Vv. 19-26, "Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the Valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper and took the provisions and went, as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the encampment as the host was going out to the battle line, shouting the war cry. And Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. And David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage and ran to the ranks and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him. All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid. And the men of Israel said, 'Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.' And David said to the men who stood by him, 'What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?'"
Vv. 41-47, "And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, 'Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.' Then David said to the Philistine, 'You come to me with a sword and 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 down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hand.'"
This story has entered our common lexicon. Even the most biblically-illiterate person has heard of David and Goliath, and uses their names any time an apparent underdog defeats a better-provided opponent. However, that popular version of the story actually misses its significance.
First, consider Goliath. A last survivor of the race of giants, Joshua 11:22 (eleven and a half feet, or about four meters, tall, v. 4), heavily armored and weaponed. All of the greatest fighting men of Israel, even comparably accoutered, were too afraid even to face him.
Second, consider David, the youngest of eight sons (v. 12). In fact, he was even the youngest of the five sons who were too young to join the army (as implied by the fact that only the three eldest were at the battle, v. 13). He refused Saul's armor and sword (vv. 38-39). Instead, he approached the giant with just his shepherding staff and a sling with five stones ( v. 40). Both in his person and in his provisions, David was no match for this foe of all Israel.
What does David say? Verse 45, "You come to me with a sword and 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." He counters the humanistic bullying of Goliath, not with human strength, reasoning, or arms, but with the name of Jehovah his God. Notice especially how this contrasts with Goliath's earlier curses in the names of his own pagan deities, verse 43. David takes these curses, not as a personal insult, but rather an aspersion against the God of Israel (vv. 26 and 45).
And now we see the real nature of this battle. David's words continue, verse 46-47, "This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hand." He understands that Jehovah is jealous for His own deity. And indeed, He could have struck down Goliath directly, with a mere thought. However, in His grace, God condescends to bless us His people, by allowing us to be the means that He uses for His purposes. David is just a boy, with only the weapons of his shepherding, facing a battle-hardened, heavily-armed literal giant. He is perfectly aware that he has no native ability to defeat this foe. Yet his faith assures him that his God is not limited by our powers and talents, but rather acts by His own power and intent.
The significance of this story isn't that Jehovah, the true and living God, has a guiding concern about borders and political competition. Rather, His concern is for His own glory. As He Himself says (Isaiah 42:8), "I am the LORD; that is My name; My glory I give to no other, nor My praise to carved idols." This is the exact principle that Goliath explicitly challenged! And subordinately, He is concerned for the safety and conversion of His elect people. As David says in verse 47, he intends that "all this assembly may know that the Lord saves..."
In the words of Paul (I Corinthians 1:27), the true moral of this story is that "God chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong." Is this not something we need to know in our own daily spiritual confrontations?
39 Articles—Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude (4)
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