1 Samuel 17: David and Goliath
The people of Israel were at war with the Philistines. Saul was the leader of their army. They were in one of the valleys that run from the hills of Judah out into the Philistine plain. The camp of Israel was on the hills on one side of the valley, and the camp of the Philistines was on the other side. There was a green meadow between them, and a brook with a stony bed running through the meadow.
In the Philistine army was a giant named Goliath. This great strong man, taller than all the rest, came out toward the camp of Israel and called to them. He was armed with heavy armor on his head and body and legs. He carried a great sword and spear, and a man with a shield went before him. He called to the army of Israel to send out a man to fight with him; if Goliath killed him, the people of Israel would serve the Philistines; if Goliath was killed, the Philistines would serve Israel. The giant was so big and strong and proud! The men of Israel and Saul were greatly afraid. Each morning and evening for forty days Goliath came out and called.
No one dared to go to fight with Goliath till one day David came to the camp. He came from his home in Bethlehem; his father sent him with a present to ask for the welfare of his three older brothers who were soldiers in Saul's army. He saw the giant come out from the Philistine camp and heard his proud words, and everyone was afraid - everyone but David. He said to Saul, "Let no man's heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine" And he went, only a shepherd boy in his shepherd's dress, with his shepherd's staff and sling and bag, and in it five smooth stones out of the brook. He did not trust, as the Philistine did, in his size and in his armor, but in the Lord, who had helped him as a shepherd to save the sheep from a lion and a bear.
The Philistine despised David, but David said, "Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied." And David ran to meet the Philistine and threw a stone with his sling. It struck the giant in the forehead and he fell on his face. The men of Israel shouted and chased the army of the Philistines down the valley and out into the plain. We must read the whole chapter. You will often think of the story, and it will remind you that even a child can be brave and strong trusting the Lord.
We must read the whole of this grand story of David and Goliath. But first study with me a few things which will help us to understand the story when we read it. Find the place of this battle on your maps. There are three main water-courses which run from the hills of Judah across the Philistine plain. Naming them in order from the north, they are the valley of Aijalon, the valley of Sorek, which we learned of in the Story of Samson, and the valley of Elah, where this battle with the Philistines took place. The city of Gath, one of the five Philistine cities and Goliath's home, was by this valley of Elah as it comes from the hills out into the plain. At the place of the battle the valley is not wide, a little meadow between the hills and a brook with a stony bed running through the meadow. Notice also that it is not far across the hills to Bethlehem.
The giant and his armor. We learned of giants in the land of Canaan when the children of Israel sent spies into the land. (Num. 13:22, 33) Afterward Joshua destroyed the giants, and they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod. One of these, you see, was Goliath's city. (Joshua 11:21-22; 2 Sam. 21:16-22) How tall was Goliath - six cubits and a span? A cubit, the distance from the elbow to the finger tips, is about 18 inches. A span or the stretch of the open hand is about 8 inches. His armor: a helmet of brass; a coat of mail, probably made of scales, and hanging nearly to the knees; the greaves were armor for the legs and feet; the "target of brass" (verse 6), called a "shield" (verse 45), was probably a javelin slung on his shoulders. (Revised Version) He had a sword and a very heavy spear whose staff was like the beam to which the web was fastened in the clumsy looms which the weavers used. About thirty shekels made a pound.
David the shepherd. David came from the sheep in Bethlehem with a simple present from home. "Parched corn" is new wheat roasted at the fire. His "carriage" means what he was carrying, his baggage. He laid aside Saul's armor and went with his shepherd's staff and scrip and sling. The scrip is the shepherd's bag, made often of the skin of a kid, and hung from the shoulder. The sling the shepherd uses for defense, and more often to attract the attention of the sheep by dropping a stone near them when they are heedless and do not mind his call.
As we read the story, please find a verse which seems to you to tell the secret of Goliath's weakness and of David's strength.
1. Show me on the map the valley of Elah. The city of Gath.
2. Who was Goliath? How was he armed?
3. What errand brought David to the camp? From where did he come?
4. How was David armed? Why was he not afraid?
A battle in the Scriptures represents an experience of temptation, of spiritual conflict. Let someone take the scene and battle presented to us in this story and show how it is descriptive of spiritual conflict in ourselves. In our conflict, what are the two armies camped on either side? There is the army of heaven on the side of good, and the army of hell on the side of evil; and the state of freedom in which we are like an open valley into which we must go out alone to fight. As in the story, one giant comes out to meet us. We do not have to meet all evil at once; someone stands out as our enemy. If we resist this faithfully the power of all evils is lessened; if we yield to this the power of all is increased.
The great height of the giant suggests the pride and self-confidence of evil, and the armor represents the reasoning and excuses with which evil tries to silence our conscience and to overcome us. Such armor belongs especially to the champion of the Philistines, for they represent a pride of intellect associated with evil life. Shall we reason with the tempter and try to meet argument with argument? That would be to put on Saul's armor; it is not useful; evil is stronger than we at argument. We must refuse to do wrong because it is wrong, because the Lord forbids it. We must be prompt in our decision and short and decided in our answer. Remember the Lord's example in His temptation in the wilderness. (A. 1659, 1664, 1788)
What in particular is represented by the stones in David's sling? They represent simple facts of Divine truth which are all-powerful against evil. The brook from which we take them is the stream of the Lord's own Word. There were five stones. Five represents what is little or few, and at the same time what is enough. Compare the five barley loaves. (John 6:9) It is little of the Lord's truth that we are as yet able to gather from His Word, but it is all that we need; no giant of evil can stand against it. (E. 430, 548; A. 5291)
Someone may remind me that after Goliath had fallen David used the giant's sword to cut off his head. At the moment of temptation it is not wise to delay and to reason with the tempter, but after the evil is overcome by the Lord's strength then we may reason about it and see more clearly why it is wrong and to be shunned. We may then use the sword, turning the giant's own weapon against himself. (A. 2686, 2799) We read again about Goliath's sword and find it a good weapon in David's hand. (1 Sam. 21:8-9)
We have taken this scene and story as a picture of our own spiritual conflicts. In a deeper sense it must represent conflicts of the Lord's human life. David was a type of the Lord, and especially of the Lord in His conflicts and victories. The meeting of David with Goliath teaches a grand lesson about the Lord in His temptations. As a boy and a young man He went out alone in His Divine innocence (from tending the sheep) to meet the giants of evil proud in their intellectual strength. People and angels stood helpless (like Saul's army), their fate depending upon the result. He made no argument with the tempter (trusted not in armor) but answered him with a simple, "It is written, Thou shalt not" (a stone from His sling). People and angels shared in the Lord's victories (Israel shouted and joined in the pursuit). Read about the Lord's conflicts with giants of evil, in A. 1673 and other numbers both before and after.