1 Samuel 17, David and Goliath by Charlie Taylor
About 1050 B.C., Israel was experiencing a leadership crisis. In the previous book of Judges, Israel had gone through about 300 years of apostasy, disobedience, and even idolatry. At the end of this time, in Judges 21:25, we read that “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This meant that the people were not obeying God, but their own selfish desires. It also meant there was no unity, and every tribe and family went their own way with little or no leadership. The 12 tribes of Israel were supposed to be ruled by God through the priesthood, but the priests were corrupt and evil as well. The High Priest was Eli, but his sons who were priests took bribes, and ran a sex ring at the Tabernacle. Therefore God disposed of Eli and his sons and raised up a godly High Priest in Samuel. In those days, Israel was constantly being invaded from the east by the Ammonites and from the west by the Philistines. Samuel preached to Israel that these invasions were allowed by God because of their disobedience and idolatry, but the people would not listen. They demanded a king “like all the nations”. In Samuel’s view they were asking for a greedy, violent, lustful, ungodly man to be their king. God gave them exactly the guy they wanted in Saul. God knew they would experience the difference between God’s rule and an evil tyrant ruling over them. Sure enough, Saul had repeatedly been disobedient to God’s commands, and so he was rejected by God. Saul still functioned as King to the people, but God had dumped him, and God had Samuel anoint David as King (in God’s eyes only). God would leave Saul in power so Israel could fully experience the difference between their worldly carnal choice of kings vs. God’s choice in David. Therefore, Israel actually had two kings—the people’s choice and God’s choice in David. The whole David and Goliath story is a contrast between the 2 kings. Most people see 1 Samuel 17 as being about Goliath, but it’s actually about Saul, a man after the people’s heart vs. David, a man after God’s heart.
The Philistines and their Champion
The Philistines were an ancient tribe possibly of Aegean origin in the Greece/Macedonian area. An ancient cemetery in Crete had 150 Philistine graves. They migrated about 1150 B.C. to southwest Israel to modern day Gaza. This date seems correct because they were not there when the Hebrews came in 1400 B.C., but they were there in the later period of the book of Judges. They occupied the city/states of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Gath. They were very dangerous because they had iron and bronze weapons at a time when the Hebrews did not. 1 Samuel 13:19-22 tells us no Hebrew even had blacksmiths, and no Jews except Saul had metal swords or spears. The Philistines had a huge advantage in battle.
Goliath—the Man Between, 1 Samuel 17:4-10
The Philistines gathered their armies at Socoh in the land of the tribe of Judah. Saul gathered his army to meet them at the Valley of Elah. The Israelites took up a fortified defensive position on a hill on one side of the valley, and the Philistines lined up on a hill across the valley. Neither side wanted to charge uphill into the others position, so it looked like a stalemate until one intimidating figure appeared between the positions—Goliath. He was a terrifying man with a terrifying speech. The text calls him a “champion” of the Philistines. This is an English translation of the Hebrew phrase “a man between”. This guy was there to challenge any Israelite to step out between the lines and fight him in the Valley of Elah. Goliath by all accounts was a really big guy. In the Hebrew text it says he was over nine feet tall, but the ancient Greek text says he was 6’ 9”. What is important is that we realize the fear he instilled in the warriors of Israel, and especially Saul who probably ran back and hid in his tent. Goliath’s idea was that instead of fighting a bloody battle with many casualties, each side would send out their biggest toughest guy to fight. Whichever individual won, his nation would rule over the other.
In order to build the drama, 1 Sam.17:5-7 describes Goliath’s weapons. His armor was metal weighing 126 lbs., so his upper body was protected. He had a huge helmet of bronze. His legs were covered with bronze armor, and to complete his defenses a shield bearer walked in front of him with a huge impenetrable shield. Goliath was a one-man fortress. His offensive weapons included a large sword and a monster spear. His appearance was as a colossal indestructible menacing killer. To add to the intimidation, he had a loud tough voice screaming vulgarities and insults threatening Israel. His challenge was “Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to fight me”. Choose a man—let me see, who had the Israelites chosen? They had chosen Saul because he was their biggest toughest guy (10:23). At this crucial time Israel only had one leader who had the credentials to meet Goliath, Saul but where was he? For 40 days Goliath came down into the Valley of Elah, looked up to the Israeli army and with a loud voice yelled “I defy you blankety blanks (insert your worst profanity here) to give me a man to fight”, but no one came down!
Major Theme Running throughout the Bible
The enemies of God and God’s people are fearsome, terrifying, and powerful—and they won’t go away, they just keep coming. All of God’s people face an enemy as real and scary as Goliath, which is sin, death, and Satan. Sin can ruin us and separate us from God. Aging and death, along with all the sicknesses and natural disasters are feared by all, and Satan seeks to devour us. Faced with Goliath and the death he represented—there were no optimists in Israel those 40 days. It’s been said that there are three types of perspectives: The pessimist sees a long tunnel, the optimist sees a light at the end of the tunnel, and the realist concludes a train is coming. A banker once told me, “I became a pessimist by financing optimists”. There is another better perspective, which is the biblical spiritual perspective. Even though we are aging, the world we live in is a mess with evil seemingly winning—We know that God is with us and will eventually bring good out of every situation. In Romans 8:28-39 we read, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God…If God is for us who can be against us…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution…but in all these things we shall overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us”. Therefore we may be pessimistic about worldly sinful people, but we are very optimistic about what God has promised to do!
