When I come to the story of “David and Goliath,” I feel like a comedian who has been asked to speak at a convention for comedians. As I step up to the podium, a list of the ten most well-known, over-used jokes known to man is handed to me -- with instructions to tell the jokes in a way that makes my audience laugh.
The problem with the Old Testament story of our text, and others like “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” and “Jonah and the ‘Whale’,” is that we become too familiar with them. I do not mean that we know these stories too well, for most often we do not. But we think we know them well, and consequently, we have a long list of preconceived ideas. As we approach our study, let us seek as best we can, and by the Spirit’s enablement, to place those preconceived ideas on the shelf and think through our text afresh.
It may be helpful to consider several observations in advance of our study in 1 Samuel 17 of David and Goliath.
First, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament made around 200 B. C.) omits a number of verses from this chapter. Specifically, the Septuagint omits verses 12-31, 41, 50, 55-58. The traditional Hebrew text, known as the Masoretic Text, does not omit these verses. Since the Masoretic Text is the original text and the Septuagint is only a translation (and sometimes a rather loose one), we will assume the translators of the Septuagint purposely omitted these verses which were a part of the original text.
Second, there appears to be a discrepancy between chapter 16, where Saul knows and loves David, and chapter 17, where Saul appears not to know who David is. Various solutions are proposed. Surely no author (or “editor”) would place these two chapters side-by-side, knowing that something is wrong with the account in chapter 16, or chapter 17, or both. David may have grown considerably since chapter 16, or Saul’s memory might have been poor (there were a lot of names and faces to know from memory, or perhaps his mental malady simply clouds his thinking). These are some possible explanations for this apparent problem. We should also note that 17:15 seems to clearly link chapter 17 with chapter 16. Let us remember that Saul does not ask who David is, but who David’s father is. He does, after all, promise that David’s father’s household will be exempt from paying taxes (see 17:25). If Jesse is indeed very old during the days of Saul (17:12), then Saul likely never met him since Jesse was not able to travel to visit the king. Is this not why Jesse sends David to check on the welfare of his sons (see 17:17-19)? Why would we assume that Saul remembers who David’s father is?
Third, chapter 17 very nicely compliments chapter 16 by supplying details not present in the previous chapter. In chapter 16, we have the account of the designation (anointing) of David as Israel’s next king, but in this chapter David does not speak a word and none of his actions are described. It is in chapter 17 that we see a clear picture of David and his character by the words and actions recorded here. In chapter 16, God designates David as His king because he is a “man after God’s own heart” (see 13:14; 16:7). In chapter 17, we see in specific terms just what a “man after God’s heart” is like. Anyone who tries to drive a wedge between these two chapters by pointing to apparent inconsistencies fails to appreciate the continuity which does exist between them.
Fourth, this is a war which never needed to be fought, save for the foolishness of Saul in chapter 14. It is Jonathan, Saul’s son, who precipitates the war with the Philistines who are occupying the land of Israel (chapter 13). Saul sees his army dissolve before his eyes and disobeys God by failing to wait for Samuel to offer the burnt offering (13:8-14). Jonathan initiates an attack on a Philistine outpost in chapter 14, which results in divine intervention by means of an earthquake. The battle against the Philistines could be won decisively by the Israelite army except for an edict which Saul foolishly declares. By forbidding any of his soldiers food before evening, Saul puts Jonathan’s life in danger and predisposes the other soldiers to sin by consuming the blood of the animals they slaughter and eat. The weariness of the soldiers due to their hunger keeps them from fighting well as the day drags on. Further, the extra time it takes to properly prepare food for this famished army of Israelites costs Saul and his men the window of opportunity for a decisive and final victory over the Philistines. This war with the Philistines in chapter 17 is the result of Saul’s folly in chapter 14, a war which would never have been fought except for Saul’s edict.
Fifth, only a fraction of the 58 verses in chapter 17 actually describe the fight between David and Goliath. If we grant that verses 40-51 deal with the battle between David and the Philistine giant, then we should realize that nearly 80% of the chapter prepares us for this conflict, or follows up on the victory over Goliath, while only 20% actually describes the confrontation between the two. By focusing only on “David and Goliath,” we neglect the greatest portion of the passage and its emphasis.
Let us look at chapter 17 then in light of the bigger picture of the Old Testament Scriptures up to this point in Israel’s history. When viewed in isolation, the story of David and Goliath looks very different than when seen in the broader perspective of the preceding Scriptures (Genesis through 1 Samuel 16).
We shall begin at Genesis 12:3 in what some call the “Abrahamic Covenant.” There, God says to Abram,
3 “And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, NASB, emphasis mine).
If it is true that Goliath is both cursing Israel and her God, then if God is a covenant-keeping God, we would expect Goliath to be divinely cursed. Biblically speaking, a dark cloud already hangs over the head of Goliath, the blasphemous Philistine.
Hastening on in the Law of Moses, we come to the Book of Numbers, particularly chapters 13 and 14, which describe Israel’s fear of the Canaanites and her resulting rebellion against God at Kadesh-barnea. God had delivered Israel from the hand of Pharaoh and drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. Now, when the Israelites arrive at Kadesh-barnea, spies are sent into the land of Canaan to assess the promised land. The land and its fruits are magnificent. The only problem for ten of the spies is the size of the inhabitants of the land:
27 Thus they told him, and said, “We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 “Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 “Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan.” 30 Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” 32 So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. 33 “There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:27-33, NASB, emphasis mine).
What causes the Israelites to fear is the size (and thus military strength) of the “giants” who live in the land of Canaan. “We can’t go up against the Canaanites,” they protest, “there are giants there!” Because of their fear and refusal to trust God for victory, this generation of Israelites dies in the wilderness. When their children – the second generation of Israelites – are ready to possess the land, God gives them very clear instructions regarding their response to the enemies they will face in possessing the land:
21 “’See, the LORD your God has placed the land before you; go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear or be dismayed’” (Deuteronomy 1:21, NASB).
7 “The LORD will cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they shall come out against you one way and shall flee before you seven ways” (Deuteronomy 28:7, NASB).
