Fighting Giants

Chatswood Baptist Church

1 Samuel 17

Facing challenges…

When it comes to ‘keeping on top of life’ – you know, tidying up the house, sorting through endless piles of paperwork and kids paintings, fixing stuff that’s broken, cleaning floors, kitchens and bathrooms, washing up dishes, folding washing, getting the kids to behave, trying to get some exercise, cooking… not to mention work or study! – well, when it comes to feeling on top of this stuff, Anna and I can drift between surges of optimism and productivity, through to despair and hopelessness. Sometimes (but not too often!) it all seems to be coming together and you can have a sense of being able to achieve anything, and sometimes (perhaps a little more often!), it can all seem too much – how will it ever get done? What’s the point?

And I know I can experience the same extremes in the way I approach challenges in my Christian walk – my relationship with God as a follower of Jesus. Sometimes there’s that sense of optimism – I can do it! I can conquer sin! I can be the Christian I’m meant to be! And sometimes (let’s say perhaps a little more often) there’s a deep pessimism – I can’tdo it… I’m never going to change… what’s the point of trying? Perhaps you’ve experienced the same drift between these two mindsets in your life as a follower of Jesus. Or perhaps you tend to sit in one or the other – generally optimistic and confident in your obedience and growth as a Christian, or generally pessimistic, with feelings of hopelessness or resignation to mediocrity. How do you approach the challenges of the Christian life? How do you respond to the battle we are called to against sin and selfishness?

Well 1 Samuel Chapter 17 points us to the gospel of Jesus Christ and reminds us that we have a decisive victory over sin thanks to Jesus. He has won the battle for us, and he invites us to enjoy his victory. It’s neither optimism in ourselves to rise to the challenge, nor is it pessimism about the whole situation. It’s humble, grateful confidence in the victory and power of God. We have victory through Jesus over sin and every power that opposes God’s good purposes for us, and this chapter of the Bible urges us to celebrate and enjoy this victory.


1 Samuel 17: Unlikely Deliverance

Now the story of David and Goliath is surely one of the best known stories of the Bible. People have heard of these characters, perhaps not even realising they come from the Bible! And I’d be happy to bet my right arm that every kids bible ever produced has this story in it. We’ve all heard it before… but have we heard what God is actually saying to us through it? Well let’s dive in and take a look…


Understanding the threat

The passage that was read out for us earlier, verses 1-11 sets the scene for us and introduces us to the problem God’s people faced. The Philistines had gathered their forces for war – yet another attempt to expand their territory and subdue the Israelites. And Saul and the Israelites have assembled to defend themselves and their land. Verses 1-3 paint the picture of these two armies drawn up to face each other “Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.”

For those familiar with the story of Israel so far, particularly through the books of Judges and 1 Samuel, you’ll know that the Philistines have increasingly become a threat to the freedom, even the existence, of God’s people in the land he has promised them. The Philistines basically turned up on the west bank of Canaan around the same time as the Israelites made their own way into the land through the east and essentially took possession of the region. They were one of the sub-groups amongst the ‘Sea Peoples’ who migrated into Syria, Canaan and Egypt around 1200 BC from the Aegean. The Iliad, Homer’s epic poem about the fall of the ancient city of Troy by the peoples of Greece, reflects this same migration. And perhaps that evokes a sense of who the Israelites were up against! But what’s important for us to appreciate is that these people have increasingly defied the claim of the Israelites over the land, and have at times defeated and, to some extent, ruled over them. That’s what’s really at stake here in this story – the free existence of God’s people in the land he has promised them. God has promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation, who will live under his good rule and be a blessing the whole world – it is the promise of God’s Kingdom. Now, once again these kingdom promises are under threat, which becomes even more pointed as an enormous warrior steps out from the Philistine battle lines…


The Challenge of the Champion…

Verse 4 tells us that “A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. He was over nine feet tall.” And then we are told in great detail about the incredible armor and weaponry he was equipped with. This man is huge. The measurement given in the Hebrew equates to about 3.2 meters. He’s wearing armour that weighs about 60 kgs, and he has a huge spear with an iron tip – iron being a new and very costly material at this point – weighing nearly 7kgs itself. Now, we actually have archeological evidence of skeletons of females from this time and region that are over 7 feet tall! Men 9 feet tall were certainly unusual, but not unheard of. The Bible is familiar with a particular people group from this region who were particularly tall – effectively giants, and Goliath seems to be from these people, now assimilated into the Philistines.

