When David was born in Bet Lechem, in the land of Yehuda, (in the year 2854 after Creation), he was only ten generations removed from Judah, one of Jacob's twelve sons.
David belonged to the princely family of his tribe, which gave the Jewish people princes and leaders. One of David's early ancestors, Nachshon the son of Aminadav, won fame at the crossing of the Red Sea, after the liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt. He was the first to jump into the sea, whereupon the sea was divided for the Jewish people. Since then, Nachshon was the most honored of all the princes of the Jewish people. He was the first to bring his offerings to the Mishkan (Sanctuary) which was erected in the desert in the following year.
David's great-grandfather, Boaz or Ivtzan, was the tenth judge of Israel. The judges were the leaders of the Jewish people during the period of time between Joshua and King Saul. Boaz, following Yiftach, was the tenth, and he ruled for seven years (2785-2792). He was one of the greatest scholars and pious men of his generation. His estates were many, and his generosity was famous.
When Boaz was eighty years old, he married Ruth, after whom the Book of Ruth is named in the Torah. Ruth was a member of the Moabite royal family. Her grandfather was the powerful King Eglon of Moab. Yet Ruth preferred to become an ordinary Jewish woman, rather than a royal princess of Moab. All her trials and misfortunes did not dampen her great devotion to her newly acquired people. Even among the modest and fair maidens of Yehuda, Ruth stood out with a charm of her own; her modesty and piety, her selflessness and devotion, became known far and wide. But how richly Ruth was rewarded! She became a princess in Israel - the wife of the ruling judge, and the great-grandmother of King David. She lived long enough not merely to see through the glorious reign of King David, but also to see Shlomo succeed to the throne of a great and glorious Land of Israel!
Throughout the years, the great traditions of the noble family, going back to Yehuda and Jacob, were maintained by the House of Yishai, David's father. Here was a house of scholarship, piety, kindness, generosity and wealth. And the most noble traits of all his great and famous ancestors were bestowed upon David.
David and the Giant
In the valley of Elah, two armies were poised for battle, with nothing but a hill separating them. The larger of the two was that of the Philistines. They were well-armed too. The smaller one, was that of Saul, King of the Jews.
Suddenly, a Philistine giant, Goliath, appeared on the hill, and his words came roaring like thunder: "I challenge any one of your miserable army, king or slave, to fight a duel with me! The victor will make his nation victorious, and the other nation will surrender!"
The sight of the fierce giant, six cubits and a span tall (about twelve feet), towering over the hill, clad in armor and iron and brass from head to foot, filled the Jews with great terror. There was not a single man in the Jewish camp who dared accept the challenge.
Day after day, for forty days, this mighty giant appeared on the hill to repeat his challenge morning and evening, and without getting any reply, proceeded to mock and jeer the Jews and their G-d. "Your G-d is a 'man of war' - let Him come and do battle with me!" was his favorite sneer, and the whole valley reechoed with the thunderous laughter of the Philistines.
Among the armed forces of King Saul were David's three older brothers, Eliav, Avinadav, and Shama. David was told to stay home to tend his father's flock. With his youthful age and poetic soul, David was not regarded as a warrior at all.
One day, Yishai ordered David to take some provisions to his brothers on the battlefield. David had heard of the great humiliation his people were suffering daily from that fearful giant, and his heart was filled with a burning desire to kill the giant, and restore his people's pride and faith. When he came to the camp and witnessed the painful scene, and the mortification of his people, he decided to take up the challenge.
Just then he heard some of the men in the camp discuss the rewards and honor which the king would bestow upon Goliath's victor: riches, the hand of the royal princess, and permanent release from taxation. David grew angry. "Would not any Jew destroy this Goliath, not for the sake of riches or for the hand of the king's daughter, but simply to defend and sanctify G-d's name and the pride of His people, which this arrogant villain dares to defile?" cried David. His words, spoken with much feeling, made the group look up.
"Of course, any Jew would do that if he were able to! We were merely mentioning the reward as a matter of fact," they answered. David's older brother, however, became impatient with the shepherd lad who spoke such lofty words. "Why don't you return to your sheep?" he rebuked him.
The next moment, one of the king's adjutants came up to David and told him that the king wanted to see him. David followed him, and the next moment, he stood before the king. The king's face was pale with sorrow and anxiety. Seeing David, Saul recalled how the young shepherd had been first introduced to him as "a man who knows how to play (the harp), a fine warrior, wise and handsome, and G-d is with him"; and how David's sweet music quickly eased his troubled mind. Could this lad be the unnamed person whom the prophet Shmuel declared to be the next king of Israel?
"Do you think you could take up Goliath's challenge and defeat him?" asked King Saul.
"No man could defile G-d's name and get away with it," David replied. "I trust in G-d to fight the battle for me."
"But what chance have you - an inexperienced young man - against a tough and seasoned warrior, a giant at that!"
"G-d has never forsaken me in the time of need. Once, as I was tending my father's sheep, a lion attacked my flock and made off with a lamb. I gave chase and saved the lamb from his very teeth. And when the beast charged at me, I slew him with my bare hands. The same thing happened again when a hungry bear attacked my flock. Surely, G-d who protected me when I went to save a lamb, will protect me when I go to save the dignity and fate of my people, in a fight with a vicious heathen who dared profane G-d's holy name!"
"You are a brave lad! You have my permission to go, and may G-d bless you and grant you success!" King Saul said.
Saul then took off his own armor and shield and bade David put them on. He also offered David his royal sword. David was soon dressed in full armor, and Saul was amazed at seeing how well his suit of armor fitted David, though no other man was a match for Saul's splendid figure. Once again, the thought crept into Saul's mind: Is this lad destined to take my place?
David detected a feeling of apprehension and envy in Saul's eyes, and hastened to dispel it. Pretending to feel that the weight of the armor was too much for him, David said:
"I am not used to such armor. G-d shall be my shield and my strength, and these will be my weapons." So saying, he took his staff and sling with five smooth little pebbles, and went to meet the giant.
When Goliath saw his adversary, he was overcome with surprise and disdain. "Am I a dog that you have come to beat me with a cane? Look at my armor: My helmet is of solid brass; my coat of mail weighs five thousand shekels of brass, the shaft of my spear is like a weaver's beam, and my spear's head is made of six hundred shekels of iron! Yet you come with a cane!"
"You come with your sword, spear and shield, but I come in the name of Almighty G-d, whom you have defied. You will soon lie defeated at my feet, and all the world will know that there is a G-d in Israel!" David's words rang through the valley, while both opposing armies held their breath.
Goliath then moved forward to kill David with one blow, but found himself stuck, as if he were nailed to the ground. He wanted to raise his spear, but found that his arm would not obey him.
At that very moment, David let a stone fly from his sling. Swift as an arrow it flew, and true to its mark. The next moment, the giant's huge body lay prostrate upon the ground, his forehead crushed by the sharp little stone that struck it and pierced his head.
David ran up to the giant and stood upon his body. Having no sword of his own, David drew the giant's sword and cut his head off.
When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. Saul's armies, regaining their confidence and courage, pursued them with might and mane. It was a great and lasting victory. David thereupon became the greatest national hero.