1 Samuel 17:1
David defeats Goliath
17 The Philistines assembled their troops for war at Socoh of Judah. They camped between Socoh and Azekah at Ephes-dammim.
1 Samuel 17:4-11
4 A champion named Goliath from Gath came out from the Philistine camp. He was more than nine feet tall. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore bronze scale-armor weighing one hundred twenty-five pounds. 6 He had bronze plates on his shins, and a bronze scimitar hung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was as strong as the bar on a weaver’s loom, and its iron head weighed fifteen pounds. His shield-bearer walked in front of him.
8 He stopped and shouted to the Israelite troops, “Why have you come and taken up battle formations? I am the Philistine champion, and you are Saul’s servants. Isn’t that right? Select one of your men, and let him come down against me. 9 If he is able to fight me and kill me, then we will become your slaves, but if I overcome him and kill him, then you will become our slaves and you will serve us. 10 I insult Israel’s troops today!” The Philistine continued, “Give me an opponent, and we’ll fight!” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard what the Philistine said, they were distressed and terrified.
1 Samuel 17:19-23
19 They are with Saul and all the Israelite troops fighting the Philistines in the Elah Valley.”
20 So David got up early in the morning, left someone in charge of the flock, and loaded up and left, just as his father Jesse had instructed him. He reached the camp right when the army was taking up their battle formations and shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines took up their battle formations opposite each other. 22 David left his things with an attendant and ran to the front line. When he arrived, he asked how his brothers were doing. 23 Right when David was speaking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, came forward from the Philistine ranks and said the same things he had said before. David listened.
1 Samuel 17:32-49
32 “Don’t let anyone lose courage because of this Philistine!” David told Saul. “I, your servant, will go out and fight him!”
33 “You can’t go out and fight this Philistine,” Saul answered David. “You are still a boy. But he’s been a warrior since he was a boy!”
34 “Your servant has kept his father’s sheep,” David replied to Saul, “and if ever a lion or a bear came and carried off one of the flock, 35 I would go after it, strike it, and rescue the animal from its mouth. If it turned on me, I would grab it at its jaw, strike it, and kill it. 36 Your servant has fought both lions and bears. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them because he has insulted the army of the living God.
37 “The Lord,” David added, “who rescued me from the power of both lions and bears, will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.”
“Go!” Saul replied to David. “And may the Lord be with you!”
38 Then Saul dressed David in his own gear, putting a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David strapped his sword on over the armor, but he couldn’t walk around well because he’d never tried it before. “I can’t walk in this,” David told Saul, “because I’ve never tried it before.” So he took them off. 40 He then grabbed his staff and chose five smooth stones from the streambed. He put them in the pocket of his shepherd’s bag and with sling in hand went out to the Philistine.
41 The Philistine got closer and closer to David, and his shield-bearer was in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked David over, he sneered at David because he was just a boy; reddish brown and good-looking.
43 The Philistine asked David, “Am I some sort of dog that you come at me with sticks?” And he cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said to David, “and I’ll feed your flesh to the wild birds and the wild animals!”
45 But David told the Philistine, “You are coming against me with sword, spear, and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel’s army, the one you’ve insulted. 46 Today the Lord will hand you over to me. I will strike you down and cut off your head! Today I will feed your dead body and the dead bodies of the entire Philistine camp to the wild birds and the wild animals. Then the whole world will know that there is a God on Israel’s side. 47 And all those gathered here will know that the Lord doesn’t save by means of sword and spear. The Lord owns this war, and he will hand all of you over to us.”
48 The Philistine got up and moved closer to attack David, and David ran quickly to the front line to face him. 49 David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone. He slung it, and it hit the Philistine on his forehead. The stone penetrated his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
Thoughts on the passage:
The tale of David and Goliath is one of the best know stories of the Bible. Not only is it taught in Sunday school, but it is a common cultural reference used as a comparison for sporting events, political campaigns, and business comparisons. With any well-known story there is a danger that story becomes too well-known, that the important details get lost and it gets reduced to a simple message like “good triumphing over evil” or “the little guy defeats the big guy.” The reality is there is so much more to this story than can be capture by just a phrase or two.
The story of David and Goliath is a story of faith. It is about the faith of Goliath in his might. It is about the faithlessness of Saul in God. It is about the trust and faith that David has in our living God. Where each figure in the story places their faith is telling and it offers us a lot to chew on and learn from as we consider this tale.
First let us start with the faith of Goliath. From all the descriptions, Goliath truly is a giant among men. His stature alone is impressive, but it is clearly coupled with great strength. Adding to his formidability is the might of his arms and armor. Goliath is a great warrior and a seemingly unbeatable foe. Challenges to single combat were not uncommon during wars, even if they often did not actually resolve the fight. Certainly, from Goliath’s perspective it seemed like a very low risk proposition. Given his great powers, what chance could any champion of the Israelites have against him. He had a great deal of faith in his own capabilities.