1 So Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. 2 And he said to them, “I am a hundred and twenty years old today; I am no longer able to come and go, and the LORD has said to me, 'You shall not cross this Jordan.' 3 “It is the LORD your God who will cross ahead of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the LORD has spoken. 4 “And the LORD will do to them just as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when He destroyed them. 5 “And the LORD will deliver them up before you, and you shall do to them according to all the commandments which I have commanded you. 6 “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” 7 Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. “And the LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear, or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:1-8, NASB, see also Joshua 1:9; 8:1; 10:25).
The Book of Joshua records the defeat of Israel’s enemies, not because of Israel’s size or military might, but because God is with them in battle. In the Book of Judges, we read of the men God raises up to deliver His people from their enemies. In some cases, an individual (like Samson; see chapters 13-16) kills many of Israel’s enemies, while in other cases a small group of men (like Gideon and his 300 men; see chapters 6-8) defeat a much larger opposing force.
When we come to 1 Samuel, we find much preparation for David’s contest with Goliath in the first 16 chapters. Listen to the words of Hannah recorded in chapter 2:
3 “Boast no more so very proudly, Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth; For the LORD is a God of knowledge, And with Him actions are weighed. 4 “The bows of the mighty are shattered, But the feeble gird on strength. . . . 9 “He keeps the feet of His godly ones, But the wicked ones are silenced in darkness; For not by might shall a man prevail. 10 “Those who contend with the LORD will be shattered; Against them He will thunder in the heavens, The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; And He will give strength to His king, And will exalt the horn of His anointed” (1 Samuel 2:3-4, 9-10).
In chapter 4, we come to the first battle with the Philistines in the Book of 1 Samuel. When the Israelites suffer defeat at the hands of the Philistines, they take the Ark of God with them to war, assured that it will magically bring them victory. The Israelites are defeated, Eli’s sons, Phinehas and Hophni, are killed and Eli himself dies when he learns of this disaster. The Philistines proudly carry the Ark off as a trophy of war, a symbol of their “victory over Israel and their God.” Without human assistance, God humiliates Dagon, the Philistine god, and the people of the principle Philistine cities (chapters 5-6).
In chapter 7, the Israelites repent of their sins and go to Mizpah to be judged by Samuel and to worship God. When the Philistines hear this gathering, they assume it is some kind of hostile military maneuver, so they muster their forces and encircle the high place where the Israelites are assembled. The Israelites are defenseless, but Samuel intercedes for them, and as he offers a sacrifice, God intervenes with an electrical storm which turns the Philistines’ iron weapons into electrical conductors and devastates their army.
In chapter 8, the Israelites demand a king to judge them and to rule over them. A good part of their motivation is wanting someone who will go before them and fight their battles for them (see 8:5, 20). Saul is chosen, a man who stands head and shoulders above his fellow Israelites (9:2). This is the man who will deliver God’s people from the Philistines:
15 Now a day before Saul's coming, the LORD had revealed this to Samuel saying, 16 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over My people Israel; and he shall deliver My people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have regarded My people, because their cry has come to Me” (1 Samuel 9:15-16, NASB, emphasis mine).
Saul’s first battle with the Philistines comes on the heels of his decisive victory over the Ammonites who besieged Jabesh-gilead (chapter 11). The confrontation is not initiated by Saul, but by his son, Jonathan, who attacks a Philistine garrison stationed in Israel (13:1-4). Saul panics because of the size of the Philistine army and because his army is continuing to shrink. Disobeying God’s command, he offers the burnt offering himself rather than wait for Samuel (13:8-14). This is the beginning of the end for Saul.
The situation between Israel’s soldiers and the Philistine army reaches a kind of stalemate. Saul seems to prefer it this way rather than to risk any aggressive offensive action. Jonathan makes a very David-like move. Without telling anyone (especially his father), Jonathan takes his armor bearer and attacks an outpost of Philistines with these words, which reflect his character and the quality of his faith:
6 Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, “Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the LORD will work for us, for the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6, NASB, emphasis mine).
When we view the confrontation between the Israelites and the Philistines and the confrontation between David and Goliath in light of previous biblical revelation, we gain a very different perspective. Are the Israelites, including Saul, terrorized by Goliath (see 17:11, 24, 32)? They should not be. Indeed, such fear is not only a lack of faith, but disobedience to the commands God has given to His people (see Deuteronomy 1:21; 31:8, etc.). Are they terrified by this giant? They should be saying, “Only one giant. . .?” Are they inclined to hold back and not attack? They should consider the theology and practice of Jonathan, who believes that God is not limited by the number of warriors who fight in His name. It is not the size of Goliath or the arrogance of his words which should cause us to wonder, but rather the unbelief and fear of God’s people. This situation is neither new or novel. The odds are no worse here than elsewhere. Israel simply lacks faith. Israel lacks godly leadership.
1 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; and they were gathered at Socoh which belongs to Judah, and they camped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. 2 And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and camped in the valley of Elah, and drew up in battle array to encounter the Philistines. 3 And the Philistines stood on the mountain on one side while Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with the valley between them.
Saul never seems to take the initiative in precipitating a military confrontation with the Philistines, and this is no exception. After their partial defeat and humiliation at the hand of the Israelites in chapter 14, the Philistines seem eager to not only regain the military dominance they once held over Israel (see 4:9), but their sense of pride as well. The two armies square off approximately 15 miles southwest of Jerusalem,61 digging in on opposite sides of the Elah valley and setting up camp on the sides of two mountains, each of which slopes down to the valley with a brook running between (see 17:40).
We may very well wonder why this standoff continues for so long, with both sides feigning a fight with loud shouting and all of the hype of war, but with no real contact and no casualties. Saul and his army do not really want to fight, and neither do the Philistines. It is easier to understand the Philistines’ reluctance. They employ steel as well as bronze in their implements of war. They have chariots, for example (see 13:5), but these are designed for relatively level ground, not mountain slopes -- these are not “all terrain vehicles.” Neither is it easy for a heavily protected soldier like Goliath to fight with agility and ease while struggling to keep his footing on a mountain slope. The danger of fighting in such rough terrain is clearly stated later on in 2 Samuel. When the forces loyal to David go out to fight Absalom and his army, more of the rebel forces are killed by the terrain than by David’s soldiers:
8 For the battle there was spread over the whole countryside, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured (2 Samuel 18:8, NASB).
