When we come to the story of David and Goliath, we should recall that this is by no means Israel’s first battle with the Philistines. In the Book of Judges, the Philistines were but one of those nations that God used to chasten the Israelites for their sins.2 Samson was one of the judges God raised up to provide a measure of relief from Philistine oppression.3
The Israelites have faced the Philistines in battle on several occasions in the earlier chapters of 1 Samuel. The Israelites were badly beaten at the hands of the Philistines in chapters 4-6. As a result of this defeat, Eli and his sons died, and the ark of the covenant was stolen. Apart from any military action by the Israelites, the ark was returned. God did not need men to vindicate His name.
In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel rebukes the Israelites for their sin and calls them to repentance. He promises to deliver them from the Philistines if they return to Him. They cast away their idols and gather at Mizpah where they fast for a day. The report of this assembly reaches the Philistines, who seem to misinterpret its purpose, and assume it is a military uprising. Thus, the Philistines attack with a very large army. Mizpah (“watchtower” or “lookout”) was apparently a high place, and the Philistines seem to encircle the Israelites, ready to attack them. The Israelites did not come for battle, and they had few weapons.4 The situation looked hopeless. Things suddenly changed when Samuel offered a sacrifice:
As Samuel was offering burnt offerings, the Philistines approached to do battle with Israel. But on that day the Lord thundered loudly against the Philistines. He caused them to panic, and they were defeated by Israel (1 Samuel 7:10).
Here’s the way I understand this amazing victory.5 Mizpah was a high place, higher than the surrounding territory. The Philistines assembled, well armed with their metal weapons, including iron swords. As they poised to attack, the situation must have looked impossible for the Israelites. After all, the Philistines came with the latest in military technology (metal weapons), while the Israelites were virtually defenseless, without any metal weapons. I would imagine that the Philistine commander gave an order, something like, “Charge!” As he did, he and all the Philistine soldiers raised their weapons high into the air to strike terror into the hearts of the Israelites.
But instead of having their technology give them the edge (pardon the pun), it did just the opposite. At that moment, God brought a powerful thunderstorm, with lightning. Every upraised sword became a lightening rod, and thus only the Philistines were killed. Seeing what was happening, the Philistines panicked, perhaps throwing their swords down, leaving their iron-wheeled (and shielded) chariots behind, and running for their lives. All the Israelites had to do was to pick up their swords and go after the Philistines. There was a great victory for the Israelites, and it was all God’s. As a result, the cites which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel.
I confess to some degree of embellishment here. It may not have happened exactly as I have described, but it did happen on the level of magnitude that I have described. God employed the forces of nature to completely overpower His enemies. I would encourage you to reflect on Psalm 18, where God not only employs nature to overcome Israel’s enemies (verses 7-15), but He also empowers His people to prevail in battle (verses 25-38). Over and over in Israel’s history God came to the rescue of His people in most miraculous ways – often ways that involved God’s control over nature, such as the exodus when God parted the Red Sea. At such times, it was God who brought about such confusion and destruction that the Israelites could hardly have taken credit for the victory.
Another battle is described in chapters 13 and 14. Jonathan seems to have precipitated this by attacking the Philistine outpost at Gibeah. When the Philistines got word of this, they mustered their forces for battle and this caused (forced?) Saul to summon the Israelites for battle. Saul and his army gathered at Gilgal, where Samuel had instructed them to wait seven days for him:
“You will go down to Gilgal before me. I am going to join you there to offer burnt offerings and to make peace offerings. You should wait for seven days, until I arrive and tell you what to do” (1 Samuel 10:8).
The Philistines drew up for battle nearby with chariots and horsemen so numerous they were like “the sand on the seashore” (1 Samuel 13:5). The Israelites were so badly outnumbered that they fled in terror. They began to seek places where they could hide from the Philistines, and it seems that some even surrendered and joined the Philistines (see 1 Samuel 14:21). Saul’s army was vaporizing before his eyes. It appeared that there would be no one left by the time Samuel got there. And so Saul waited for seven days, but when he did not arrive (by Saul’s deadline) Saul went ahead and offered the sacrifices, even though this was Samuel’s task to perform.
