David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
They repeated to him what they had been saying [about Saul’s promise of reward] and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.”
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.”
“Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before.
—1 Samuel 17:26-30, emphasis mine
My sister lives on the other side of town from me. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to my childhood wish for “everybody to live all together”—grandparents, aunts and uncles, first cousins…. (Though for the record it is God’s true blessing that, when we were growing up, hundreds or thousands of miles normally separated my mother and her mother.) I like hanging out with my ‘baby’ sister. We can speak in short-hand, in eye-roll, in intra-familial sighs. We shake our heads at the same things, often at the same time. I love how I elicit her, “Right????!!” multiple times in any of our conversations.
She can see me bone-bare, stripped of any layers that time, experience, or fake-it-till-I-make-it have lacquered over me. Since I hunger to be known, this comforts me. Besides, when she calls me on some shaded truth, or posturing, she is gracious and loving about it. Even her tartness, for me, is sweetened by her care.
Further back in the summer, one of our pastors taught on the passage that follows the one I quoted. David and Goliath—a true classic. There’s a lot of richness throughout the tale, many elements that you might miss if you settle for the usual ‘underdog beats bloviator’ summary. I’ve read it many times, savoring the details.
And all this time somehow missed this exchange.
David’s big brother, the one who was best able to see and know David from before he was born, sees his baby brother at the front and explodes. Now, their father had indeed sent David there, to deliver supplies, so David has a clear conscience with which to snap back at Eliab: “What??? Now what have I done??”
But long before David’s debacle with Uriah and Bathsheba, or the horrible still-later events that ripped his family to shreds, Eliab sees in David that taste for worldly glory that gets overlooked in the “boy-shepherd,” “man after God’s own heart” period.
“I know how conceited you are!”
What Eliab sees is there. Simmering underneath. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” Defy “the armies”? If you know the tale, soon after this David offers himself as God’s champion… since no one else is stepping up. Right??? And David brushes Saul’s concerns (about youth, experience, lack of equipment, size) aside with something like, “Eh, I’ve killed lions and other predators routinely. It’s fine.”
There are great and wonderful lessons within this larger tale about honoring God by trusting, about being oneself even when it seems impractical, and more. But today I’m intrigued by Eliab’s accusation,
because I don’t think David sees this part of himself.
Not yet, anyway. And really, David’s character doesn’t match the description of a conceited person—King Saul is a much better match for the role of “conceited person.” David really is thoughtful. He waits for God, abides by the direction of God’s prophets, sees and knows his good fortune to be dropping directly from God’s hand. God wouldn’t call David “a man after My own heart” if that statement wasn’t so.
This is how David sees himself. And yet Eliab sees more. More unfairly, perhaps, but not untruthfully. I wonder what might have been different if David had been less defensive and more curious?
Occasionally I will beg one of my oldest friends to tell me what I’m like. I’m hyper-aware that how I seem to myself, inside, may or may not align with my outside—and I’m hungry for data. What maps accurately? What’s disconnected? What’s buried? If my outwardness is all the world gets of who I am, who do they say that I am?
My friend has never told me, flat-out refusing each time. He says he can’t. He’s a writer, so I don’t quite believe him, but on the other hand we have over thirty years of history and he doesn’t lie to me.
But my sister, in bits and pieces, particularly when we talk long, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the car in the dark after a concert,
my sister will tell me how I’ve showed up. Where I’ve been my better self, or been a cautionary tale. And sometimes from there I can glimpse a still-better path to being a woman after God’s own heart. Which, like David, is where I want to go.