On the other side of the battle field we find Saul, who is clearly struggling to have faith in anything. He does not trust his own might against Goliath, nor does he have a champion he has faith in to send into battle. Perhaps most telling, he does not seem to have much faith in God. Saul was chosen by God to save the people from the Philistines and anointed by Samuel to defend the people of Israel from their enemies. Saul seems to have lost his faith in God and looks not to salvation from God but from those around him.
The contrast to these two men and their faith (or lack thereof) is given to us in David. David has appeared several times already in First Samuel, but this is the first time he is given speech and action (beyond simply playing his lyre). In both his statements to Saul and Goliath, David centers his strength and his confidence in his faith in the living God he services. He has experienced God’s presence in the past and believes that God will continue to be with him. Even in the face of a giant, David continues to have faith in God.
The story of David and Goliath is compelling to all of us because I think we all resonate with the little guy to some extent. Even tall people like me have ways that we feel small or diminished. Even if we are not little in stature, we all have experienced some feeling of insurmountable odds and a longing to believe that it is possible to triumph in the face of such difficulties. The story of David and Goliath is memorable because it runs counter to our experience. There is a reason that the film “Miracle” focuses on the 1980 Olympics and not the ’64, ’68, ’72, ’76, ’84, or ’88 Olympics that were all won by the Soviets, i.e. Goliath. We love to remember those times that the little guy over came the odds, the difficulties, and the seemingly undefeatable opponent to win.
The story of David and Goliath might be memorable because the little guy won, but it is important because of how and why. We talk about this being the story of David and Goliath, but it is really the story of God and Goliath. David makes it clear that this is a struggle between Goliath and the Lord of Hosts, the Living God of Israel, that Goliath has dared to offended with his challenges of strength. Not only is God going to triumph, but God will do so to show that strength does not lie in the sword and the spear, but in faith in God.
When David tells Saul that he will be the champion for the Israelites, Saul outfits David in his own armor. Now that Saul is ready to have faith in David, he is going to do everything he can to help David succeed. Unfortunately, Saul is still not ready to have faith in God. He believes that what is needed to defeat Goliath is to be as big, as strong, and has well armored as Goliath. Like Goliath, Saul is ready to place his faith in military might.
When David is in the armor of Saul, he is unable to move. Anyone who has every looked at armor from ancient times can understand why this might be the case. David is frequently described as still being a boy, small in stature. Not only would the armor of Saul, himself an impressive warrior, not fit him properly, it would have been heavy and cumbersome. If David is going to defeat Goliath it is not by being like Goliath, instead it is by being like David. When David defeated lions and bears it was not with weapons and armor, but with the strength that God gave him. The same will be true with Goliath.
I think we often forget this important lesson of David and Goliath. Success comes by trusting in who God made us to be, not in trying to be someone else. David does not defeat Goliath by being Saul, but by being David. Perhaps if Saul had kept his faith in God, put on his own armor, and gone into battle, he might have defeated Goliath in a different way, but for David, to defeat Goliath he needs to be true to himself.
For churches there is a temptation to look at what larger and growing churches are doing to find a model for success. On its face, this makes sense, after all these churches must be doing something right to have gotten to their current size. By learning from them, wouldn’t it make sense that we also could grow? The problem is that it is easy to go from learning to copying and then we just find ourselves like David, encased in heavy armor that is not made for our frame and unable to move.
I am not saying we cannot learn from other churches, but we need to remember to apply what we learn to who we are. There are certainly technical learnings that can be derived from the success of other churches, or even other organizations. All of that still has to be filtered back to who we are what gifts God has given us. We too can defeat giants, but we do not do it by being like them, even like David, if that means using a sling and some stones. The way that we defeat giants is by trusting in God and believing in the gifts that God has given to each of us.
What are the gifts that God has given to you? What are the ways that God has already been at work in your life? Knowing these things will help equip us for the giants we face in our own lives. Those giants can have many names: cancer, financial hardship, injustice, temptation to sin, evil. We will face them all in different ways, but if we are to defeat them, we need to face them having faith in the living God who loves us and watches over us.
What makes David special is not who he is, but who God is. David defeats Goliath because he has faith in God. Each of us can be like David. We can put our trust in God’s grace and serve God. We can take the gifts and talents God has given us and use them to glorify God. With the help of God, we too can slay giants.
Questions to Ponder:
What giants are you facing in your life?
When have you experienced God’s presence and help in your life?
Who is someone you know who trusts God in their actions?
Ever-loving God, there are times that we are like Saul and forget to put our faith in you. There are times that we face giants and turn away in fear. Give us the faith and the courage to be like David. Help us to know that you have given us all the skills we need to do your work. Help us to know that through you everything is possible. Amen