It was then that Samuel arrived, and seeing what Saul had done, he rebuked him. Saul’s excuse was that his army was vanishing and that there would have been no one left had he not acted (in disobedience) when he did. The irony of this is that Saul could not see what God was doing – He was reducing Israel’s forces so that it would be clear that the battle, and the victory, was His. We know that Saul’s forces had dwindled to 600 men (1 Samuel 13:15). This was twice the number that God sent to fight the Midianites under Gideon’s leadership (Judges 7:8) – and they won!
Samuel informed Saul that his kingdom would not endure, and that another king, a “man after God’s heart,” would take his place (1 Samuel 13:14). Samuel then went his way, and Saul was left to fight the Philistines with an army of 600 men. And just to make sure that all would recognize any victory on Israel’s part would be the Lord’s doing, we read these words:
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. 23 A garrison of the Philistines had gone out to the pass at Micmash (1 Samuel 13:19-23, emphasis mine).
Just as Jonathan seems to have started this war, so it seems he took the initiative in bringing it to a conclusion. While Saul sat in the shade of a pomegranate tree, Jonathan, accompanied by his armor bearer, looked for the opportunity for God to give them a victory:
Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will intervene for us. Nothing can prevent the Lord from delivering, whether by many or by a few” (1 Samuel 14:6).
At heart, Jonathan is a David! He knows that God can give Israel the victory, whether by few or by many. At this moment in time, it is a few. They climb up a ravine to a group of Philistines who know they are coming. Jonathan does battle with his armor bearer behind him, finishing off those whom Jonathan has fallen. This slaughter involved only about 20 Philistines, but it started something much bigger. An earthquake set the Philistines into a panic, so much so that they were killing each other with their swords.
Isn’t this just like God? The Israelite soldiers have no swords, only Saul and his son Jonathan (13:22), and so the Lord responds to Jonathan’s faith and initiative, setting the Philistines into sheer panic. They turn on one another, killing each other with their swords. Seeing this finally convinces Saul to join the battle with his men. Those who had abandoned Saul and his army could see that God was with Israel, and so they returned to fight for the Israelites. The slaughter was great as the Israelites pursued the fleeing Philistines, but Saul’s foolish oath (1 Samuel 14:24) greatly diminished Israel’s victory.
Goliath expects a champion, and rightly so. Goliath expected the Israelites to be led into battle by a great warrior. So did the Israelites, which is why (so they said) that they demanded a king:
19 But the people refused to heed Samuel’s warning. Instead they said, “No! There will be a king over us! 20 We will be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).
We see this expectation of someone to lead Israel into battle in Judges 10:18 (who turns out to be Jephthah – see Judges 11:5-6). We also see this when King Ahab of Israel was to do battle against Ben Hadad and his very large Syrian army:
13 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.’” 14 Ahab asked, “By whom will this be accomplished?” He answered, “This is what the Lord says, ‘By the servants of the district governors.’” Ahab asked, “Who will launch the attack?” He answered, “You will” (1 Kings 20:13-14).
Goliath rightly expected to confront Israel’s “champion.” We know this should have been Saul for he was Israel’s king, and he stood head and shoulders above his fellow-Israelites.
Saul was no weakling when it came to war. First Samuel 13-15 paints a pretty negative picture of Saul’s character, and this is to show why God would remove him as king and replace him with a “man after God’s heart.” But we should also recognize that while Saul failed miserably in some aspects of his life and reign as king, overall he did deliver the Israelites from many of their oppressors:
47 After Saul had secured his royal position over Israel, he fought against all their enemies on all sides – the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. In every direction that he turned he was victorious. 48 He fought bravely, striking down the Amalekites and delivering Israel from the hand of its enemies (1 Samuel 14:47-48, emphasis mine).
