The Education of the King

By Kathleen McCurdy

He was just a little fellow, the youngest of the family, but old enough to assume some responsibilities in the home. His father sent him to care for the sheep out in the hills, and reminded him that he wouldn’t be alone, for God would be with him. “Little Love,” said his father (for that was the name they had given him), “If you ever feel afraid, remember to pray and ask God for help, and He will protect you.” His father also loaned him a scroll from his library, so that he would have something to study out there in the fields.

One dark night, Little Love laid down on the grassy slope beside one of the sheep. She was a little restless for she was about to give birth to her lamb. But Little Love was not the only one aware of the situation. A wild beast was stealthily approaching, with the intention of making off with the little newborn. Lions always came down out of the hills when it was time for the lambs to be born.

Little Love suddenly woke up just as the sheep finished giving birth, and he quickly realized that they were not alone. The lion snarled, and Little Love thought he might be the intended victim! There could be a cave nearby where he might run and hide. But then he thought of his responsibility for the sheep, and how his brothers would taunt him if he lost one. No, this was not the time to save himself; he’d better try to rescue the little lamb. “Help me, Lord,” he cried, and away he ran after the lion who was already heading for the hills with the lamb in its jaws.

Little Love was a fast runner, and the lion was carrying a rather heavy burden. So before long, he dropped his load and ran away. The child examined the lamb but found no injuries, so he returned it to its mother. The next morning, as the sun was coming up, Little Love began to sing: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me!” Psalm 23.

Months went by and winter was approaching. Little Love had grown taller out there in the fresh air and sunshine. The sheep trusted in him, for he led them to green pastures and then they rested beside quiet pools of water. He had noticed that the sheep didn’t like to drink from the streams rushing down from the mountains, so he gathered rocks to form ponds where they could comfortably quench their thirst. Little by little, he was learning to be a good shepherd boy.

There were bears up in the mountains, and they were getting ready for their long winter of hibernation, when they would stay asleep for several months. But first, the bear wanted to fill its stomach, and what could be better than a nice fat sheep from the flock. Little Love saw the bear approaching and thought, “That bear is huge! He’s almost twice as big as me! But I’m going to scare him off,” and he began to shout and throw rocks. The bear was not dissuaded, but when one of the rocks hit him on the chin, he became angry. No longer thinking of the sheep, he was going after the boy that had caused his injury.

“Save me, my God. Because Thou hast smitten … mine enemy on the cheek!” he cried, Psalm 3:7 YLT. And that is just what happened. Little Love grabbed the huge bear by his broken jaw and brought him down. From then on, he would never be afraid for he knew that God was with him and would save him from danger.

He had many opportunities out there in the countryside, to contemplate the beauty of God’s creation. “…clearer conceptions of God opened before his soul. Obscure themes were illuminated, difficulties were made plain, perplexities were harmonized…. The love that moved him, the sorrows that beset him, the triumphs that attended him, were all themes for his active thought; and as he beheld the love of God in all the providences of his life, his voice rang out in a richer melody, his harp was swept with more exultant joy; and the shepherd boy proceeded from strength to strength, from knowledge to knowledge; for the Spirit of the Lord was upon him” (PP 642).

He continued to develop his talents as precious gifts from heaven, and his father gave him other responsibilities so that he might continue his learning. At the royal court, the king was suffering from depression and someone thought that music might bring him some relief. Little Love continued to play his harp out there with the sheep, and had become famous as an excellent harpist. He was presented to the king and, sure enough, the king’s mood improved as he listened to the soft hymns of praise for God’s faithfulness and love for His people. The king’s black mood left him and he was able to continue with the affairs of state for a time. Then Little Love returned to the fields of home and to his flocks. But he now had much to think about regarding what he had seen at the royal courts; it was all part of his education.

The years went by and he grew to adolescence. Early one morning his father called him for a special errand. He gave him a couple of sacks, saying, “Here are several loaves, some parched corn, cheeses and other things. I want you to take them to your older brothers who are serving in the army. And bring me news of how the war is going.” Little Love loaded the sacks onto a donkey and began walking the 15 miles to the front lines of the battleground, probably arriving a little before evening.

“Here comes Little Love,” cried his oldest brother, taunting him as usual. But Little Love had heard another gruff and threatening voice off in the distance. Who might that be? “Ah, so you’ve come to spy,” shouted his brother. But Little Love was hearing more horrible words that defied the God of Israel. Another soldier took him over to a ridge where he could see the huge giant, over nine feet tall, who was blaspheming and screaming curses at the king and at God and His people. It was Goliath! And David (whose name in Hebrew means “Little Love” or “Beloved”) exclaimed, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” Some of the soldiers heard him and told the king, who soon sent for him.

