Not long ago I was watching Tim Keller on a video. I did not watch the entire video nor do I remember the title of the message; I can only tell you that it was on the internet. But in that message he made some remarks that struck home with me. He pointed out how often our sermons are man-centered, rather than God-centered, and he specifically called attention to the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. He commented that he had never heard a God-centered sermon on David and Goliath, and yet that surely is the primary emphasis of the story.
I think Keller is right, and I have taken up his challenge as I have been preparing this message.
I have chosen to do this brief biographical series on David as a call to men in the church to be spiritual leaders. We can learn both from David’s faith, as well as from his failures. This lesson and the next, I will focus on the war between the Israelites and the Philistines in 1 Samuel 17, the outcome of which is determined by David’s confidence in meeting the challenge of Goliath. In this message, I want to deal with the passage from a God-centered perspective. In the next message, I will not set God aside, but I will focus on those lessons which we can learn from David.
The chapter begins with a description of the setting for this confrontation. The Philistines have invaded Judah, with the intent of waging war against the Israelites. The scene before us is found in the hills between Jerusalem/Bethlehem and the Philistine coast along the Mediterranean Sea. The Israelite army is encamped on one hillside, and the Philistines on another, with a valley in between.2 For forty days, it has been a war of words, with only one man doing most all of the talking – Goliath.
Goliath is the Philistine’s champion and a mighty big one at that. He stands over nine feet tall, and his armor is heavy enough to make one tired just reading about it.3 Once in the morning and once in the evening Goliath presents himself and calls out to the Israelite soldiers stationed on the opposite hillside. He defiantly mocks the Israelites and their God.
Day after day for forty days Goliath has uttered the same challenge:
8 Goliath stood and called to Israel’s troops, “Why do you come out to prepare for battle? Am I not the Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose for yourselves a man so he may come down to me! 9 If he is able to fight with me and strike me down, we will become your servants. But if I prevail against him and strike him down, you will become our servants and will serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “I defy Israel’s troops this day! Give me a man so we can fight each other!” (1 Samuel 17:8-10).
According to Goliath, there was no need for a great deal of bloodshed. Why not let this conflict be settled by a fight between two champions: Goliath, and whoever Israel designates to be their champion? We all know that Saul should have been Israel’s champion. He was the king of Israel, who was expected to lead the army into battle.4 Furthermore, he was the man who stood head and shoulders above any other Israelite.5 But Saul was afraid and had no inclination to rise to the challenge put forth by Goliath, and his fear was contagious; all of the Israelite soldiers were afraid of Goliath and fled from him.6
It is somewhat puzzling that this would have gone on for forty days. It almost seems that neither side really wants to fight. The Israelites seem to have been outclassed by the Philistines when it came to weapons:
19 A blacksmith could not be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines had said, “This will prevent the Hebrews from making swords and spears.” 20 So all Israel had to go down to the Philistines in order to get their plowshares, cutting instruments, axes, and sickles sharpened. 21 They charged two-thirds of a shekel to sharpen plowshares and cutting instruments, and a third of a shekel to sharpen picks and axes, and to set ox goads. 22 So on the day of the battle no sword or spear was to be found in the hand of anyone in the army that was with Saul and Jonathan. No one but Saul and his son Jonathan had them (1 Samuel 13:19-22, emphasis mine).
Now the Philistines assembled to fight with Israel, 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, and people like the sand which is on the seashore in abundance; and they came up and camped in Michmash, east of Beth-aven (1 Samuel 13:5, NASB 95).
The Philistines may well have outnumbered the Israelites, as well as outclassed them in terms of weaponry. It does not appear that the Israelites had iron weapons (except for Saul and Jonathan), nor did they have chariots, as did the Philistines. This would have caused the Israelites to have been very reluctant to engage the Philistines in battle in the valley, on level ground. They would have wanted to wage war in the hills, where chariots would be of no use and where giants, laden down with armor and weapons, would find it difficult to navigate. (Can you envision a nine-foot tall soldier, climbing uphill, over rocks and through the trees?) Besides, these Judean hills would have been familiar territory to the Israelite soldiers, who could wage a kind of gorilla warfare from there.