Thus, we learn that the purpose of chapters 13-15 is not to summarize Saul’s entire reign as king, but to focus on a few incidents which expose his lack of character. These incidents are the reason God is replacing Saul with David. In recognizing the weaknesses and flaws of this man Saul, let us not conclude that he served no useful purpose for Israel. Saul, like Samson (for example), was a deliverer for his people. But when we come to 1 Samuel 17 and the challenge of Goliath, Saul fails to live up to his calling as Israel’s champion.
For whatever reason, neither Jonathan nor his two brothers are mentioned in chapter 17. The silence of the text in 1 Samuel 17 is indeed perplexing in the light of two things. First, from what we know about Jonathan from chapter 14 – his faith in God and his courage in battle – we would expect that if he had been with Saul when Goliath defied the armies of the living God, he would have quickly risen to the challenge. Second, in chapter 18 we read that Jonathan was a kindred spirit with David and had made a covenant with him. Where is Jonathan in chapter 17? We are simply not told, but whatever the reason we would not expect it to be a lack of courage. Jonathan’s relationship with David is something like John the Baptist’s relationship with Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Samuel, likewise, is absent.6 Saul has been rejected as Israel’s king. He no longer has the Spirit of God to empower him, and he no longer has Samuel to guide him. (And thus, in his last days he will turn to a medium for guidance – see 1 Samuel 28.)
Aside from Goliath and the Philistines David’s oldest brother, Eliab, is his only adversary.
24 When all the men of Israel saw this man, they retreated from his presence and were very afraid. 25 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.” 26 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?” 27 The soldiers told him what had been promised, saying, “ This is what will be done for the man who can strike him down.” 28 When David’s oldest brother Eliab heard him speaking to the men, he became angry with David and said, “Why have you come down here? To whom did you entrust those few sheep in the desert? I am familiar with your pride and deceit! You have come down here to watch the battle!” 29 David replied, “What have I done now? Can’t I say anything?” 30 Then he turned from those who were nearby to someone else and asked the same question, but they gave him the same answer as before (1 Samuel 17:24-30).
Two challenges are before David and the Israelite soldiers. The first is Goliath’s challenge to come and to fight him. The second is Saul’s challenge that one of his men fight Goliath, with some very powerful incentives: Saul’s daughter will be given in marriage to the one who kills Goliath, and there will be an exemption from taxes for his father.
It is interesting to observe that the men of Israel seemed to initiate the conversation with David regarding Saul’s offer to anyone with the courage and skill to kill Goliath. They recognized Goliath’s defiance, but in a very different way than David did. They did not think of this defiance in terms of God’s might and glory, but rather in terms of Saul’s tempting offer, an offer no one seemed interested in pursuing. It is also interesting that David seemed to repeatedly ask other soldiers about Saul’s offer.
Why did David keep asking the same question to different soldiers? I doubt it is because he didn’t understand the offer, or because David didn’t believe it. It appears that it is because David cannot understand why none of these men has taken up Saul’s offer. He seems to keep asking because he can’t believe that they understand the offer. “This man,” David is saying, “is an uncircumcised Philistine, and he is defying the armies of the living God.” To David, Goliath is as good as dead for this reason alone. Apart from Saul’s offer, it is enough for anyone who is zealous for the honor of God’s name to want to be the one to strike him down. But Saul’s offer in addition to this makes it inconceivable to David that no one would face this loud-mouthed heathen.
While we are not directly told the reason David kept asking this question, we are told that his doing so infuriated Eliab, David’s older brother and Jesse’s oldest son. It is not really too difficult to understand why. In the first place, David will be returning to his father to give him a full report as to how the battle is going. Will David tell his father how Eliab and his brothers cowered in fear before Goliath? Will he tell Jesse that for 40 days nothing has happened, that no actual fighting has occurred? David was not a soldier; he was too young. He had merely come to deliver supplies and then to return with a report to his father. And yet he would come, and by his words and actions, he would condemn his older brothers for failing to stand for God and for their king.
