Long ago in the country of Palestine lived a lad named David, who kept his father's sheep. His free life out of doors made him strong and manly beyond his years. The Israelites were at this time at war with the Philistines, and David's quick wit and indomitable courage fitted him to play an important part in the issue of the war.

The Philistine army contained a giant named Goliath, described as "six cubits and a span" in height. That is over ten feet; but perhaps his terrible appearance, in all his armor, made him taller than he really was.

One day this giant came out from his army and made a proposal to the Israelites:[6] "Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us." Every day, morning and evening for forty days, the Philistine stood forth and repeated his challenge, yet in vain. Saul, the king, and all Israel, were "dismayed and greatly afraid."

[6] 1 Samuel, chapter xvii. verses 8, 9.

Now it happened that David's three elder brothers were in the Israelite army, and one day their father sent him to them with a present of some provisions. While the lad was talking with his brothers, Goliath came out with his usual call of defiance. David listened with wonder and indignation. "Who is this Philistine?" he asked scornfully, "that he should defy the armies of the living God?" The brothers were angry at what they thought foolish bravado on the part of David; but there were others who reported his words to Saul, who forthwith sent for the lad. Then David amazed the king by boldly offering to go and fight with the Philistine.

"And Saul said to David, 'Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.' And David said unto Saul, 'Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear.... The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.' And Saul said unto David, 'Go, and the Lord be with thee.'

DAVID. Academy of Fine Arts, Florence.
DAVID. Academy of Fine Arts, Florence.

"And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, 'I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them.' And David put them off him. And he took his staff in his hand and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook,... and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine....

"And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.... And the Philistine said to David, 'Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.' Then said David to the Philistine, 'Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee.' ...

"And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David. Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled."[7]

[7] 1 Samuel, chapter xvii. verses 33-51.

This heroic adventure of David is the subject of Michelangelo's statue. The shepherd, having thrown off the king's armor, advances naked and unhampered, carrying only the sling flung across his back. The large muscular hand hanging by his side holds the piece of wood on which the sling is hung. It is the hand that wrenched the lamb from the lion's mouth and then seized the king of beasts himself by the beard. The left hand, poised on the shoulder, holds the centre of the sling where it bulges with the pebble. The youth scans the enemy keenly, marking the spot at which to aim. In another moment the pebble will be speeding on its way. His air of confidence makes us sure of the victory. Determination like this must win the day.

Critics of sculpture tells us that the statue of David must have been studied from a model of the age which Michelangelo imagined as that of the shepherd lad at this time. The figure is that of a growing youth, and although it is therefore not so beautiful as a type of perfectly developed manhood, it has a rugged strength which makes it one of the sculptor's most interesting works.