I come with this entry to one of the most beloved stories of the Bible. The events have been interpreted at least two ways by Christians. The story either becomes a westernized metaphor of a little guy, underdog overcoming insurmountable odds to gain victory over an otherwise invincible foe. Or, more spiritual-minded Christians interpret the story as David being a type of Christ who defeats Satan or sin on behalf of His people, thus establishing His right to rule over all the earth.
But the story has much more to do with undaunted courage or being a type. It is about God establishing His new king over Israel.
We have witnessed in the last couple of chapters of 1 Samuel the spiritual demise of Saul. His rebellion against God’s specific commands moved the LORD against him in judgment. His rebellion gets him removed from being king. God, however, had another king prepared to take Saul’s place.
God had chosen for Himself a man after His own heart, and in 1 Samuel 17 we see God orchestrate an event to publicly display His newly chosen king. Also notice how God raises up David to fight a foreign enemy in response to the request the people made in 1 Samuel 8:20 for a king who “will go out before us and fight our battles.”
Let us see how God establishes His new king in this familiar story.
I. The Setting (17:1-3)
The Philistines once again enter into the land of Israel and set up their army in the western frontiers of Judah about 8 miles east of Gath. Saul leads the army of Israel out to meet them and there they are encamped against the Philistines in the valley of Elah.
II. The Challenge (17:4-7)
A giant named Goliath went up every day to challenge Israel to send out just one man to fight him in a representative battle. The terms are simple: If the Israelite can beat him, the Philistines will serve Israel. However, if Goliath beats him, Israel will serve the Philistines.
Goliath is called a “champion,” literally meaning “A man between the two.” The idea being that he regularly fought as a representative from his government in this fashion.
His appearance was menacing. He stood at 9 1/2 feet tall, carried a 15 pound spear-head and wore massive armor. It should be noted that the LXX records Goliath’s height at 6 1/2 feet tall, which would still make him a big man, but not much larger than an average NBA basketball player by today’s standards. Even Abraham Lincoln was about that tall.
I take the Hebrew rendering of 9 1/2 feet tall because the Bible is filled with historical records of giant men.
The Nephilim as recorded in Genesis 6:5 and Numbers 13:13. Though the word can mean “mighty men,” as in hero like warriors, it can still convey the idea of physically large men. However, the Bible also mentions the Anakim who the Moabites called the Emim, in Deuteronomy 2:10,11 who were considered tall. Og of Bashan was considered a “remnant of the giants” whose bed was 9 cubits long and 4 cubits wide, Deuteronomy 3:10,11.
Whatever the case, Goliath was a physically imposing warrior with a reputation of being undefeated in battle. The men of Israel respond with “fear and trembling.” (17:11). His challenge was blasphemous because he defied the God of heaven, mocking the Jews.
III. The Chosen One (17:12-39)
David was sent on a mission to deliver supplies to his elder brothers who were serving in Saul’s army. The stand off made it difficult for men to get supplies, so the families more than likely helped with feeding their men serving on the front lines.
One important question is: Why isn’t David with Saul? We remember how Saul called him to play the harp for him at the end of chapter 16. The likely explanation is that Saul only needed him when he was troubled by the distressing spirit. He would be sent home when there wasn’t that need. 1 Samuel 16:21 says David “became his armor-bearer” which is probably a commentary on the role David was yet to fulfill when he moved into being a part of Saul’s royal entourage.
While David is delivering his supplies, Goliath comes forth to offer his challenge to Israel. David, as the spirit-anointed, future ruler of Israel, is greatly offended by an “uncircumcised Philistine” making such an arrogant, blasphemous statement against God and His holy people. His brothers and the men around him only scoffed at his suggestion that he would take on Goliath.
David responds to their mockery by pointing out that he had killed a lion and bear by himself, and his dogged determinism as a good shepherd, as well as the covenant promise God would be with him, more than prepared him to go forth to meet the champion.
Saul does attempt to talk David out of the battle; but David’s faith and courage motivated him. In an ironic twist, Saul dresses David in his own armor; yet David rejected it.
IV. The Battle (17:40-54)
Rather than meeting Goliath with the weapons of war, David used the weapons he knew as a shepherd: A sling and 5 stones. He then runs out to meet Goliath. There was no hesitancy at all in fighting this enemy of God.
Goliath, being the warrior that he was, is rightly offended that they would mock him by sending out a “child” to fight him. They were treating him with disdain as if he were a “dog.” He cursed David by his “gods” a stark reminder of Genesis 12:3 which has God saying that He will curse those who curse His people.
David then returns His pronouncement of judgment against the blasphemer. David proclaims how he trusted in the Lord of Hosts – not chariots or military ability – who will not only deliver Goliath into his hands, but he confidently states that he will cut off Goliath’s head.
V. The Victory (17:55-58)
We all know the story. David takes his sling, and with the skill he learned out in the field protecting His flock from the threat of wild beasts, he strikes down Goliath, this “wild beast” threatening God’s flock, with one hit. Goliath wasn’t killed immediately, so David went forth an cut off his head with his own sword.
The Philistines panic after they watch their champion get struck down. I appreciate the way the Bible says in 17:57 how David “returned from the slaughter of the Philistine.”
Yet this was not only a victory over a national enemy. David is brought forth by God to demonstrate that he has not only the ability to fight, but the passion and desire to lead God’s people. In the act of defeating Goliath, God was establishing the King after His own heart.