1 SAMUEL 17
In his book, Point Man, Steve Farrar tells this story: The photographer for a national magazine was assigned to shoot a great forest fire. He was told that a small plane would be waiting to take him over the fire. He arrived at the airstrip just an hour before sundown. Sure enough the Cessna was waiting. He jumped in with his equipment and shouted, “Let’s go!”
The Pilot swung the plane into the wind and soon they were in the air. “Fly over the north side of the fire,” said the photographer, “and make several low-level passes.” “Why?” asked the nervous pilot. “Because I’m going to take pictures!” retorted the photographer. “I’m a photographer, and photographers take pictures.” After a long pause, the pilot replied, “You mean, you are not the instructor?”
There was once a boxer who was being badly beaten in the ring by his opponent. Blow after blow by his adversary left him with a bloody nose, swollen eyes, and an enormous amount of pain.
The battered boxer’s trainer, trying to encourage his man between rounds, kept telling him, “You are doing great, Fred. That bum is barely touching you.” To which the boxer responded, “Then you better keep your eye on that referee, because somebody is killing me!”
I. THE WARFARE BETWEEN GOD’S PEOPLE
AND THEIR ADVERSARY VV. 1-11
A considerable amount of time has elapsed between the events of chapter 16 and the episode in chapter 17. This was a time of war between Israel and the Philistines. The Philistines had always been a thorn on the side of Israel. However, this time the battle was fiercer. The battle line had been drawn. The Philistine on one side, that is Socoh in Judah and Israel on the other—in the Valley of Elah. What makes this battle more fearsome and deadly is the champion on the side of the Philistines whose name is Goliath. He is nine feet tall. He is taller than “Shark” O’Neil and any NBA player. This dude is a giant without any stretch of the word. He is a gigantic dude. This dude is a champion because he fights to the death in representative combat with an opponent from a foreign army. In other words, this giant fights one-on-one combat. He has killed many people in such combats. The most scarily thing of all is that the Israelites did not know how to fight one-on-one combat. That was not their practice. The Israelites knew only how to fight in armies.
Adding to his overwhelming appearance as a fighter is his combat gear. At a time when most Israelite soldiers wear only basic clothing in battle (1 Sam. 13:22), Goliath is clothed in metal. His head is covered with a “bronze helmet” (v. 5). Goliath’s weaponry is as overwhelming in appearance as his height and armor. He has a bronze javelin, a curved sword, and a spear whose shaft is like a weaver’s rod. As if all these were not enough, Goliath also had a “shield bearer,” who went ahead of him. As Goliath steps forth between the two armies, the Philistines and the Israelites, he speaks insolently to the Israelites. He taunts the army of Israel. First, he questions their resolve in defending themselves against the army now camped on their lands.
What do you do, if the enemy you fear chased you to your own house? Goliath asks insultingly that if the Israelites were unwilling to engage in combat with him, why did they line up for battle? (v. 8). Second, Goliath educates the army of Israel concerning the practice of representative combat. The concept is simple: a soldier chosen from the Israelites rank is to fight with Goliath to death. The results of the high stakes contest are also clear-cut. The nation represented by the dead soldier would become subject to the nation represented by the victor. In other words, the defeated soldier’s nation will serve the nation of the victorious soldier. Third, Goliath insults the Israelites: He says, “I heap shame on the ranks of Israel!” In effect, he is saying all Israelite soldiers are chicken; you are sissy, cowards.
The giant’s dramatic presentation, complete with costume, actions, and words, achieve its desired effect: “Saul and all the Israelites are now dismayed and terrified (Deut. 1:21; 31:8; Josh. 8:1; 10:25; 2 Chron. 20:15, 17; Isaiah 51:7; Ezekiel 2:6). This reminds me of a story of a boy who was involved in a school play. In the play his line was “It is I do not be afraid.” He came out on the stage and said, “It is me and I am scared.” That is the situation Saul and his army find themselves now.