Even if the Philistines outnumber and outclass the Israelites in their weapons, the terrain is such that it greatly hinders the Philistines’ cause, somewhat like the way winter may have hindered military efforts in Europe in the past. Neither side seems to want a full-scale battle, and so Goliath’s challenge is somewhat tempting, if he can only find someone willing to fight with him.
4 Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5 And he had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was clothed with scale-armor which weighed five thousand shekels of bronze. 6 He also had bronze greaves on his legs and a bronze javelin slung between his shoulders. 7 And the shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and the head of his spear weighed six hundred shekels of iron; his shield-carrier also walked before him. 8 And he stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, and said to them, “ Why do you come out to draw up in battle array? Am I not the Philistine and you servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me. 9 “If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will become your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall become our servants and serve us.” 10 Again the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. 12 Now David was the son of the Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, whose name was Jesse, and he had eight sons. And Jesse was old in the days of Saul, advanced in years among men. 13 And the three older sons of Jesse had gone after Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the first-born, and the second to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. 14 And David was the youngest. Now the three oldest followed Saul, 15 but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father's flock at Bethlehem. 16 And the Philistine came forward morning and evening for forty days, and took his stand.
It is possible that Goliath is the commander of the Philistine forces, but I see no compelling reason to think so. He is not mentioned in the first three verses of chapter 17 and only seems to emerge after a lengthy standoff between the two armies. When he is introduced, it is not as the Philistines’ king nor their commander-in-chief, but rather as a “champion.”62 I am therefore inclined to think that as the standoff continues, Goliath takes this opportunity to approach the Israelites, going beyond his own forces and standing out in the open as an inviting target for any bold enough to “come and get” him.
Goliath seems to speak for the entire Philistine army when he proposes a solution to the stalemate between the two armies. It is one which will give him great pleasure (he seems to love a good fight, and the fact that he is alive bears witness that he has not lost a fight yet), and the Philistines a real advantage, if Goliath prevails. But, as the offer stands, if but one Israelite opposes Goliath and wins, Israel’s victory over the entire Philistine army will be conceded. In this way, only one life would need to be lost to determine the victorious army.
Over a period of forty days, the Israelites seem to become increasingly fearful and reluctant to oblige Goliath. All the while, Goliath seems to become more and more bold. Twice a day (morning and evening) Goliath approaches the Israelite front lines and challenges any Israelite warrior with the courage to come out and fight him. I can imagine that as the days wear on, Goliath becomes more arrogant, perhaps approaching even closer and closer to them (with the Israelites fleeing when he does so – see 17:24). His offer is first a challenge and then it seems to become a taunt. He is trying to goad the Israelites into action.
This is an easy challenge for Goliath to make. After all, this fellow is a giant. He is “six cubits and a span” tall (verse 4), which makes him almost ten feet tall!63 If he were a basketball player today, he could “slam-dunk” the ball standing flat-footed! If his height is not enough to terrorize the Israelites, his armor would send a chill up their spine. I have heard of women “dressed to kill,” but Goliath really does send a message just by the way he is outfitted. He wears a bronze helmet and a coat of armor weighing about 125 pounds, and his legs are also protected by armor. He carries a bronze javelin between his shoulder blades and has a spear heavy enough that some of us might need a friend to take up one end just to help carry it. The head of the spear weighs about 15 pounds by some estimates, and others suggest even more. Besides all the protective equipment Goliath wears or carries, he has an armor bearer who goes ahead of him to hold up a shield.
The Israelites do not take Goliath’s challenge lightly. Along with their king, they are terrified by this Philistine giant. They are all so frightened that no one is willing to accept Goliath’s challenge. No one wants to take on this giant. Morning and evening for forty days64 Goliath tries to provoke someone to fight him, and he terrorizes those who do not.
Goliath, the Philistine champion, is described in verses 4-11 in terms of his towering physical stature and his impressive defensive and offensive armor. David, Goliath’s opponent-to-be, is introduced in verses 12-15 by a very different description. Nothing is said here about David’s stature, his strength, or his weapons. We are simply told that he is the youngest of eight sons of Jesse, the Ephrathite of Bethlehem Judah. We are further told that Jesse is a very old man during the years that Saul reigns (verse 12). We are told that David’s three oldest brothers (the same three named in 16:6-9) have gone to war with Saul, and that David is left at home to care for the sheep, except for those times he needs to commute to serve as a minister of music for Saul (see 16:14-23).
Why this “family” emphasis in describing David when Goliath is described in terms of his awesome looks, weapons, and aggressiveness? There are several reasons. First, it is not David’s appearance which causes God to choose him, but his heart, his character. Second, in order for David to be recognized as the one whose offspring will someday be the Messiah, he must be of the tribe of Judah (see Genesis 49:8-12), and he must be a Bethlehemite (see Micah 5:2). His being the youngest in the family explains why he is assigned to care for the sheep, and also why his aged father sends him to deliver food to his brothers and bring back a report about their welfare. It is also another example of how God often reverses man’s ways, which here would be to choose the oldest son of Jesse, not the youngest.65
17 Then Jesse said to David his son, “Take now for your brothers an ephah of this roasted grain and these ten loaves, and run to the camp to your brothers. 18 “Bring also these ten cuts of cheese to the commander of their thousand, and look into the welfare of your brothers, and bring back news of them. 19 “For Saul and they and all the men of Israel are in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.” 20 So David arose early in the morning and left the flock with a keeper and took the supplies and went as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the circle of the camp while the army was going out in battle array shouting the war cry. 21 And Israel and the Philistines drew up in battle array, army against army. 22 Then David left his baggage in the care of the baggage keeper, and ran to the battle line and entered in order to greet his brothers. 23 As he was talking with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine from Gath named Goliath, was coming up from the army of the Philistines, and he spoke these same words; and David heard them. 24 When all the men of Israel saw the man, they fled from him and were greatly afraid. 25 And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who is coming up? Surely he is coming up to defy Israel. And it will be that the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father's house free in Israel.”
