Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 17 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/31/2015 in Novato, CA.
1 Samuel 17
“Whom You Have Defied”
The story of David and Goliath is a cherished and well known story. Surely one of the reasons why it is so popular is that people are inspired by a story of such courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Our hearts are stirred as we see the victory God gives David in his faith. Knowing the gigantic obstacles we can face in our own lives, we naturally find some ready application. Well, as we dig into this passage for today, we will see this. But I hope we’ll also see more than this. But let’s start with that. Let’s start with the basic details of this battle between David and Goliath, and we’ll go from there.
So this is our first point, to observe the battle between David and Goliath. Something that surely strikes us about this battle is how from a physical standpoint, Goliath seemed to have all the advantage. For starters, Goliath was a giant. Verse 4 would place him a little over 9 feet tall. In modern history, the Guinness Book of World Records has the tallest man on record at just under 9 feet tall, so such height is extremely rare, but not unheard of. But not only did Goliath have great height, he was also well equipped. Verses 5-7 go into great details on his armor and weapons. For example, his coat of mail translates in our measurements to be about 126 pounds, and his spearhead to be about 15 pounds. Think of his strength to be able to carry all that! And the bronze and iron implements that he has reminds us of what we read earlier in this book, that the Philistines were experts in the latest art and technology of metal working, and they put it to use in making the most state of the art equipment for battle. Given Goliath’s size, it was probably all custom made for him as well. And so Goliath is well endowed both physically and in terms of his military equipment. In verse 33, we see that he was a seasoned man of war, and referred to as the Philistine’s champion in verse 51.
In contrast, David is still a young man and not an experienced warrior, according to Saul’s appraisal in verse 33. This seems to be the perspective of David’s oldest brother Eliab too, when Eliab scolds David for even being there at the battlefield, per verse 28. You get a sense of the lacking size of David when he tries to put on Saul’s armor, and has difficulty moving with it. Interestingly, David’s good looks are mentioned again in verse 42, only to cause Goliath to further look down on David. Good looks won’t get you very far on the battle field.
And so Goliath and David outwardly look so different. In a physical fight, surely the ordinary person would put all their money on Goliath. And this is clearly what Goliath thought. This chapter begins with Goliath taunting and ridiculing all the people of Israel. In other words, Goliath thought he outmatched anyone in all of Israel. He didn’t think any of them “measured up,” physically speaking. And so since Goliath thought that in general, it’s no surprise how he responds all the more like this when David shows up. David shows up not only as such a small young man, but then without any fancy armor or weapons. And so we see what Goliath says in verse 43, “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?” This is simply further taunting and scoffing by him. All this scoffing and taunting only reveals his defiance and blasphemy. Goliath is said repeatedly here to be defying the armies of God. And in such defiance, he is ultimately blaspheming the one true God who is the God of these armies. And it shows that David’s description of him as an uncircumcised Philistine, is a correction description. That was a way for David to describe him as a godless heathen.
In turn then, David answers Goliath’s scoffing with a righteous rebuke. Verse 45, “Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, 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.'” And so David clearly reveals Goliath’s defiance against God and his people. And David clearly shows that his faith is in the LORD, the one true God. And so then, in great earthly surprise, David proceeds to defeat Goliath. He takes his sling with five stones, but only needs the first. He hits Goliath with the first stone, and he drops to the ground. David then takes Goliath’s own sword and chops off his head. As David had rightly predicted in verse 47, “The battle is the LORD’s.”
And so think about it. Everything outwardly speaking looked like Goliath should have easily won against David. But let me give you a Star Wars example. When the evil guys in the movie were all excited about their Death Star because it could destroy an entire planet in one shot, what did Darth Vader say? “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the force.” Well, all of Goliath’s extreme size, all his high-tech armor and weaponry, all of his great physical advantage, it was all insignificant next to the power of the LORD. That was David’s point in verse 45, when he compared the weapons of Goliath versus his basic lack of weapons himself. And notice what he emphasizes in verse 47. David had told this to Goliath after David predicted that he would defeat Goliath, “Then all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear.” You see the point there? It’s said again in verse 50. David won with sling and stone, not with a sword.
And so in David’s victory, God, and his people who trust in him, were vindicated. And what is seen is that God’s power is greater than any of these outward and external things. You see, humans like to trust in the physical and the external. At the end of the day, this puts their trust in man. But that is a misplaced trust. Humanism has never been the answer. Materialism and naturalism are incorrect philosophies. No, God is over all. And God’s power is greater than all. Put not your trust in humans or human strength. Trust in the Lord and in the strength of his might. That’s what David did, and such trust was not misplaced.