What is the giant in your life? What is your number one fear in life? Students is it fear of failure in school? Is it the fear of Maths—Algebra, Geometry, and others? Adults, is it fear of rejection? Is it fear of the future? Is it fear of losing your job? Is it fear of mid-night call from Africa? Is it fear of death, sickness, or disappointment from your spouse? King Saul who thought he was powerful is now afraid. What causes fear in a Christian’s life? When the giant you are facing dwarfs your God, it causes fear in your life. When you focus more on your problems rather than the power and the provision of the Almighty God, fear wins over you. When you use the weapons of the flesh to fight spiritual warfare you are going to be defeated. When you allow your problem or circumstance to overshadow your God, then fear and defeat set in. Some of you, your God is too small. Your God is too small because you fight your battle in your own strength. You are just like King Saul. God is completely out of the equation. Up to this time God’s name is out of the battle, except when the boy David comes to the scene.
II. THE INTRODUCTION OF GOD’S SERVANT VV. 12-15
For the first time, the focus of the narrative shifts to David, who is reintroduced to you and me. David is mentioned in chapter 16. As a matter of fact in chapter 16, David is the central focus. Here in these verses David’s genealogical record is explicitly stated for the first time. David’s father was Jesse, an Ephratite. “Jesse had eight sons,” and David was the youngest” (v. 14). Jesse is now old and well advanced in years. Three of David’s brothers are drafted in Saul’s army. They are Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah. At this point, David plays a support role, going back and forth from Saul (v. 15).
III. THE STANDOFF BETWEEN BOTH ARMIES VV. 16-24
The standoff between the encamped armies of the Philistines and Israelites continue for at least “forty days” (v. 16). For these forty days Goliath comes forward every morning and evening and takes his stand, but the army of Israel is afraid to respond to his challenge. Nobody is bold enough to answer Goliath’s challenge. This might have been a difficult time for the Israelites. The situation might have strained the resources of the impoverished Israelite monarchy. David has to carry food to his three brothers as well as “the leader of the thousand.” David gives the food to the supply officer and runs to his brothers and greets them. Being on the front lines at this hour of the morning, David witnesses Goliath, the champion from Gath (v. 23), as he takes his place between the two armies. David hears Goliath’s words, and perhaps for the first time in his life he hears the Lord being ridiculed. David also sees his fellow Israelites’ reaction to the desecration of the Lord’s name: “They all ran from Goliath the giant in fear” (v. 24).
IV. THE DISPLEASURE OF GOD’S SERVANT VV. 25-30
Word has gone out that Saul has determined that Israel should take Goliath’s challenge. Though King Saul would not fight the giant himself, he would handsomely reward anyone who successfully did so. At this time David is deeply disturbed that a Philistine who is uncircumcised and therefore outside of the covenant relationship with the Lord, would so boldly heap shame or defy the armies of the living God.
Goliath’s words were not just an insult directed against the army of Israel; they were also an assault on the living God, since the army was made up of members of the Lord’s covenant community. David wants to know what price or reward will be given to a person who defeats this big dude. But unfortunately David’s presence and interest in this matter proves irritating to his senior brother Eliab, perhaps because of his own fear of Goliath. Eliab caustically accuses David of having a haughty and a wicked heart that has motivated him to abandon his family duty to watch others die in battle.
It is always easy to pour your anger on others out of your own fear. Nevertheless, Eliab’s accusation is false. Like Eli and Saul, Eliab lacks the ability to make proper judgments about others. His heart is not right. Eliab’s harsh words against his younger brother, David strengthens the similarities that existed between David and Joseph. Joseph experienced a family criticism and even sold into slavery, but he was used of the Lord to save the Israelites (Gen. 37:8). David responds to his older brother, “What have I done to offend you now?”
- GOD’S SERVANT ACCEPTS THE CHALLENGE
TO FACE THE ADVERSARY VV. 31-40
David is now outraged by Goliath’s blasphemies. David accepts the challenge to fight Goliath. David’s words to King Saul express youthful idealism in its full flower. First, he exhorts those around him, all of whom are older than he to stop being disheartened because of this giant. Then he proposes an astonishing solution to Israel’s dilemma: he himself would “go and fight” Goliath. Saul immediately rejects David’s offer. Saul speaking with a battle-tested voice of reason reminds David of some obvious but apparently neglected facts: You are only a boy and this big dude has been fighting since he was a youth (v. 33).