It is not really a surprise that it is Eliab (the oldest of Jesse’s three sons who are fighting for Saul) who would be so upset with David. David was the one to be anointed as Israel’s next king, rather than Eliab.
28 When David’s oldest brother Eliab heard him speaking to the men, he became angry with David and said, “Why have you come down here? To whom did you entrust those few sheep in the desert? I am familiar with your pride and deceit! You have come down here to watch the battle!” (1 Samuel 17:28)
If Samuel was inclined to assume that Eliab would be God’s choice for a king, how much more would Eliab be inclined to assume this? He was the oldest brother. He may have already had experience as a soldier. He was apparently big and strong. It seemed obvious that he must be God’s choice. But God saw something in Eliab that He did not like, and I believe that his response to David in chapter 17 reveals this.
While God seems to have “passed over” David’s other brothers, the text is very specific that when it came to Eliab, God “rejected” him. The same term, “rejected,” that is used in reference to Eliab is also used of Israel’s rejection of God as their king (1 Samuel 8:7; 10:19), and of God’s rejection of Saul (1 Samuel 15:23, 26; 16:1). My sense is that Eliab is really a lot like Saul.
What we know for certain is that Eliab was wrong on every count. Not one of his accusations was valid. Nothing he said revealed a concern for the glory of God. He claimed to know David’s heart. He accused David of having a proud and insolent7 heart. Is Eliab accusing David of pride because he is God’s anointed? It would seem so. Eliab assumes that David, in disobedience to his father, has left that little flock of sheep unattended, just to come and watch. And now, he has gone so far as to ask why it is that no one is fighting Goliath. David came in obedience to his father’s instructions8 (something he seems to have done fairly often9), and he left the sheep in the care of another.10 And as we shall soon see, David did not come merely to observe and to go home; he would accept the challenge and face Goliath in the name of the Lord.
We have seen in 1 Samuel 14:47-48 that Saul was a valiant warrior, so what happened here? How can we explain Saul’s paralysis here? The text has indicated several factors.
First, the Spirit of God has left Saul, the Spirit that gave him both wisdom, courage, and strength. In His place, an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him.
Now the Spirit of the Lord had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him (1 Samuel 16:14).
Saul not only was devoid of God’s Spirit, he was often tormented by an evil spirit that terrorized him. Instead of courage, inspired by God’s Spirit, Saul was terrorized with fear. No wonder he would not go up against Goliath.
Second, Saul had already been told this his kingdom will end and that none of his heirs will reign in his place (there will be no dynasty).
13 Then Samuel said to Saul, “You have made a foolish choice! You have not obeyed the commandment that the Lord your God gave you. Had you done that, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever! 14 But now your kingdom will not continue! The Lord has sought out for himself a man who is loyal to him and the Lord has appointed him to be leader over his people, for you have not obeyed what the Lord commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:13-14, emphasis mine).
22 Then Samuel said,
“Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as he does in obedience?
Certainly, obedience is better than sacrifice;
paying attention is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and presumption is like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”
. . . 27 When Samuel turned to leave, Saul grabbed the edge of his robe and it tore. 28 Samuel said to him, “ The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to one of your colleagues who is better than you! (1 Samuel 15:22-23, 27-28, emphasis mine)
Recent history does not offer Saul much encouragement. It is no wonder Saul is not eager to do battle with the Philistines or their giant. You will recall that it was a battle with the Philistines that took the lives of Eli and his two sons.11 Saul will likewise be in battle with the Philistines when he and his sons are killed.12 He has good cause to be fearful about going into battle with his sons. Is this why they are not mentioned in 1 Samuel 17?