And the point is that this giant warrior is stepping out and challenging the Israelites to come and fight him. He’s described as a ‘champion’. This isn’t just a complement – that he’s a great guy or an awesome fighter. Champions were warriors who stepped in-between the fighting lines to battle one-one, on behalf of the opposing armies. Like Ajax or Achilles calling on Hector, the champion of Troy, to come down and fight. So, as we read in verses 8-10, Goliath stands and shouts to the ranks of Israel, challenging them to choose a man to come and fight him. “If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” This is the threat the Israelites face. This is their problem. Who can they possibly send to fight this awful, giant warrior? How can they possibly be spared the fate of being defeated and enslaved to the Philistines?

And what we shouldn’t miss is that the obvious solution for the Israelites turns out to be no solution at all. Because didn’t they themselves have a champion? Didn’t they have a king who stood a head taller than everyone else? Didn’t they ask God for a king, just like all the other nations, who could protect them from threats just like this? Back in chapter 8, after the people have asked for a king, and the prophet Samuel has warned them how a king would end up exploiting them just like the kings of other nations, they cry back, “No! We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Sam 8:19-20). And so God gave them the kind of king they wanted – the kind of king the nations around them would want; an important man, handsome and a head taller than anyone else (1 Sam 9:1-2). And what good does it do them in the face of this threat? Verse 11, “on hearing the Philistine’s words, Sauland all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” Saul runs to hide along with everyone else. As far as the Israelites can see, despite having the king they wanted, everything looks hopeless. In the face of the threat of defeat and slavery, they are utterly helpless.


God’s surprising deliverance

But against the backdrop of this threat, this hopeless situation, we are introduced to God’s surprising deliverer – a young man named David. Now as readers we’ve met David in the previous chapter. We know he’s the future of God’s people. He’s the king God has chosen in the place of Saul, the failed king. In this story, it’s like we’re meeting him again for the first time, and like before, the emphasis is on how insignificant he is and unlikely to be given a second look. He’s the youngest of eight sons. In verse 13 we’re told only the oldest three follow Saul to war. David is the youngest of all eight, and his primary responsibility is to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.

From verse 16, the narrator moves the story along. For forty days the Philistine, this terrifying giant, lumbers out to take his stand and call out his challenge to the Israelites trembling in their boots. And then, with the war dragging out, Jesse, David’s father, sends young David with some grain, bread and cheese to his big brothers at the Israelite army camp. So, verse 20, David sets off early in the morning with his pack, and he happens to arrive at the camp just as the army is going out to its battle position, shouting the war cry. And so David, dropping off his things with the supply keeper, runs to the battle lines and asks his brothers how they are. And as he was talking, what happens? “Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear.” David hears the defiant challenge of Goliath, and he sees the fear and helplessness of his people.

Now as we learn in verse 25, the Israelites had been talking about what the king would do for the man who killed Goliath and solved this rather large problem for him – wealth, daughter in marriage, tax free future – all that kind of stuff. And David half overhears, and asks them to explain, sharing his own indignation, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” And in this reaction of David we see the first signs of a profound and simple faith in the LORD God of Israel as the true and living God – the God who fulfils his promises and allows no person or power to stand in his way. Saul and the rest of the Israelite army sees the situation from a very human perspective; they see an unbeatable foe, and so they are stuck in fear. David sees things through the lens of the promises of God – the God he has sung to, prayed to, and called upon all his young life. And what he sees is a cockroach defying the armies of the living God!

But whilst this righteous indignation is rising in David, and as the men repeat to him what they had been saying, David’s oldest brother Eliab overhears him speaking with them and burns with his own anger – not at the Philistines, but at David! “Why have you come down here? Who did you leave the sheep with? You irresponsibly little boy! I know what you’re doing… you’re just a proud, wicked, irresponsible little boy who’s abandoned his responsibilities to come and watch the battle!”

Now David just comes back with a “What have I really done? Can’t I even speak to people? Is that a crime?” And then he turns away to keep discussing the same matter with others. But before we move on from this little outburst, it’s worth noting the way that Eliab writes David off. Eliab hears David’s comments and questions and all he hears is the naïve foolishness of youth and all he sees is a small, irresponsible boy. This is not your place David – you can’t help. Eliab despises God’s deliverer, as so many do, seeing only the surface, and not appreciating how God can and will work through this unlikely saviour.

Now word gets around about this little shepherd boy and his bold attitude, and king Saul calls for him. Saul is of course familiar with David to some extent, as David has been in his service, playing the harp for Saul, although it’s quite possible Saul has never really taken much notice of him. Now David is brought before Saul, and (verse 32), David says, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” I wonder how Saul would have felt at that point, because it’s really quite sad in a sense isn’t it? Here’s little David, a young man, barely more than a boy, not old enough to go to war, saying to ‘Tall Saul’ – the people’s king – and all the warriors around him, “Don’t be afraid, it’s ok, I’ll take care of the scary man for you.” Well, whatever Saul was feeling and thinking, he tells David that it’s not a good idea: “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.” You don’t quite understand what you’re talking about David. Ten points for bravery, but… you’re going to be eaten alive.

