A look at the well-known and powerful story of David vs. Goliath
This morning we are going to continue looking at the life of David in 1st Samuel.And I’m excited for this part of the story. It’s probably the most iconic part of David’s story, and I think one of the most iconic stories in the whole Bible. It’s the story of David and Goliath. I’ve heard references to it even in secular contexts, those names “David & Goliath” have made a lasting cultural impactbecause of how powerful this story is. It’s as big culturally as any myth or legend passed down over the ages, but of course the difference here is the book of Samuel is not a book of myths, we believe this to be accurate historical tradition, not mythological tradition. And to me that makes it a lot more exciting!
Last week we read through the events leading up to here. And I started by going back to the beginning of the book and Samuel’s origin, to remind us of Hannah’s poem, and 3 key themes from that poem that set up the rest of the book. So I want to bring those themes back up, to refresh your memory and also because I actually have the slide for it this time.
So, again, keep these in mind today. And if you know anything about this story you know it’s going to be an excellent illustration of that first point, so we’ll be focusing heavily on that one today.
When we eventually got to chapter 16 of 1st Samuel, we were introduced to David as the youngest son of Jesse, from Bethlehem. He was assigned to the lowly duty of tending to his father’s sheep and goats, and out of him and 7 other brothers was the last one anyone expected God to choose as the next king of Israel.
But God had the prophet Samuel anoint David, officially choosing him by divine appointment, and in doing so taught Samuel a lesson, stated so clearly in verse 7:
But Yahweh said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For God does not see what man sees, for a man looks on the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
The first half of that verse is specific to that situation, but that second sentence is a theological truth, a constant that God was teaching through the situation.
Meanwhile, we cut away to Saul, who was still king and had no idea that Samuel anointed this other kid David from Bethlehem. He was, though, tormented with depression, anger and fear. So his servants suggested he bring in someone to play music to soothe his spirit. So he said good idea! Go find me someone, and who did they bring him? David!!! The guy who’s supposed to take Saul’s throne. But Saul doesn’t know that, and in fact takes a liking to David because his music does relieve Saul’s anxiety. Saul loved David very much, and asked that he remain in his service, so he could play the lyre whenever needed.
That’s pretty much where we left off last week, so this week we’re going to continue right into chapter 17. (Go there now if you want to). It’s not clear exactly how much time lapses between chapters 16 and 17, but most scholars agree they are in chronological sequence. We know it couldn’t have been more than a few years at most, because David is still referred to as being very young. Let’s read the introduction to this chapter, starting in verse 1:
1 The Philistines now mustered their army for battle and camped between Socoh in Judah and Azekah at Ephes-dammim. 2 Saul countered by gathering his Israelite troops near the valley of Elah. 3 So the Philistines and Israelites faced each other on opposite hills, with the valley between them.
So, whether it was a couple weeks, or months, or years, we are taken to the next major plot point in this story, and it’s a point of conflict with Israel’s archenemy at the time: the Philistines. Throughout their history, Israel went through a variety of different archenemies, their main opposers or oppressors changed over time. When we looked at Gideon, the “bad guys” were the Midianites. By the time we get to David, the primary threat at hand is the Philistines.
If you’ve read through the book of Judges, you may recall the Philistines being featured as the antagonists in Sampson’s story. At that time they were beginning to conquer and control territories near Israel, and over time they have encroached further and further and now threatened to take Bethlehem and the capital at the time, which was Gibea. So that’s the desperate situation being painted here, and the significance of all those locations that were specifically listed.
If this were a medieval story, it would be like the threat that was looming for years, got closer and closer and now was gathered at the gate of the castle. The king is very nervous, and getting ready for battle. Of course, we have hills and ravines here, not castles and moats, so the setting is more of a “300” type of battle than “Lord of the Rings” but you get the idea.
They’re actually on two opposite hills, facing each other. It’s a pretty epic image, I can’t help but think of the aerial shots in movies like Braveheart or Narnia (I like movies!) and it makes sense that so many movies do have scenes with two armies gathered to face each other. It naturally just builds so much tension and suspense. Let’s keep reading, picking up in verse 4:
4 Then Goliath, a Philistine champion from Gath, came out of the Philistine ranks to face the forces of Israel. He was over nine feet tall! 5 He wore a bronze helmet, and his bronze coat of mail weighed 125 pounds. 6 He also wore bronze leg armor, and he carried a bronze javelin on his shoulder. 7 The shaft of his spear was as heavy and thick as a weaver’s beam, tipped with an iron spearhead that weighed 15 pounds. His armor bearer walked ahead of him carrying a shield.
