Slaying Goliath

1 Samuel 17

When Samuel denounced Saulís first great sin and announced that his kingdom should not continue, he declared, "The Lord hath sought Him a man after His own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14). To this, allusion was made by the apostle Paul in his address in the synagogue at Antioch, "He raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also He gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after Mine own heart, which shall fulfill all My will" (Acts 13:22). A truly wondrous tribute was this unto the character of David, yet one which the general course of his life bore out. The dominant characteristic of our patriarch was his unfeigned and unsurpassed devotion to God, His cause, and His Word. Blessedly is this illustrated in what is now to be before us. The man after Godís own heart is the one who is out and out for Him, putting His honor and glory before all other considerations.

1 Samuel 17:15 supplies a precious link between what was considered in our last lesson and what we are now about to ponder. There we are told, "But David went and returned from Saul to feed his fatherís sheep at Bethlehem." Knowing that he was to be the next king over Israel, natural prudence would suggest that his best policy was to remain at court, making the most of his opportunities, and seeking to gain the goodwill of the ministers of state; but instead of so doing, the son of Jesse returned to the sheepfold, leaving it with God to work out His will concerning him. No seeker after self-aggrandizement was David. The palace, as such, possessed no attractions for him. Having fulfilled his service unto the king, he now returns to his fatherís farm.

"Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and were gathered together at Shochoh" (1 Sam. 17:1). Josephus (Antiq. 50:6, c. 9, sect. 1) says that this occurred not long after the things related in the preceding chapter had transpired. It seems likely that the Philistines had heard of Samuelís forsaking of Saul, and of the kingís melancholy and distraction occasioned by the evil spirit, and deemed it a suitable time to avenge themselves upon Israel for their last slaughter of them (chapter 14). The enemies of Godís people are ever alert to take advantage of their opportunities, and never have they a better one than when their leaders provoke Godís Spirit and His prophets leave them. Nevertheless, it is blessed to see here how that God makes the "wrath of man" to praise Him (Ps. 76:10).

"And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together and pitched by the valley of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines" (17:2). The king had been relieved, for a season at least, of the evil spirit; but the Spirit of the Lord had not returned to him, as the sequel plainly evidences. A sorry figure did Saul and his forces now cut. "And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath of Gath . . . And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? Am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants; but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us. And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together. When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid" (vv. 4, 8-11). Ere pondering the haughty challenge which was here thrown down, let us point out (for the strengthening of faith in the inerrancy of Holy Writ) a small detail which exhibits the minute accuracy and harmony of the Word.

In Numbers 13 we read that the spies sent out by Moses to inspect the promised land, declared, "The land through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants" (vv. 32, 33). Now link this up with Joshua 11:21, 22, "And at that time came Joshua, and cut off the Anakims from the mountains . . . there was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained." Here in our present passage it is stated, quite incidentally, that Goliath belonged to "Gath"! Thus, in the mouth of three witnessesóMoses, Joshua and Samuelóis the word established, concurring as they do in a manner quite artless, to verify a single particular. How jealous was God about His Word! What a sure foundation faith has to rest upon!

Goliath pictures to us the great enemy of God and man, the devil, seeking to terrify, and bring into captivity those who bear the name of the Lord. His prodigious size (probably over eleven feet) symbolized the great power of Satan. His accoutrements (compare the word "armour" in Luke 11:22!) figured the fact that the resources of flesh and blood can not overcome Satan. His blatant challenge adumbrated the roaring of the lion, our great adversary, as he goes about "seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8). His declaration that the Israelites were but "servants to Saul" (v. 8) was only too true, for they were no longer in subjection to the Lord (1 Sam. 8:7). The dismay of Saul (v. 11) is in solemn contrast to his boldness in 11:5-11 and 14:47, when the Spirit of the Lord was upon him. The terror of the people (v. 11) was a sad evidence of the fact that the "fear of the Lord" (11:7) was no longer upon them. But all of this only served to provide a background upon which the courage of the man after Godís own heart might the more evidently appear.

The terrible giant of Gath continued to menace the army of Israel twice a day for no less than forty daysóa period which, in Scripture, is ever associated with probation and testing. Such a protracted season served to make the more manifest the impotency of a people out of communion with God. There was Saul himself, who "from his shoulders and upward was higher than any of the people" (9:2). There was Jonathan who, assisted only by his armor-bearer, had, on a former occasion, slain twenty of the Philistines (14:14). There was Abner, the captain of the host (14:50), a "valiant man" (26:15), but he too declined Goliathís challenge. Ah, my reader, the best, the bravest of men, are no more than what God makes them. When He renews not his courage, the stoutest heart is a coward. Yet God does not act arbitrarily, rather is cowardice one of the consequences of lost communion with Him: "The righteous are bold as a lion" (Prov. 28:1).

