Study: 1 Samuel 17 (Week 8) David + Goliath...not the underdog story we were taught

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I absolutely love all the dramatic description in the story of young David defeating the nine-foot-tall soldier named Goliath. I just eat up every morel of minutia and detail in what this oversized champion wore, how much it weighed, and what it was forged from. I love knowing that his coat of chainmail weighed five thousand shekels of bronze, which is about 126 pounds (or 57 kg).

Think of that! That’s what my high school son weighs...and that's simply his chain mail? This man must’ve been massive!!

2 Samuel 21:15-21 mentions other men with extremely tall stature, also rising from Gath. Not only is their height something to take note from, but they also had six fingers and six toes. There was likely a genetic disorder that caused gigantism through families in this area. If there was such a disorder among these men, they would likely also had a bone deficiency, which would explain the ease with which David’s stone penetrated the man’s skull (as mentioned here).

If I’m going too fast and need a refresher on the story, head here to read it in the ESV and here for The Message.

The basis though, is this:

Israel and the Philistines are headed to battle, yet again. Each group of adversaries shroud the hillside, lined up on two ridges facing one another with nothing but a valley between them. Sounds straight out of a movie, doesn’t it? Jonathan and his armor bearer pushed the forces back when they fought these soldiers at Micmash in chapter 14, but that accomplishment was a far cry from actually defeating their foe.

For whatever reason, it seems that the two militaries had reached an impasse or standoff, each unwilling to make the next move. Thundering out from among the lineup of fellow-soldiers, however Goliath, champion of the Philistines, begins challenging the Israelites to send their own champion out to decide the war’s outcome in a single, one-on-one type combat. A duel, of sorts.

These battles differed from the duels we see in Cowboy stories today though, because the ramifications didn’t merely effect the one ‘slower to the draw’, but rather the whole army or even entire nations. The strongest one one either side would fight to the death, absolving the winning side from further fight.

The losing side would become slaves, serving their enemies.

For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand (17:16). Saul may have been head and shoulders taller (9:2) than anyone in the land, but this giant frightened not only him, but every man in their military. They didn’t retreat. They didn’t surrender. Instead, they held fast. Nothing was done. No one dared move into position, and confront this monstrous man, for there didn’t seem any way to win.

And not winning didn't just mean defeat. Like we talked about earlier, it put everyone into slavery.

Until one day when David came to camp, bringing supplies sent from his father.

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?” (1 Samuel 17:26)

When Eliab, David’s oldest brother heard him speaking with the men, verse 28 says, “he burned with anger”. What’s gotten his pants in a twist, you think? Is he jealous that his younger brother was chosen over him when Samuel came for the anointing? Was he just too cool for school (you know the type)? Or did he simply dislike his baby brother?

The Bible doesn’t go into it, but I’m thinking perhaps a mixture of it all. We know Eliab was handsome and if you glanced over a room for someone dynamic and extraordinary, your eyes would probably rest upon him. He looked the part. Like God reminded Samuel in chapter 16 however, God looks at the heart, not one’s outward appearance.

As David continued conversing with the Israel army, it sounds almost as if he was trying to rally their spirits as he encouraged their boldness and bravery with the fact that they were “the army of the living God!” (17:26) In my mind’s eye, he’s standing there with his hand raised above his head, waiting for a massive high-five.

I can see him smiling from ear to ear, face flushed the color of his hair from excitement, waiting with his hand still raised, looking around for someone to come alongside him with an enthusiastic cry of agreement. Instead though, his big brother comes over with smoke coming out of his ears.

Why have you come down here? Who is watching your tiny flock in the wilderness? I’m your brother, and I know you—you’re arrogant, and your heart is evil. You’ve come to watch the battle as if it were just entertainment. (17:28)

“Now what have I done?” said David, rolling his eyes (Ok I totally added the eye part). “Can’t I even speak?” (17:29)

David ignored him and asked another soldier the same question, and the people gave him the same answer. His brother may have not thought much of him, but others definitely heeded his encouragement because as the news of David’s valiant words reached King Saul, he sent for the boy.