In verses 4-30, there is a very clear contrast between the way Goliath comes to do battle with David and the way David finds himself facing Goliath. Goliath’s prominent role is predictable, even expected. He is a seasoned soldier, an arrogant (if not courageous) fighter, a champion whose role is to fight in that territory between the two opposing armies. David comes into this fight in a very different way. We would never expect it, and probably David would not either. He is not even in the army. His three oldest brothers are, but then there are four other brothers older than David who are not fighting either. David is the youngest of the eight sons. His job is to play the harp for Saul and to care for his father’s sheep. Who could ever imagine that he would end up accepting Goliath’s challenge?
David’s arrival at the scene of conflict is not the result of his own initiative. He is more than busy caring for Saul and his father’s sheep (verse 15). David’s three oldest brothers are fighting the Philistines a few miles to the west, and apparently it has been some time since Jesse has received any report about the welfare of these three men. Due to his advanced age, Jesse cannot travel the distance, so he summons David and instructs him to go to the camp of the Israelite army. Ostensibly, his purpose for visiting is to take some supplies to his brothers and their commander (verses 17-18). One has the feeling, however, that what Jesse wants most is a first-hand report on how things are going and to hear word from his sons.
I am sure that Jesse does not want to put his youngest son in harm’s way. I believe he expects David to arrive while the soldiers are in camp, not on the battle line. He wants David to deliver the supplies, speak directly with his brothers, and then hurry home with the news without getting involved in the fighting. It simply does not work out that way. God providentially orchestrates events so that a very different series of events transpire.
After seeing that someone will look after his flock of sheep, David leaves early in the morning, traveling westward approximately 12 miles to the Israelite camp. Had he arrived just a few minutes earlier, things might have been very different. He would have found his brothers still at their camp, where he could have simply handed them the supplies Jesse sent, asked about their well-being, and then set out for home before his three brothers go to the battle line.
But David arrives just as the Israelite soldiers are leaving their camp and rushing toward the battle line, giving an impressive battle cry in unison as they charge -- approaching, but not getting too close, to the Philistines. David has little choice but to leave the food from home with one who stays back with the supplies and to follow his brothers to the front line. There, David finds his brothers, and as he talks with them, Goliath steps forward to repeat his challenge for the 81st time (see 1 Samuel 17:16). Goliath says what he always does, but this is the first time David has heard him. David listens to this giant’s challenge and his cursing of Israel and her God. He watches the frightened Israelites (including his brothers) draw back, their courage shattered by this man’s words and appearance.
Providentially, some of the Israelite soldiers speak to David, or at least to each other in his hearing. The words David hears catch him completely off guard, so much so that he asks that the matter be repeated and confirmed several times by different people. They all agree that king Saul has issued a call for a volunteer to fight Goliath and has further offered a substantial reward to the man who steps forward and accepts the challenge. Saul promises to give this person a substantial amount of wealth, as well as one of his daughters for a wife. He also promises to exempt the volunteer’s father’s family from taxes.
I admit this is speculation, but I do not think this three-fold offer is made all at one time. I think it happened progressively. Have you even been at an airport gate ready to board a flight when the attendant announces that the flight is overbooked? At first, the airline may offer a $100 voucher to any willing to give up their seats. Then, if additional seats are still needed, the airline ups the ante. Now the person who surrenders their ticket will be given a $200 voucher. And finally, if need be, the airline offers a voucher for free round-trip tickets anywhere in the U.S.
I think this is what Saul does. Saul, who is unwilling to personally take on Goliath, calls for a volunteer to do so. No one volunteers. Then he offers a substantial amount of cash (or land, or whatever form the wealth might take) to any volunteer. Still no one volunteers. A few days later, Saul throws in the offer of one of his daughters for a wife -- still there are no volunteers. Finally, Saul adds a further benefit to the package – he will exempt this man’s family from taxation. Now here is a deal Saul thinks no one can refuse.
David thinks no one can refuse it either. When he hears what Saul has offered, it is so incredible he asks several people to confirm what he has heard before he believes it. In my mind, David is not entirely motivated by the gifts. He is amazed instead that such an offer has been made at all, because he fully expects any true soldier of Saul to jump at the chance – the privilege – of taking on Goliath. After all, this man is cursing the people of God, and thus God Himself. David is certain that God will give the one who fights Goliath the victory. It is a cinch! And on top of the great honor and privilege of fighting Goliath, the king is offering all these gifts! It is too much to comprehend. David asks over and over to be sure he has heard correctly. Is there some catch? Why is no one accepting Saul’s offer to fight?
28 Now Eliab his oldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab’s anger burned against David and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your insolence and the wickedness of your heart; for you have come down in order to see the battle.” 29 But David said, “What have I done now? Was it not just a question?” 30 Then he turned away from him to another and said the same thing; and the people answered the same thing as before.
Most think the miracle of this chapter is David’s defeat of Goliath. While this is a great miracle, let us not forget that many obstacles must be dealt with before David can even confront Goliath. The first is David’s circumstances. He is young and not even in Saul’s army. He is a shepherd boy, tending his father’s flock a number of miles away from the place where the two armies are facing off with each other. Besides Goliath, David must also get past his older brother, Eliab, and Saul. He must first obtain official permission to engage Goliath on the battlefield. The first obstacle is in the process of being removed. David is now dealing with the second obstacle – his oldest brother, Eliab – in verses 28-30.
Let us remember Eliab’s words to David here in the light of what we have already learned about him in chapter 16. Eliab is the oldest of Jesse’s eight sons; David is the youngest. Eliab must be “tall, dark, and handsome,” because Samuel expects that he will be the one he will anoint as king of Israel. Eliab is rejected (along with David’s six other older brothers) because God will not choose the king on the basis of outward appearance, but on the basis of having a heart after His own heart (13:14; 16:7). Eliab does not have the “heart” David does. Furthermore, Samuel anointed David before his brothers (16:13), so that Eliab knows about God’s selection of David as king.
