Philistines line up against Israelites. Nine foot giant named Goliath appears. Goliath issues challenge. Israelites cower in fear. David sent to check on brothers. Next, David hears Goliath’s challenge. Then, David questions soldiers. Eliab gets angry. Saul sends for David. David rejects armor. Goliath insulted by David. David and Goliath run toward each other. The sling swings. Stone pierces Goliath’s forehead. Goliath falls. David removes Goliath’s head. Israelites chase Philistines. Saul discovers Jesse is David’s father.
A familiar story most of us have heard many times. When we want to describe a competition between a superior force and a clearly overmatched foe we describe it as a David and Goliath conflict. We love to root for the David’s and see them win. I look forward every year to the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. I do not follow college basketball during the regular season, so I do not know the teams very well. All I know is that there are teams that rank number 1 and teams that rank number 16. I want to see the ranked 16 teams defeat the ranked 1 teams.
Clearly the number 1 teams are more talented and have more victories. Their confidence and swagger make them easy to dislike and root against. I do not think it is divine intervention that leads to a March Madness upset. More likely, an over confident number 1 team meets a confident excellent shooting number 16 team. However, divine intervention is clearly the case in David’s victory over Goliath and it is David’s confidence in God that is the point of the story.
In the middle of this grand story God reveals to us a much smaller battle. Eliab is the oldest son of Jesse. At first glance Samuel thinks Eliab is the future king. His name means God is Father. He is tall and good looking. Who could be a better choice for the future king? David is the youngest son of Jesse. David is a shepherd and is described as having a red face. God chooses him. Here is how Eliab responds to David’s curiosity and questioning regarding what is happening.
When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”1 Samuel 17:28 NIV
What motivates Eliab to question David in this way? I do not think that David’s intent was to embarrass Eliab, but it has to be embarrassing when your youngest brother seems eager to take on the giant while you have been quaking in fear for 40 days. For Eliab the challenge is more personal. He probably remembers that he was passed over as future king and any kingly behavior by David is a painful reminder of that. Maybe this feels like those times when David showed up for dinner with a story about killing a lion or a bear.
Whatever the motivation we never hear about Eliab again. David becomes king and Eliab is never mentioned as a part of his administration. The final mention of Eliab is as the father of a daughter who marries king Rehoboam. Who knows what could have happened if instead of attacking David he had encouraged and supported him?
What about us?
Something screams in me to want to get sarcastic at this moment as if I have never struggled with this. I am the oldest in our family. I had all the answers and would readily let my younger brother know what he was doing wrong. At a young age he decided this had to stop and hit me over the head with a garden hoe. The scar and cowlick remain a constant reminder of my arrogance and insensitivity.
We are in a series of lessons on submission from Ephesians 5 at our church. My understanding of submission is choosing to place myself under another to work for the best for the other. Eliab did not want what was best for David. Instead, he wanted David to go away. This would have been a disaster for Israel. At a practical level with my brother instead of trying to tell him what to do I could have asked how I could help him accomplish what he wanted to do.
While listening to this morning’s lesson on submission in the context of marriage I thought about what this looks like in the church. The Bible describes followers of Jesus as family, as brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, all around us we see examples of the kind of sibling rivalry depicted in Eliab’s criticism of David. So, what would happen if we sought out ways to support and encourage our younger brothers and sisters, especially those in positions of leadership? What if we took a younger brother or sister to lunch and asked them how we could help?