And so that is a summary of the story of David versus Goliath. But there is still more to learn from this chapter. As much as this is a story about the confrontation of David with Goliath, it’s also a story of David versus Saul. Remember the context. Saul is the king that has been rejected of the Lord. David is the newly anointed one, the king of God’s own choosing. Though David has not begun to reign yet over Israel, this passage is beginning to compare David and Saul. Though they are certainly not in any open conflict with each other here, there is an underlying conflict that has not yet surfaced. Which should be the king for God’s people? Saul, the kind of king the people would choose? Or David, the kind of king God would choose?
And so there is a lot of comparison going on here between Saul and David. As much as Saul’s armor wasn’t a good fit for David and he discarded it in trust for God, we learn about what’s truly important as we compare Saul with David here. And so we can see Saul’s failure here in the background of David’s victory. Let’s approach it like this. We just ended our discussion on Goliath by noting the contrast about sword and spear. Verse 47 emphasized that God doesn’t save with sword or spear. And yet, isn’t that the idea behind choosing Saul as king? When the people wanted a king like King Saul, that’s what they were looking for. They were looking for someone with great physical qualities that could lead them in glorious battle. The very selection of Saul as king was to essentially put your trust in sword and spirit. It was to put your trust in man’s ability, instead of trusting in God. You might recall that several chapters back we learned that the Israelites weren’t able to equip themselves with swords yet. But, there was an exception. Saul, and his son Jonathan did have swords. But that makes sense. Saul was chosen to be the people’s champion in battle. So, of course, you make sure he is equipped with a sword. And yet in contrast, David here goes into battle with no sword. He didn’t need it to win.
Or, let me say it like this. Remember when Saul was first chosen as king? God made it clear that he was giving the people the kind of king that they wanted. And when the passage talked about the selection process, guess what it emphasized? 1 Samuel 9:2 says this about King Saul, “From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.” But do you see the problem with trusting in this? Saul’s selection as king emphasized how he was taller than everyone else. But no matter how tall you are, there is always that Goliath who is bigger. Don’t miss this point! The book is clearly bringing out this point. The best quality of Saul was his height. But that wasn’t going to make him the savior the people needed. Because there are enemies like Goliath who are taller. And so when Goliath comes along, what does Saul, King of Israel do? He becomes afraid. And all the people of Israel are afraid with him, verse 11. The people’s champion, the king of their choosing, King Saul, doesn’t go out to fight Goliath. But David would.
Just in case we would be tempted to miss this point about the height, there’s a subtle way to further emphasize it, in this chapter, and the chapter before. It’s with the reference of Eliab, David’s older brother. In chapter 16, Samuel was naturally inclined to think Eliab was to be the next king. The text implies that Eliab had great height like King Saul. But God said no. God said that he wouldn’t choose the next king like before with Saul. That God would look to the heart in choosing the next king. He wanted a man who truly trusted in the LORD. And that was David. And so in this chapter we are reminded of that as well, when David interacts with his brother Eliab. Eliab chides David for coming onto the battlefield. Eliab apparently thinks he himself is old enough and equipped enough to be on the battlefield, but his youngest brother is not. And yet Eliab doesn’t volunteer to fight the taller and stronger Goliath. But David does. See the point? See the contrast?
And so Saul was greatly afraid of Goliath (vs 11), but David had a trust in God that in the world’s eyes might seem like foolish arrogance. Yet, we know the outcome. David defeated Goliath when Saul wouldn’t even try. Saul’s physical advantage over David proved useless in the face of Goliath. But David’s advantage of the heart over Saul proved decisive in granting David victory over Goliath. And so the story of David and Goliath is really about the story of David and Saul. We’ll see that all the more clearly when we get to next chapter. There we see the people noticing this too. They sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.”
And so again, the story of David and Goliath is really about the story of David and Saul. And if that’s the case, then it’s really a story about Jesus Christ. I say that, because the whole tension between David and Saul is about what kind of person would the Lord have as his anointed one. What kind king would the people need? What kind of savior and deliverer and champion should they have? If this was left to the people to decide, they would have chosen the wrong one. But God’s choice is the right one. And God’s selection didn’t look to the externals and the physical. This is the repeated problem of mankind. We want to put our trust in those physical things we can see and touch, which outwardly look so powerful. But time and time again in the Bible, God confronts such thinking. We see it here. Don’t put your trust in sword or spear. David himself will say something similar in Psalm 20. Listen to Psalm 20:7-9, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. They have bowed down and fallen; But we have risen and stand upright. Save, LORD! May the King answer us when we call.”