By the end of chapter 17, Eliab does not come out looking very good. When he hears David inquiring of some of his fellow-soldiers about the rewards Saul has offered the man who defeats Goliath, Eliab is greatly angered and proceeds to vent that anger toward David. He first accuses David of coming to the battlefield for all the wrong reasons. Specifically, he accuses David of wanting to be a spectator at the battlefront for his own entertainment, not unlike going to a circus. Eliab either does not know that David has come in obedience to his father’s instructions, or he mentally sets this aside. He then attacks David by accusing him of forsaking his responsibilities with respect to his job of caring for his father’s sheep. He indicts David for abandoning the flock and adds insult to injury by adding the word “few” (“few sheep,” verse 28), suggesting that David’s task is not only menial (taking care of the sheep), but trivial (just a “few sheep”). In fact, David has not neglected his flock, but secured someone to care for them in his absence (verse 20). Worst of all, Eliab dares to judge his youngest brother’s heart, accusing him of acting out of a wicked heart.
Ironically, in every area Eliab accuses David, his youngest brother is not only innocent but commendable. David comes to the battlefield to bring food to his brothers and take back news to their father -- he comes to the battlefield in obedience to his father’s instructions. David does not forsake his sheep; he secures someone to care for them while he is absent. David is not guilty of having a wicked heart; he is chosen by God because he is “a man after God’s own heart.” And David is not to be treated with disrespect as he will soon be Israel’s king (and this includes Eliab).
Running through all of Eliab’s accusations is one main theme: David’s youth. David is accused of coming to the battle scene out of childish curiosity. That is wrong. He is accused of forsaking his responsibilities as a child is inclined to do and also accused of insolence and wickedness of heart of which children are capable. How dare David come and raise questions pertaining to Saul’s request and Goliath’s challenge!
If David had gone home right then and given his father a complete and honest report about the war and the conduct of his older brothers, what would he have told Jesse? He would have to report that absolutely no progress had been made in defeating the Philistines, that Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah all ran like cowards when Goliath approached. He would have to tell his father that when he brought up the subject of volunteering to fight Goliath, he was severely “cut down” by his oldest brother. Is it not interesting that Goliath’s arrogance and blasphemies are minimized by Eliab, while David is falsely accused of wickedness for doing and speaking what is right?
David may be disappointed and distressed by his oldest brother’s unkind words of condemnation, but he is not stopped by them. He answers back to his brother and challenges Eliab to be specific as to the wrong he has done by speaking as he has. He seems to insist that the matter about which he is speaking is not inappropriate. What else should one be talking about than taking on Goliath and seeking the reward Saul offers? So David continues what he has been doing – asking those around him if his understanding of Saul’s offer is correct.
31 When the words which David spoke were heard, they told them to Saul, and he sent for him. 32 And David said to Saul, “Let no man's heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 Then Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant was tending his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” 37 And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and may the LORD be with you.” 38 Then Saul clothed David with his garments and put a bronze helmet on his head, and he clothed him with armor. 39 And David girded his sword over his armor and tried to walk, for he had not tested them. So David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” And David took them off.
If Eliab has his way, David will be sent away in shame. Fortunately for Israel, David is neither devastated nor deterred by Eliab’s sarcastic rebuke by which he attempts to “cut David down to size.” Eliab may have ordered David to go home, if Saul had not gotten word about David’s interest in his incentive program for taking on Goliath. Regardless, Saul summons David, whose first words to his king are gracious and encouraging:
32 “Let no man's heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine”.
While the application of David’s words goes beyond Saul, it certainly focuses upon Saul who is terrified by the foreboding presence of Goliath and the Philistines. David graciously and somewhat indirectly encourages Saul not to fear. The reason David can say this is because he is willing to go and fight Goliath. David is willing to do what neither Saul nor any other soldier in Israel is willing to do – fight Goliath.
Before considering David’s faith, let us ponder Saul’s fears for a moment. I have to conclude that by nature Saul is less than courageous. His father was a “mighty man of valor” (9:1), but this is never said of Saul.66 Saul is the one who hides in the baggage when he is indicated to be Israel’s king (10:22). When the Spirit comes upon Saul, he becomes a new man, with a new heart (10:9). David seems to be a man after God’s own heart before the Spirit comes upon him. When faced with Philistine opposition, Saul is passive, not aggressive, though fighting the Philistines is a significant part of his calling as king (9:16). Only when the Spirit comes upon Saul mightily does he seem to act decisively against his enemies (11:6). By nature, Saul is less than courageous; only in the Spirit is he a true leader.
Having said all of this, I must admit feeling some compassion (or at least pity) for Saul. In many ways, his refusal to fight Goliath (individually or collectively) is completely logical. After all, Saul has been told that his kingdom is as good as finished (13:13-14; 15:23). Samuel leaves him, never to see his face again (15:35). And the Spirit of God has departed from him, replaced by an “evil Spirit from the Lord” (16:14). I don’t think I would be doing anything dangerous or courageous either.
David is a man of courage and, at this point, the only Israelite on the battlefield with courage. Where does he get this courage? Let me suggest several sources. First, David’s courage grows out of his theology – his understanding of God. David is “a man after God’s own heart” (13:14; 16:7). A person cannot be a “man after God’s own heart” unless he knows the heart of God, and this comes through an understanding of God through His Word (see, for example, Psalm 119). David knows God, not only historically (the way God delivered Israel in the past), and theologically, but experientially, as he will soon indicate to Saul.
David acts like the king of Israel should act. He needs to trust in God, to inspire his fellow-Israelites to do likewise, and to defeat the enemies of God, especially the Philistines. When David was anointed as the coming king over Israel (chapter 16), he must have spent a good deal of time pondering just what all this meant, much like Mary would do centuries later (see Luke 2:19, 51). What does it mean to be Israel’s king? What should David do as the king? No doubt his actions the day he faces Goliath are the result of his meditations. This young man is not a soldier, and some would say he is too young to fight, but David is providentially placed in a circumstance where he must trust God and obey His Word or cower in unbelief and disobedience, as Saul and the rest.
Saul gives David every opportunity to excuse himself and go back home to his father and his sheep without guilt or shame. There is a certain kindness in Saul’s words to David when he attempts to talk him out of fighting Goliath. Saul does not say that David is too small to fight Goliath, but that he is too young and therefore inexperienced. Goliath is a seasoned champion with years of combat experience behind him. David is but a youth, with no combat missions at all. At least this is what Saul supposes, but David proves otherwise so convincingly that Saul allows him to represent Israel in fighting Goliath.
