Almost everybody has heard of the story of David and Goliath. It’s so well-known that it’s become part of the English vocabulary and a sophisticated way of referring to any showdown involving an underdog facing insurmountable odds. But what is the story about? What does it mean? And how are we to apply its message? Getting these questions right can help open up our understanding of many other parts of Scripture. Let’s consider the message as it’s told in 1 Samuel 17.
The most common way the story is taught in Sunday School is as a hero story about a giant-slayer. But last week we learned that God is the hero of every story. People may be held up as examples and models of various character qualities, but more often than not, something else is going on. God is at work! We don't read the Bible like Aesop's Fables. So as we read, we’re assuming that the point of the story isn’t just about the power of the underdog, or the need for human courage, or the vulnerability of a giant’s forehead, or the genius of the slingshot strategy – sorry Malcolm Gladwell (cf. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants)!
If we turn our focus to how the story relates to God for a moment, a number of things stand out. While the people look at the enormity of the giant, David can only see him in comparison to God. In v. 26, David sees Goliath as a “reproach” to Israel and asks, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” Everyone else was overwhelmed by the giant thinking, ‘Look at the size of him!’ but David looks at him in relation to God and asks, ‘Who does he think he is?’ We learn that giants that defy God are actually midgets.
Next, when people look at David all they see is his weakness. To his father, David was too young to even go into battle (vv. 13-14). To his oldest brother, David was being lazy to check out the front lines when he should be tending sheep (v. 28). To king Saul, David was too inexperienced to face a seasoned warrior like Goliath (v. 33). He’s not even able to handle Saul’s armour (vv. 38-39), so what hope is there for him? As David sees his own life, however, he doesn’t appeal to his strength or ability or superior strategies, but rather to the faithfulness of God. He says, “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” (v. 37). God’s past faithfulness gives us confidence to trust Him no matter what we face.
As the stage is set for battle, we get all the clues that we need that this story isn’t about stones or slingshots. Goliath speaks first and the narrator records for us, “And the Philistine cursed David by his gods” (v. 43). Goliath’s appeal to his gods is met by David’s appeal to his. He declares, “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (v. 45) and adds, “For the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hand” (v. 47). With that, we learn all that we need to know and the actual confrontation is recorded in two short verses (vv. 48-49).
So we learn that giants that defy God are midgets. We see that our weaknesses aren’t an obstacle to God’s faithfulness. And we see that where God’s glory and God’s honour are at stake, God will fight His battles and God’s people need only to follow Him into battle in faith. But there’s something even more important to see. This is the story of two kings: king Saul and the future king David. Saul is the anointed leader who stood head and shoulders above his peers yet when the enemy defies God, he cowers on the sidelines with the rest of his fearful soldiers. David, by contrast, is the leader through whom God secures victory for His people. He foreshadows Jesus, who was called “the son of David” (e.g. Matt 9:27; 12:23; 20:30) whose showdown with Satan on the cross won a victory in a battle we were powerless to engage. The generations after David read 1 Samuel 17 and longed for a king with the faith to follow God into battle and secure their victory. The generations since the cross have read 1 Samuel 17 and given thanks for Jesus who, on our behalf, confronted an enemy far more powerful than Goliath. All of Scripture points to Jesus Christ. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:57, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
May God encourage you in the greatness of our God and the wonder of Christ’s victory today!
In awe of Him,