8 Goliath stood and shouted a taunt across to the Israelites. “Why are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul. Choose one man to come down here and fight me! 9 If he kills me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be our slaves! 10 I defy the armies of Israel today! Send me a man who will fight me!” 11 When Saul and the Israelites heard this, they were terrified and deeply shaken.
So, we knew the Philistines were a threat, but now we’re introduced to their champion,this guy Goliath. And he’s HUGE! It’s difficult to even imagine someone over 9 feet tall. The Hebrew measurement is “Six Cubits and a Span” which is roughly 9 and ½ to 9 and ¾ feet.
To help visualize this, I started Googling and found the tallest person in modern medical records was 8’11” which is pretty crazy! Almost a foot shorter than Goliath, but the closest I could find.
Here’s a photo of a scale model of Robert Wadlow, next to a guy who looks around 6’ or a little taller.
The top line would be 10 feet, so Goliath would have stood even taller than Robert, somewhere between that 9 ½ and 10 foot mark.
And to put this even further into perspective, scholars generally agree that based on archeological records, the average ancient Jewish man would have been around 5 to 5 ½ feet tall. So even this guy next to Robert would have seemed tall to them at the time. Actually, he’s probably closer to Saul’s height, who we know stood at least a head taller than everyone else.
Besides that, he wasn’t dressed in a nice, friendly business suit like Robert is here. The text goes into intentional detail about Goliath’s intimidating armor and huge weapons. It’s really NOT surprising at all that Saul and the Israelites were “terrified and deeply shaken” by Goliath’s challenge.
So, that sets up the scene in which David is about to arrive. Picking up in verse 12, we are re-introduced to David. Let’s read how this unfolds:
12 Now David was the son of a man named Jesse, an Ephrathite from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. Jesse was an old man at that time, and he had eight sons. 13 Jesse’s three oldest sons—Eliab, Abinadab, and Shimea—had already joined Saul’s army to fight the Philistines. 14 David was the youngest son. David’s three oldest brothers stayed with Saul’s army, 15 but David went back and forth so he could help his father with the sheep in Bethlehem.
16 For forty days, every morning and evening, the Philistine champion strutted in front of the Israelite army.
17 One day Jesse said to David, “Take this basket of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread, and carry them quickly to your brothers. 18 And give these ten cuts of cheese to their captain. See how your brothers are getting along, and bring back a report on how they are doing.” 19 David’s brothers were with Saul and the Israelite army at the valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.
20 So David left the sheep with another shepherd and set out early the next morning with the gifts, as Jesse had directed him. He arrived at the camp just as the Israelite army was leaving for the battlefield with shouts and battle cries. 21 Soon the Israelite and Philistine forces stood facing each other, army against army. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies and hurried out to the ranks to greet his brothers. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, came out from the Philistine ranks. Then David heard him shout his usual taunt to the army of Israel.
24 As soon as the Israelite army saw him, they began to run away in fright. 25 “Have you seen the giant?” the men asked. “He comes out each day to defy Israel. The king has offered a huge reward to anyone who kills him. He will give that man one of his daughters for a wife, and the man’s entire family will be exempted from paying taxes!”
26 David asked the soldiers standing nearby, “What will a man get for killing this Philistine and ending his defiance of Israel? Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?”
27 And these men gave David the same reply. They said, “Yes, that is the reward for killing him.”
28 But when David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard David talking to the men, he was angry. “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!”
29 “What have I done now?” David replied. “I was only asking a question!” 30 He walked over to some others and asked them the same thing and received the same answer. 31 Then David’s question was reported to King Saul, and the king sent for him.
So, the standoff has lasted 40 days, and3 of David’s brothersat this point have joined Saul’s army. But so far, neither side has done any fighting.So Jesse sends David with some bread for his brothers, and cheese for their captain, and he wants to hear an update on what’s going on. Understandable, after 40 days, and David did exactly what his dad told him to.
He gets there just in time to see the standoff play out, with Israel rallying to the battlefield, but running away as soon as Goliath comes out to taunt them. As he’s seeing this, he also gets filled in on the fact that king Saul has offered a huge reward: his daughter in marriage PLUS lifetime exemption from taxes!
What’s David’s response to all this? In contrast to everyone else’s response, which is fear, I would describe his response asindignation. A mix of anger and disgust: “Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of living God?” He’s basically saying “Why are you letting him get away with this?”
In true big brother fashion, Eliab gets pretty miffed that David is even there, and accuses him of pride and deceit. And I think David’s response is a classic sibling style response “What have I done now? I was just trying to ask a question!” and he just moves on to some other people continuing to try to verify the reports he’s been hearing.
