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David, a Child Soldier

It’s great to have you back! We are now halfway through our animated video series that delves into the subject of children facing risks, from a biblical standpoint. In our fourth episode, we’ll be focusing on the remarkable journey of David, who transitioned from being a child soldier to becoming the revered King of Israel. Together, let’s examine this narrative that sheds light on the experiences of vulnerable children, as we view it through the lens of the Bible.

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Today we’re talking about David, one of the many children at risk in the Old Testament. But how is David a child at risk? To understand why David is a child at risk, let’s take a look at the home life of young David, a marginalized kid.

David grew up in a divided home as a son of a concubine. David’s older brothers despised him and his father intentionally excluded him when Samuel was looking for a young king to anoint.

Clearly, no one considered David to have the right stuff, so naturally, David’s brothers harassed him when he brought them food at the army camp, near where Goliath was mocking God and Israel.

Psalm 69:8 alludes to this divide. “I have become estranged from my brothers and an alien to my mother’s sons.”

We can see that David’s home environment, growing up was challenging, and David’s mother brought several daughters into the marriage with Jesse from previous relationships.

Those daughters, children actually were David’s childhood companions and later became his trusted and mighty men and military commanders. None of his actual brothers gained that kind of honored position because of the lack of trust and honor reflected in his youth. These are the unwritten but very clear assumptions that we can find in the text when we read his story.

Now beyond his marginalization by his family, David could also be considered a child soldier. Is this a stretch to think that the heroic story of David and Goliath is also a tale of a child in combat?

Well, based on my research, David was somewhere between 12 to 15 years old when he stepped out to face Goliath. The United Nations in the Paris Principles of 2007 defines a child soldier as “under 18, boys and girls used as fighters, cooks, porters, spies, or for sexual purposes, participating in armed forces or groups.” This modern-day definition from the Paris Principles of 2007 fits David comfortably. 

It’s true that David volunteered for the role of fighting Goliath, but it’s also true that King Saul was scared to send any of his mighty men out to fight. Sending a young man to confront the enemy champion was simply buying Saul’s army some time for a miracle from some other source. So in Saul’s eyes, David was probably a human sacrifice for the greater good. On a spiritual level, the powers of darkness weren’t just intent on destroying the Israelites that day, but they were also focused on snuffing out the bright light of a worshipper, young David.

God’s intention has always been to redeem the history of children and create amazing stories of grace in action. He takes great pleasure in doing so by involving his people, the church.

In our mission work as INfire, we’ve had many opportunities over the years to help child combatants find safety and grow in peace. And a child may be associated with an armed group that is at relative peace for two or even four years, but later that space is experiencing full conflict conditions, so staying in that space is important. Our effectiveness will be much higher if we build relationships in the areas prone to conflict so that when things get bad, we have enough local trust to actually be able to step in and help.

One of God’s people that sacrificially invested in the life of a youth at risk was Jonathan. His life and covenants with this young child combatant left a profound impact on history and offer a model for us as the church to follow.

There’s a vast amount of material written on David. He is the character most written about in the Hebrew Bible. David’s actually mentioned in 66 chapters of the Old Testament, plus he has multiple mentions in the New Testament.

We have to recognize the fact that God chose David as an at-risk kid. David’s high exposure to military conflict as a youth, his status as a child combatant, and his key relationships are important as part of the sociological backdrop of the story and Jonathan’s role as an advocate give us so many truths and principles to apply in our justice work.

Now, I’m not gonna bore you with all my research on this, but I propose that there was at least a 10-year age gap between Jonathan and David. Jonathan, being the elder in his mid-20s when they first met. We can see Jonathan pursuing David throughout his life and initiating three covenants in order to lift David through the levels of Maslow’s hierarchy into actualization for God’s purposes for that generation.

The Three Covenants

The three covenants between Jonathan and David give us biblical and sociological patterns on how to establish love and trust in ways that allow God’s spirit to redemptively encounter the soul of vulnerable youth.

So the three covenants are a covenant of things, a covenant of people, and then a covenant of places.

Essentially, these address the same three spiritual powers that Jesus faced in his temptation by the devil in the desert: the temptations of the bread and temple, and the crown. Some common terms we use for these three big concepts are money, sex, and power. These three things are reflected in the world systems of economics, socio-religion, and politics that all function redemptively when submitted to Christ’s worship.

So every leader, parent, or social justice worker can learn from these three covenants, exemplified in Jonathan and David’s story. 

Do you wanna raise children at risk into roles of influential peacemakers and ones with radiant witness? If so, then your finances and your physical goods, your relationships and inner feelings, your gifts and callings, and even your spiritual inheritance are all necessary costs in elevating these at-risk kids up.

The first covenant between Jonathan and David is the Covenant of Things. It was most likely made in the Valley of Elah, following the defeat of Goliath and the Philistine army. Jonathan observed Saul debriefing David, who all the while was clutching this giant’s bloody dirty head.

And there was an instant of romance of soul with Jonathan towards David. And I don’t find reading any kind of sexual innuendo into this useful as some people like imagining. This is especially because it takes away from the focus being primarily on this idea of faithful covenanting love that serves God’s purposes.

Jonathan and David’s relationship and the three covenants that were made were essential steps towards David’s ultimate call to be a king and a kingdom and covenant under God.

So Jonathan, who’s a war hero in his own right, gave David his very best: his armor, his sword, his bow, his belt. He completely sheds his livelihood as a warrior at David’s feet.

David earlier has refused Saul’s armor, but now he appears to accept Jonathan’s. Jonathan’s love fulfills the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He teaches us that giving our things in a way that counts requires our hearts, not just our hands.

And if we want to be true rescuers and shapers of the compromised environments we find ourselves working in this generation, finds itself in a place where there’s a price for love.