If 1 Samuel 14 took place in the not-too-distant past, then there would be yet another reason for Saul to be fearful. It is not Saul who is the great hero in Israel’s conflict with the Philistines; Jonathan is the hero. He was the one who started the conflict, and he was the one who was instrumental in the dramatic change in events that led to Israel’s victory (partial though it was). In chapter 14, it is Jonathan who is the military hero, while Saul is the reluctant warrior. In chapter 17, it is David who is the military hero, while Saul continues as the reluctant one.
Things have not been going well for Saul of late. Thus, Saul is terrorized and for good reason. He has twice been told that his kingdom will not endure, the Spirit of God has left him, and an evil spirit now fills him with fear. In his last conflict with the Philistines, Saul was more intent on killing his son than he was on killing Philistines. In chapter 17, Saul has lost his edge.
If Saul’s reluctance to do battle needs some explanation, so does Saul’s willingness to allow David to fight for the Israelites, as their champion. Think about this for a moment. Goliath’s challenge was to have a contest between two men – himself and the champion of Israel’s choosing – and the winner of that battle would also win the battle for his side.
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)
It is possible, of course, that Goliath’s offer was insincere. But this was the challenge that was put to Saul and to his army. David is brought before Saul, and after David has spoken with the king, Saul not only gives him permission to fight Goliath (on Israel’s behalf?); Saul actually loans David his outfit, including his armor. How could Saul be so quickly and easily persuaded to put the entire nation “at risk” by entrusting the nation’s future to a young shepherd boy?
I’m inclined to look at this question in the light of David’s ministry to Saul with his harp. The Spirit departed from Saul, but He came upon David in a powerful way. Thus, when the evil spirit traumatized Saul, David played his harp and soothed Saul’s troubled spirit. On the battlefield, Saul is devoid of the Spirit, and thus his fears are not difficult to understand. David is Spirit-filled, and when he is summoned, he speaks to Saul as one empowered by the Spirit. First, David graciously (“Let no man’s heart fail. . .”) encourages Saul, assuring him that he will go out and fight Goliath.13
David explains to Saul that while he is not a seasoned warrior, he has (not infrequently) “done battle” with bears and lions. In other words, he assures Saul that God has enabled him on numerous occasions to kill bears and lions with his own hands. Goliath is no more awesome than these wild beasts, and beyond that, he has chosen to taunt the armies of the living God. God will be with whoever stands up to this giant.
And so Saul replies,
“Go! The Lord will be with you” (1 Samuel 17:37b).
Not only does the king bless David in the Lord’s name; he then gives (or should I say loans) David his garments and his armor. As I read this, I am reminded of a later incident, when Ahab, king of Israel, along with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, go to battle against the Syrians:
29 The king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah attacked Ramoth Gilead. 30 The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and then enter into the battle; but you wear your royal robes.” So the king of Israel disguised himself and then entered into the battle (1 Kings 22:29-30).
The king’s robe identified him as the king, just as Joseph’s robe (his “coat of many colors”) symbolized his authority over his brothers. Thus, if David were to go into battle wearing Saul’s robe, it seems that he would have been recognized as Saul’s substitute. On top of this, Saul wanted David to wear his armor into battle. In all of this, Saul was not seeking to distance himself from David, but rather he was identifying himself with David. The reason he would do so, I believe, is because to some degree he seems to have been inspired by David to believe that God would give him (and thus Israel) the victory.
David chose not to wear Saul’s robe or to use his armor. The text does not tell us that the size was wrong (though it could have been). What we are told is that David “was not used to them” (the NASB renders, “he had not tested them.” The point is the same. Only Saul and Jonathan had sword and spear (1 Samuel 13:22). David was not skilled with sword or spear, so it would be foolish for him to attempt to kill Goliath with such weapons.
But there is a deeper, more fundamental reason, I believe, a reason that is found in David’s words to Goliath:
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 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).
It was necessary for David to come against Goliath in a way that appeared impossible for him to prevail (much as the Israelites fought the Philistines without the use of iron weapons) so that the victory and the glory would be God’s. This was not a battle between David and Goliath; it was a battle between the living God and Goliath.