So, Saul catches wind of David’s question, which again is basically “Why would you let this dude get away with what he’s saying?” and Saul sends for David. Let’s see what happens next, in verse 32 when David approaches Saul, he says:
32 “Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!”
33 “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.”
34 But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, 35 I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. 36 I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! 37 The LORD who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!”
Saul finally consented. “All right, go ahead,” he said. “And may the LORD be with you!”
38 Then Saul gave David his own armor—a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. 39 David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before.
“I can’t go in these,” he protested to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off again. 40 He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine.
So, he’s all alone, heading across the valley to face a giant, with no armor and just a staff and slingshot for weapons. But he has total faith in Yahweh to defeat this enemy.
Notice that when he brings up his past experiences with the lion and the bear, it’s not to boast about his own strength or bravery, he totally gives all the credit to GOD for his victories and success in defending his father’s flock.
Remember that in chapter 16 we read that after David was anointed by Samuel, the spirit of God was with him greatly, and I think this is a great demonstration of him being led by the spirit, representing God’s will and presence among the people, even before he became king.
We’re at the climax now, so let’s keep going, reading from verse 41 now, we see Goliath’sresponse to being approached by David.
41 Goliath walked out toward David with his shield bearer ahead of him, 42 sneering in contempt at this ruddy-faced boy. 43 “Am I a dog,” he roared at David, “that you come at me with a stick?” And he cursed David by the names of his gods. 44 “Come over here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and wild animals!” Goliath yelled.
45 David replied to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of Yahweh of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 Today Yahweh will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! 47 And everyone assembled here will know that Yahweh rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Yahweh’s battle, and he will give you to us!”
WOW! I don’t know about you guys, but I honestly get chills every time I read this.What an incredible display of faith from a kid who’s 5 feet and change, facing a giant warrior, almost twice his height, decked out in high tech armor and oversized, overpowered weapons. He knows that a much bigger, stronger warrior is on his side, and he’s ready to prove it for the world to see. What an awesome and pure motivation, that at the forefront of his mind is not the reward promised by Saul, but to show there is a God in Israel and that Yahweh rescues his people.
So we’re at the moment of truth. Verse 48, let’s go:
48 As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him. 49 Reaching into his shepherd’s bag and taking out a stone, he hurled it with his sling and hit the Philistine in the forehead. The stone sank in, and Goliath stumbled and fell face down on the ground.
50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with only a sling and a stone, for he had no sword. 51 Then David ran over and pulled Goliath’s sword from its sheath. David used it to kill him and cut off his head.
So Goliath was clearly incapacitated by the stone, but it’s not really clear as to whether or not he was totally dead yet, so David takes Goliath’s sword and finishes him off, and even beheads him with it. But whether or not he was actually dead before the sword, credit to the victory is given to the sling and stone, rather than to the sword.
I don’t know how many of you have every played “Mortal Kombat” but I can’t help but think of it at this moment. I never thought I’d be referencing it in a sermon, but I grew up playing it every now and then with my cousins, who had a Nintendo 64 console. There would come a moment in Mortal Kombat fights when either you or your opponent’s health bar would get so low that the character couldn’t fight back anymore. They would just stand there and sway back and forth, helpless, while a very memorable instruction would come on the screen telling the player still alive to “FINISH HIM!!!”
At that point, the other player could use whatever move they wanted to end the match and win, whatever felt most satisfying, it didn’t really matter, the fight is over at that point. So I can’t help but hear “FINISH HIM” in between verses 49 and 50.
Anyway, this fallen champion is really bad news for the Philistines, and they retreat, as we see in verse 51:
51 When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah gave a great shout of triumph and rushed after the Philistines, chasing them as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron. The bodies of the dead and wounded Philistines were strewn all along the road from Shaaraim, as far as Gath and Ekron. 53 Then the Israelite army returned and plundered the deserted Philistine camp. 54 (David took the Philistine’s head to Jerusalem, but he stored the man’s armor in his own tent.)
55 As Saul watched David go out to fight the Philistine, he asked Abner, the commander of his army, “Abner, whose son is this young man?”
“I really don’t know,” Abner declared.
56 “Well, find out who he is!” the king told him.
57 As soon as David returned from killing Goliath, Abner brought him to Saul with the Philistine’s head still in his hand. 58 “Tell me about your father, young man,” Saul said.
And David replied, “His name is Jesse, and we live in Bethlehem.”
Now, these last few verses might sound a little confusing...because back in chapter 16 we read that one of Saul’s servants told Saul who David was: the son of Jesse! And hasn’t Saul known David long enough to get to know him by now? Well, remember first of all that David came to Saul when he was tormented and depressed, not in his right mind. So, he knows that this kid comes and plays music to make him feel better, but it’s not all that surprising that he doesn’t remember his dad’s name.