The Philistines were “flatlanders,” who lived on the coastal plains. There, chariots would have been an awesome part of their weaponry. But these folks would not have been nearly as confident fighting in the hill country, without the use of their chariots. Other battles make this point clear to the reader:
Now the advisers of the king of Syria said to him: “ Their God is a god of the mountains. That’s why they overpowered us. But if we fight them in the plains, we will certainly overpower them” (1 Kings 20:23, emphasis mine).
The battle there was spread out over the whole area, and the forest consumed more soldiers than the sword devoured that day (2 Samuel 18:8).
In addition to Israel’s military advantage of fighting in the hills, the Philistines may well have remembered the beating they had taken in their last conflict with Israel, fought on similar terrain.7
Whatever the reason for this protracted conflict, David’s three oldest brothers were among the soldiers who “fought” for Israel. Since David’s father, Jesse, was advanced in years, he found it necessary to send David back and forth from the field of battle. This was so that David could deliver food and supplies to his brothers and to their commander. It was also to gain a first-hand assessment as to how the war was going, and, more specifically, how Jesse’s three sons were doing.8
Leaving his flock in the care of another,9 David arose early in the morning and made his way some 10-15 miles to the place of battle west of Bethlehem. He arrived just in time to see the daily drama unfold. The two armies assembled in battle formation and Goliath stepped forward, uttering his defiant challenge, and then feigned (it seems) breaching the Israelite lines. The Israelite soldiers fled in fear. David witnessed all of this, and when the crisis passed once again, the Israelite soldiers made a point of telling David what the king had promised any man brave enough to fight Goliath and kill him:
The men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who is coming up? He does so to defy Israel. But the king will make the man who can strike him down very wealthy! He will give him his daughter in marriage, and he will make his father’s house exempt from tax obligations in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:25).
David’s response to this offer angered his oldest brother, but apparently not others. News of David’s response to Goliath and Saul’s offer reached Saul, who sent for David. David encouraged Saul, volunteering to fight Goliath. After satisfying (apparently) Saul’s concerns, David faced Goliath and killed him. (There are a number of details we will pass by in this message, which we will address in subsequent messages.) For the moment, we want to consider this text from a God-centered point of view. I believe we can do so by focusing our attention on that which set David apart from everyone else – his faith in the greatness of God.
We should begin by observing that giants are not something new here, something that the Israelites have never faced before. We should recall that it was the “giants” in Canaan that prompted the Israelites to rebel against Moses and against God, and refuse to possess the Promised Land:
26 They [the 12 spies] came back to Moses and Aaron and to the whole community of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran at Kadesh. They reported to the whole community and showed the fruit of the land. 27 They told Moses, “We went to the land where you sent us. It is indeed flowing with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 But the inhabitants are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. Moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the land of the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.” 30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses, saying, “Let us go up and occupy it, for we are well able to conquer it.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “ We are not able to go up against these people, because they are stronger than we are!” 32 Then they presented the Israelites with a discouraging report of the land they had investigated, saying, “The land that we passed through to investigate is a land that devours its inhabitants. All the people we saw there are of great stature. 33 We even saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak came from the Nephilim), and we seemed liked grasshoppers both to ourselves and to them” (Numbers 13:26-33, emphasis mine).
The Israelites rightly perceived the “giants” of the land of Canaan to be bigger than they were. But they were wrong to look upon the “giants” as though they were bigger than God. And so after this generation of Israelites passed away in the wilderness, their offspring were poised to enter the land of Canaan, where they would face the giants. Here is what God said to them through Moses:
17 If you think, “These nations are more numerous than I – how can I dispossess them?” 18 you must not fear them. You must carefully recall what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and all Egypt, 19 the great judgments you saw, the signs and wonders, the strength and power by which he brought you out – thus the Lord your God will do to all the people you fear. 20 Furthermore, the Lord your God will release hornets among them until the very last ones who hide from you perish. 21 You must not tremble in their presence, for the Lord your God, who is present among you, is a great and awesome God. 22 He, the God who leads you, will expel the nations little by little. You will not be allowed to destroy them all at once lest the wild animals overrun you. 23 The Lord your God will give them over to you; he will throw them into a great panic until they are destroyed. 24 He will hand over their kings to you and you will erase their very names from memory. Nobody will be able to resist you until you destroy them (Deuteronomy 7:17-24).