In real love, my self-agenda, my dreams of empire-building need to all slide away. I need to love others with my physical goods, even the provisions set aside for my own call. If the first spiritual power serves a lust for things or for money, then things need to be purposed in serving others in a way that they don’t enslave my own soul to their service.

Our money and things should be used in service of what we love and value. The emphasis throughout the story of Jonathan and David is on Jonathan’s love. Who are you pursuing with your love today?

Are you willing to be the pursuer versus the pursuit? It’s more blessed to give than to receive. We know those words, right? Radical giving opens itself up to the power of breakthrough.

Now, our second covenant between Jonathan and David went beyond the realm of things and into the realm of people, of deep emotions, of key relationships.

When Samuel told King Saul he was rejected by God as king and someone better than him had been chosen, Saul began operating under the influence of the spiritual power of politicking. To heal the damage, Saul should have figured out who the next person chosen by God was and helped him transition to the throne.

That was the path Jonathan tried to follow, but Saul rejected it. Now there are four stages of growth when the political spirit makes a nest in us.

The first stage is infatuation, which is a form of false love, like when David played the harp for Saul. Saul loved David during these times.

The next one we have is distrust, David getting better songs in the streets. Saul couldn’t rejoice in someone else’s elevation. And then we move from that to fearful jealousy. Saul concocted multiple plots to take David out.

And the season is like sunny one day and storming the next. And then we move on to anger becomes rage. For anyone not perceived to be loyal to the throne, Saul defames Jonathan’s own mother and tries to kill Jonathan at the dinner table for being loyal to David. It’s this very painful family situation that leads to our Second Covenant.

When Saul is hunting David at Nyoth, where he was staying with the old prophet Samuel, David flees and tracks down Jonathan and he says, “What’s wrong? What have I done? Your dad is trying to kill me.”Jonathan had already worked this conflict out once with his father, calming him down when he struggled with fear of David.

He’s like, “I don’t think so. Look, my father does nothing, either big or small without disclosing it to me.” But David swears, “Your dad’s hiding this from you. He doesn’t want to upset you.” Now, Jonathan has to face the truth. This deep fear in his heart, his dad is a psychopath who’s so driven he’d kill his own son.

And the Second Covenant emerges here at this hard moment where Jonathan is facing the fact that his dad is willing to kill him for political gain.

So, Jonathan and David, they covenant there in that open field. And the words are, “And if I die, keep the covenant friendship with my family forever. And when God finally rids the earth of David’s enemies, stay loyal to me.”

So this covenant was generational, it was forever, and focused on the perpetrators, David’s enemies. In Jonathan’s case, the enemy at hand was his own dad. It’s often someone close to home that creates this pain threshold we don’t want or know how to cross to do whatever’s necessary.

And the second covenant is a generation one because if we don’t deal with our stuff, our following generation’s gonna have to. If we put this in the context of children growing up in armed conflict, we’re bringing a value of peace and brotherhood so that the generational cycle of violence is addressed.

It’s like preventative medicine. When we are thinking about the perpetrators, my own heart needs to be healed so that it is aligned with heaven. Without exception, this should begin with praying for my enemies so that God can teach me how to love them so that my own heart functions from wholeness. Sometimes we’ve got to tackle personal emotional wounds for the sake of our neighbor. We cannot be healers standing in the gap against injustice if we are not willing to be the wounded healers.

Our final and third covenant take place some years later. It’s when Jonathan finds David on the wooded hill of Horash, and it’s a covenant of places. Saul has been intermittently pursuing David for a long time now. Some commentators call this a renewal covenant.

And there are elements of reaffirming friendship and loyalty, but also some important clues for those of us who desire to help children impacted by war and conflict. By the time of this covenant, it’s likely that David is in his mid to late twenties. This friendship between Jonathan and David has been proven for a long time now. It’s a long-term commitment.

This Third Covenant is where Jonathan tackles the political spirit head-on. He lays his own inheritance aside, his own rights on behalf of David. Can you imagine the grace bursting into David’s soul by Jonathan prophesying to him, “You will be king and I will be second to you.” then they covenanted. 

Though Jonathan alludes to David, becoming king in their second covenant, here he clearly steps aside from his princely rights to a kingdom and he sows them into David. Then Jonathan takes from his own rights to territory and rule and he seeds it into another. This is the beauty of us going all the way to the third covenant with that next generation, valuing the rising generations more than the rights of our own fulfillment and calling.

Nothing disarms a power-hungry political spirit in a better way than this, forcing it to bow low and serve the purposes of God. The cost may feel high, but if we want to raise a generation out of violence and abuse and hopelessness and end to spiritual leadership, these three covenants are key, our things, our true selves, our very best callings and gifts from God.

I am absolutely convinced that if we are willing to covenant with children at risk like Jonathan did with David, we will see a generation rise to seize the day like none before it, even in dark places.

Covenant is powerful for the pulling down of strongholds.

Know when we carried the traitor heart of covenant and they revive and thrive in its presence.

Covenant creates the best of stories too. We all love the story of Jonathan and David. Nothing decreases territorial attitudes more effectively among God’s people than the radiance of these covenant stories that highlight Jesus’ own nature.

From rejection and great danger as a young man, David emerged as the great poet warrior, a prophet, priest, and a king. He had a multitude of failings and rough edges. Those who grew up in conflict zones often do. God doesn’t overlook all of this, but neither is he stuck or intimidated by a lack of refinement. God’s love affair is with our hearts.

My failure or my rough edges won’t create boundaries on God’s pursuit of me unless I harden my heart to Him. We’re not going to get this perfect, folks, but God so delights when we lay down our lives in pursuit of our rising generation.

Are you ready to love big enough to lay your very best down into the next generation?

This is the path that helps create heroes from the rising generation, and you are invited.