David is young, but his seemingly trivial duty of caring for a small flock of sheep has very nicely prepared him to fight Goliath. Eliab was never more wrong than he was about David, as David’s words to Saul show. David sees and hears what every other Israelite soldier does that morning on the front lines with his brothers. The difference is that David views this circumstance as amazingly similar to situations he has successfully faced as a shepherd boy. Is Goliath strong and mighty, able to destroy a man? So are lions and bears, and David has faced them down and killed them. Is Goliath an arrogant loud mouth? Few creatures are more intimidating by their roaring than a bear or a lion (see 1 Peter 5:8). In the carrying out of his duties as a shepherd, David has killed both lions and bears (verses 34-36).67
As David risks his life to rescue the sheep under his care, God rescues him. Is David worried about facing Goliath? No, because the God who rescued him from the paw68 of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue him from the hand of Goliath. Notice that David speaks of being rescued from the “hand” or “paw” of the lion and the bear, and not the “jaws.” This is because the wild beast had a lamb in its mouth and refused to release it, so it had to fight David with its paws and claws. Goliath poses no new threat, and since David has, with the help of God, destroyed loud-mouthed lions and bears by his hand, he can also destroy loud-mouthed Philistines. Does Goliath speak (roar) in a way that frightens the Israelite forces? He does not frighten David. He has been here before.
I believe David’s faith in God is contagious, and that Saul somehow believes there is a good chance David will prevail over Goliath. Saul gives David permission to fight Goliath and offers him his armor. The armor is a bad idea, which David rejects, but it does strongly imply that David is fighting Goliath in Saul’s place as the official representative of the Israelite army. If this is the case, then David’s victory should be Israel’s victory (which it proves to be). On the flip side, David’s defeat will appear to be Israel’s defeat, at least by the terms Goliath lays down (see verses 8-9). David is not fighting this battle alone. He is fighting for God, for Saul, and for the entire nation of Israel.
I am not inclined to make a lot out of Saul’s armor which he offers David. It might seem, at least from a distance (and to those not advised) that it is Saul going out against Goliath. After all, who else has armor like Saul’s? It also suggests that David cannot be that small in size, or the armor would not even fit. David puts it on and then puts it off, because he has not learned to fight in such armor – in his words, he has not “proven it.” David will go against Goliath with the same weapons he has used before, with those God has given him the skill to use.
40 And he took his stick in his hand and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the shepherd's bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand; and he approached the Philistine. 41 Then the Philistine came on and approached David, with the shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, with a handsome appearance. 43 And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine also said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field.” 45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. 46 “This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the LORD'S and He will give you into our hands. “ 48 Then it happened when the Philistine rose and came and drew near to meet David, that David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground. 50 Thus David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in David's hand. 51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. 52 And the men of Israel and Judah arose and shouted and pursued the Philistines as far as the valley, and to the gates of Ekron. And the slain Philistines lay along the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath and Ekron. 53 And the sons of Israel returned from chasing the Philistines and plundered their camps. 54 Then David took the Philistine's head and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his weapons in his tent.
The irony of this incident is that David’s armor (or lack of it) seems to “disarm” Goliath. Here is a man whose ego seems as large or larger than his frame. He is arrogant, proud, and blasphemous. He challenges the Israelites to send him their best warrior, and the winner takes all. Can you imagine the shock to Goliath and his ego when David comes forth? Here is a young man with no defensive armor at all, and seemingly no offensive armor. David does carry a sling, but he has not yet placed a rock in it, so he certainly does not appear threatening. What Goliath does see is the stick David carries in his hand. Goliath seems to jump to the conclusion that this is David’s only weapon. People carry sticks – even today – to ward off dogs that might harass them. Is this why David brings his stick, to deal with Goliath like a dog? Goliath utters curses by his gods (verse 43). He is from Gath; has Goliath ever heard how God dealt with his “god” Dagon?
What an insult to Goliath to send a young lad with no armor and a stick! Is this how seriously they take him? Do they think so little of his ability to send him someone like this? Goliath is good and mad, and he certainly intends to kill David and feed his carcass to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field (verse 44). Is this threat also intended to intimidate David? It does not. If anything, it confirms David’s faith. This imagery of feeding the dead body of the enemy to the birds and beasts does not originate with Goliath:
25 “The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them, but you shall flee seven ways before them, and you shall be an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26 “And your carcasses shall be food to all birds of the sky and to the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away” (Deuteronomy 28:25-26).
God used this expression to describe the fate of those Israelites who rejected His Word, but this imagery is also employed with regard to the enemies of God, whoever they may be (see Jeremiah 7:33; 15:3; 16:4; 19:7; 34:20; Ezekiel 29:5). Does Goliath hope to frighten David by threatening to kill him and feed his body to the birds and the beasts? He simply reminds David of a promise God made regarding His enemies. It is for this reason that David can turn Goliath’s curse inside out:
46 “This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:46).
It is not David’s carcass that will become bird food that day, but Goliath’s. David makes it very clear that his contest with Goliath is not merely a personal matter – David is fighting Goliath for the glory of God, and on behalf of the nation Israel. His victory should be a lesson to all that the “battle is the Lord’s,” as well as the victory (verse 47).
This gets Goliath moving. David does not wait for Goliath to come to him. Instead, he runs toward Goliath, taking out one of the five stones as he runs, placing it in his sling, and then swinging it about as he heads toward the giant. Can you imagine David at this point trying to run with all Saul’s armor, hoping to strike a lethal blow to Goliath when he cannot even reach above his shoulders with a sword? The sling is the perfect weapon. Goliath is stationed behind the shield held by his armor bearer. He is armor-plated from his feet to his head, with an opening only around his eyes so that he can see. This is the exposed part of his body. This is David’s target, which he hits dead center, dare I say, while on the run. The stone sinks deeply into the skull of Goliath, bringing him down like a falling tree. David runs to Goliath, pulls out the sword from his motionless body, and hacks off his head with it. The enemy is now bird food.