But David is not so sure. He’s not offering to fight because he’s an idiot and doesn’t understand the risk or how bad his chances look on the surface. He knows how bad it looks, but he’s actually quite sure he can win. Why? Firstly because of his experience as a shepherd in fighting off bears and lions. David explains to Saul, “When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them…” He looks tough, but I’ve seen worse… he’ll come down.

But the real reason he’s confident is not because he thinks he’s tougher than everybody realises. He’s ultimately convinced he will win because victory belongs to the LORD, the God he serves. He knows it is the LORD who delivered him from the paw of the lion or the bear in the past, and he knows the LORD can and will deliver him from the hand of this beastly Philistine, because Goliath has dared to defy the armies of the living God. David doesn’t back himself, he backs the living God. He can see that ultimately this battle is about faith in the promises of God to establish his kingdom, not about who is bigger and tougher.

Well, whether he’s convinced or not, Saul can see he’s not easily going to talk David out of it, so he gives him his blessing – probably thinking this is the last he’ll see of his nice young harp player! But before he sends him off to die (probably!) he does the kind thing and dresses him in his own tunic and armour, helmet and sword. “You may as well look the part and have a fighting chance David!” But no, David can barely walk around with all the armour on him, because he’s not used to it. So he takes it all off, and verse 40, “he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.” David knows he can’t beat Goliath fighting hand-to-hand with sword and armour, and so he doesn’t even try. He’s going to simply do what he knows he does best, and trust God to give him victory, even if it appears foolish.

And that’s certainly how Goliath sees things. From verse 41, we read that he’s been coming closer, with his shield bearer in front of him, and now he sees David for what he is – nothing but a ruddy, handsome boy with a stick in his hand – and he can hardly believe it! He despises David. He’s offended! Is this a joke? “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks??” Goliath curses David by his gods, and calls out, “Come here and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” He’s been calling for a fight for 40 days, and this is all they can give him? He’s going to literally make mincemeat out of this kid.


Confidence in Weakness

Up till now in the story, two things have been increasingly emphasised in tension with each other; the weaknessof David compared with Goliath, and yet the confidenceof David to win. On the one hand, the height of Goliath and the weight of his armour and weapons is emphasised, whilst David is presented as a mere boy, the youngest of eight, who can’t even bear to wear a suit of armour. And yet at the same time, David only grows more confident, because he knows that victory is not dependant on human strength. And now this conviction climaxes in his response to Goliath’s taunting:

“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’S, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

This speech is the heart of this story. It’s what the narrator wants us to hear and dwell on. Goliath is confident because he comes against David with sword and spear, and he thinks that’s what matters – these are the things that will determine the battle. But David comes in the name of the LORD Almighty – he knows that it’s not size of your sword, but the God you serve that determines the outcome. Goliath has defied the true and living God, and so he’s going down, and as a result, the whole world will know that the God of Israel is THE God. The apparent weakness of David will simply serve to highlight that the battle belongs to the LORD, and he doesn’t depend on human might to save.


The Surprising Deliverance of God

And after all this build-up designed to focus in on this claim, it all happens in a moment. From verse 48, the Philistine moved closer to attack, and David runs quickly to meet him. He reaches into his bag and pulls out a stone, and slings it towards Goliath, striking him on the forehead. The stone finds the one weak spot, and sinks into his forehead, and he falls facedown to the ground. Before you can blink it’s over. And in case we hadn’t got the point, the narrator sums up for us in verse 50, “So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his handhe struck down the Philistine and killed him.” Just as David had declared, victory would not come through spear or sword, through human power or impressive size… it would come because the LORD Almighty would hand him over. The battle is the LORD’s, and before the astounded eyes of both armies, the battle has been won.

It may be over, but David’s not finished. He told Goliath that he’d strike him down and cut off his head, so that’s what he does. Verse 51, “David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the scabbard. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.” If you’ve only read this story in kids Bibles you might have missed this detail so far…

And what happens now? Continuing on in verse 51, “When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp. David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem, and he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.”

Goliath had called for a champion to fight him on behalf of their armies, proposing that the losing army would become the slaves of the other. The Philistines decide they don’t want to honour this arrangement and run, and yet, the battle between these two champions has certainly decided the battle. The Israelites who were only moments ago trembling in their boots are now surging forward and cutting down their enemies and plundering their camp. Through the unlikely victory of David, they have been given victory over their enemies. They don’t need to earn it, they simply revel in it. They don’t battle an army, they simply kill and plunder a beaten one. The LORD has given them into their hands.


