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David & Goliath

Lessons in Giant-killing

David and Goliath

by Dennis Pollock

With the possible exception of Moses parting the Red Sea with his rod, the story of David and Goliath is perhaps the most famous of all the stories of the Old Testament. Nearly every pastor, evangelist, and Bible teacher has preached a sermon or taught a lesson from this dramatic encounter between a tender youth and an evil giant named Goliath. It has been preached, told, and taught so many times some may wonder if it is worth the retelling. The short answer is yes! All Bible stories, concepts, and doctrines are worth telling and retelling again and again. To use Paul’s language, they are “profitable” to men and women.

The story begins with Israel and their frequent enemy, the Philistines, squared off for battle. Each side was camped on opposite mountains and a valley lay in between. It appears there hadn’t been much actual fighting at this point, as the two sides were in a kind of a standoff, each side waiting for an event or opportunity that might give them the upper hand in the battle. We are told that the Philistines had a “champion,” one of their soldiers who would trek down the mountain each day and taunt the Israelites, demanding a contest with one of their soldiers. His name was Goliath and he was truly a giant of a man. Standing around nine feet tall, he would have made a fortune playing in the NBA today, but unfortunately for him there was no professional basketball in those days. Instead Goliath made his living in the common way that big, tough men did in those days - he became a warrior. And what a warrior! His spear and his armor were so heavy most men would have been hard pressed just to carry them. He had been in the Philistine army for years, and appeared utterly unbeatable in any hand to hand combat. He was an unstoppable fighting machine and he knew it. Each day he would mock the Israelites with words like these:

Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us. I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.

Among the Israelites there were many tough and seasoned warriors, but none of them was anywhere near Goliath’s level and no one was about to take on this monster. The Bible says, “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.” Day after day passed, and there were no takers for Goliath’s challenge. The Israelites stayed on their mountain and the Philistines on theirs. But things were about to change.

Goliath’s Worst Nightmare

Here is where David, the shepherd-boy son of Jesse enters the picture. We are never told David’s exact age, which is a pity. Some preachers have pictured David as little more than a child, perhaps around 12 years of age. To me, that seems extremely unlikely. My guess is that David was in his late teens, perhaps 17 or 18 years old. He was the youngest of eight brothers, and spent his days as a shepherd. But not all of them. Some time earlier David and his family had been visited by a firebrand of a prophet named Samuel, who had done a very strange thing to the youth. He had poured olive oil over his head and declared him to be the next king of Israel. Not long after that David had been recommended as a harpist to King Saul, and would sometimes play for the troubled king, when he got into one of his foul moods, which the Bible tells us were caused by a distressing spirit that would come upon him. David’s anointed harp music would soothe the king and put him in a better frame of mind. But this was a part time job for David, and he would return to his home, his father, and his sheep at times. Clearly David was a remarkable young man in many respects, and his resume was about to become even more outstanding.

It was while David was at home that his father asked him to bring some bread and grain to his three oldest brothers, who were serving in Israel’s army. And to make sure that his boys were shown favor, the father included ten cheeses for their commander. As David arrived on the front lines, the two armies were making a lot of noise but not too much fighting was going on. And as usual Goliath was in his customary place in the valley, challenging one of the Israelites, anyone at all, to come and fight with him. As always, the Israelite soldiers backed off, none daring to go up against this nine foot giant.

Hardwired with Courage

Courage is a strange thing. Often we have to work it up, to summon all our will and resolve to do what we feel is the right thing when we face poor odds and dangerous circumstances. But some men just seem to be born with an extra measure of it. They do eagerly and instinctively what others must talk themselves into with great trepidation and reluctance. David was one of those exceptional individuals born with a triple portion of courage. Rather than lose a few of his sheep, he had squared off with a bear at one point and the bear got the worst of it. Another time he had done the same thing with a lion. Fortunately for David he was not merely courageous. He was smart, he had great reflexes, and he had the favor of Almighty God on his life.