1 Listen, Israel: Today you are about to cross the Jordan so you can dispossess the nations there, people greater and stronger than you who live in large cities with extremely high fortifications. 2 They include the Anakites, a numerous and tall people whom you know about and of whom it is said, “Who is able to resist the Anakites?” 3 Understand today that the Lord your God who goes before you is a devouring fire; he will defeat and subdue them before you. You will dispossess and destroy them quickly just as he has told you” (Deuteronomy 9:1-3).
I find it amusing (as well as amazing) that God chose Caleb (one of the oldest of those to enter the land of Canaan – and also one of the two who gave a good report at Kadesh-barnea) to be the one to drive out the three giant sons of Anak:
Caleb drove out from there three Anakites – Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, descendants of Anak (Joshua 15:14).
Later in David’s reign as king, other giants would be put to death by David’s men.10
We must also realize that there are other “giants” besides oversized men. Israel was a David-sized nation:
7 “It is not because you were more numerous than all the other peoples that the Lord favored and chose you – for in fact you were the least numerous of all peoples. 8 Rather it is because of his love for you and his faithfulness to the promise he solemnly vowed to your ancestors that the Lord brought you out with great power, redeeming you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
This nation had to deal with “giant-sized” nations like Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. When the Egyptian army set out in hot pursuit of the Israelites, God wiped out this mighty force without one Israelite doing battle.11
We also recall that God foretold this very time when Israel would demand a king, like all the surrounding nations:
14 When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, “I will select a king like all the nations surrounding me,” 15 you must select without fail a king whom the Lord your God chooses. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king – you may not designate a foreigner who is not one of your fellow Israelites. 16 Moreover, he must not accumulate horses for himself or allow the people to return to Egypt to do so, for the Lord has said you must never again return that way. 17 Furthermore, he must not marry many wives lest his affections turn aside [ lest his heart turn away, NASB], and he must not accumulate much silver and gold. 18 When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. 19 It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out. 20 Then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens [ that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen, NASB] or turn from the commandments to the right or left, and he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-20, emphasis mine).
Look at how these instructions concerning Israel’s future kings hits the mark (as biblical prophecy always does). First, we see that God foretold the sinful demand of Israel to have a king, “like all the nations.” That is precisely what we read in 1 Samuel 8. Next, we see that God is very concerned with the heart of the king. He must not marry many wives (as David, Solomon, and others did) because these (foreign) women would turn the heart of the king from God. And so it happened, for example, to Solomon.12 In addition to this, God warned future kings not to accumulate wealth and weapons. God wanted the kings of Israel to trust in Him, not in their wealth or weapons. And finally God instructed the kings of Israel to write out a copy of the law and then to read them continually. This was so that he might be intent on obeying God’s Word, and so that his heart would not be lifted up above his fellow Israelites. If only God’s kings had obeyed these instructions; how many difficulties they would have avoided.
Samuel was right to be distressed over Israel’s demand for a king. His words in 1 Samuel 8 are clarified by his instruction in chapter 12:
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and approached Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons don’t follow your ways. So now appoint over us a king to lead us, just like all the other nations have.” 6 But this request displeased Samuel, for they said, “Give us a king to lead us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 The Lord said to Samuel, “Do everything the people request of you. For it is not you that they have rejected, but it is me that they have rejected as their king. 8 Just as they have done from the day that I brought them up from Egypt until this very day, they have rejected me and have served other gods. This is what they are also doing to you” (1 Samuel 8:4-8, emphasis mine).
Here God tells Samuel that Israel’s demand for a king is not merely a rejection of him (Samuel); it is a rejection of God. He also indicates that this is consistent with Israel’s idolatry, from Egypt onward. In 1 Samuel 12, this is explained in greater detail:
6 Samuel said to the people, “The Lord is the one who chose Moses and Aaron and who brought your ancestors up from the land of Egypt. 7 Now take your positions, so I may confront you before the Lord regarding all the Lord’s just actions toward you and your ancestors. 8 When Jacob entered Egypt, your ancestors cried out to the Lord. The Lord sent Moses and Aaron, and they led your ancestors out of Egypt and settled them in this place. 9 “But they forgot the Lord their God, so he gave them into the hand of Sisera, the general in command of Hazor’s army, and into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them. 10 Then they cried out to the Lord and admitted, ‘We have sinned, for we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the images of Ashtoreth. Now deliver us from the hand of our enemies so that we may serve you.’ 11 So the Lord sent Jerub-Baal, Barak, Jephthah, and Samuel, and he delivered you from the hand of the enemies all around you, and you were able to live securely. 12 “ When you saw that King Nahash of the Ammonites was advancing against you, you said to me, ‘No! A king will rule over us’ – even though the Lord your God is your king! 13 Now look! Here is the king you have chosen – the one that you asked for! Look, the Lord has given you a king! 14 If you fear the Lord, serving him and obeying him and not rebelling against what he says, and if both you and the king who rules over you follow the Lord your God, all will be well. 15 But if you don’t obey the Lord and rebel against what the Lord says, the hand of the Lord will be against both you and your king (1 Samuel 12:6-15, emphasis mine).