Reflecting on the Story: David, Jesus and Us

So what exactly should we take away from this story? What is God saying to us through it? The classic ‘moral’ of the story is of course to trust in God just like David. It’s an amazing tale of courage and faith, showing that God gives victory to those who trust, and so we should go out and fight our battles trusting in God to deliver us, just like David. Now as cheesy as that might sound, there’s a lot of truth in it, as long as you carefully apply the principal and don’t twist it to your own ambitions. But I don’t think it’s the primary lesson or application for us. The primary application becomes clearer when you reflect on who we are meant to identify with in the story, and how it points to the gospel of Jesus. You see we are not Davidin the story; we are the Israelites, trembling in our boots, helpless against our enemies, sin and death. David points to Jesus, the unlikely saviour who overcomes Satan, sin and death by allowing himself to be destroyed by them. But actually, it is this very death in our place which defeats their power over us and sets us free and secures God’s promised kingdom. This is the perspective we need to keep in mind as we apply the story to ourselves.


Celebrate the victory that has been won for you

And so the primary thing God is saying to us is to gratefully celebrate the victory over sin and death that has been won for us. We were stuffed. Sin had us beaten, and there is no way we are overcoming death by ourselves. But in Christ, through the victory of Jesus in his death and resurrection, we are victorious – we are the Israelites chasing down our enemies who are fleeing before us. So hear the message! Celebrate your victory! Know the riches of your inheritance in Christ!

You see, in our battle against sin, whilst there is more to be said about the ongoing struggle for the rest of our lives, God is reminding us through thisstory that the battlehas been won. We don’t need to try and win the battle ourselves. We don’t need to free ourselves from the power of sin. We don’t need to deal with the problem of our guilt before God. And we don’t need to give in and submit to sin in our lives as if it is our master! Sin and death have been defeated and you are invited to give chase and mop up the enemy in your life!

Imagine that after David has killed Goliath and the Philistines are fleeing for their lives, that the Israelites then just shuffled out with their arms outstretched, ready to be tied up and taken off into slavery… that’s what we’re doing if we give in to pessimism and just compromise with sin in our lives. How sad! How unnecessary! Why do we submit to an enemy that has been defeated? That’s the pointy encouragement to us from this passage. As Paul writes in Romans chapter 6, though we used to be slaves to sin, we have been set free through Christ. Sin is no longer our master, and so we must not let it reign in our bodies as if it was our master! Celebrate the victory Christ has won for us, enjoy it, revel in it, and be grateful for it. That’s the primary message of this passage to us.


Trust (just like David!) that the battle is the LORD’s

But as we live in light of this victory won on our behalf, we are to continue trusting that God works through the weak and unlikely to display his grace and power. We will have made a big mistake if we go away onlyappreciating that God has given us a great victory. No, we are to remember that speech at the climax of the story – the battle is the LORD’s, and he doesn’t save by sword or spear. God doesn’t depend on the things we think we need to secure success. In fact, he prefers to work through the weak, the despised and the unexpected to highlight his power and grace – to remind us to trust in him and not ourselves or any other thing. Circumstances that make it seem unlikelythat God could fulfil his promises are no reason to actually doubt that God will fulfil them. And no, I’m not saying ‘you can do anything if you only have enough faith!’. This is about God and his plans and promises to establish his kingdom through Jesus, not about us and our personal ambitions.

So through this story, God is indeed encouraging us to follow the example of David, because we follow the example of Christ, and to trust in God to come good on his promises. God isestablishing his Kingdom. He ischanging hearts and lives, bringing people into relationship with him, revealing his saving power in the world. He isworking in ourlives, in our hearts and minds, to make us more like Christ and to overcome the sin and destructive attitudes that plague us. And he’s doing it through the weak and foolish means of people like you and me sharing the message of the cross, encouraging one another and praying for each other. As Paul writes to the Corinthians, God has chosen the things that are weak and despised in this world to shame the strong. He works his power and displays his wisdom in this world through the weak and foolish message of the cross, rather than through powerful signs or eloquent speech. He works in and through ordinary weak people like you and me.

So as we face the challenges of life – and particularly the challenges of faithfully following Jesus in this world – we need to remember that the battle belongs to the LORD. We can celebrate the victory that has already been won for us and chase down the fleeing enemy. And as we do it, we need to remember that he works through the weak, and that we can trust him to come good on his promises, no matter what the circumstances. It’s not about backing yourself or being confident in your own ability to change or succeed; it’s humble trust in the God who has delivered us from sin and death, and who continues to work through the weak and unexpected in this world.