At a young age (likely in his teen years), David was selected by God to be the next king of Israel (cf. 1 Sam. 16.11-13; 17.42). But he did not become king over night. In fact, he would not become king until his thirtieth year (2 Sam. 5.4).
Though his anointing as the Lord’s chosen was brimming with hope and joy — the big-picture dream, lofty and magnificent — yet the path that led him to the throne itself was strewn with sharp rocks, replete with doubts, and fraught with setbacks. For more than a decade, David seemed to be spinning his wheels, going nowhere fast.
His defeat over Goliath was surely an occasion for exuberance (1 Sam. 17.1ff) — for a brief moment. However, the conquest of one enemy gave rise to the installment of another — viz., no less than king Saul himself (1 Sam. 18.6-13, 28-29). Eventually, the king relegated David to fugitive status (1 Sam. 19-31), and David became a hunted man.
After sparing Saul’s life twice (cf. 1 Sam. 24.1ff; 26.1ff), David realized that the king would never stop seeking to kill him. At 28 or 29 years old, and seemingly at rock-bottom, David’s lofty anointing must have seemed to him as but a memory; instead, a new path appeared before his eyes. His only recourse was to leave Israel altogether and dwell in Ziklag, a small town in a foreign land, with some six hundred supporters (1 Sam. 27.1ff).
Six hundred! Two hundred of them were far from fighting shape (cf. 1 Sam. 30.9-10; 25.13); and to make matters worse, some of the remaining four hundred were “wicked and worthless men” (1 Sam. 30.21-22). Six hundred supporters may be more than most have at their side, but a regal army that does not make!
Still, whether David realized it or not, he was making progress toward the final goal. Little by little, day by day, step by step, his successes were mounting.
A number of years earlier, David had only four hundred at his side, and these consisted mostly of family and people in need (1 Sam. 22.1-2). Before that, he was alone, escaping only with the help of a solitary friend (1 Sam. 21.1ff; 20.1ff).
But through all the setbacks and the tediously slow progress, David had acquired numerous friends at a distance, to whom he remained dedicated (1 Sam. 30.26-31). It was through these relationships, built over time, that David was installed as king of Judah, a little more than a year after reaching his lowest point (cf. 2 Sam. 2.1-7; 1 Sam. 27.7), and more than a decade after the ultimate goal was conceived.
Take careful note of this. The brightest aspirations, the loftiest goals, the most enduring successes — these do not happen with a snap of the finger. Rather, they are made more solid and imbued with more sweetness when achieved through diligent effort, taking each moment and each task one at a time, and putting every ounce of passion and excellence into the task at hand that you can possibly muster. True success is achieved in the joy of small steps!
Setbacks may be many and varied; progress may be slow and depressing; but the man of faith will always remember that no matter what happens, for good or for ill, with God at the helm of our lives, the grandest dreams are ever possible, and even the worst days are filled with hope.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked came against me
To eat up my flesh,
My enemies and foes,
They stumbled and fell.
Though an army may encamp against me,
My heart shall not fear;
Though war may rise against me,
In this I will be confident” (Psalm 27.1-3).