Read the passage here.
Last week, in our look at the books of Samuel, we were introduced to David, a character that most of us are at least a little familiar with. And the passage we looked at last week, David’s selection and anointing as king, is one story we’ve likely heard before. However, the story that we’re looking at today is undoubtedly the most famous regarding David’s life. Indeed, it might be one of the most famous stories from scripture. So today, we’re looking at the account of David and Goliath.
We’re reading today from 1 Samuel 17. We’re not going to read all of the verses because it’s a long chapter. Indeed, this is one of the longest sustained narrative units in 1 Samuel. And that alone should tell us something about the importance of this story in the mind of the writer. But without further ado, let’s take a look at the passage.
Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.1 Samuel 17: 1-11
And then we read that David had three brothers who were in the war with king Saul. David was too young to join, but went back and forth from the battlefield and his home, to his father Jesse. And we read that Goliath went out every morning and issued his challenge for forty days. Then we read:
25 Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.”
26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.”1 Samuel 17: 25-27
Then we get a brief exchange between David and his oldest brother, Eliab. And then we read:
32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.
“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”
45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.
50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.1 Samuel 17: 32-50
The rest of the chapter tells about the aftermath of David’s victory. The Philistines run away in fear and the Israelites pursue them and defeat them. Then we get a brief description of an interaction between Saul and Abner, commander of the army, with Saul asking, “who is this man?” or “whose son is this man?”
So, even though we didn’t read every verse of chapter 17, that was still a lot of reading. And though we’re, again, probably already familiar with the story, it’s important that we pay attention to the actual text. And although we’ve likely heard this story many times before, I want to touch on just a couple of points to consider.
Last week, in talking about David’s selection from among his brothers, we noted the similarities between David’s story and Saul’s story – though “similarities” may not be right because at points, they are similar, and at other points, they are decidedly different. It might be better to say that there are points of connection. And again, these connections may serve to show the relationship between the two kings of Israel, but especially to highlight that David stands apart.
There are also a number of points of connection in our story today. We’re not going to look at everything, but I want to take a look at one of those today.
So one of the things we said about Saul was that he seemed initially reluctant to accept the call he received from Samuel. This may be over-stating the issue, but what we know is that, after being anointed by Samuel, Saul doesn’t immediately take up leadership of Israel. What I’m referring to specifically is the following. Back in 1 Samuel 9-10, Saul meets Samuel who anoints Saul and tells him about a number of signs that would confirm that anointing. And Samuel tells him that after those signs come to pass, Saul is to go to Gilgal and confront the Philistines:
“After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. 6 The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. 7 Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.8 “Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.”1 Samuel 10:5-8
Now there are some other textual issues we could consider here, but to shorthand it, what we find is that, instead of an account of Saul going to Gilgal, instead we get this account of second choosing of Saul. Lots are drawn to choose Israel’s king, Saul is chosen, but he is nowhere to be found. Instead, he is hiding among the supplies.
When Samuel had all Israel come forward by tribes, the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21 Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was taken. Finally Saul son of Kish was taken. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. 22 So they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?”
And the Lord said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”1 Samuel 10:20-22
Again, we’re simplifying here, but what we’ve noted is that this seems to point to Saul’s reluctance to accept God’s calling.
Now I want to contrast this to what we’re seeing in our passage today. In short, whereas in Saul’s story, after his anointing, we next see him hiding from his calling, in David’s story, following his anointing (last week’s passage – ch. 16), we see him running towards the battle. This chapter contains what I feel is one of the best single lines in scripture.
What we’ve seen in this passage is that David is a young man – too young to join the army. But he’s involved in the goings on, at least inasmuch as going back from the battlefield and his father’s home (we won’t get into that now). The Israelites are facing the Philistines and the situation is that each side would produce a champion and the outcome of the contest between the champions would determine the victor between the two champions.
Unfortunately for the Israelites, the Philistine’s champion is Goliath, a giant of a man. The Israelites are terrified and each day, Goliath renews the challenge. For forty days, no Israelite is willing to take up the challenge. But David hears this, and this is what he says:
David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”1 Samuel 17:26
So again, that’s (one of) my favourite single line(s) in scripture. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
Incidentally, one of my other favourite lines is taken from the book of Daniel in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace:
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver usfrom Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”Daniel 3:16-18
At any rate, David’s response to the Philistines – his response to his calling – seems in marked contrast to what we saw in Saul’s story. And I don’t want to over-state this contrast/comparison (because, again, it’s not as simple as Saul-bad, David-good), so what I simply want to say is this: David had full confidence in the ability of God, the might and power of God, and the calling of God.
Now what I’d like to do at this point is expand a little on the notion of David’s confidence in God. And to do that, I want to reflect on a couple of verses.
