A large battle has been brewing between Israel and the Philistines and as we read the opening verses of I Samuel 17, the stage is set. There is the Philistine army on a mountainside, the Israeli army on another mountainside, and a valley in between.
Goliath came out of the Philistine camp, nine feet and nine inches tall. The armor he was wearing weighed in excess of one hundred and twenty pounds. Goliath was bold and confident as he shouted to Israel: “Why have you come out to line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us . . . I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.” The Israelites were greatly afraid and despaired their lot at this terrible champion, for they knew that they had no one to challenge great Goliath. Goliath presented this challenge to Israel for forty days.
David was Jesse’s youngest son, and by the descriptions we receive in this chapter, the least equipped to fight. Indeed, David’s function in war was more one of service to the warriors than one of action in fighting. David’s three eldest brothers followed Saul the king, but David was more likely to be found shepherding his father’s flock in Bethlehem. David’s brothers are at the battle camp as Goliath taunts Israel and Jesse is interested in how his sons are doing. Jesse sends David on an errand to take them food and to come back with news of how they are faring.
David’s timing is providential as he comes upon his brothers, for he arrives to greet them just as Goliath is making his daily pronouncement. David is intrigued by Goliath and curious as to what the Israelite that defeats Goliath would receive. David’s sense of faith here is brought into focus as he asks, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” This comment is an early indication of David’s faith. It shows that he is certain that the one that defies the armies of God will not go unpunished. His confidence in Goliath’s punishment is a contrast to what many of the other men must have been feeling when viewing Goliath: fear and uncertainty. At this time David also learns that whomever among the armies of Israel defeats Goliath will get great riches, the king’s daughter for a wife, and exemption from all taxes in Israel for him and his father’s house.
But David’s faith and confidence are not valued by his brother Eliab. The exchange between David and Eliab in verses 28-30 show a history of mistrust and poor treatment between brothers. In fact, others in the area at that time also disbelieved David. They thought him insolent and foolish.
King Saul heard of David’s words and sent for him. David tells the king that he will fight Goliath. King Saul is naturally dubious, and has no confidence that David will succeed. David is quick to defend himself and offer tales of his competence. He tells King Saul of when he has defended the lambs he protects, killing both lions and bears, saying that God will see him through.
Seemingly out of confidence in David’s words, Saul says for David to go, and bids that the Lord be with David in his fight against Goliath. Saul gives David his armor, but it is too heavy for David and he must remove it.
But David persists in his pursuit to kill Goliath. On his way to the battle, David selects five smooth stones from a stream, bringing along his staff and sling.
David’s encounter with Goliath is dramatic and inspiring. Of course, Goliath laughs off David, perceiving him as a youthful nonexistent threat. But David persists, his faith once more showing in the words he uses to challenge the giant: “You come to me with a sword, 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. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.”
David’s proclamation that the Lord fights not with sword and spear are striking. David knows that God works in ways undetectable to man, and it shows that David is not intimidated by the unbalanced fight; he knows that God can and will save even when the odds of success seem impossible.
When David strikes Goliath’s head with the stone and kills him, he must use Goliath’s own sword to remove his head. This detail underscores how unexpected the victory was from all sides. Indeed, the Israelites chased the Philistines as they fled, all the way to the valley’s entrance. They plundered their tents and David retained Goliath’s armor. King Saul comes to know David, asking him whose son he is (Jesse’s).
There are many lessons we can learn from this story, and many lessons that we likely already know if we were taught this as a child. There many lessons for the mature believer today. Here are just a few:
- Might does not make right
- God works through and rewards the humble in spirit
- God works through and rewards those that have absolute faith in Him
- Strong, true faith breeds bold action
- God makes the impossible possible
The most striking of these just may be David’s faith. If you put yourself in David’s shoes and imagine the environment before Goliath is defeated, you can see just how alone David was in his convictions. His audacity was so out of place that it reached the ears of the king. Some small credit to King Saul here for believing in David, whether facetiously or not. David’s faith and confidence are not only singular but also at odds with the rest of the nation. When everyone else was convinced of the might of this great warrior (and at nine feet, nine inches tall, rightly so), David’s steady belief was in God.
There are times in our lives when the odds are against us, and it is likely that our odds are not as hopeless as the odds David had against Goliath. It compels us to ask, when conditions are aligned against us, against our way of life, against our beliefs, and defeat seems inevitable, how does our faith manifest? Does it stay quiet in the shadows? Or does our confidence in God feed our faith until we are compelled to do something (even something audacious) for the sake of our Creator? For God’s will and His success are sure. What are we doing to create opportunities for God to succeed so that others can see and glorify His name?