Saul referring to David as a boy suggests that David was under twenty years of age, the earliest age at which an Israelite was permitted to serve in the military (cf. Num. 1:3; 26:2). Saul’s royal rejection of David’s offer should have concluded the meeting, but David would not take a no for an answer. David has two things to his advantage which Saul and his army was lacking. David has determination and faith in the Lord. David’s God is a big God. He is bigger than anything King Saul can imagine. David’s God is bigger and more awesome than Goliath and the Philistine army put together. How big and awesome is your God? David tries to change King Saul’s heart about him. He stops preaching to the King, choosing instead to emphasize his credentials and experience. David tells the King of his two victories over a lion and a bear. To David’s way of thinking, the uncircumcised Philistine has reduced himself to the level of the brutish animal “because he defied the armies of the living God” (v. 36). Thus, fighting Goliath would be just like fighting with a wild beast. The Lord has delivered David from the paws of a lion and a bear and he will deliver him from the hand of the Philistine” (v. 37). David’s faith and courage were as extraordinary as his logic was simple. David disarms the King with his impressive presentation. King Saul decides to make what is perhaps the greatest gamble of his career and accepts David’s offer. Saul then asks the Lord’s blessing upon David.
As if asking God’s blessing upon David isn’t enough, Saul decides to dress David with his own battle garment and weapons, but Saul’s armor weighs David down. David has his spiritual armor on, and that is all he needs. The question that I have for Saul at this time is this: If Saul knew that his armor was capable of victory why didn’t he fight Goliath himself? Therefore, David says, thank you King Saul but let me use the armor of God, which I am familiar with. Saul’s armor was man-made. David’s armor was God’s armor. Who made the stick and the stones? God made them. The arm of flesh will fail, but the Lord is the everlasting arm. God has not lost a battle yet and he will never lose any war, but the weapons of man will always fail. The God who empowered David to kill a lion and a bear is the same God who gives Goliath into the hands of David. Hallelujah. This nine-foot pagan from Gath won’t be a problem to David. David in effect is saying, because I have seen God work yesterday, I am not afraid of what I might confront today. If God is for you, who can be against you? Saul and his army were walking by sight, but David was walking by faith in God.
- GOD’S SERVANT IS READY FOR WAR
WITH THE ADVERSARY VV. 41-52
The Giant uses his size, his armor and his taunting words as psychological weapons. He had used them against Saul and the Israelite army. He is now using them on David. Goliath the giant laughs at David and taunts him, but unlike Saul and his army, David has an answer. This is the key to the story. David, said, “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 (v. 45). “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you” (v. 46). While Goliath walks to meet David, David literally runs to meet him. The moment David calls upon the name of the LORD of hosts (Yahweh Sabbaoth), the battle is over. David proceeds to kill Goliath and takes off his head. David knows that the battle is the LORD’S. The tennis-size ball stone that killed Goliath was no ordinary stone. You see, it is not the strength of David that killed Goliath, but the power of the LORD that killed him. There are some biblical truths that I want to explore with you in this episode. First, the battle was between the false gods of the Philistines and the LORD of hosts; “I am that I am.” David knew that this was a religious event. Every armed conflict between the people of God and pagans is spiritual warfare. Second, when Goliath cursed David, he cursed himself, because David was from the covenant community of Abraham. What did God say about Abraham? “Whoever blesses you I will bless and whoever curses you I will curse." Since David was in the perfect will of God, Goliath brought the curse on himself. Third, Goliath committed the sin of blasphemy when he insulted the God of Israel. The law required that any individual guilty of blasphemy, even a non-Israelite must be stoned (Lev. 24:16). Probably this underlines the reason why David chose the stone. Goliath was outnumbered and overpowered, because God fought with David against the giant. Last, but not the least, when you are in the center of the will of God, when you are walking in the Spirit, your battle becomes the Lord’s battle. Your problem becomes the Lord’s problem; your warfare becomes the Lord’s warfare. No weapon formed against you will prosper. I have told you that it is sin that makes a Christian vulnerable and fearful, but when you walk in the Spirit, the battle you face is not yours, it is the Lord’s. Saul was afraid because the Lord has removed his Spirit from him because of his rebellion.
You and I can face any giant in our lives because we have the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit. We have the indwelling person and power of the Holy Spirit. We also have the High Priest; Jesus Christ who has faced every temptation, yet never sinned. Christ in you the hope of glory. You are a new creation in Christ therefore you can face any giant through Him who strengthens you.