David and his Brothers, 1 Samuel 17:12-30
Here in ch.17 David is introduced publicly for the first time. Samuel and we the students are introduced to David in ch.16, but no one at the Valley of Elah is concerned with him. David’s three brothers were there in Saul’s army, but David is too young and scrawny to be in the army. Meanwhile, for 40 days morning and evening Goliath came between the lines threatening and challenging the Israelis. In 1 Sam17:17-23, David arrives with some provisions for his brothers just as the two armies square off facing each other. David was eager to see the battle, but instead he saw the humiliation of Israel. He saw and heard the spectacle of “the man in between” Goliath delivering his insulting tirade challenging someone to fight. Instead, all the men of Israel skulked back up the hill “very afraid”. What did Saul see? Saul saw a monster too big to fight. What did David see? David saw a guy that was too big to miss. The key to David’s courage and faith to stand up for Israel is found in 1 Sam.16:13, “The Spirit of God came mightily upon David from that day forward”. God saw Goliath as a test of faith, and through this trial God would reveal David as a man of faith, and simultaneously reveal Saul as a worldly selfish man without faith. David’s brothers express their sibling jealousy against David treating him as a dumb punk kid, and this just adds to the drama of everyone’s doubts about David. Only God could look in the inner man and see the faith and strength of David. David was willing to step up and fight the giant because he was biblically spiritually optimistic—if God was with him, how could he lose?
David saw more than his brothers or Saul, David saw the invisible God. As we face our giants in life we must also have a biblical perspective and see beyond the physical material circumstances—by faith we must see the invisible God. We must believe in the providence of God. Life is like that, so our adverse circumstances, our crisis situations are cleverly disguised as unsolvable problems. We will never get beyond being intimidated by the giants of life until we see the invisible God in the midst of our circumstances so we can respond by faith.
David and Saul, 1 Samuel 17:31-39
David was brought before Saul where David offered to be Israel’s “man between the lines”, and go out and fight Goliath. Naturally King Saul thought it was ridiculous and told David he would have no chance, “you are a small youth half his size with no military training”. David insisted by telling Saul that God had prepared David to fight against seemingly ridiculous odds by helping him in the wilderness against lions and bears. If God had helped him against 600 pound bears and ferocious lions then God will be with David against the giant. In v.36, David said with all confidence, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them…the Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the bear, He will deliver me from the Philistine”. Saul then relented, but said the least he could do was give David some respectable armor and weapons, so he pulled out all his own armor for David to wear. Saul was like a 56 long while David was a 38 regular so his clothes drug on the floor. Saul put a huge sixe 8 ½ helmet on David’s 6 7/8 head—clunk! He put this huge heavy armored mail over him that weighed as much as David. His leggings dragged the ground. He put a huge sword over it all that drags the floor. David turned his head and looked through the ear hole and said, “I can’t go with these!” David would fight the same way he fought the lion and bear. This scene would have been funny, but the image just served to multiply the odds against David. We the student know that this is God’s way. If David had gone out and won with Saul’s weapons then part of the credit would have been Saul’s, but now it would be clear that all the glory goes to God.
David vs. Goliath, Let’s Get Ready to Rumble! 1 Samuel 17:40-51
Goliath expected a big guy like Saul to come out, so when he saw young David, he “disdained” him, meaning insulted, despised, cursed him. Goliath cursed David “by his gods”, and unknowingly expressed the true nature of this battle. Goliath uttered great boasts and said he would give David’s flesh to the vultures and varmints. In v.45-47, David’s speech is one of the most inspiring I have ever heard, and it just proved David was not in the least bit intimidated. Was Goliath not bigger and tougher and more experienced? He was! Was Israel able to resist? No! Did Israel deserve to be beaten? Yes, Israel deserved to be whipped, but none of that would happen because God had chosen a king for Himself and filled him with the Holy Spirit. In verse 45, David basically said “You have come against me with weapons of mass destruction, but “I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel whom you have taunted”. David let us all in on the purpose statement of his great victory in v.46-47, “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel…the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.” After their respective speeches, they ran at each other, but before Goliath could get into striking distance, David took a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine in the forehead so that he fell face down. Quick as a cat, David took Goliath’s own sword and cut his head off. Just imagine both armies on their respective hills overlooking this incredible event. David then pulled up Goliath’s severed head and showed it to the surprised Philistines who were now filled with terror. At that point the Philistines reneged on their deal to surrender if Goliath lost—they ran for the coast, every man for himself with all of Israel chasing them.
The Eternal Purpose of This Event
In David’s time, God had a short-term purpose of revealing Himself and David as a “man after God’s own heart”, but in eternity there was an even greater purpose. God’s anointing of David was to establish the hereditary line of Jesus Christ as the Messiah/King of kings. God chose David, a man of faith to be the ancestor of Messiah. God gave David the covenant promise in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 that He would establish the throne of his kingdom forever…and your house and your kingdom shall endure forever. In Revelation 11:15, we can look into the future and see this played out at the second coming when, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever”.