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We’re finally to that point in 1 Samuel that everyone—and I mean everyone—is familiar with. This is no exaggeration; this isn’t a story only churchy people know.
This story has become a favorite way to discuss an underdog scenario. We’ve got ourselves a real “David and Goliath” situation here.
Worse than that is the way Christians have taken and twisted this story into something it is not. This isn’t about “facing your giants” in life or on the football field. Don’t make a cheesy football movie about this (Whoops. Too late).
This isn’t a parable about standing courageous in the face of “your Goliath”. You don’t have “5 smooth stones” and a “sling” with which you can conquer that work project.
Don’t do that to this story. Don’t make this story less than what it is. Don’t start to believe that you are David and you’re facing giants in your life. That’s lazy Bible reading and it’s simply missing the point.
We aren’t going to spiritualize this. We aren’t going to insert ourselves into the story. We need to hear, over and again, that we are not David.
We need to get the setting of the story and need to reveal the main issue of the text. This chapter is about way more than we’ve made it; it’s much more glorious a story than our contemporary interpretations.
Let’s consider the setting:
1 Samuel 17:1–3 NIV
1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.
Here’s a nice map for us to see where this takes place. This is an actual historical event; it happened in a real place, in real time; it involved real people. This is one of the reasons not to spiritualize this account. It’s not a parable; this is real life stuff.
After locating this story for us, the author introduces us to the champion:
1 Samuel 17:4–11 NIV
4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him. 8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 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.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
In Bible times, the ANE, and in Homeric literature, a man who steps out to fight between two battle lines and wins would have been referred to as “champion”.
Of course, if you had a man on your side who was 9-and-a-half feet tall, you’d send him out between the battle lines. Of course, Goliath was the champion. His coat of armor weighed 126 pounds, the iron point of his spear weighed 15 pounds. And he’s 9-and-a-half feet tall!
To illustrate this for us, my childhood Sunday School teacher, Joan Ulmer, drew a paper Goliath and taped it to the wall in our church’s secondary chapel. 9-and-a-half feet tall it stood, almost unbelievably large in front of us young kids.
Joan let us throw different items at the paper Goliath to see if we could hit him in between the eyes. Harder than you might think...
Think about Goliath in terms of a basketball goal. He was almost that tall; he would have been quite the addition to his local team if James Naismith had invented the game way back then.
Goliath was the champion, undisputed. He was intimidating and imposing. He stood in defiance, taunting the armies of Israel.
When Goliath shouts in v. 10— “This day I defy the armies of Israel” he’s letting us in on a major theme in the book. This word—defy/defiance—is used 6 times in the chapter. Remember that; we’ll come back to that theme.
As we read this long introduction of Goliath, I’m guessing you were picturing what he looked like, weren’t you? A man that tall, that strong, that imposing. He’s the champion, undisputed. No one can match him. He’s too tall, too strong, too much. His appearance is intimidating.
But didn’t we just read something about appearance? Coming from 1 Samuel 16, we must realize that verse 7 applies here, too.
1 Samuel 16:7 NIV
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
As the OT people of God, Israel should have realized Goliath’s appearance isn’t anything to God. They should have seen Goliath and reminded themselves to “take no notice of his appearance or his height.”
All Goliath is is external appearance. This giant falls right into the application of the verse telling us not to consider the appearance of a person.
His appearance should neither impress us or intimidate us. Sadly, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified by Goliath and his threatening stature.
How quickly people forget what God has said.
God is not intimidated of or dismayed by Goliath; nor should His people be if their faith was in the right place. The appearance of a mere man is no matter; the ability of our God is what matters.
The author of this story is a genius, a Holy Spirit inspired genius. He gives us the setting, the intimidating champion Goliath, and leaves us with a note of hopelessness—dismay and terror.
And then, verse 12:
1 Samuel 17:12–23 NIV
12 Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul’s time he was very old. 13 Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. 14 David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, 15 but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. 16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand. 17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.” 20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it.
It all seems so casual. Pretty low-key and natural. The father of 3 sons enlisted in military service sends the youngest to deliver them some food, check up on them. David is probably not the only younger brother taking supplies and checking in on family members on the front line.
David is simply doing what his father has told him to do. And yet, this is the providential chain of events which will become one of the great events of all time.
“Don’t forget to worship before you proceed [with the story].” -DRD
David’s intro is a bigger intrusion into the story than we might imagine it to be.
1 Samuel 17:24–26 NIV
24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear. 25 Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.” 26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
Goliath shouts his “usual defiance”. David heard it. And that’s all it took to raise David’s ire.
David wants to know, in part, what’s in it for him if he was to take the challenge of going up against the champion, but there’s more to it than that.
David understands the the issue here is spiritual at its core.
“David injects the first theological note into the narrative.” - D. F. Payne
These are the first words we hear from David, and they’re theological in nature.
David speaks about the living God, comparing Him with this “uncircumcised Philistine.”
David brings a brand new worldview to the situation. To this point, the situation has been godless. But now, David interjects a godly question into the mix.
Of course, Saul’s and Israel’s fear and dismay is plenty theological—it shows what they believe about God.
David’s theology—on the other hand—believes the right things about the Lord Yahweh.
Shouldn’t having a living God matter? Doesn’t the living God make a difference? This Philistine has mocked the armies of the living God! If God is so identified with His people, do you think He’s going to put up with this? Will God be okay with slurs on His name and His reputation?