1 Samuel 17:32-36: NLT “Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!” “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.” But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!” Saul finally consented. “All right, go ahead,” he said. “And may the Lord be with you!” NLT

Where did David learn to trust in the Lord? Up in the hills of home, out among the sheep. There, God prepared him to be, not only the greatest king the world has known, but also provided him with knowledge of architecture for he designed the glorious temple his son would later build. He understood urban planning for he founded Jerusalem where he later moved the tabernacle of Moses. He was the father of the wisest man, Solomon who was also educated at home. David wrote poetry and songs we call the Psalms, composed music and was an excellent harpist. He was a military ace who conquered all his enemies; and best of all, God said of him: “I have found David son of Jesse a man after My own heart, who will do all My will and carry out My program fully” Acts 13:22 AMPC.

If we want our children to be found after God’s own heart, we must give them the liberty to learn as King David learned, which is also the way Jesus, the King of the universe also learned as a child. David praised the Lord in Psalm 19:7, saying: “The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple” NLT.

Psalm 25:4-5 of David: “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long” NIV.

Psalm 34:6-7, 11 David said: “In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles. For the angel of the Lord is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him” NIV.

And from David’s Psalm 71:17-18: “O God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood, and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do. Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me” NLT.

Maybe when Little Love grew up, he was called “Beloved” or something more dignified. None of his descendants was named after him, except Jesus who was called “the Son of David”. But just the same, “David” appears more times in the Bible than any other name, always referring to the great king or to his most famous descendant.

When David as a youth went to play his harp for King Saul, he had the opportunity to learn about the affairs of State. Later, after he killed Goliath, Saul kept him at the palace and made him a general over a thousand soldiers—when he was still probably under twenty years of age—and later he was married to a princess. But Saul became jealous, realizing that God had chosen David to replace him as king, so he sought to kill him. It was, no doubt, part of David’s education.

When God permits us to suffer hard trials, it is to teach us important lessons. David knew that he had been chosen to be king when Samuel anointed him, while still a little boy. But he trusted fully that God would handle everything and he never sought the crown for himself.

Sometimes our children make bad decisions and fall from the path we have chosen for them. But if we faithfully follow the example that God has given us, we will allow them to suffer the natural consequences of their errors, as happened to David on several occasions.

One of the first times that David fled from King Saul, he ran hoping to find refuge in Nob, the city of the priests. The story is found in 1 Samuel 21 and 22. When Ahimelech, the high priest, asked him why he was alone, David was afraid and so he lied to the high priest, stating that the king had sent him on a secret mission. He was hungry and asked the priest if he had any food, and Ahimelech gave him some of the consecrated bread, and he also gave him Goliath’s sword. But Doeg, a servant of Saul, noted all this and bore the news to Saul, who sent him back to slay, not only Ahimelech but the other 85 priests and their wives and children. Imagine how sad David must have felt when he realized what his lie had caused! (Psalm 52) If he had told the truth, the priests could have taken measures to save themselves and their families from the hand of Doeg. Henceforth, David always inquired of the Lord before going out to face the enemy. He wasn’t perfect, but he was willing to learn.

David was 30 years old when he was finally crowned king. His education was thorough, though he never went to school. Samuel founded the first schools in Israel, probably because most fathers had left off fulfilling the commandment to teach their own children. Nevertheless, Samuel’s schools were not designed for little children, probably because mothers still faithfully did their part in instructing the little ones. The “schools of the prophets”, as they were called, were designed for young men who wanted to become prophets like Samuel. But the education they received was not better than the education David received at the hand of the Lord. David also learned from Samuel at times, but he didn’t attend school and neither did He who was called the Son of David, Jesus Christ. He too was educated at home and from the Scriptures (see John 7:14-15).

Here is a quotation from Dr. Simone Shoeman regarding early Hebrew education:

“The family was regarded as the fundamental educational institution. Many scriptures instructed the parents to teach their children (see Ex 12:26-28; Dt 4:9-10, 6:7-9; Jos 4:21-24; Pr 1:8). Parental instruction thus was compulsory, with the father acting with complete power over his children as teacher, and with the mother sharing in the duty of instruction. The most important task of the parents was to teach their children religion.

“Fathers’ responsibility: The father as the head of the family was charged with the responsibility of educating his sons and even grandsons in the Lord’s Truth, the divine laws, particular rites, and the significance of sacred monuments or landmarks. The family was also commanded to practice prescribed ceremonies for the express purpose of perpetuating the knowledge of great historic events and stimulating the inquisitive mind of the child. The latter’s questions provide a natural setting for the father to explain and emphasize some precious traditions. While the parents were commanded to teach their children, the children were urged to take to heart the instruction of their parents (See Pr. 4).

“This instruction was to be done diligently, at every convenient time. The father was given strong measures for disciplining his children to obedience (see Pr 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:15, 17). Although such strict discipline and corporal punishment were permitted and even commanded, the typical Hebrew father was not cruelly austere. The father’s main method of teaching his children was oral instruction and example. Besides religious education, every father was also responsible for teaching his son a trade, morals, manners, using of weaponry and practical problems of daily living.