God is about to chasten the Israelites to demonstrate the evil they have committed by demanding a king. Beginning with Moses and Aaron, God declares that He has always faithfully provided a deliverer for His people. Moving on from Moses and Aaron, Samuel speaks of the judges that God raised up to deliver the nation once in the land. He points out that the oppression the Israelites experienced was due to their idolatry. Even so, when Israel acknowledged their sin and cried to the Lord for help, He provided a deliverer. The last of the “judges” Samuel mentions is himself. This brings Samuel to the present moment and to a much fuller explanation of what we have already read (and what Samuel has already said) in chapter 8.
Israel’s immediate threat has come from the Ammonites, and their king, Nahash. The Israelites knew that he was advancing in chapter 8, and they did not trust God to continue to deliver them through Samuel. Knowing that Samuel was old, they seemed to fear that he would not be able to deliver them. If they had a king, the Israelites reasoned in their unbelief, he could go before them into battle. And he could provide something else – a dynasty. There would be no doubt as to who their “deliverer” might be – he would be the king’s son, his heir. They would not need to rely upon God to lead them, to deliver them, or to raise up a new deliverer. And as such, their king would be their idol, the one in whom Israel put their trust.13
This was idolatry, for which Israel must reap a small measure of divine judgment. And so we read that God brought about a thunderstorm to destroy their wheat crop to reveal His displeasure. Who could “deliver” them from God’s wrath? Samuel was their only hope, and thus they pled with him to intercede for them:
19 All the people said to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God on behalf of us – your servants – so we won’t die, for we have added to all our sins by asking for a king.” 20 Then Samuel said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. You have indeed sinned. However, don’t turn aside from the Lord. Serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 You should not turn aside after empty things that can’t profit and can’t deliver, since they are empty. 22 The Lord will not abandon his people because he wants to uphold his great reputation. The Lord was pleased to make you his own people. 23 As far as I am concerned, far be it from me to sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you! I will instruct you in the way that is good and upright. 24 However, fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. Just look at the great things he has done for you! 25 But if you continue to do evil, both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Samuel 12:19-25).
The man they had rejected (Samuel) was the only one who could intercede for them with the God they had rejected. They acknowledged their sin, and Samuel promised to continue to intercede for them and to instruct them in the way they should go. If they and their king reject Him and persist in their sin, God will sweep them away in judgment.
The point in all this was that from the very outset (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) the matter of Israel having a king was really about God. Israel’s king should be a man whom the Lord chooses.14 He should be a man who trusts in God (not in his wealth or weapons), and who is faithful to obey God’s commandments. When Israel demanded a king, it was because they did not trust God. They wanted someone they could see leading them into battle. They wanted to know who their next deliverer would be (part of the dynasty).
When we come to the account of the contest between David and Goliath, we find that only one person saw this situation from a divine point of view. The Israelites had entrusted themselves to a man (Saul), rather than to God. But when this man failed to measure up to Saul (in physical stature) and to God (in character and might), then the Israelites were in serious trouble. No wonder they fled when challenged by Goliath. No wonder no one was willing to take on Goliath.
David saw things differently, as we can see from three crucial texts in 1 Samuel 17. The first is what David said to his fellow Israelites:
David asked the men who were standing near him, “What will be done for the man who strikes down this Philistine and frees Israel from this humiliation? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he defies the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)
What we see in the text, and what irritated his older brother Eliab, was that David kept asking about the incentive Saul had offered to anyone who will kill Goliath. I don’t think it is because David is unclear about what the offer is or that he has doubts about the offer. I believe it is because David cannot understand why no one has stepped forward to win the prize offered by Saul.15
When I was in college, my two roommates and I lived in the upstairs of an old house just across the street from the college. An older man and his wife lived on the first floor. He asked one roommate and myself to help him move an item of furniture downstairs. This we did, and when we had finished this small task, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a five dollar bill, and offered it to me. Now I must explain that I was working my way through school, and five dollars was a lot of money. I snatched that five dollars so fast it even amazed my roommate. (Oh, yes. I did say, “thanks.”)