There is an interesting consequence to this. From all appearances, when David came against Saul he seemed to come unarmed. All Goliath noticed was David’s staff, and thus he was greatly offended and replied:
43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you are coming after me with sticks?” Then the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come here to me, so I can give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the field!” (1 Samuel 17:43-44)
I hardly think David brought his staff in order to beat Goliath with it. It was just a part of his normal shepherding equipment, along with his sling. But Goliath seems to notice only the staff (“a stick”), and not the sling, which may have been largely concealed in the palm of David’s hand, or at his side. Thus, Goliath and his armor bearer may have approached David with little caution. It was too late because David promptly hurled a stone that knocked Goliath cold. Then David could “borrow” Goliath’s sword, kill him, and cut off his head.14
As I have thought about it, David was the one person who could fight Goliath with absolute confidence that God would give him the victory. David had faith in God, and he was vigilant and zealous with regard to defending God’s honor. Furthermore, David had the Spirit of God dwelling in him, empowering him with wisdom and great strength. But in addition to this, David was the Lord’s anointed, the one whom God had identified as Saul’s replacement. David was invincible, as we can see from his encounters with bears and lions.
The story of David and Goliath is not an allegory, but it could certainly be used as an allegory which depicts the condition of sinful men. Goliath and his Philistine forces are something like Satan and his fallen angels. We are all like Saul and his Israelite army – seemingly powerless to overcome the enemy. David is a kind of prototype of Jesus Christ. He had no obligation to come to our aid, but He did so. He defeated Satan when he died on the cross of Calvary, and then He rose from the dead. Those who trust in Jesus will follow Him into the spiritual warfare that is ours to win, empowered by God’s Spirit.
I was reminded of these texts in Isaiah, who speak of our helplessness, and of the Messiah, who would come to personally defeat Satan and the power of sin over us:
The Lord watches and is displeased, for there is no justice. 16 He sees there is no advocate; he is shocked that no one intervenes. So he takes matters into his own hands; his desire for justice drives him on. 17 He wears his desire for justice like body armor, and his desire to deliver is like a helmet on his head. He puts on the garments of vengeance and wears zeal like a robe (Isaiah 59:15b-17, emphasis mine).
Thus, just a couple of chapters ahead in Isaiah we will read:
1 The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has chosen me. He has commissioned me to encourage the poor, to help the brokenhearted, to decree the release of captives, and the freeing of prisoners, 2 to announce the year when the Lord will show his favor, the day when our God will seek vengeance, to console all who mourn (Isaiah 61:1-2).
There is no way that you or I can overcome the power of sin and death in this world and in our lives. We are powerless, and Satan loves to intimidate us and make us fearful. But God saw our helpless condition and sent the Lord Jesus to save us. He came in human flesh, lived a perfect, sinless, life (something no one had ever done before), and then He died on the cross in our place, bearing our punishment. Then He rose from the dead, and He offers the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life to all who trust in Him.
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. 16 For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:14-18).
Have you trusted in Jesus? He alone can free us from the power of Satan, sin, and death. It is not something we can do; but it is something He has already done, which we must accept as a gift:
1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them (Ephesians 2:1-10).
Before I begin to suggest some applications based upon David’s faith and courage, let me remind the reader of the previous lesson in which I underscored the fact that the “battle is the Lord’s,” that first and foremost this is the story of a big opponent (Goliath) and a great God. Let us always keep this in mind. Having said this, let us focus on some of the lessons we can learn from David and from Saul.
Both fear and faith are contagious. It seems quite obvious that Saul’s fear undermined the faith and courage of the rest of his army, just as we can see that David’s faith and courage had a very positive impact on Saul and on the entire Israelite army. Leaders do not merely lead by command, or even by inducements, but by example. Bad leaders discourage; good leaders encourage.