Manís extremity is Godís opportunity. But He does not always, nor generally, act immediately, when we are brought low. No, he "waits to be gracious" (Isa. 30:18), that our helplessness may be the more fully realized, that His delivering hand may be seen the more clearly, and that His merciful interposition may be the more appreciated. But even at this time, when all seemed lost to Israel, when there was none in her army that dared to pick up the gauntlet which Goliath had thrown down, God had His man in reserve, and in due time he appeared on the scene and vindicated the glorious name of Jehovah. The instrument chosen seemed, to natural wisdom and military prudence, a weak and foolish one, utterly unfitted for the work before him. Ah, it is just such that God uses, and why? That the honor may be His, that "no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Cor. 1:29). Before considering the grand victory which the Lord wrought through David, let us carefully ponder the training which he had received in the school of God. This is deeply important for our hearts.

It was away from the crowds, in the quietude of pastoral life, that David was taught the wondrous resources which there are in God available to faith, There, in the fields of Bethlehem, he had, by divine enablement, slain the lion and the bear (v. 34, 35). This is ever Godís way: He teaches in secret that soul which He has elected shall serve Him in public. Ah, my reader, is it not just at this point that we may discover the explanation of our failures?óit is because we have not sufficiently cultivated the "secret place of the most High" (Ps. 91:1). That is our primary need. But do we really esteem communion with God our highest privilege? Do we realize that walking with God is the source of our strength?

There had been direct dealings between Davidís soul and God out there in the solitude of the fields, and it is only thus that any of us are taught how to get the victory. Have you yet learned, my brother or sister, that the closet is the great battlefield of faith! It is the genuine denying of self, the daily taking up of the cross, the knowing how to cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and the bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Let the foe be met and conquered in private, and we shall not have to mourn defeat when we meet him in public. O may the Holy Spirit impress deeply upon each of our hearts the vital importance of coming forth from the presence of God as we enter upon any service unto Him: this it is which regulates the difference between success and failure. Note how the blessed Redeemer acted on this principle: Luke 6:12, 13, etc.!

"And Jesse said unto David his son, Take now for thy brethren an ephah of this parched corn, and these ten loaves, and run to the camp to thy brethren; and carry these ten cheeses unto the captain of their thousand, and look how thy brethren fare, and take their pledge" (v. 17, 18). Another beautiful type is this of our Saviour going about His Fatherís business, seeking the good of his brethren: a similar one is found in Genesis 37:13, 14. But without staying to develop this thought, let us observe how God was directing all things to the accomplishment of His purpose. Jesse had eight sons (16:10, 11), and only three of them had joined Saulís army (17:13), so that five of them were at home; yet David, the youngest, was the one sentóthough Jesse knew it not, God had work for him to do. Nothing happens by chance in this world: all is controlled and directed from on High (John 19:11).

"And David rose up early in the morning, and left the sheep with a keeper, and took, and went, as Jesse had commanded him; and he came to the trench, as the host was going forth to the fight, and shouted for the battle" (v. 20). How this evidenced the readiness and eagerness of David to obey his fatherís orders! Again we may look from the type to the Antitype, and hear Him say, "Lo, I come, to do Thy will, O God" (Heb. 10: 7). Blessed it is to mark that David was as mindful of his fatherís sheep as he was of his commands: his leaving them "with a keeper," evidenced his care and fidelity in the discharge of his office. His faithfulness in a few things fitted him to be ruler over many things. He who is best qualified to command, is the one who had, previously, learned to obey.

"Godís providence brought him to the camp very seasonably, when both sides had set the battle in array, and as it should seem were more likely to come to an engagement than they had yet been all the forty days (v. 21). Both sides were now preparing to fight. Jesse little thought of sending his son to the army just in that critical juncture; but the wise God orders the time, and all the circumstances, of actions and affairs, so as to serve His design of securing the interests of Israel, and advancing the man after His own heart" (Matthew Henry).

Though he had only just completed a long journey, we are told that David "ran into the army, and came and saluted his brethren" (v. 22). This reminds of Proverbs 22:29, "Seest thou a man diligent in business? he shall stand before kings." As David talked with his brethren, Goliath came forth again and repeated his challenge. The whole army was "sore afraid" (v. 24), and though reminding one another of the promised reward awaiting the one who slew the giant, none dared to venture his life. Such inducements as Saul offered, sink into utter insignificance when death confronts a man. David mildly expostulated with those who stood near him, pointing out that Goliath was defying "the armies of the living God" (v. 26).