One of my favorite verses in the New Testament is Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

These seasoned warriors saw something in David. They thought his words were worth noting, though not even his brothers stood beside him. And even through his family growing angry with what he said, David spoke up anyway. He stood his ground.

David knew that soldier was huge…but His God was bigger.

The young man was filled with the Holy Spirit and others may not have been able to put their finger on why they were drawn to him, but it was for this very reason. Like Peter and John, generations later, people recognized something unique and different, maybe even holy. David was a shepherd boy who had the courage and fortitude to go out and fight a man not even the most gallant and heroic Israelite combatant would go and fight. Why? Because He trusted God before all.

No one really knows how old David was during this story, but most agree that he was likely around 15 years old. You’ll notice when he comes before Saul, the king doesn’t say anything about being too short or too skinny or too small in stature. He instead tells David,

“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.” (1 Samuel 17:33)

The word youth here is the Hebrew term na’uwr which means a child or person of youth. It’s probably why he wasn’t fighting alongside his brothers already, he wasn’t old enough! Saul is less concerned about his size, but rather wary of the fact that he is simply a kid lacking in age and experience.

Just like Samuel responded to God's calling as a child, so would David.

I shared this verse early on in our study, but it's a perfect fit for this story, too: 

Don’t let anyone belittle you because you are young. Instead, show the faithful, young and old, an example of how to live: set the standard for how to talk, act, love, and be faithful and pure. (1 Timothy 4:12)

David immediately thought of occasions where God had shown Himself through the boy. With these situations, David's faith grew. He knew that while being faced with impossible situations, God would always stand beside him and help him though. He may have been young...but even a youth can change the trajectory of something.

But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth.

And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.”  

And David said, “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.”

And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”

(1 Samuel 17:34-37)

Knowing David had already slew both a lion and a bear likely boggled Saul’s mind as he thought, “Who is this kid?!” After pondering whether David’s confidence was stupidity or unmitigated bravery, he agreed to the arrangement.

If David truly is 15 years old here, I’m curious how old he was when killing the bear and the lion. Was he 11? 13? Think of your own children or siblings, or even think of yourself when you were a young teen. He is brave, yes. But in the moment of coming face to face with a wild animal, think of the sheer terror.

What have we been massively afraid of and yet stepped into?

What has come into our paths that seemed too big to fight or conquer?

Maybe some family issues or something with a friend.

Maybe cancer is your bear or the loss of a job is your lion.

Maybe someone betrayed you or God placed a calling upon your heart that seems too big.

What’s your lion and your bear?

Those experiences helped prepare David for this moment before Goliath. He knew the Lord had shown up before and He would show up again.

How often do we waver in our trust in Him? We say we have faith and confidence in Him but would we really go out there and face it with nothing but five smooth pebbles and a slingshot? (17:39-40)

As David stepped out before the taunting giant, the young shepherd said this:

You come to me carrying a sword and spear and javelin as your weapons, but I come armed with the name of the Eternal One, the Commander of heavenly armies, the True God of the armies of Israel, the One you have insulted.

This very day, the Eternal One will give you into my hands. I will strike you down and cut off your head, and I will feed the birds of the air and the wild animals of the fields with the flesh of your Philistine warriors. Then all the land will know the True God is with Israel, and all of those gathered here will know that the Eternal One does not save by sword and spear.

The battle is the Eternal One’s, and He will give you into our hands. (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

I wonder if the Israelite army did silent fist pumps or forgot to breathe. I'm curious if they were loud in their encouragement and support of David or if you could've heard a pin drop.

The boy slung a rock from his slingshot and the stone hit Goliath square in the forehead and sunk into his skull. As the towering man fell, dust cloud rising from around his felled body, David ran to him, killed the man with his own sword and cut off his head. (1 Samuel 17:50-54)

And the Philistine army fled.

Welcome David, to the rest of your life. Saul was so impressed, he asked that the boy remain with him in his service, leaving the life of Shepherd behind.

I'd love to know what hard things God has allowed you to go through for a purpose. Because He's building you into for a special person for a particular position or calling. 

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I can't wait to continue on next week!

Take Joy,