The defiance of Goliath and the repeated use of the word defy forms the focus of the chapter. Six times this word is used:
v. 10—Goliath himself says that he mocks or defies the ranks of Israel.
v. 25—Israel’s troops acknowledge that he has done just that.
v. 26—Only David seems concerned to turn away this mockery and derision of Israel.
v. 26—David realizes that mockery of God’s people is mockery of God Himself.
v. 36 and v. 45—David will assert this point with both Saul and Goliath.
The driving concern of this chapter is not something piddly like facing your personal giants or going up against a bigger, better football team.
The driving concern of this chapter is the honor of the Lord’s name, His reputation, His glory.
David is driven by a passion for the honor of God.
“Israel thought the Philistine invulnerable; for David he was only uncircumcised. A living God gives a whole new view of things.” -DRD
David’s question about who Goliath is to defy the living God is a really important question. It shows us how crucial it is that ask the right questions at the first. All the believers’ life and all the church’ life requires a God-centered way of thinking.
It’s not just “there’s a giant we have to deal with.”
It’s more significantly, “there’s someone defying and disgracing the honor of our God.”
The tragedy is that if someone heard what we think and say in times of danger or trouble, they’d never guess that we had and served a living God.
Is our theology more like the Israelites’ or David’s? Do we despair or do we trust?
David faces criticism from his brother Eliab who believes David to be nothing more than a show-off. Saul mocks David for being young.
1 Samuel 17:27–33 NIV
27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.” 28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” 29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. 31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him. 32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” 33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
David is willing to fight where no one else is. He argues his case to Saul:
1 Samuel 17:34–37 NIV
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 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. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 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.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
David’s argument sounds kind of funny initially, but then makes total sense. David’s answer to Saul’s “you’re too young” is to say, “Oh, yeah…well I’ve been keeping my father’s sheep.”
A shepherd lived with constant threat to his life and his flock. It wasn’t unusual for a lion or a bear to make off with one of David’s sheep. David was used to chasing the animal down, striking it with his staff, rescuing the sheep, and killing the predator.
David’s faith is such that the Philistine will be just like one of the animals he killed—do you see why?—because [Goliath] has defied the armies of the living God.
That is, the Lord is going to be sure to guard and protect His own honor. The Lord will not let His name be dragged through the mud indefinitely.
What’s more, David believes that the Lord who delivers will deliver again. The Deliverer delivers; it’s what He does. 1 Samuel 17:37 “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.”
The Lord’s past deliverances should be remembered and we should give thanks to Him for each one.
Like David, we aren’t delivered because our ability, but because we know the true God. Circumstances vary, but the Lord is the same whether among the sheep, in front of the Philistines, or in 21st Century America.
At last, we come to the infamous battle itself, though it’s rather short. It’s the lead up to the battle itself that takes the biggest part of the chapter.
1 Samuel 17:38–54 NIV
38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then 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. 41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!” 45 David said to the Philistine, “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. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 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.” 48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. 50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. 51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 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. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp. 54 David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.
All the lead up to the battle and the battle is over before we know it. How did the battle itself—just two short verses—become the focal point of the entire chapter?
In the Hebrew text, David’s speech is 63 words long while the fight itself only takes 36 to describe.
It’s like paying top dollar for ringside seats at a boxing match only to have it end in the first minute of the first round.
Here at the end of the chapter, we have a third speech from David. It is, once again, theologically loaded (like all of his speeches).
If we listen to David, we’ll understand the meaning of this story.
David makes clear that it’s the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel whom Goliath has defied. David know the Lord will deliver Goliath into his hands. David is quick to express that the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel after today. The battle belongs to the Lord.
David knows this: The Lord saves. Period.
And so, with a stone 2-3 inches in diameter traveling at around 150 mph, David slays the giant. David had no doubt that the Lord would go with him and that the Lord would secure victory.
Part of this is popular Sunday School fodder. What we don’t ever include is David taking Goliath’s sword and cutting off Goliath’s head. Can you imagine a coloring page of that?!?
After the Philistines are routed and plundered, David takes Goliath’s head—you know, the one he cut off—with him to Jerusalem. If the average human head weighs 8 pounds, Goliath’s must have weighed 20. David keeps it with him for a while to tell the story of God’s victory.
What a great story. There’s so much more to it than we typically hear. It’s far more than we tend to make of it.
Let me break this down for us in a sentence:


What matters is not whether you have the best weapons but whether you have the real God.
David knew, David believed that God who had delivered would deliver him again and again.
And David was willing to risk his life for the Lord’s reputation. It mattered enough to him to risk reproach and even death for it.
Does the Lord’s honor matter more to us than our popularity? Does His honor matter more to us than being part of the majority? Does the Lord’s honor concern us more than our being ridiculed?
The story isn’t David vs. Goliath. Not really. The story is David’s God, our God, versus all powers earthly and demonic.
And it’s not even close.
David defeated the Philistine. One man worked victory for all God’s people. Victory of the one was victory for all.
Jesus, the true and better David, did in His death and resurrection, work victory over sin and death, over Satan and His minions. Victory of the One was victory for all who belong to Him by faith.
You are not David. You don’t need to go and “face your giants”. It pains me to even utter those silly words. This story is not about that.
This story is about Our God versus all others. Our God is victorious. Our God will deliver. Our God saves.
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