A Fearful Opponent (17:1-11)
As 1 Samuel 17 opens we see that the Philistines are deep into the territory of Judah. The Philistines are nowhere near their border or land. They have made their way deep into the land of Israel. With Philistines bringing their armies deep into Israel’s land, it is time for a confrontation. Saul and his armies gather on one side of the valley with the Philistines gathered in a battle formation on the other side of the valley (17:2-3).
But rather than have a bloody battle between the two armies, the Philistines have another idea. The Philistines have a champion warrior and his name is Goliath. The description as a whole is to give the reader an intimidating picture. He is well past 7 feet tall. He is wearing a bronze helmet, bronze armor on his legs, and a bronze scale armor that weighed between 120-220 pounds. He is carrying a bronze javelin and the head of the spear he has weighs about 15 pounds. Everything about his description is to instill fear. This champion walks out of his camp, down toward the valley with his armor bearer leading the way, and shouts to the other hill where the armies of Israel are camped. The challenge is made in verses 8-9. Choose your warrior and have him meet me in the valley. If he kills me, then we will your servants. If I will your warrior, then you will be our servants. Send out your warrior and let us have a one on one battle. When Saul and all of Israel heard these words they were dismayed and terrified (17:11).
At this point we are supposed to see the great failure found in the ranks of Israel. Remember that the reason Israel wanted a king was so that they would have him go into battle for them (8:20). Remember that Saul looked the part as the king Israel desired because he was head and shoulders above the rest of the Israelites. But the response of Saul is seen in verse 11. He is just as terrified and dismayed as the rest of Israel. Saul would be the best match for Goliath. As king he would be expected to motivate his soldiers and lead them into battle. But the only response is sheer terror. In verse 16 we see that Goliath came out and made this proclamation every morning and every evening for 40 days. Every time he did this, the Israelites ran back in fear (17:24). These 40 days are a time of testing for Israel, challenging their faith, and at the moment they are failing the test. Saul is so afraid that, rather than representing Israel and fighting Goliath, he offers to give great riches, give his daughter in marriage, and be free from paying taxes. But no one is taking Saul up on his offer. Goliath is pictured as the impossible opponent.
The Shepherd Arrives
The scene shifts in verse 12. Jesse’s three oldest sons are at the battle lines where Israel is encamped on the hill across from the Philistines. David is the youngest and he goes back and forth between feeding the sheep at home and playing the lyre for Saul. Jesse tells David to take some food supplies to his brothers and see if they are doing well. David wakes up early in the morning and takes the provisions to the camp. David arrives when both armies are lining up in battle positions (17:21-22). David runs to the battle line to speak to his brothers to see how they are doing. As he is talking to his brothers, Goliath comes out and pronounces his challenge as he had been doing twice a day for the last 40 days. Look at what David asks in verse 26.
“What will be done for the man who kills that Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Just who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26 CSB)
David is amazing because you will notice that he does not fall into the fear that is permeating the Israelite camp. David wants to know what the reward will be from removing this disgrace from Israel. Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that would defy the Lord’s armies? One of the soldiers explains what will happen to the one who is victorious against Goliath. But David’s oldest brother heard what David said and became angry with him (17:28). Eliab just insults David. He does not belong here. He left a couple sheep in the wilderness. The only reason you are here is because you are arrogant and have an evil heart. David responds that he was just asking a question. But we can see how the soldiers are taking what David said. David wondering what everyone is waiting for. David’s question implied a sure victory for the one who goes up against this Philistine. But no one else thinks this way. No one else has this faith. Everyone else is looking at the size and strength of Goliath. David has a different perspective. This will be key to the account as we are going to see the perspectives David possesses. David is riled up because God’s name is being defamed by defying Israel.
The soldiers who heard David asking this question about what will be done for the victor go and tell Saul that David is interested. So Saul has David come to him. Look at verse 32. David tells Saul, “Don’t let anyone be discouraged by him; your servant will go and fight this Philistine!” (CSB) David is accepting the task of representing Israel in battle. David is willing to go be the champion for Israel and go against the champion of the Philistines. He volunteers to go fight Goliath. Saul responds that David cannot go fight this Philistine (17:33). You are young and Goliath has been a warrior fighter from his youth. In short, Goliath is going to kill you. You cannot possibly win against him. You do not have a chance. But look at David’s answer.
