Scripture: 1 Samuel 17
Next week will be my 20th anniversary in pastoral ministry and somehow, I have managed to make it 20 years without ever preaching or teaching about the story of David and Goliath.
Everyone knows the story – even non-Christians know the story because it’s the classic underdog story. And very often when someone preaches about David and Goliath, we are told to “slay the giants in our life”. Be like David. Have no fear.
But one of the biggest enemies of good Bible study is familiarity. I want us to try and hear the story today with fresh ears and in the background, try to remember the context – what we have already learned from the book of Samuel.
At the beginning of chapter 17, there are two armies preparing for battle.
3 The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. 4 And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.
That’s probably somewhere between 7 and 10 feet tall.
5 He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze.
In Hebrew it actually says he is wearing a coat of scales, or scale armor, and this armor weighs 125 pounds. Goliath is incredibly strong, incredibly tall, and he’s wearing scales – like a serpent.
6 And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 7 The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron.
This is just an impressive beast of a man. He steps out from the army and offers a challenge.
10 And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
This is now the fourth chapter in a row that highlights the fear of the people. They’re still not fearing God. They are fearing men. We are told in verse 16 that Goliath comes out and makes this challenge every day for forty days straight, but no one will accept his challenge.
This is where David comes back into the story. Three of his older brothers are now in the army. His father sends David to the battlefield with a care package of food and supplies. He was still too young to join the army. But when he gets to the battlefield, he hears Goliath.
24 All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid. 25 And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.”
26 And David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” 27 And the people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done to the man who kills him.”
Verse 26 is the first time David speaks in the whole story so far. And his first words are a question – the right question, the one no one else seems to be asking. Why are you letting this foreigner mock our God?
28 Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.”
This is an important moment. Remember, Eliab was the tall, handsome brother from the last chapter. He’s the man Samuel assumed was God’s chosen king. Eliab should be the one accepting the challenge of Goliath. Instead, he mocks his younger brother. Why are you here? What do you know? You just came here to watch the battle.
31 When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. 32 And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”
Don’t lose heart, David says. I will fight Goliath.
One of my favorite characters in The Chronicles of Narnia is the little mouse named Reepicheep. I have a strong suspicious that C.S. Lewis was thinking of David when he created the mouse, because he is all heart and courage. Let me read you my favorite little story from The Silver Chair.
Prince Caspian says, “A dragon has just flown over the tree-tops and landed on the beach. I am afraid it is between us and the ship. Arrows are no use against dragons and they’re not at all afraid of fire.”
“With your Majesty’s leave-” began Reepicheep.
“No, Reepicheep,” said the King very firmly, “you are not to attempt a single combat with it.”
But that mouse was ready to fight a dragon.
33 And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.”
First Eliab and now Saul. We should ask, why hasn’t the king himself gone out to fight Goliath? The two biggest, strongest Israelites in the book of Samuel – Saul and Eliab – both mock David when they should have been the ones fighting Goliath. Humanly speaking, they were the obvious champions.
Listen to David’s reply:
37 And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”
Notice the proper credit is given to God. “The Lord delivered me” he says.
38 Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, 39 and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off.
These are important details. Saul wears heavy armor – like Goliath. But David refuses to wear it. We have talked about this before. The heavy armor was more than just protection. It was a display of the king’s glory. Remember – glory means “heavy”. All this heavy, shiny armor was a display of glory. And notice that David doesn’t want it. He doesn’t need the protection and he doesn’t want the glory.
Let’s finish reading.
40 Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.
41 And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance.
43 And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”
45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with 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 defied.
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, that 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.”
48 When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.
50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. 51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.
52 And the men of Israel and Judah rose with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron.
This story is about the honor of God. That’s what David is so passionate about. This is about the glory and honor of God. David is not concerned with his personal honor, but God’s.
We tend to be amazed by the courage of young David. But David himself would not want us to walk away thinking – “what a courageous young man”. What would David want us to learn from this story? “What a great God David serves.”
For forty days, Goliath mocked God’s people and no one stepped up to defend the honor of God. So God defended His own honor by using a young man with a sling and some pebbles.
I don’t know if David intended this, but God certainly did. The writer makes it very clear that David took none of the typical weapons of war into battle. He took only his shepherd’s staff and a few stones.
This was not a battle between two men, but a judgment from God. Goliath was guilty of something called blasphemy – mocking God. And there was a specific punishment for people who committed blasphemy. They were stoned to death.
And that’s what David does. He stones Goliath.
He’s also figuratively bruising the head of the serpent. This is a minor fulfillment of the prophecy in Genesis 3 – David, running toward Goliath in the shadow of the Almighty God – strikes a blow to the head of a giant wearing a coat of scales.
And of course, there are all sorts of parallels to Jesus.
Jesus was not received by His own people. Neither was David.
Jesus was mocked while saving His people and so was David.
Jesus experienced forty days in the wilderness being mocked by Satan – the same number of days Goliath mocked God’s people.
So why does this ancient story matter for us? Or maybe a better question – who are we in the story?
We can learn some things from David, but we are not David. Maybe we are Eliab. Or Saul. Or better yet – any of the nameless, fearful Israelites on the sidelines watching our Savior win the battle for us. I think that is the Gospel takeaway. But we can get a little more specific.
Just as Goliath represents Philistia and David charges out as the representative from Israel, Jesus also represents His covenant people on the cross.
In fact, the word champion, which is used three times of Goliath, means “man of the between” or “man in the gap”.
That’s exactly who Jesus became for us. He became the man between us and God. He stood in the gap for us. In that sense, we might even say that Jesus became our David and our Goliath.
Isn’t that what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Our David became our Goliath. On the cross, Jesus was both.
Two applications for us and we will finish.
#1 – It is not our job to save the world. That’s the job of our champion. We have to understand this. Every other battle we fight is pointless if Jesus hasn’t already won this battle. If sin and death are not defeated, then what is the point of being concerned with anything else besides my own personal happiness? But if Jesus has defeated sin and death, that has to be our primary concern. We will not be able to erase all abuses and injustices and suffering in this world. But we can take people with us into the next.
#2 – That doesn’t mean we ignore the needs of the world. If we are the nameless soldiers in the story, then we do still have a role to play. After David cuts the head off Goliath, what do they do? They surge forward into battle. And that is our job – to surge forward into the world behind our Champion. We have more reason than anyone to care about the needs of this world, because we have hope in Christ.
To be clear, Jesus changed the terms of engagement. He’s not asking us to cut off the heads of our enemies. Instead, we are commanded by Jesus to make disciples who will speak and act in defense of God’s kingdom – disciples who are devoted to God’s Word and equally committed to works of compassion and sacrifice – disciples who are not compelled by our desire for personal glory, but by our passion for the glory of Christ.