This must have been one agonizing moment in time when the whole world seemed to stand still and keep silent. The Philistines are paralyzed for that one moment, minds racing to take in what has just happened before their eyes as they begin to realize its implications. The same must be true for the Israelite soldiers. And then, after this one moment of paralysis, the Philistines take off on the run. With the loss of their champion, all courage and will to fight are gone. The Israelite soldiers seize the moment and take out after the retreating enemy. There is no better place from which to fight such a foe than from behind, where there is no armor to protect and the sheer weight of their armor hinders their retreat. Armor, swords, anything which slows down the enemy’s escape is cast aside. Bodies of slain Philistines are strewn from the battle site to the very gates of their cities. And on their way back, the Israelite soldiers are laden with the booty they plunder from the Philistine camps. David seems only to be carrying the head of the Philistine, along with his weapons, which he temporarily places in his tent.69
55 Now when Saul saw David going out against the Philistine, he said to Abner the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this young man?” And Abner said, “By your life, O king, I do not know.” 56 And the king said, “You inquire whose son the youth is.” 57 So when David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul with the Philistine's head in his hand. 58 And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”
This passage poses problems for biblical scholars. It may appear that Saul has never before met David, and thus he does not know who he is. We should begin by pointing out that Saul’s question is not, “Who is this young man?” but “Who is this young man’s father?” Why would we suppose that because Saul knows David he also knows his father? In chapter 16, messengers are sent to Jesse to request that David be allowed to come to Saul’s home to play the harp for him (16:19). This does not require that Saul knows David’s father’s name. His servants can take care of this detail. We should also remember that Jesse is elderly and unable to travel, which is the reason David is sent to the battlefield to inquire about the welfare of his brothers (17:12, 17ff.). Thus, Jesse and Saul probably never did meet. Why is it unusual then for Saul to inquire about the name of David’s father, perhaps for the tax roles, if he actually exempts him?
In chapter 16, we know David goes to work for Saul (16:14-23), and in chapter 17, we are reminded of this fact (17:15). In chapter 18, we find David playing his harp for the troubled Saul, as he does in chapter 16 (18:10-12) -- so too in chapter 19 (19:9-10). We can hardly avoid the fact that Saul knows David, though he does not know (or at least remember) the name of his father, Jesse. It is no wonder that a king does not remember the name of one of his part-time servant’s father. Even if we expected Saul to remember, our text does not raise questions about the accuracy of the passage, only the accuracy of Saul’s memory. As messed up as Saul is, why do we find this strange?
There is something in verses 55-58, however, which should bother us -- it is not Saul’s faulty memory, but his detachment from the battle. I pointed out in chapter 14 that Saul is “under the pomegranate tree” (verse 2), while Jonathan is on his way with his armor bearer to fight some of the Philistines. It is as though Saul found himself the most comfortable place to be rather than the most strategic place (which is where Jonathan is going). Now in chapter 17, David has just spoken with Saul and is going out to do battle with Goliath. Saul and his commander-in-chief watch from a distant vantage point. If anyone should be getting ready for battle, it would be these two men. Saul is the one whose duty is to go before the Israelites to battle; Abner, “the commander of the army,” is also to lead in battle. Yet these two men seem to look on from a safe distance, while David goes out to risk his life.
We might liken this to a football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco Forty-Niners. Looking down at the field, we see such greats as Jerry Rice and Steve Young on the San Francisco side. Then we look down and see a rookie quarterback lining up for the Cowboys, along with some very lightweight linemen. As we look around the stadium, we see Troy Aikman and coach Barry Switzer sitting in the box, looking down on the game with binoculars and asking each other about the name of the rookie’s father. It just doesn’t seem right, does it?
Here they are, Saul and Abner, sitting back at a safe distance chatting about the name of David’s father. Abner tells Saul he does not know. Saul tells Abner to check it out. And all the while, David is making his way toward Goliath. I can almost hear Saul turning to Abner, saying, “Pass the popcorn.” After David returns from killing Goliath, Abner brings David to Saul with Goliath’s head in his hands. Saul then asks David whose son he is, and he is told that his father’s name is Jesse, the Bethlehemite. This is most bizarre, is it not? What of the battle? Why are Saul and Abner not in the thick of it? How do they find the time to talk about such things as the name of David’s father at a time like this? Saul is not portrayed in a very favorable light. If anyone wants to be troubled, let them ponder what Saul and Abner are doing, and what they are not doing, rather than agonize about why they can’t remember the name of David’s father, a man they probably never met and whose name they may never have heard.
We are told what David thought in his heart when Samuel anointed him as Israel’s next king, Saul’s replacement. I can imagine that he must have felt a great deal like the virgin Mary when the angel Gabriel informed her that she was to become the mother of God’s promised Messiah. Her response was, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). David, likewise, must have thought: “How can I possibly become Israel’s king when I am but a young man, not even old enough to be in the army, and the only authority I have is over a small flock of sheep?” The last verses of chapter 16 begin to tell us how God will accomplish His will for David. Chapter 17 is another very significant part of the plan to make David king. It is marvelous to see how God goes about accomplishing His Word. And what God promises, God provides. His Word is sure.
We are inclined to look at the contest between David and Goliath as something unique, something very unusual. It is not. God gave specific instructions about such confrontations:
1 “When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you. 2 “Now it shall come about that when you are approaching the battle, the priest shall come near and speak to the people. 3 “And he shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, you are approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, 4 for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you’” (Deuteronomy 20:1-4).
Only a few verses later, God instructs the Israelites to identify anyone who is fainthearted so that he will not undermine the faith and confidence of his brethren (verse 8). The situation Saul and Israel face with the Philistines is not unusual. The problem is Saul’s fear and his lack of faith, which becomes contagious.