David answered Saul, “Your servant has been tending his father’s sheep. Whenever a lion or a bear came and carried off a lamb from the flock, I went after it, struck it down, and rescued the lamb from its mouth. If it reared up against me, I would grab it by its fur, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed lions and bears; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” Then David said, “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 17:34–37 CSB)
This is the second time we get to see David’s perspective. The Lord who delivered me from these animals will deliver me from this uncircumcised Philistine because he has defied the armies of the living God. Notice how David expresses his learned faith from his past experiences. David knows that the Lord will help him now because the Lord helped him in the past. He is not looking at the physical aspects of Goliath. He is not looking at the numbers. He is not looking at his own experience. He is only looking at what God has done for him in the past. Faith is sustained in the present by looking back to God’s help in the past. Another way to look at this is to realize we must not waste our past experiences that God has put us through. God has placed us in trials in the past so that our faith would grow to the point that we will depend on him today. Do not waste your past experiences by forgetting what God has done for you. This is what David is doing. He remembers what God has done for him before and that gives him great faith today.
Saul wants to load David up with a bunch of armor. But David is not used to wearing armor and takes them off. David simply takes a staff, five stones, and a sling and walks up to the Philistine. Goliath is absolutely insulted. Imagine the visual difference. Goliath is a trained fighter who is many feet taller than David, wearing heavy armor. Goliath represents size and strength. David is not a warrior. David is a good looking young man, not a fighter. Goliath mocks David for walking up to him without armor and only a staff. “Am I a dog that you come against with sticks?” Goliath continues by telling David to come here so he can kill him and give his body to the animals. Look at David’s response in verses 45-47. You come at me with weapons but I come against you in the name of the Lord! Today I will strike you down and the whole world will now that Israel has a God and that God does not save by sword or spear. The battle belongs to the Lord! Notice David’s perspective that is shown to us again. David says that all he needs is God. He does not need anything else to be victorious. God will win this battle, not David. Further, David wants everyone to see that the Lord saves. This is not about David. This is about the Lord.
Goliath then approaches David to attack. David runs at Goliath. David reaches into his bag, takes out a stone, slung it, and hit Goliath in the forehead. Goliath falls face down to the ground. David then ran and cut off Goliath’s head and Goliath’s own sword. When the Philistines saw that their champion warrior was dead, they ran away. Notice what happens. The Israelite soldiers rose with a shout, pursued the Philistines, and killed them. The Israelites chased the Philistines all the way back to their own territory. When they came back, David took the head of Goliath and brought it to Jerusalem. This begins the proclamation of victory in Jerusalem.
Please consider that the account is not about the fight, which take up only two verses. Rather, the account is about the speeches David makes. The big picture is about the glory of God being proclaimed and defended. There are two key pictures presented to us in this account of David. We have already seen in our study that David is a picture of God’s anointed and how God will rescue the world. Israel is presented with an enemy that it cannot defeat by its own power or abilities. But God will send his anointed to accomplish the necessary victory. Jesus is God’s anointed who is sent by God to defeat the enemies we cannot defeat. We are standing against our enemies. Our enemies are Satan, sin, and death. We cannot win those battles. We have already lost to them in our sinfulness. Jesus is the one who can and will defeat these enemies. But think about how the account sets up. No one thinks that David can win this battle. No one thinks he could possible set Israel free from the Philistine threat. But he does through the power of God. Jesus follows the same track where no one thinks that he could possibly the one who will save Israel or save the world. But listen to the writer of Hebrews in speaking about Jesus.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14–15 NIV)
You see that we are the Israelites who are running away in fear. But Jesus comes to end the slavery and fear of death that Satan had over us. We needed someone to fight for us. Jesus is our champion warrior who gives us victory and freedom by volunteering to fight Satan through his death and resurrection. The battle belongs to the Lord and whole world is to know that the Lord saves.
But the second picture is just as important. Once David defeats Goliath, Israel rallies against the Philistines and drives them all the way to Philistia. Now that our impossible opponent has been defeated by Jesus, we are able to enjoy victory against the rest of our spiritual enemies. We are able to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might (Ephesians 6:10). We can put on the whole armor of God and take our stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11). It is David’s perspective that teaches us about how to go forward with Jesus. David is teaching us that perspective is everything. Our perspective matters. Saul’s perspective did not have any thought to having God with him. The soldiers of Israel had no perspective that the Lord was with them. Only David declared the important words that we can enjoy victory because the battle belongs to the Lord. David did not hope in a human. He did not look at himself and say that he is a great warrior or had years of training in battle. He looked to the Lord as his rescuer. His faith was that God was with him.
This is the picture for us. David shows what living by faith looks like. Saul shows what living by sight looks like. Like David, we are to hope in God and not what we can see. Whatever our obstacle is, we are to be looking to the Lord and not to ourselves. The message is not that you have been empowered to defeat your enemies. Rather, we are able to look to Jesus to defeat our enemies. Since Jesus has defeated our greatest enemy, we can look to him to help us with all of our difficulties. Whenever we have doubts and fears, we are to look back to the victory achieved at the cross and know that we can continue to look to Jesus for help and hope.