It was no great task in terms of time or effort, and the reward was generous (though I’m sure that fellow had no idea I would accept his gift). Could you imagine anyone turning down such a request? I believe David was amazed by the fact that while everyone, it seems, knew of the king’s offer, no one seemed willing to accept it. And the reason is simple: they were afraid to do so.
David’s words explain why he was so perplexed: “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he defies the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26) This Philistine (uncircumcised at that) had dared to defy (indeed, to persistently defy) the armies of the living God. This wasn’t about Goliath; it wasn’t about his size or his skill as a warrior. This wasn’t even about David (in one sense). This was about God, about His name, His glory, His honor, His power. This Philistine dared to defy the living God. Goliath’s trust was in his gods (see verse 43), so it was but another instance of the “no-gods” of the heathen versus the living God of Israel.16 Let someone, anyone, stand up and prove that the living God is greater than all the no-gods of the heathen and the loud-mouthed bullies like Goliath thrown in for good measure.
In the first text cited above (1 Samuel 17:26), David was speaking with the Israelite soldiers. Now, in this second text David is speaking to King Saul, who did not have the faith to stand up to Goliath:
31 When David’s words were overheard and reported to Saul, he called for him. 32 David said to Saul, “Don’t let anyone be discouraged [“Let no man’s heart fail because of him,” NKJV]. Your servant will go and fight this Philistine!” 33 But Saul replied to David, “You aren’t able to go against this Philistine and fight him! You’re just a boy! He has been a warrior from his youth!” 34 David replied to Saul, “Your servant has been a shepherd for his father’s flock. Whenever a lion or bear would come and carry off a sheep from the flock, 35 I would go out after it, strike it down, and rescue the sheep from its mouth. If it rose up against me, I would grab it by its jaw, strike it, and kill it. 36 Your servant has struck down both the lion and the bear. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them. For he has defied the armies of the living God!” 37 David went on to say, “ The Lord who delivered me from [the paw of] the lion and [the paw of] the bear will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!” Then Saul said to David, “Go! The Lord will be with you” (1 Samuel 17:31-37, emphasis mine).
David does not rebuke Saul for his lack of faith or leadership. David was not even a soldier, but only a young shepherd boy who had come to deliver food and to bring a report home to his father. But he does exhort the king and all the others not to panic.17 David does not exhort the king to act; instead, David volunteers to act himself. He will fight this Philistine.
Saul’s fears not only included himself; he was fearful for David. How could he, such a young lad, inexperienced in the ways of war, fight a seasoned professional like Goliath?18 David’s defense to Saul is two-fold, and both elements are God-centered. Just as he had done with the Israelite soldiers, David points out why Goliath must be fought and why his defeat is a certainty: “He has defied the armies of the living God!” (verse 36). David was certain that the living God would not allow such blasphemy to go unanswered. Goliath was history; the only question was, “Who will be the one who is privileged to silence him?”
But David’s faith is not merely theoretical; David has experienced the power of God in his life as a shepherd. The assumption (of Eliab and of Saul) was that David was a young and inexperienced lad, without any experience in warfare. All David had done was to watch a small flock of his father’s sheep. True enough, David grants, but his shepherding experience was such that it gave him great confidence that he could handle the likes of Goliath.
The Spirit of God had rushed upon David powerfully19 at the time of his anointing. This same expression is found three times in the Book of Judges, describing the power that the Spirit gave Samson:
5 Samson went down to Timnah. When he approached the vineyards of Timnah, he saw a roaring young lion attacking him. 6 The Lord’s spirit empowered him and he tore the lion in two with his bare hands as easily as one would tear a young goat. But he did not tell his father or mother what he had done (Judges 14:5-6, emphasis mine).
The Lord’s spirit empowered him. He went down to Ashkelon and murdered thirty men. He took their clothes and gave them to the men who had solved the riddle. He was furious as he went back home (Judges 14:19).
When he arrived in Lehi, the Philistines shouted as they approached him. But the Lord’s spirit empowered him. The ropes around his arms were like flax dissolving in fire, and they melted away from his hands (Judges 15:14).