Leaders sometimes have to be willing to stand alone. When David arrived at the battlefront, there was not one man who was willing to stand alone against Goliath, yet this is what was required. It is easy to lead when every follower is eager and committed to the task. But leadership is sometimes a very lonely road. Sometimes a leader must be out front, by himself, for a time. And when it is apparent that God’s hand is upon him, others may then follow. Leaders cannot lead from behind, and they seldom lead without being visible.
Leadership isn’t about holding a position; it is about stepping forward in faith at a time of need. I want you to take note of the fact that David is a true leader in our text, a far better leader than Saul, or Abner,15 or any of the commanders of the Israelite army. David holds no position; indeed, technically, he isn’t even a soldier and could not be, assuming he was not yet 20 years old.16 David did not need a formal position or title in order to be a leader; he needed only to step forward at a time of need. And so he did.
There are some who think that because they don’t hold a position in the church that they are not, and cannot be, a leader. David proved this thinking wrong. What we need in the church is a lot more “David’s” who step forward in faith when a need or an opportunity arises. Young people, take note; you don’t have to be older to fulfill a leadership need. I do not say this to underestimate or to undermine the official leaders of the church, the elders and the deacons. I say this to encourage those who excuse themselves from many of the challenges before them because they are not formal leaders.
In our church, we observe the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. We have an open worship meeting where the men in our church are to lead the body in worship. While the elders and deacons need to be visible and to fulfill their leadership responsibilities, there is a great need for other men to step forward and lead, in prayer, in reading Scripture, in calling out a hymn, in passing the elements, in speaking a word of exhortation or testimony. Fear is no excuse because we serve a great God who wants to work through those who have faith in Him, and who find the courage to step out when needs or opportunities to glorify Him arise.
Leaders are not made in times of crisis; they are revealed in times of crisis. God had been preparing David for this moment in time for many years. God had selected David to be Israel’s king, He had empowered him with His Spirit, He had shown His power to be sufficient to deliver David from his enemies (including lions and bears). David had learned to trust God, and he had developed skills and godly habits that emerged at this time of crisis. Leaders become apparent at points of crisis, which is exactly what Paul says in 1 Corinthians:
For there must in fact be divisions among you, so that those of you who are approved may be evident (1 Corinthians 11:19).
Divisions at Corinth were not godly, but God used them to reveal those leaders who were approved. That is what God did with David as well.
Leaders must deal with opposition that sometimes comes from within, even from those close to us. Other than Goliath, David’s greatest opposition came from his brother Eliab. If David had followed Eliab’s counsel (orders?), he would have gone home and left the war to Eliab, his brothers, and Saul. David had to act in accordance with his faith in God and with his sense of what action he needed to take. That meant disregarding his brother’s rebuke, knowing that he had failed to assess the situation correctly.
Leaders need to be aware of the fact that our motivations and our deeds may be misunderstood by others. Eliab certainly misunderstood David’s motivations and his deeds. No one can know our hearts fully, except God. We cannot even understand our own hearts fully. There are times when leaders must make decisions or take action, and they are not able to explain all their reasons for doing so. Leaders are privy to information that others do not have, and they are not at liberty to make this information known. This means that people must trust their leaders, aware that they may be acting on information that is not public. It also means that leaders need to anticipate that there will always be some who question what they are doing or why they are doing it. That is part of the price leaders must be willing to pay.