Is it not interesting that when Saul leads, his troops flee (see 1 Samuel 13:5-7)? Saul’s soldiers are frightened because Saul is terrified (17:11, 24). David, a lowly shepherd boy who is too young to be a soldier in Saul’s army, comes along and because of his faith and courage, inspires others to trust in God to work through him to kill Goliath and give Israel the victory. Notice the long list of heroes among Israel’s soldiers in 2 Samuel 23, after David becomes Israel’s king. There are many mighty men of valor under David’s leadership, to a great degree due to the faith and courage David personally demonstrates. I am fascinated to learn that there are a number of Goliath’s after he is killed, and that David’s men (like David) do them in:
18 Now it came about after this that there was war again with the Philistines at Gob; then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Saph, who was among the descendants of the giant. 19 And there was war with the Philistines again at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam. 20 And there was war at Gath again, where there was a man of great stature who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; and he also had been born to the giant. 21 And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David's brother, struck him down. 22 These four were born to the giant in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants (2 Samuel 21:18-22, NASB, compare 1 Chronicles 20:4-8).
This matter of killing giants seems to become almost routine. Once David stands up to Goliath, other mighty men of valor take on Goliath’s family members. David’s courage is contagious, as was Saul’s cowardice. God did not intend for there be one giant who would be killed by David so that no Israelite had to face such a problem again. God purposed that David would stand up to the giant and kill him, giving other men the example and the faith to do likewise.
I contend that God will always have His “Davids” and that such men will always have their “Goliaths”. Sometimes the “Goliaths” will be individuals; at other times, they will be nations, or even celestial powers. In each case, we must remember that “the battle is the Lord’s.” It is He who goes before us, giving us the victory:
30 “‘The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked, until you came to this place.’ 32 “But for all this, you did not trust the LORD your God, 33 who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go” (Deuteronomy 1:30-33, NASB).
12 But you will not go out in haste, Nor will you go as fugitives; For the LORD will go before you, And the God of Israel will be your rear guard (Isaiah 52:12).
8 “Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:8).
7 “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria, nor because of all the multitude which is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. 8 “With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah (2 Chronicles 32:7-8).
Our text has much to teach us about leadership, how it is developed, and how it is recognized. By birth order and family circumstances, David does not appear destined for leadership. But he is a man after God’s own heart. God prepares David providentially, as he faithfully carries out his responsibility as a shepherd. When a lion or a bear attack one of his flock, he rescues it, taking on the bear or the lion to do so. In this process, David learns to trust God and to use the weapons he has been given, a lesson for us as well. David does not seek leadership; in a sense, it is thrust upon him. David becomes a leader by being a good follower. He goes to the battle scene, obeying the instructions of his father. And when David sees the fear of the Israelites, he begins to seek to do something about it. When he hears Goliath blaspheme his God and intimidate the armies of the Lord, David purposes to fight Goliath in the name of the Lord. David does not seek leadership, but it is thrust upon him and he does not duck his responsibilities. How menial his shepherding may have seemed at times, but how well God used it to prepare him for facing Goliath in battle.
Our text teaches us about means and methods. We live in a day when men imitate the methods of other men. A man seems to have a successful business or ministry, and he writes a book telling others “how” he did it. Others read the book, wanting to be successful too, and then imitate the man’s methods. David does not fight Goliath with Saul’s weapons or with his methods. David fights Goliath with the methods he developed and practiced while caring for his sheep.
We often expect God to bring about the defeat of his enemies by the use of unusual, spectacular means. God did bring plagues upon the Egyptians and drown their army in the Red Sea. God used earthquakes and thunderstorms and floods. God is capable of delivering His people any way He chooses. But in the case of Goliath, God used a young man and a sling. These may not be impressive weapons in and of themselves, but David and his sling made a big impression on Goliath! When the more mundane means are employed by God, we should nevertheless remember that even our skill at shooting an arrow, or hurling a stone, or standing on slippery ground comes from Him:
30 As for God, His way is blameless; The word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. 31 For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God, 32 The God who girds me with strength, And makes my way blameless? 33 He makes my feet like hinds' feet, And sets me upon my high places. 34 He trains my hands for battle, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. 35 Thou hast also given me the shield of Thy salvation, And Thy right hand upholds me; And Thy gentleness makes me great. 36 Thou dost enlarge my steps under me, And my feet have not slipped (Psalm 18:30-36).
Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my fingers for battle (Psalm 144:1).
In the end, it is not so much that David is great, but that the God he serves, the God who went before him, is great. Saul seems to focus on the size of the enemy rather than on the size of God. God always seems to give us enemies who are much greater than we are, so that we fight in our weakness, trusting in God and not in ourselves, giving Him the glory, rather than taking the credit ourselves.
When we come to David, we come to God’s chosen king. This is the one whose seed will be the promised Messiah, whose kingdom will have no end. And so David often provides us with a foreshadowing of Christ. Our text is no exception. David is a prototype of Christ, as Goliath is a prototype of Satan. Satan has the whole world trembling in fear of him and of death (see Hebrews 2:14-15). We, like the Israelites of old, are powerless to defeat him. What we cannot do for ourselves, Christ has done for us, just as David fought Goliath for Saul and the Israelites. Satan has a death grip on lost sinners. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Jesus came and took on Satan one-on-one, and He won the victory. David did it by killing Goliath. Jesus did it by being crucified on the cross of Calvary. But after He died to pay the penalty for our sins, He rose from the grave, triumphant over Satan, sin, and death. It was winner take all, and Jesus won by dying and by rising from the dead. All who acknowledge their sin, and who forsake trusting in themselves by placing their trust in Jesus Christ, have the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of living eternally in His kingdom. Thank God for our Champion, the Lord Jesus Christ.
62 This term, “champion,” is most interesting. The translation comes from a two-word hyphenated expression in the Hebrew text, which literally means “a man between.” The “champion” did not fight on the front lines; he fought ahead of them in that area between the two opposing armies. No wonder Goliath acts as he does in our text. He is accustomed to this role.
65 Incidentally, Eliab’s confrontation of David in 17:28-30 gives us good reason to see why he is not chosen to be Israel’s next king. He is not a man after God’s heart, as his scorching words to David reveal.
67 It is important to take note that our text does not say that David killed a lion and a bear. Our text indicates that David killed both lions and bears. Whenever a lion or a bear took a lamb from the flock, David pursued it and rescued the lamb, killing the wild beast as it sought to protect its prey and kill its attacker. The New Revised Standard Version most clearly emphasizes the plurality of the lions and the bears when it renders, “Your servant has killed both lions and bears; . . .(17:36a).”