When the Spirit of God rushed upon Samson, it empowered him to tear a lion in two with his bare hands, to kill thirty Philistines, and to snap the ropes by which he was bound. This is the same Spirit that rushed upon David. I take it that this happened before David did battle with bears and lions, on the job. David was God’s anointed king; He would not allow anything or anyone to kill His anointed. David was also divinely empowered by the Spirit. David took his shepherding responsibility seriously. When a bear or a lion sought to have lunch at his expense, David refused. He grabbed the animal with his bare hands and killed it. If God had proven Himself faithful and powerful to David in the pasture, then most certainly God would give David the victory over Goliath. The ultimate question was not a matter of David’s skill, his age, or his strength. It was God Who made David strong for battle, in the past, and most certainly He will do so now:
29 Indeed, with your help I can charge against an army;
by my God’s power I can jump over a wall.
30 The one true God acts in a faithful manner;
the Lord’s promise is reliable;
he is a shield to all who take shelter in him.
31 Indeed, who is God besides the Lord?
Who is a protector besides our God?
32 The one true God gives me strength;
he removes the obstacles in my way.
33 He gives me the agility of a deer;
he enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend even the strongest bow.
35 You give me your protective shield;
your right hand supports me;
your willingness to help enables me to prevail.
36 You widen my path; my feet do not slip.
37 I chase my enemies and catch them;
I do not turn back until I wipe them out.
38 I beat them to death; they fall at my feet.
39 You give me strength for battle;
you make my foes kneel before me.
40 You make my enemies retreat;
I destroy those who hate me.
41 They cry out, but there is no one to help them;
they cry out to the Lord, but he does not answer them.
42 I grind them as fine windblown dust;
I beat them underfoot like clay in the streets (Psalm 18:29-42).
I love the way David applies the analogy of his previous victories over the wild beasts through the strength God supplies with his present conflict with Goliath:
“The Lord who delivered me from [ the paw of] the lion and [ the paw of] the bear will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!” Then Saul said to David, “Go! The Lord will be with you” (1 Samuel 17:31-37, emphasis mine).
Goliath is nothing more than an angry beast. As God protected David from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, so He will protect David from the paw (as it were) of Goliath.
The response of Saul is nothing less than amazing. He does not forbid or resist David’s offer to face Goliath. Indeed, Saul lets him do so with a blessing: “Go! The Lord will be with you” (17:37). For the first time, Saul sees that God is central in this matter. He invokes God’s blessing upon David as he goes forth to accept Goliath’s challenge. He even offers David the use of his armor. Somehow, Saul seems to have enough faith to trust that God will work through David to save Israel.
David’s third conversation is with Goliath, as recorded in verses 45-47:
45 But David replied to the Philistine, “You are coming against me with sword and spear and javelin. But I am coming against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel’s armies, whom you have defied! 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand! I will strike you down and cut off your head. This day I will give the corpses of the Philistine army to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the land. Then [that, so that] all the land will realize that Israel has a God 47 and all this assembly will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves! For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will deliver you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:45-47, emphasis mine).
Saul had offered David his armor and his sword – all his defensive and offensive weapons of war. David refused them, because he hadn’t “tested” them – he wasn’t used to them. Remember that such weapons were not commonly available in Israel, and thus we are told that only Saul and his son Jonathan were so equipped (1 Samuel 13:22). For such weapons to be useful, one would have to be familiar with them; one would need to have used them often. They were new to David, and so he refused them and chose to fight with his sling alone.
Here, we see another reason why it was necessary for David to decline Saul’s offer of his weapons. God wanted to make it clear that just as the battle was His, so was the victory over Goliath. Goliath came “armed to the teeth” while David came almost empty-handed. (So far as Goliath was concerned, he was empty-handed. All he seemed to have was a “stick,” which was his staff.20) Just as God had Gideon reduce his fighting force to 300 men,21 so he reduced Saul’s forces down to one man (really, a boy), with no weapon but a sling. The battle is the Lord’s, and God wants this known not only to Goliath, but to all those gathered for battle, whether Philistine or Israelite. It is the Lord who will deliver Goliath into David’s hand and into the hands of the Israelites.22
I want to focus on the divine purpose for Goliath’s defeat at the hand of David. It is stated in verses 46 and 47:
46 “This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that23 all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:46-47, ESV, emphasis mine).
