1 Samuel #16. David & Goliath. 1 Samuel Chapter 17
1 Samuel chapter 17 contains one of the most familiar incidents in the whole bible: the fight between David and Goliath. There is one puzzling thing about the text, and I want to deal with that first, so that we conclude by focusing on what the Lord is saying to us through it.
After the whole thing is over, Saul asks his military commander a strange question: “Whose son is this youth, Abner?”
The question is strange because at the end of chapter sixteen, prior to the fight with Goliath, David was brought to court to play the lyre and sing for Saul. The text even says that Saul loved him. And David’s father, Jesse, is mentioned by Saul’s courtiers in chapter 16. This is one of those places where some people claim that the Bible contradicts itself. I want to point out to begin with that there is no theological or spiritual significance to this “contradiction” even if it exists.
Some scholars speculate that chapter 16 and chapter 17 came from two different sources, and the source for chapter 17 was unaware of the account of how David came to court as a singer. The problem with this theory is that whoever put the sources together, right next to each other, must surely have seen the apparent contradictions – but they made no attempt to explain it. Therefore it is safe to assume that whoever wrote the history that we call “1 Samuel” saw no necessary contradiction between these two chapters, and in fact, assumed that readers would be able to understand the differences. And in fact, there are several possible explanations.
Chapter sixteen records how Saul was afflicted with an evil spirit. The manifestation of this was apparently some kind of mental illness. In fact, continuing on through 1 Samuel, Saul exhibits some of the classic symptoms of paranoid-schizophrenia. To put it simply, sometimes, he was a few sandwiches short of a picnic, and confusion went along with that. So his question may have been partly a result of that affliction.
Notice also that David’s brothers are verbally tearing him down. That shows that there is a kind of jealousy there. It hints at the idea that at some point David had been called back home, and the older brothers were concerned about him getting uppity because of his previous time in the court of the King. So it is also quite likely that Saul hasn’t seen David in a while. Since David was still a teenager, he had probably changed a great deal in a short amount of time.
In addition, Saul had promised a reward to the person who killed Goliath. He said the warrior who did it would be married to his daughter. He also said that the whole family of the victor would be exempt from taxes. In order to keep these promises, he needed to officially verify the identity of David’s father, since the father was the key figure in both the marriage arrangements and tax exemption. Remember, Saul doesn’t ask, “who is that young man?” – he asks, “who is his father?”
The man Saul asked was Abner, who was commander of the Army. Saul may have been further confused, because he did not think of David as a warrior, but rather as a minstrel. So when he seems him accomplish a great feat of war, he thinks, “Is that David? Can’t be.” He is seeing him in a whole different context; he has never thought of David as a warrior. So he asks Abner, but he, as military commander, has had nothing to do with David up until now.
All this is to point out once more, that an apparent contradiction in the bible has no spiritual significance, and actually, does not have to be a contradiction at all.
Now, most of us know the story outline pretty well: a young man (almost certainly a teenager) defeats a hardened warrior twice his size. I want to point out a few things that we don’t always consider.
Goliath was about nine feet, six inches tall – almost three meters. He was huge. But Israel had a huge man on their side also – King Saul was likely around seven feet. Certainly, that was smaller than Goliath, but he was bigger than anyone else in the Israeli army. He would have been the natural choice to face Goliath. But Saul was afraid just like everyone else. By this point, he had already rejected his role as God’s chosen instrument.
The bible describes Goliath’s armor. Only two people in the Israeli army had equipment like it: Saul and Jonathan. The armor and weaponry was iron age technology. The rest of the Israelis were using bronze age weapons. The difference, and the advantage it gave the Philistines was a little bit like the difference between muskets and modern semi-automatic rifles. Both can kill you, in roughly the same way, but the more modern weapon is far more deadly.
Saul tried to get David to wear his armor, to even out the advantage. David ultimately rejected it for three reasons. First, it didn’t fit him. Saul was a much bigger man. Second, it was not David’s style. David had fought for his life before, and he didn’t use that sort of thing. God used him differently. Third, David did not believe he was at a disadvantage.
Everyone else looked at the external situation. Here was a man almost twice as big as anyone else. He was well armored, with potent modern weapons that others would have a hard time even lifting. It was like fighting an intelligent, well armored grizzly bear. To send a boy with a sling against a giant with armor was crazy. The odds were completely in favor of the giant.
But David saw it primarily as a spiritual battle. What it looked like on the outside made no difference to him. In David’s eyes, Goliath wasn’t challenging him, or Israel – he was challenging God. So it wasn’t a boy against a giant. It was an arrogant giant…against the Creator of the Universe. All David had to do was give God a chance to strike Goliath down. It didn’t matter what weapons or armor he had. Using the sling wasn’t a clever surprise tactic. It was just the tool that was most handy and familiar to David. The real weapon, in David’s eyes, was the power of God.
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. (1Sam 17:45, ESV)
The outcome, of course, made history. David killed Goliath with a stone slung into the skull. He completed the job for certain by cutting off the giant’s head with his own giant sword. David predicts what will happen, and why:
47 and this whole assembly will know that it is not by sword or by spear that the LORD saves, for the battle is the LORD’s. He will hand you over to us.” (1Sam 17:47, HCSB)
I invite you to pause for a moment to consider what the Lord might say to you through this. What are you facing in your life that seems like a giant threat? Is there any place where you feel that the odds are stacked against you doing what God wants you to do? I encourage you to see God’s battles from God’s perspective. Now, sometimes we are fighting battles that are not God’s – that is a whole separate issue. But if we are walking in faith, letting Jesus live his life through us, the battles we encounter in the course of doing what He wants to do in us and through us – those are battles that He will fight. All we need to do is grab whatever is most handy and comfortable, and let the Lord do the fighting.
There is a related truth here. God will use you – the unique person that he has made you to be. Others pressed David to take Saul’s armor, to fight the way everyone thought he should fight. David politely but firmly declined. He was just fine for the job, being who God made him to be. So when it comes time to rise to the challenge, I am not saying you should despise advice. But it is OK to approach your challenges as the person that God made you to be. You don’t have to pray in the fashion of “all good prayer warriors.” You don’t have to look or sound exactly like other good Christians as you face your giants. But do listen to the Lord, and do what he tells you.
Do you realize also, like David did, that our battle is not in the arena of flesh and blood, but is actually a spiritual conflict? David actually had to fight a flesh and blood conflict. Even so, he recognized that it was primarily about what was happening spiritually. So, we have to face trials and difficulties of various kinds – and yet it is good to remember the spiritual reality behind it all. Maybe we have to pay bills and it is hard to make ends meet. That is flesh and blood. But there is a battle that goes along with that – the battle of discouragement and hopelessness and the challenge to trust God as provider. Yes, we must deal with the flesh and blood, but the battle is spiritual.
Maybe you have to deal with someone in your life who is difficult, or troublesome or who causes you anguish. Obviously, you encounter that in flesh and blood situations. But the real battle is to trust God, to continually allow God’s power to forgive that person, to recognize that the devil wants you to hold on to rage and bitterness.
Right now, my wife and I both have health issues going on. Nothing life threatening, but they do affect our active lifestyle, and place a financial burden on us. Both of our issues are difficult, complicated and expensive to deal with. We have to deal with them in the realm of flesh and blood. But at the same time, there is a spiritual battle to make us discouraged and hopeless. That’s the real battle and that’s the battle that Lord will win for us every time we let him.
Let the Lord speak to you now about giants and battles!