oh there you are. I wondered where you went. As you can see, I couldn’t come because I’m stuck.”
Laying upon the edge of the cliff, David reached down his staff and just barely managed to hook the crook of his rod under its front legs. It snagged another leaf from the tree as the boy lifted it up. For several moments, David clung to the creature, a shiver running through his body as he released the anxiety of not being able to find the sheep. Then he carried it back home, the sun quickly disappearing over the horizon.
After recounting the sheep and firmly locking their pen, David leaned against the gate for a moment. His arms and legs still shook with the fright of losing a sheep, and he needed a moment to compose himself before making his way through Bethlehem to his father’s house.
The shepherd whirled around and nearly struck the girl behind him. His rod halted just shy of her ear, but she hardly flinched.
“I know you didn’t mean it, little brother,” Zeruiah answered, a teasing grin lighting her face. “You’ve almost hit me so many times by now that I expect it to happen.”
David scowled and started down the path. He had had just about enough teasing from his brothers; he wasn’t about to stand it from his sisters too. Zeruiah walked beside him, silently waiting for him to say something.
His patience outlived hers. “What’s on your mind?” she asked, knowing the answer full well.
“Oh, you know, just the possible ways I can order my brothers around when I’m king.”
Zeruiah chuckled and shook her head. “David, I know you better than that.”
The boy sighed and looked up. Stars began to twinkle across the night sky, and moonlight brightened the highest corners of the houses. “What am I supposed to think? I was chosen by Jehovah to be the next king of Israel. I… I felt the Holy Spirit. It’s not some kind of trick. It’s real. But…”
“You’re afraid you won’t be able to fulfill such big expectations.”
“And you’re afraid that you’ll be labeled a traitor when word gets out.”
“Well, all I can say is trust in the Lord.”
David growled at his sister and marched ahead. She laughed and caught up. Then she grabbed his arm to stop him. “I am for real, you know.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s just hard. Prophet Samuel said I’m a man after God’s own heart, but it’s hard to make sure I stay that way when I hardly even know what God’s like.”
Zeruiah cocked her head. “Don’t you read the Scriptures?”
“Of course I do! But God is a spirit, Zeruiah. I can’t understand everything he means, not in the way I can understand Father or Eliab. They are tangible. I can clearly see how my actions affect them. But Jehovah…”
“It’s okay, David. I doubt you’re the only son of Israel with doubts every now and then.”
“I just wish I didn’t start doubting the moment he came to me. It makes me feel ungrateful.”
“No, I am honored beyond words to be the Spirit’s vessel and hand-picked to be king.” David sighed, his shoulders sagging as he felt the weight of such a huge responsibility and privilege. “I guess I just don’t see how that’s going to happen.”
“I doubt Moses saw how Jehovah was going to get the Israelites across the Red Sea, but here we are.”
Zeruiah opened the door, and David suddenly realized they had already made it to their house. He wondered if her “here we are” had a double meaning and stroked the scriptures as he entered. As his family gathered around the table to eat, Jesse called his youngest son to sit beside him. Keenly aware of his older siblings and their spouses watching him, David obeyed, quickly washing his hands as he passed the servant who held the water basin.
“Let us bless the food,” Jesse stated as soon as his children had settled into their seats. “Jehovah of the most high, God of all other gods. He who breathed man into existence and formed the earth from nothing. We come now in humble adoration before you, requesting your guidance throughout this day and many more to come. I thank you for this food that you have blessed us with. For the children that surround me now. Bless this food, I pray, so that the strength it gives us may endure in our bones. Above all, be with David as he embarks upon this journey. Protect him from the snares of evil and keep him till the day he fulfills your requests. Amen.”
“Amen,” the family echoed. Everyone aside from David at least. The boy had started when his father said his name in the prayer, and with a quiver running through his body, the shepherd looked up slowly to see everyone already watching him.
Swallowing hard, David said with a nervous smile, “Do I have wool in my hair again?”
“You see!?” Netheneel cried, standing sharply. “He is a child, Father! We can’t send him alone.”
“Sit,” Jesse commanded, authority booming in his voice. With a curt snarl, Netheneel obeyed. Jesse continued. “David, King Saul has sent for you.”
“What?” That seemed to be his favorite word these days.
“He heard that you are an exceptional harpist. They say that he is troubled by an evil spirit, and so they hope that your music will soothe him.”
“Surely,” David began. His voice caught, so he cleared his throat to try again. “Surely there are other talented musicians in Israel.”
“Nonetheless, he wants you.”
“This isn’t because… because of Prophet Samuel, is it?”
“Not as far as I can tell. Most likely gossip among the servants. After all, we do serve rather closely to the king.”
David stared down into his bowl of porridge, unsure what to say–what to think–of the situation. He lifted his spoon and looked up into his father’s eyes, longing for his unspoken questions to be answered. Jesse returned the gaze, silently expressing that he trusted David, but before that, he trusted Jehovah.
“When do I depart?” David asked, swallowing the nervous squeak on his voice.
The faintest hint of a smile flitted across Jesse’s face as he turned to a servant and said, “Prepare a donkey. My son will depart in the morning.”