As I have been reading through the Book of Ezekiel, I have been impressed with the number of times24 God indicated that He was acting in a certain way so that Israel (“you”) or others (“they”) might know that He is the Lord. One of God’s primary purposes in this world is to reveal Himself to men in all His might and glory. This is a dominant theme throughout the Scriptures.
Creation is a declaration of the glory and majesty of God.
For the music director; a psalm of David.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the sky displays his handiwork (Psalm 19:1).
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, 19 because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20, emphasis mine).
God led His people out of slavery in Egypt in order to demonstrate that He is the Lord. It all began when Pharaoh refused to acknowledge the greatness of Israel’s God, the one and only God:
But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him by releasing Israel? I do not know the Lord, and I will not release Israel!” (Exodus 5:2)
The plagues God brought upon the Egyptians (while sparing the Israelites) was the divine response. By these miracles, God showed the “gods” of Egypt to be no-gods, while showing that He was great.
6 Therefore, tell the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord. I will bring you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians, I will rescue you from the hard labor they impose, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7 I will take you to myself for a people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you to the land I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob – and I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord!’” (Exodus 6:6-8)
5 “Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I extend my hand over Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them. . . . 17 Thus says the Lord: “By this you will know that I am the Lord: I am going to strike the water of the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned into blood” (Exodus 7:5, 17).
God provided food for His people in the wilderness, so that they would know that He is the Lord:
“I have heard the murmurings of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘During the evening you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be satisfied with bread, so that you may know that I am the Lord your God’” (Exodus 16:12, emphasis mine).
God chose to identify Himself with the nation Israel when they, like David before Goliath, were dwarfed by other nations in both size and status. But when these nations oppressed God’s people, He came to their defense. Over and over God demonstrated that He is the Lord.
Now a prophet visited King Ahab of Israel and said, “This is what the Lord says, ‘Do you see this huge army? Look, I am going to hand it over to you this very day. Then you will know that I am the Lord’” (1 Kings 20:28).
27 When the Israelites had mustered and had received their supplies, they marched out to face them in battle. When the Israelites deployed opposite them, they were like two small flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the land. 28 The prophet visited the king of Israel and said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because the Syrians said, “The Lord is a god of the mountains and not a god of the valleys,” I will hand over to you this entire huge army. Then you will know that I am the Lord’” (1 Kings 20:27-28).
The New Testament has this same theme. There is one modification. In the Old Testament, God acted in a great way so that men would know that He is the Lord. In the New Testament, God has acted in Christ in a great and mighty way (through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension) so that all men might eventually acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.
19 and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength. 20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms 21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things. 23 Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:19-23).
9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
13 He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, 16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him – all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers – all things were created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him. 18 He is the head of the body, the church, as well as the beginning, the firstborn from among the dead, so that he himself may become first in all things. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son 20 and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:13-20).
When we read this account of David and Goliath, it is indeed tempting to come away with the impression that David was a great man (or boy) of God, and that because of his greatness, the Israelites were delivered from the Philistines. David did have great faith, and he did show great courage when he went to battle against Goliath. Our text does show that David was the right person to become Israel’s king, replacing Saul. But this is not the primary emphasis of our text. The emphasis of our text is on how great God is. The text is crafted to inform us how big and how well armed Goliath was, and how young and poorly armed David was. Eliab, Saul, and Goliath were agreed on this one thing: David was “out of his league,” or so it appeared, at least.
We were not intended to read this account and say, “How great David was!” We were meant to read this text and say, “What a great God David served, and how great was the deliverance He brought about!” David did have faith, faith in the character and power of the God he served. This is entirely consistent with the way God works. What I am saying is that the story of David and Goliath is not really exceptional or unusual; the story of David and Goliath illustrates a principle that is the norm for how God uses men. God uses the weak, so that He will get the glory when great things are accomplished.
26 Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. 27 But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, 29 so that no one can boast in his presence. 30 He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us (2 Corinthians 4:7).
I remember attending a banquet years ago where the emphasis was upon the greatness of a certain group of people who were planning on serving God. Frankly, I was discouraged by it all. Great is not the proper term to describe me. But then the main speaker for the evening stood and spoke from this same passage in 1 Corinthians 1. He told story after story of how God had used “little” people to accomplish great things for His glory. I left that banquet on cloud nine. I could not have been more encouraged. God could use me! Indeed, that is how God normally works – through “little” people, like me.