God doesn’t have to be persuaded or prodded to act in behalf of His own glory. God is passionate about manifesting His glory. The holdup is not on His side, but on ours. Consider this very significant (and relevant) text in 2 Chronicles 16:
1 In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign, King Baasha of Israel attacked Judah, and he established Ramah as a military outpost to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the land of King Asa of Judah. 2 Asa took all the silver and gold that was left in the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace and sent it to King Ben Hadad of Syria, ruler in Damascus, along with this message: 3 “I want to make a treaty with you, like the one our fathers made. See, I have sent you silver and gold. Break your treaty with King Baasha of Israel, so he will retreat from my land.” 4 Ben Hadad accepted King Asa’s offer and ordered his army commanders to attack the cities of Israel. They conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel Maim, and all the storage cities of Naphtali. 5 When Baasha heard the news, he stopped fortifying Ramah and abandoned the project. 6 King Asa ordered all the men of Judah to carry away the stones and wood that Baasha had used to build Ramah. He used the materials to build up Geba and Mizpah. 7 At that time Hanani the prophet visited King Asa of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Syria and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand. 8 Did not the Cushites and Libyans have a huge army with chariots and a very large number of horsemen? But when you relied on the Lord, he handed them over to you! 9 Certainly the Lord watches the whole earth carefully and is ready to strengthen those who are devoted to him. You have acted foolishly in this matter; from now on you will have war” (2 Chronicles 16:1-9, emphasis mine).
This is a very pertinent text. In context, Israel is divided into the northern and southern kingdoms. Here, the two kingdoms are actually at war. King Baasha of the northern kingdom (Israel) attacked Judah, establishing Ramah as a military outpost, so as to contain Judah. Asa, king of Judah, was fearful, and rather than trusting God to deliver him, he turned to his arch enemy, Ben Hadad of Syria. He emptied the temple of its treasures to bribe Ben Hadad to attack Israel, and thus to force Baasha to give up his attack on Judah. It worked (or so it seemed).
God sent the prophet Hanani to rebuke Asa. Asa had placed his trust in Ben Hadad, rather than in God. Asa was frightened by the odds, by the size of Israel’s army. Hanani reminded Asa of all those times when God had given His people the victory in the face of overwhelming odds. He could have done so again. He then concludes by saying that God is constantly looking for those who are wholly devoted to Him, because He will strengthen such people to give them great victories.
We tend to look at the story of David and Goliath as “the exception,” rather than as “the rule.” The words of the prophet in 2 Chronicles 16 tell us that there will always be “Goliath’s,” but that God desires that there be men and women of faith and courage, who will stand fast with the assurance that they serve a great God. God loves to work through those who have great faith in Him and who are devoted to His glory. Such was the case with David. God’s delight and desire is that there be many more Davids. Those who believe in God as a great and awesome God are those who are likely to seek Him to show Himself to be great and awesome, to His glory.
This leads me to end with this question: “What are some of the giants we face as a church that require you to assume some level of leadership, to take some degree of initiative? What are some of the giants God has put in your life, to provide you with the opportunity to show yourself approved? What action do these giants require of you? What, by God’s grace, do you purpose to do differently because of this text, and the principles that it teaches?
1 Copyright © 2007 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 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 25, 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 See Judges 3:1-3; 10:6ff.
3 See Judges 13:1ff.
4 1 Samuel 13:19-23.
5 I confess that I may be pressing this matter too far. Those who find this a bit too far-fetched should merely disregard it. Granted, in this text lightening is not specifically mentioned. It should be pointed out, however, that in several places where this Hebrew term for thunder is found, lightening is found in the same context. See 2 Samuel 22:14-15 (paralleled in Psalm 18:13-14); Job 37:4-5; Psalm 29:3-7; 77:18; Isaiah 29:6(?). In Joshua 10:11, we see that God rained down hailstones on Canaanite kings at Gibeon. All of the forces of nature are at God’s disposal, and He frequently used them to give Israel victory of their enemies.
6 See 1 Samuel 15:35.
7 The Hebrew word (rendered “pride” by the NET) seems to indicate a pride or arrogance that manifests itself in insolent or presumptuous speech.
8 1 Samuel 17:17-19.
9 1 Samuel 17:15.
10 1 Samuel 17:20.
11 Granted, Eli’s sons were killed in the actual battle, when the Philistines captured the ark; Eli died at the report of the news of this defeat, and the death of his sons (1 Samuel 4:11-18).
12 1 Samuel 31:1-6.
13 1 Samuel 17:32.
14 1 Samuel 17:51.
15 1 Samuel 17:55.
16 See Numbers 1:2-3.