When David saw what was going on, and that none of the Israelite soldiers would dare face the giant, he was both intrigued and a bit indignant. He had no experience with swords and spears and battles, but he did have experience with being in risky situations, and he had come to possess that attribute that is the most valuable and the least evident commodity found in the hearts of men and women - faith in God. David didn’t just offer lip service to Israel’s religion and her God - he really believed. Somewhere, somehow, this young man had become a true believer, and this faith would serve him well all of his life. When he saw the giant mocking Israel, he took it as an insult to the God of Israel, that divine Shepherd who made him to lie down in green pastures and led him beside the still waters. While everyone else was filled with fear and awe, young David was outraged. Somebody needed to stand up to this mocker, and if no one else would, he would.

David heard someone talking about King Saul’s promises of rewards for the man who would kill the giant, and wanted to get the facts straight. He asked for more details, but his oldest brother, Eliab, heard his questions and became upset. It is a sad spiritual truth that people who have little use for God are often very put out with those whose life is all about God. Concerning Ishmael and Isaac, Paul wrote, "But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now" (Gal 4:29). Eliab, the eldest and perhaps the most impressive looking of his siblings, had been passed over by the prophet, and had experienced the humiliation of seeing the baby of the family, young David, anointed and declared the next king of Israel. It hadn’t seemed right to him, and now he said in anger, “Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle” (1 Samuel 17:28).

David’s indignation and willingness to take on the giant made news throughout the camp, and soon King Saul learned about it. He called for his harpist and told him plainly the thing was impossible. He said to David, “You can’t do it. You are young, and he is a man of war from his youth.” David told the king how he had killed both a lion and a bear in defense of his sheep, and boldly declared, "This uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God." David had two reasons to expect a good outcome from his potential fight with Goliath. First his track record. After killing a lion and a bear, he wondered: “How much worse can this giant be?” His reasoning seems pretty sound here. If I were required to fight a lion or a giant, I would probably pick the giant, although I wouldn’t be particularly hopeful in either case. David was obviously not some little twelve year old kid whose voice had not yet changed. He may not have been as tall or as impressive as his older brothers, but he was no slouch in the realm of physical prowess. This young man was pretty tough and incredibly gutsy.

More importantly David felt Goliath’s challenge was more against God than it was against Israel. He has not just defied the armies of Israel; he has defied the armies of the living God. Someone must rise up and show this blasphemer that Israel’s God was the only God and He was well able to defend His own name. Saul relented and offered his armor to David but David didn’t feel right in it. He would go into battle with his slingshot, a weapon shepherds used to drive off wolves. In reading this story many people assume this was not much more than a child’s toy, the way slingshots are today. In their minds this match was so one-sided, a giant with sword and spear vs. a youth with a sling, that David had zero chance of success apart from the miraculous hand of God.

Strategy

David with slingUnquestionably God’s mighty hand did indeed determine the outcome of the fight, but the sling was not nearly as weak a weapon as some might suppose. It was actually one of the weapons soldiers might carry with them into battle. Slings were considered pretty much equal to the bows and arrows used by the archers. In the hands of someone who knew what they were doing the stones or projectiles would leave the pouch at speeds up to sixty miles per hour and could reach much farther than anyone could ever throw them. At a range of twenty to twenty five yards the golf-ball-sized projectiles hit their targets with tremendous force and had the power to crush bones and smash skulls. A man with a sling could be deadlier at a significantly longer distance than a man with a spear. In addition to that, a spear could be dodged fairly easily from a distance, but a stone rushing from a sling was much harder to avoid. David was courageous and he was a man of faith, but he was not stupid. He had no intention of getting involved in hand to hand combat with the giant. At the right distance he could be relatively safe from Goliath’s spear, totally safe from his sword, yet still able to deliver a fatal blow to the giant.

His biggest problem was Goliath’s armor. The massive man had thick, heavy armor that would protect him from the worst damage of David’s stones. A direct hit might stun him but probably wouldn’t do much more than that. And David might not get a second chance. Still David was ready to take on Goliath, and trust God to direct the stone where it would do the most harm - right at the giant’s huge head.

As David drew near Goliath, the giant could hardly believe the youthful adversary Israel had sent against him. As they got within vocal range, he called out in his best trash talk: “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” He let loose a string of curses and then invited David: “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” David had a few things to say in response, but his words had a decidedly religious tone:

You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.

Victory!