It seems to me that Saul’s fondness for David was based on superficial values and selfish motivations. Saul used David to meet his needs, and because he was young and handsome he fit into the royal aesthetic and wouldn’t make Saul look like he was keeping lowly company. So, while David’s presence fueled Saul’s pride, Saul clearly took no real interest in David’s life, his family, or where he came from.
Friends, let’s not make that same mistake of superficiality in our relationships. Not that with every new acquaintance we should dive right into the deepest, soul-baring topics within the first 10 minutes of conversation. But we should take genuine interest in other people, and be willing to go there when the time is appropriate, as every human bears the image of God and has value. Focusing your interest outward inherently sets aside your own pride and self-interest.
The other thing that must be on Saul’s mind, as he suddenly becomes VERY interest in who David is, is that very great reward he promised: his daughter’s hand in marriage, along with lifetime tax exemption. Suddenly, he realizes, this little twerp is going to want to marry my daughter now! And at this moment there’s a seed of jealousy, resentment and defensiveness sown in Saul’s heart toward David.
We’ll see how that plays out eventually, but for now I want to leave us really contemplating this topic of pride. This story is such a vivid illustration of that first Theological principle from Hannah’s poem, that God opposes the proud and exalts the humble.
In this chapter we see the humiliation and downfall of a larger-than-life embodiment of pride, arrogance, and self-assuredness. This event is also a turning point for Saul, as we’ll see later on, but the focus in chapter 17 is mainly on the fall of Goliath.
In contrast, the victor, David, is an embodiment of humility. We haven’t gotten to his full exaltation yet, but we can see here how God used humble shepherd boy David to bring down proud, arrogant Goliath.Everything David said and did was to the honor and glory of the living God of Israel, and every victory, even those over the wild animals, was an opportunity to boast not in himself, but in the power of God.
Now, I do want to make a distinction here, because sometimes the idea of humility gets too closely associated with timidity or inaction. That is so clearly not the case here. David’s humility and selflessness is a replacement of pride in himself with confidence in God. David is far from timid, he is bold, and fearless, and takes decisive action while everyone else is shaking in their boots. Of course, Goliath was bold and fearless too! But the difference is that Goliath was confident in himself, whereas David was confident in God.
It’s a real-life example that is hyperlinked to principles of wisdom we see taught throughout scripture, like in Proverbs 16:18:
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Or Proverbs 3:34, which echoes the wisdom in Hannah’s poem:
With those who scorn, he is scornful, but to those who are humble, he gives favor.
This is a prominent theme throughout Psalms and Proverbs, and really the whole Old Testament if you look for it, going all the way back (you guessed it!) Adam and Eve’s pride in the garden.
So it should have been completely unsurprising that when Jesus came preaching about the true meaning of the Torah, and the nature of God’s upside-down kingdom, he made statements like:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)
“The first will be last, and the last will be first.” I could go on and on. Meanwhile, he opposed the self-seeking, self-righteous, attention drawing pride of the predominant religious leaders of his day.
His brother, James, got it, when he wrote:
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:10)
And the apostle Paul got it, in Philippians 2:3 he says:
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Again, I could go on with a dozen similar quotes. So, the story of David & Goliath is really fun, and really satisfying, but let’s allow it to be a reminder of this fundamental principal of God’s kingdom. Let’s examine ourselves for areas in our lives where we might be prideful in our own abilities or achievements or relationships, instead of prideful in the one way that we should be: the way a proud child might boast about how strong or smart or funny their parent is. That’s the way in which Paul boasts openly and lavishly throughout his letters. Or, on the flipside, boasting in his weakness, as we see in 2 Corinthians 12:9:
I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me
This would be like David saying “look at how small and weak I am and how pathetic my weapons are. The fact that God used me to defeat Goliath shows just how big and strong HE is.
Salvation in Christ, through faith, is itself designed to facilitate this mindset, as we see in Ephesians 2:8-10:
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
None of us here can boast about having a relationship with God, or about how many cans we’re donating to the CANstruction project, or about any good things we do. Without God we are powerless over sin and death, and we are not saved from those things because of anything good we’ve done, we’re saved so that God can do good things through us.
So, let’s approach each day with humility and selflessness, but also with confidence and fearlessness. With pride, not in who we are, or what we do, but in who our father in heaven is, and in our role as ambassadors for him. Like David, without shame or hesitation to stand up for God’s reputation and to proclaim the truth of the good news. For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)