“Now Eliab his oldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab’s anger was aroused against David, and he said, ‘Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.’ And David said, ‘What have I done now? Is there not a cause?'” (1 Samuel 17:28-29 NKJV).
A lot of Asian youth enjoy T-shirts, just as do Americans. One that caught my eye somewhere said, “I am not lazy – I am selectively motivated.” I suspect that most of us might wear that shirt honestly. When it comes to things we really care about we can be quite energetic. Other things, well maybe not so much.
Eliab questioned his youngest bother’s motives for coming to see him and two other of their brothers. Perhaps he did not know about their father Jesse’s instructions (verses 17-18) nor of the gifts sent to them. He saw the “kid” of the family far away from where his duties should have kept him and accused him of pride and irresponsibility – essentially laziness.
David had previously demonstrated his zeal for the work of a shepherd by defending his charges against lion and bear (verses 34-36) and had no need to offer apologies for his performance. Even more to the point, the conversation to which Eliab objected prompted David to show a greater zeal for his people and his God, and against their enemies (Verses 31-54). He would soon offer his services to King Saul that he might fight the giant Philistine champion and restore dignity to Israel. God blessed him in that fight with a great victory.
There are many factors which might limit or hamper our performance of various tasks, including fear, lack of ability, physical infirmity or disability, dislike of a particular activity, or yes, laziness. We cannot always judge another person’s motives. In fact it is not always easy to accurately assess our own.
On the other hand, there are many acceptable motives for doing one’s best at something. These include, but are not limited to, desire for reward, desire to please someone, duty, fear of punishment, pleasure in a particular activity, and self-respect (a form of pride).
The fact is that all of us are selectively motivated. There are some things we can and like to do best, and other things we will cheerfully avoid if possible. Such preference does not qualify someone as lazy, or prideful. It is a fully human characteristic.
Where David stood out is in the nature of the things he wanted to do, as well as the degree to which he would extend himself to be successful. He wanted to do his duty to defend his father’s sheep. He wanted to punish the enemy who blasphemed Israel’s God and defied her army. And in both cases he was willing to risk his own life in the task.
These traits marked King David’s stellar career for many years. Only in the case of his adultery with Bathsheba and betrayal of her husband Uriah did he seem to abandon his devotion to causes of righteousness. At all other times he was guided by the highest principles: faith in God, submission to his Law, and serving the well-being of Israel. He truly was selectively motivated in the very best sense. May we follow his example.