David cuts off Goliath's head

The Bible tells us that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, and David’s heart was overflowing, filled to the brim with faith and holy anger. In fact David got so excited to mete out God’s justice on this blasphemous, uncircumcised unbeliever that he started running toward Goliath. When he got to the distance he felt ideal for slinging his stone, he gave his sling a whirl and let it go. It was almost certainly not like the movies where David is shown whirling his sling again and again. Expert slingers need one simple windup and then a quick release. That way the enemy had no time to duck or hold up his shield.

Goliath never saw it coming. The stone hit the giant squarely in the forehead with such velocity that it sank deep into his brain. He collapsed immediately and his fighting days were over. David was taking no chances. Running up to the fallen man, he took the giant’s own sword and quickly cut off his head. Game, set, match. The fight was over before it had begun, and David added slain giant to his list of accomplishments. The Philistines, stunned to discover their champion fallen and headless, became terrified and ran for their lives. The Israelites, filled with new-found courage, joyously chased their enemies and cut them down in droves, winning a major battle that day. In the end the fight between David and Goliath was precisely what everybody had predicted it would be: a mismatch. They just had it wrong about who was mismatched with whom. In truth Goliath never had a chance. The countless hours David had spent practicing with his sling as he watched his sheep had served him well. But the hours he had spent composing psalms and singing to His God had served him even better. By the time David arrived on the stage of battle he was fully prepared and completely equipped to defeat his adversary. Razor sharp skills had mingled with white-hot faith in the God of Israel, and produced certain victory.

Interpretation and Application

It is a great story. It can and should be preached and taught often in the church. There are many applications that can be made in relating it to believers today. But one problem I have seen in its telling is this: Preachers often relate David to us who are in Christ and Goliath to our problems, issues, struggles, and so forth. They tell us that by faith in God we can slay our “Goliaths” just as David slew his. We can know the joyous flush of victory and triumph as we see our Goliaths fall at our feet, just as David did. We only need trust God and have courage. Our Goliaths will surely be destroyed.

“So what’s wrong with that?” you say. The problem is that, as I just stated it, and as many teach and preach it, it is an entirely Christless message. Telling believers to have faith in God and go fight their Goliaths is a message that would be as acceptable in a Muslim mosque or in a Jewish synagogue as in a Christian church. Instructing people to simply have faith, without directing that faith squarely toward the Person, the cross, and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus will only lead to legalism and failure.

The truth is that, apart from Jesus Christ, you don’t have what it takes to fight your Goliaths. You don’t have the skills, you don’t have the righteousness, and you don’t have the faith. The ultimate giant-killer is Jesus Himself. Yes, He involves us in the process, and we do at times find ourselves up against some pretty nasty and awfully large giants in our lives, but we must always remember that it is Christ in us who is the hope of victory as well as the hope of glory. The Bible tells us: “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ...” (2Cor 2:14). The triumph is in Christ. It is not merely by some generic faith in a nondescript God, some meaningless hope in the “man upstairs,” some wishful thinking related to “a higher power as we understand him.”

As Christians we praise, we give thanks, and we put all our trust in the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We depend upon the One who said, “Whatever you ask in My name I will do.” We say, along with Paul: “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Jesus is our giant destroyer. He has never seen a giant he could not easily demolish; He has never faced an ogre who proved the least bit difficult to overcome.

At the end of His life on earth, our Lord faced the giant of all giants. He went to the cross putting Himself in a contest with Satan, sin, and death. As He hung on that cross in agony and felt His life leaving Him, it surely appeared that He had lost. But it was no victory for that dark one who had enslaved men and women since the fall of Adam and Eve. Three days later Jesus Christ of Nazareth was raised from the dead and now holds the keys of hell and death in His hands. He declares to the world: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...” (Matthew 28:18,19). The giant has been slain, the darkness has passed, the true light has risen. And when we go up against all our personal and individual giants, we do so in the name and in the strength of our risen Savior.

Can you hear it? All over this world are terrible thuds, the sounds of giants falling to the ground in death throes as men and women fight the fight of faith with their eyes fully fixed upon the Lord Jesus, who has never lost a battle yet!  “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

David urges Israel forward

 

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