Firstly, and probably most obviously, when we reflect on the interaction between David and Goliath, what’s remarkable is that David doesn’t seem to demonstrate any fear. Unlike all of the Israelite soldiers, grown men, David isn’t afraid of Goliath or his taunts – he’s incensed:
10Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”1 Samuel 17:10-11; 26
And to highlight the point, David’s anger is aroused because Goliath’s threats are directed towards God. Whereas Goliath, in issuing his challenge uses the phrase, “I defy the armies of Israel,” David correctly interprets the true threat as being towards, “the armies of the living God.”
Secondly, when Saul tells David that he is only a boy, David responds by sharing how he, as a shepherd, defeated lions and bears. But to David, this isn’t an indicator of his own prowess; rather, it is an indicator of God’s faithfulness
36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”1 Samuel 17:36-37
Third, there’s an interesting element to this narrative. In verses 37 to 39, we read that Saul gives David his armour in order to fight Goliath.
Now this is interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the giving of Saul’s armour to David – or, to put it another way, the robing of David – may allude to an anointing-type action. That is, it’s an action that indicates the appointing of a king – in today’s parlance, we might talk about “crowning” a king. And this action by Saul is mirrored in the very next chapter when Jonathan, Saul’s son, robes David as well.
1 After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. 2 From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family. 3 And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.1 Samuel 18:1-4
But David refuses to use Saul’s armour. Now there’s obviously a practical element to this – David is still a young man, a boy, and Saul’s armour is too big, too heavy for him. As he says, he is not used to them. But we might interpret this, in light of the comparisons and contrasting we’re seeing between David and Saul, as David going a different way than Saul. David’s kingship is not going to be like Saul’s kingship. Saul’s ways and means are not going to be David’s. Whereas Saul (presumably) trusted in armour and the sword, likely in power and might, David will trust in God alone.
And the final point that I want to make comes immediately after these verses. In verse 40 we read that David chose five smooth stones from the riverbank – these stones with his shepherd’s sling would be the weapon that he uses to face the giant.
40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.1 Samuel 17:40
Now this may not be obvious, and it’s certainly not explicit in the text. But at least one commentator (I don’t remember which one) notes that David uses the tools of a shepherd. It’s likely the same weapon that he used as a shepherd against the lion and the bear and all manner of other predators and threats to his flock. And it’s that experience – that formation – that David resorts to in this latest threat. To put it bluntly (and again, this entails a fair amount of inference), David trusts in where and how God has led him so far in order to deliver him in this latest trial. And I feel like this is significant inasmuch as how we think about where we’ve come from, and how God has worked in our lives to bring us to where we are. I feel like it’s significant in terms of how we think about how God has been forming us. But lest we get carried away, let’s carry on.
So having said all that, I simply want to reiterate that what we’re seeing is that David trusts wholly in God. He trusts in what God has done, in what God is doing, and what God will do. He knows that the battle is truly the Lord’s and that the Lord’s will will be done. And so we read:
46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”1 Samuel 17:46-47
So in summary, what this story of David and Goliath does, in my estimation, is largely to set the stage for what we see in the person of David, and this especially in comparison to the incumbent (but rejected) king, Saul. And what we see in David, in this encounter, is a person who puts all of his trust in God. Now I think there’s much more to David’s relationship with God, but we’re going to leave it there for now. And there’s more to say here, even about David’s confidence. And one of the things I’d like us to think and reflect on is the difference between trust in God as instrument vs. trust in God as Sovereign. Which is to say, do we trust that God will do something for us, or do we trust in what God is doing in and through us?
Now we could say more about that, but I want to depart from the main point a little bit to share a reflection with you (which is related to the above, but it may not be entirely obvious).
And that is, what do you suppose the Israelites expected after David defeated Goliath? What do you suppose the Israelites expected after they defeated the Philistines? I wonder if, and maybe suspect that, the Israelites expected that they would take the Philistines’ place. They expected that they would get everything that (they thought) the Philistines had. In other words, they expected to become Goliath.
Do we want to be Goliaths? Do we want, do we expect, God to give us victory so that we can take over for, take possession of, the defeated? Is what we want the power, possession, and position of what we see in others? Or do we want to be part of the kingdom of God?
Not to go on about it, but what Jesus came and died for, is not of the kingdoms of this world. God doesn’t give us victory over Goliath so that we might become Goliaths. God is calling us to something else, to something more.
So what I would encourage us to do, as the people of God in this place and this time, is to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the kingdom that Jesus talked about, the kingdom that Jesus practiced, the kingdom that Jesus inaugurated through his death and resurrection. We trust in God not to give us the kingdoms of this world, but to bring about His kingdom, for His name’s sake.