“Mother’s responsibility: Many mothers became proficient in educating their children as they assisted their husbands in their responsibility of teaching the sons. All small children would receive primary moral instruction from their mothers. Although girls received informal education from their fathers in the family rites and rituals, and learned from the public services in the synagogues and at the temple during festival times, their main teacher was their mother. The education of girls was strongly domestic. They were taught to spin and weave, to prepare food and to superintend the work of the household, to care for children, and to sing and dance to simple musical instruments.

“Education as lifelong affair: The early Hebrews stressed the idea of education as a continual process to be carried on literally from the cradle to the grave functioning at all times and in all places. For the Hebrews, education was definitely a lifelong affair and did not cease with graduation. Every Hebrew, be he rich or poor, young or old, was obligated to study the Torah every day….

“Family as primary educational institution: The early Hebrews regarded school education as highly important but they saw the family as the primary educational institution. For the early Hebrews, the responsibility to educate and to care for the child was the parents’. For them the first need of a child was a close family life, where he could live according to the example of his parents, who were themselves living according to the demands of virtue and responsibility, and where discipline existed without tyranny, and security was vested in strong bonds of love. They thus stressed the need for an intimate family life in the education of children, for it is here that the child first learns what is important and what is unimportant, what is eternal and what is transient.” Quoted from Early Hebrew education and its significance by S. Schoeman, Department of Secondary School Education, University of South Africa.

Though the Bible doesn’t say, it is obvious from the Psalms that David learned to read and write. He must have often borrowed scrolls to read out in the fields while watching over the sheep. See how often David mentions something about his education in Psalm 119 (I used modern versions).

v.12 GNT— I praise you, O Lord; teach me your ways.

v.15-16 GNT— I study your instructions; I examine your teachings. I take pleasure in your laws; your commands I will not forget.

v.18 NIV— Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

v.23-24 GNT— The rulers meet and plot against me, but I will study your teachings. Your instructions give me pleasure; they are my advisers.

v.26-27 GNT— I confessed all I have done, and you answered me; teach me your ways. Help me to understand your laws, and I will meditate on your wonderful teachings.

v.29 NLT— Keep me from lying to myself; give me the privilege of knowing your instructions.

v.32 NLT— I will pursue your commands, for you expand my understanding.

v.33-36 NLT— Teach me your decrees, O Lord; I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart. Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found. Give me an eagerness for your laws rather than a love for money!

v.61 NLT— Evil people try to drag me into sin, but I am firmly anchored to your instructions.

v.66-68 NLT— I believe in your commands; now teach me good judgment and knowledge. I used to wander off until you disciplined me; but now I closely follow your word. You are good and do only good; teach me your decrees.

v.70-72 NIV— Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

v.73 NIV— Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.

v.91-92 NIV— Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you. If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.

v.94-96 NLT— I am yours; rescue me! For I have worked hard at obeying your commandments. Though the wicked hide along the way to kill me, I will quietly keep my mind on your laws. Even perfection has its limits, but your commands have no limit.

v.97-98 NLT— Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are my constant guide.

v.99-100 NIV— I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.

v.102-105 NLT— I haven’t turned away from your regulations, for you have taught me well. How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life. Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.

v.111-112 NLT— Your laws are my treasure; they are my heart’s delight. I am determined to keep your decrees to the very end.

v.130 NIV— The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.

v.142-144 NLT— Your justice is eternal, and your instructions are perfectly true. As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands. Your laws are always right; help me to understand them so I may live.

v.147 GNT— Before sunrise I call to you for help; I place my hope in your promise.

v.169 NLT— O Lord, listen to my cry; give me the discerning mind you promised.

  1. 176 NLT— I have wandered away like a lost sheep;come and find me,for I have not forgotten your commands.

Many today disregard “the law” and “the precepts” which were David’s textbooks, because they consist of the books of Moses and other stories from the Old Testament. Jesus came to fulfill many of the Jewish ceremonies that prefigured his saving work, when he came to sacrifice his life for our redemption, but there is still much to learn and to obey. For example, Moses’ laws about cleanliness, if observed would save the world from much sickness and suffering. The laws about how to treat our neighbors are the foundation of many of our modern rules, and of course the commandment to teach our children was not nailed to the cross. The study of the Scriptures would make us wise, as it did for David.

God helped David slay the lion and the bear, not to teach him to dispose of everyone that got in his way, but rather to help him learn to trust in the Lord and follow His leading. David didn’t fight Goliath with a sword and a spear. Raising his voice so that the giant and all the host of armies gathered there could hear him, he proclaimed to Goliath:

1 Samuel 17:45-47 “…You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! 47 And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!”

We need to study the Scriptures to learn what is the will of God, and then faithfully obey His commands and precepts. Our example is the best instruction that we can provide for our children. But in the end, it is God’s Spirit who will enlighten their minds, as He did for David, so that they will love His Word, and so that they will learn to consult Him at every moment and before every decision.