The sun shines down on the valley of Elah. The giant walks tall and proud close to the brook which meanders its way through the valley just north of Shochoh and northwest of Hebron. Goliath stands at about nine and a half feet in height, the modern equivalent of the biblical record of “six cubits and a span” (1 Sam. 17:4). James Coffman’s commentary on 1 Samuel cites John Willis’ estimation of the actual weight of Goliath’s armor. With the bronze helmet on his head, the coat of bronze mail weighing “five thousand shekels” (17:5) or 125 pounds, the bronze armor on his legs, and the bronze javelin slung between his shoulders with a shaft “like a weaver’s beam” estimated to weigh 17 pounds and the head of the spear weighing in at “six hundred shekels of iron” (17:7) or 18 pounds, Coffman and Willis estimate that Goliath’s armor “probably weighed in the neighborhood of 200 pounds!” It is definitely a physically formidable soldier who can fight so effectively while wearing such weight so as to be the champion of an entire army, which is exactly who Goliath was according to the inspired writer (17:4). A champion soldier of the Philistines. A confident killer. A warrior who has successfully defied the entire army of Israel and struck great fear in their hearts (17:8-11, 23-24).
Facing him across the brook is the youngest of eight sons of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, a patriarch named Jesse (17:12-14). The king of the Israelites, Saul, correctly recognizes this youngest son of Jesse to be “but a youth” (17:33), a na`ar in Hebrew, a child, a lad, nothing but an adolescent boy of no older than twenty. Unlike three of his older brothers, this boy is no soldier (17:13-14), a fact not lost on his oldest brother Eliab who incorrectly thinks his little brother to be a foolish lark only interested in seeing a battle (17:28). The boy is likely tall in stature like his king, considering that he was able to fit into the king’s armor when it was offered to him. Yet he is still no soldier, at least not a full-time, professional military man who is fully trained to fight; he is not even ready or able to successfully test out Saul’s armor (17:38-39). Rather, he is a shepherd boy used to carrying a staff, shepherd’s pouch, and sling (17:40). The only reason he came to the Elah valley this day is because he is his father’s errand boy, sent to bring food to his brothers and their commander and then immediately return home with some token from them (17:17-18). The boy’s name is David.
If you spent any decent amount of time in Sunday School as a child, you know what happens next. The shepherd boy chooses five smooth stones from the brook and puts them into his pouch. Sling in hand, he approaches the Philistine giant (17:40). Goliath approaches David disdainfully, mocking the boy and cursing him by his gods, promising to use his carcass to feed the birds and animals (17:41-44). David replies, “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” (17:45-47).
The two approach each other, David running quickly toward the battle line to meet Goliath while taking a stone from his bag, slinging it, and striking the Philistine on his forehead. “The stone sank into his forehead,” killing him (17:49-50). David then cuts off the giant’s head with Goliath’s own sword (17:50-51). Seeing their champion dead, the Philistine army flees and is pursued by the Israelites “as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron” (17:52), both of which were important cities in the Philistines’ own country.
The Hebrew writer would later allude to David while writing of the faith of the people we read about in the Old Testament (Heb. 11:32). When he wrote that “through faith” David and others were able to “escape the edge of the sword” (11:33), he might have had the encounter with Goliath on his mind. This would be with good reason, for it certainly would require an enormous amount of faith in God to prompt anyone to go up against an immensely strong nine-foot-tall giant who “has been a man of war from his youth” (1 Sam. 17:33). What was it that made David’s faith in God so strong?
When Saul protested David’s intention to fight the giant, saying, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth” (17:33), David replied that he had successfully killed both lions and bears as a shepherd defending his sheep (17:34-36). Killing a hungry bear or lion is no small feat. Both animals have been known to easily kill hunters who were likely stronger and more experienced than David.
David knew this. He understood that it was not his own might and prowess that had delivered him from death from these predators. Perhaps God had earlier bestowed upon David supernatural strength after his anointing when “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon” him, similar to what the Lord had given Samson (16:13; cf. Judg. 14:6). Another possibility would be that God had providentially cared for David while he was fighting these beasts. Regardless of the methods used, David was confident enough of the Lord’s involvement in his deliverance from death to say to Saul, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (17:37). He likewise told Goliath, shortly before he killed him, that “…the Lord will deliver you into my hand…” (17:46).
How could David have been so confident that God would protect him from death? It was because he had remembered God’s promises.
At some earlier point in time, Samuel had been sent by the Almighty to Jesse’s home because, as God told Samuel, “I have provided for myself a king among his sons” to replace Saul (1 Sam. 16:1). After having had all of David’s older brothers pass by him and being told by Jehovah that none of them were His anointed, Samuel had asked Jesse if there were more sons available and was told that David, the youngest, was keeping the sheep (16:6-11). After sending for him, the Lord told Samuel upon David’s arrival, “Arise, anoint him for this is he,” and Samuel did so (16:12-13). From that day forward, the Spirit of the Lord was with David (16:13).
Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that David knew that he was God’s chosen anointed to replace Saul at some point. Either Samuel had told him, or the Holy Spirit had somehow promised him that he would one day be king. David therefore trusted God to keep his promise, so much so that he was willing to fight the giant Philistine while knowing that God would deliver him.
I am reminded of Abraham, whose faith in God was tested in a similar fashion at least three times. God had promised him that he would make of Abraham a great nation and would give the land of Canaan to offspring he had yet to produce (Gen. 12:2, 7). Yet, Abraham’s faith in God at that time, while strong enough to obey His directive to leave his country and strike out for parts unknown (12:1ff; cf. Heb. 11:8), still faltered when he traveled to Egypt. Rather than trust that God would keep him safe because He had promised him future offspring, he persuaded Sarah to lie in an effort to keep him from being killed by the Egyptians (12:10-20). He did something similar later with Abimelech (20:1-18), again showing that his faith in God had faltered. Yet when God told him later to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test of his faith, Abraham unhesitatingly did so to the point where God had to stop him from killing his son (22:1-19). He went through with it even though at that point Isaac had yet to marry Rebekah, produce more offspring, and thus bring God’s promise closer to fulfillment. The Hebrew writer attributes Abraham’s willingness to obey what to any parent would be an extremely difficult and agonizing command to faith that God would keep His promise to give Abraham more offspring through Isaac, a faith so strong and deep that he surmised that God would resurrect Isaac from the dead after the sacrifice (Heb. 11:17-19). Clearly, Abraham’s faith in the promises of God, while in many ways already strong, had grown even stronger!
David undoubtedly had a similar faith in the promise that God would one day make him king of Israel, and his faith in that promise motivated him to defend the honor of God against those like Goliath who would oppose Him. This was also a reason behind David’s decision to face the giant.
Goliath had “defied the armies of the living God” (1 Sam. 17:26), and thus had defied God Himself (17:45), much like Saul of Tarsus would later persecute Christ by persecuting His followers (Acts 9:1, 4-5). The Philistine did this repeatedly, morning and night, for forty days (17:16). The Targum, a collection of uninspired Jewish commentaries of the Old Testament, records the Israelite tradition that Goliath claimed to have been among the Philistines who had captured the ark of the covenant and had personally killed the priests Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli (cf. 4:10-11). If true, then the pagan giant had a history of openly opposing and showing contempt towards Jehovah God.
Upon arriving at the Elah valley, David heard Goliath’s blasphemous challenge for the first time (17:23-25). His immediate response was to ask the soldiers around 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?” (17:26) This earned a rebuke from his oldest brother Eliab, but his indignation over Goliath’s insults remained undeterred (17:28-30). His angry rebuttal of the Philistine’s blasphemy reached the ears of Saul, who sent for David and was told by the young man, “Let no man’s heart fail because of (Goliath). Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (17:31-32).
Lessons For Christians Today
This account of David’s encounter with Goliath is recorded in the Old Testament for a reason (Prov. 30:5). God inspired the apostle Paul to inform Christians that what was written in the Old Testament was written to instruct and encourage us, give us hope, serve as an example to us, admonish us, teach us, reprove us, correct us, and train us to be righteous so that we may be complete and equipped for every good work (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Such is the case when we see the faith in God David displayed in the Elah valley that day and choose to compare it to our own faith.
We sing a spiritual song called Count Your Many Blessings. The lesson behind the hymn is to remind us of our past experiences with Jehovah and all He has done for us, just as David had remembered how God had delivered him from predators. Do we regularly remember with gratitude all the wonderful things which God has done in our lives? “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (Ja. 1:17). Everything we have comes from God (John 3:27), not the least of which is an undeserved salvation from eternity in hell! (Rom. 6:23; Tit. 2:11) Do we take such blessings for granted and rarely remember their Source, or do we continually offer our heart-felt gratitude to Him in prayer (Col. 4:2)? Our honest answer to this question has a direct impact on the strength of our faith and our resulting willingness to obey God, no matter the perceived cost.
Just as David had faith in God’s promise to make him king, do we trust in God’s promises to us? He has promised eternal life to all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9) and eternal condemnation to those who do not (2 Thess. 1:7-9). How strong is our faith in those promises? Satan wants to play the same trick on us that he successfully played on Eve: to trick us into believing that God doesn’t mean what He says (Gen. 3:1-5). That’s why Christians who have been taught the will of God sin, you know. Our faith is weak during those times. We know what the Bible promises, but we deceive ourselves that God will make an exception on our part because He wants our immediate and temporal satisfaction which would come from “the passing pleasures of sin” to be fulfilled. Thus, we would obey God only when convenient rather than choosing to risk the sacrifice of even our lives as David’s faith prompted him to do.
Finally, let us consider what easily arouses our anger and indignation. James said that man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness (Ja. 1:20). Does God get angry over the same things which infuriate us? Many typically get upset when our own honor is insulted and we don’t get our way, and tend to only shrug with mild irritation at best when we see the sin of others or our own. Yet David was angry because he saw Goliath defying God and was motivated to defend his Lord. Are we like him?
Think on these things, my friends. Let David’s example motivate us to deeper faith and service!