It is true for you as well, my friend. God uses “little men” and “little women” who have placed their trust in a great God. It is not the greatness of the people God uses which we should dwell upon, but the greatness of our God who can achieve great things through “little people.” Does this not encourage and motivate you to step out to serve God? Have you excused yourself from ministry opportunities because you thought you were not great enough for God? Then learn from David and from this text in 1 Corinthians. It is not about us; it is not about our greatness; it is about God, Who is great, and Who has determined to demonstrate to the world that He is the Lord.
The “giants” in our lives are not put there by God to keep us from accomplishing great things for God. They are put there by our Great God so that His power might be made known – to Christians, to the unbelieving world (including those who oppose God), and to the angels who observe with the greatest interest.25
What a great thought it is to realize that God purposes to demonstrate to all mankind that He is Lord of all! Knowing this should give us great courage. Believing this should prompt us to pray for great things, because He has purposed to do great things to demonstrate that He is Lord of all.
The thought occurred to me as I was preaching this message that this might be an excellent motto for our church: “Small church, Great God.” We have placed too much emphasis on the greatness of men and on the “bigness” of churches. God uses great men, but they are far and few between. But His greatness and glory is best displayed by His use of “little” people. Praise God for that.
1 Copyright © 2007 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 2 in the Becoming a Leader after God’s Heart: Studies in the Life of David, a mini-series of Following Jesus in a Me-First World, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on March 18, 2007. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
2 It would seem as though Shishak passed between these hills and through this valley on his way from Egypt to attack Jerusalem (see 2 Chronicles 11 and 12). Indeed, Socoh (Soco?) and Azekah appear to be two of the cities Rehoboam fortified, as a defense against the enemies of Judah (2 Chronicles 11:5-9).
3 Personally, I am not persuaded that the manuscripts which pose a shorter height for Goliath should be given priority over the Hebrew text. Thus, I understand Goliath to be over nine feet tall, as opposed to the lower (seven foot) height indicated in some translations. I would also favor the higher number (30,000, rather than 3,000) of chariots in 1 Samuel 13:5.
4 1 Samuel 8:19-20.
5 1 Samuel 9:2; 10:23.
6 1 Samuel 17:11, 24.
7 1 Samuel 14.
8 1 Samuel 17:14-19.
9 1 Samuel 17:20.
10 See 2 Samuel 21:15-22.
11 See Exodus 14:1—15:21.
12 See 1 Kings 11:1-13.
13 Remember that in Exodus 32 the Israelites urged Aaron to make an idol for them, and idol who would “go before them” (Exodus 32:1). There, they wanted an idol to replace Moses. Now, they want a king to replace God, and His appointed leadership.
14 Deuteronomy 17:15.
15 It is interesting that David has nothing to say about Saul’s failure to stand up to Goliath. Since Saul is the king, as well as Israel’s commander-in-chief, he may have felt that would have been insubordinate.
16 See, for example, Exodus 5:2; 12:12; 1 Kings 18, 20.
17 “Discouraged” seems too weak a term here. David does not merely speak of “losing heart,” but of one’s heart failing for fear.
18 We all tend to assume that David was “too small” or “too short” to fight Goliath, but nowhere that I know of are we told David was short. Saul does not say to David, “You are too small to fight Goliath”, but rather, “You are too young and inexperienced to fight Goliath.” Neither are we told that Saul’s armor did not fit David (though it might not have fit); we are told that David had not “tested” (tried out) Saul’s armor. We need to be careful not to read matters into the text that are not there. At the very least, this points to the emphasis of the story.
19 1 Samuel 16:13.
20 See 1 Samuel 17:41. Goliath may not even have noticed David’s sling, and so he calls attention to the stick. This was a huge insult to Goliath. Was he a mere dog that you would drive off with sticks?
21 Judges 7:1-8.
22 Note the plural, “our hand,” in verse 47.
23 Here the NET Bible renders this conjunction “then;” the NASB, ESV, KJV, and NKJ render “that;” the NIV renders “and;” the NJB renders “so that.” All are legitimate renderings, but I am inclined to see the emphasis falling on the divine purpose: “so that . . . .”
24 I hastily counted 66 times in Ezekiel, and undoubtedly there were more instances than this.
25 1 Corinthians 11:10; Ephesians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12.