And so to have King Saul as your king, was essentially like trusting in swords and spears and chariots. He was the natural man’s choice of a king because outwardly he looked strong and powerful. But we’ve already talked about such shortcomings. Instead, the kind of king God’s people need is the one who trusts in God and will lead the people to trust in God. God is to be the real savior of his people. And so the people’s champion must be the one who leads them in seeking God for salvation. David in this chapter shows such a spirit. Saul and David were both anointed by the Lord, but in this chapter we see that David is the kind of anointed one that they really needed. And this then draws us all to look forward to the ultimate Anointed One that God would send to be king over his people. And that is why I said this is ultimately then a story about Jesus Christ. David acts as a type of Christ here. He’s shown as a model of what the Christ should be in contrast to a failed christ like Saul was. And so this drives us to see how Jesus Christ is all the more is what David pictured here.
Let me explain this a different way to help us get at the point here. For people to trust in the externals is really about trusting in humans. And that means it really is about trusting in their own works. But such thinking defies the gospel. You see the gospel helps us to see clearly what is at stake. You see, when Saul found out that there was an enemy taller and stronger than himself, it left him afraid. And so we need to realize that the enemies that have been before us are something far more gigantic than we could take on by ourselves. Our enemies are sin, and death, and Satan. These are gigantic enemies. Our own works won’t save us. Our own strength can’t deliver us. There is no weapon we could fashion, no armament we could create to defend ourselves. So, we must have a champion to save us. That is Jesus Christ. Jesus is exactly the kind of king and savior and champion we have needed.
And how did Jesus accomplish this victory? Well, it wasn’t through physical strength. We said it before when we studied chapter 16. Jesus did not come into this world and stand out in terms of his physical appearance. But what did stand out was his trust in the Lord. And so he trusted himself to God’s plan of redemption. That plan involved him being handed over to the Jews and the Romans to be falsely condemned and put to death. Like Goliath, the world mocked him and scorned him as he went to the cross. But what did Jesus do? 1 Peter 2:23, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” In other words, faced with the enemy that would try to deter him from his mission, he trusted God. Even to the point of death on the cross. He knew that God would use that to bring about salvation for his people.
And of course, doesn’t that really bring all this together? Goliath laughed at the lack of weapons that David brought into the battle. Goliath didn’t think David was equipped to win. And yet isn’t that how people respond to Christ and the gospel? Think of what Paul said about this in 1 Corinthians 1. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:24 how through the folly of preaching Christ crucified, God saves those who believe. Paul goes on to say that this is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. But to us who are called, Christ and the cross is the power and wisdom of God. God saves us from the gigantic enemies of sin, death, and Satan, not by sword or spear or chariot. He saves us through the cross of Jesus Christ and through the preaching of this gospel. For the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, for all who believe. This is our champion. This is power that the world laughs at, but God has shown us that there is no greater power to save us than this; and having known this power, there is no enemy who can afflict us with any greater power. The battle belongs to the Lord!
So then, saints of Christ, I leave us with a final application for us today. When people study this chapter, there is often the tendency to find our application in identifying with David. Of course it’s not wrong to identify with David; his faith should encourage our faith. But I would especially have us to find our application through identifying with the people of Israel here. Multiple times in this passage the people are referred to as the armies of the living God. That’s great, but notice how these armies of God start off. They start off greatly afraid under the leadership of their failed anointed one. He was powerless to save them. And yet notice the change that takes place! When God raised up David, the anointed one of God’s choosing, there is a great change in the people. Faced with David’s victory in the Lord, the people rise up in verse 52 with a great shout and serve along with their king in a great battle under his leadership.
And so that is the application. Identify with the people here. They were the armies of the living God. And we as God’s people are his armies. We have a spiritual battle right before us. But take heart. The battle belongs to the Lord. And take heart, because we know who leads us. Jesus Christ, is our anointed king. Hail, hail, Lion of Judah! Praise to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We will follow him into victory. We will find our strength in him. A strength not of this world. But a strength that comes through faith in our God, in our champion, in our redeemer. Praise be to the Lord. Amen!
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.