"And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men; and Eliabís anger was kindled against David, and he said, Why camest thou down hither? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle" (v. 28). How this reminds us of what is said of Davidís Son and Lord in John 1:11, etc. There is a lesson here which every true minister of Christ does well to take to heart, for by so doing he will be forearmed against many a disappointment and discouragement. Sufficient for the disciple to be as his Master: if the incarnate Son was not appreciated, his agents should not expect to beó"For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10). Not only will men in general be displeased, but even the people of God, when in a low state, will neither understand nor value the actings of faith. The man of God must be prepared to be misinterpreted and to stand alone.

Blessed it is to mark Davidís reply to the cruel taunt of his brother: it was a real testing of his meekness, but when he was reviled, he reviled not again. Nor did he attempt any self-vindication, or explanation of his conductósuch had been quite wasted upon one with such a spirit. First, he simply asked "What have I done?": what Fault have I committed to be thus chided; reminding us of our Lordís meek reply under a much stronger provocationó"ĎWhy smitest thou Me?" (John 18:23). Second, he said, "Is there not a cause?" This he left with him: there was a cause for his coming to the camp: his father had sent him: the honor of Israelósullied by Goliathórequired it; the glory of God necessitated it. Third, he "turned from him toward another" (v. 30).

Davidís speaking to one and another soon reached the ears of Saul, who accordingly sent for him (v. 31). To the king, he at once said, "Let no manís heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine" (v. 32); only to be met with this reply, "Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him," Ah, "These that undertake great and public services must not think it strange if they be discountenanced and opposed by those from whom they have reason to expect support and assistance. But must humbly go on with their work, in the face not only of their enemiesí threats, but of their friendsí sleights and suspicions" (Matthew Henry). The language used by him in the presence of the king was not the bravado of a boaster, but the God-honoring testimony of a man of faith. Saul and his people were in despair as the consequence of their being occupied with the things of sight: the man of faith had a contemptuous disdain for Goliath because he viewed him from Godís viewpointóas His enemy, as "uncircumcised." Note how he attributed his previous successes to the Lord, and how he improved them to count upon Him for further victory: see verse 37.

The response made by Saul unto Davidís pleading was solemnly ludicrous. First, he said, "Go, and the Lord be with thee," which were idle words on such lips. Next we read that "Saul armed David with his own armour" (i.e., with some that he kept in his armory), in which he had far more confidence than in God. But David quickly perceived that such was unsuited to him: the one who has much to do with God in secret cannot employ worldly means and methods in public; the man of faith has no use for carnal weapons. Such things as ecclesiastical titles, dress, ritualistic ceremonies, which are imposing to the eye of the natural man, are but bubbles and baubles to the spiritual. "And David put them off him" (v. 39), and advanced to meet the haughty Philistine with only a sling and five smooth stones. Should it be asked, But are we not justified in using means? The answer is, Yes, the means which God supplies (the "smooth stones"), but not that which man offersóhis "armour."

"When the Philistine looked about and saw David, he disdained him" (v. 42). First, Eliab had taunted, then Saul had sought to discourage, and now Goliath scorns him. Ah, the one who (by grace) is walking by faith must not expect to be popular with men, for they have no capacity to appreciate that which actuates him. But true faith is neither chilled by a cold reception nor cooled by outward difficulties: it looks away from both, unto Him with whom it has to do. If God be "for us" (Rom. 8:3 1), it matters not who be against us. Nevertheless, faith has to be testedóto prove its genuineness, to strengthen its fiber, to give occasion for its exercise. Well may writer and reader pray, "Lord, increase our faith."

The Philistine blustered, "cursed David by his gods" (v. 43), and vowed he would give his flesh unto the fowls and beasts. But it is written, "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong" (Eccl. 9:11); and again, "God resisteth the proud" (James 4:6). The response made by David at once revealed the secret of his confidence, the source of his strength, and the certainty of his victory: "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied" (v. 45). Ah, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it, and is safe" (Prov. 18:10).

The reader is so familiar with the blessed sequel that little comment on it is required. Faith having brought God into the scene could announce the victory in advance (v.46). One stone in its hand was worth more than all the Philistineís armor on the giant of unbelief. And why? Because that stone, though flung by Davidís sling, was directed and made efficacious by the hand of God. It is pitiable to find how some of the best commentators missed the real point here. Verse 6 begins the description of Goliathís armor by saying "he had a helmet of brass upon his head": some have suggested this fell off when he lifted up his hand to curse David by his gods (v. 43); others supposed he left the visor open that he might see the better. But Davidís stone did not enter his eye, but his "forehead"ódivine power sent it through the helmet of brass! In Davidís cutting off his head (v. 51) we have a foreshadowment of what is recorded in Hebrews 2:14.