I Samuel 17:32-47
32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” 33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.” 38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine. 41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!” 45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
Earlier, in chapter 17 of I Samuel, we saw the character of David revealed in conversations with Israeli soldiers and his brother Eliab. Now let’s learn more by listening to what David, Saul and Goliath say. David’s attitude stands out in contrast to Saul’s cowardice and Goliath’s arrogance. Saul and Goliath illustrate opposite extremes we will want to avoid while David provides a model we will eagerly attempt to duplicate. Saul was a coward, Goliath was boastful, but David showed confidence, courage, and faith in God.
1. David’s Confidence Contrasted with Saul’s Cowardice
“Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine” (vs.32). David could have said let not the King lose heart, but in his general statement he avoids what might have been taken for an accusation and releases Saul from any condemnation. There were no barbs in what David said. If we learn to speak kindly, the Holy Spirit is free to do the convicting. If we are on the attack, the dove-like Holy Spirit will not work.
David showed powerful leadership—leading by example. “Let no one lose heart . . . your servant will go.” No one should be afraid. I am not afraid. David illustrated by example what everyone’s attitude should be. Leading by example is still the most powerful leadership style.
It was not merely youthful daring, nor foolish under-estimation of the danger, that prompted David’s stimulating words. The ring of true faith is in them, and they show us how to avoid faint-heartedness. We want to be like Gideon’s dry fleece, untouched by the cold moisture of faithless fear that saturates the ground all around. He who trusts in God should be as a pillar of fire, burning bright in the darkness of terror, and, in so doing, provide a rallying point for weaker hearts. When panic seizes others, the Christian soul has reason for courage. David conquered fear and cowardice before he conquered Goliath. Conquering fear may have been the greater battle.
While David is the perfect picture of faith and courage, Saul illustrates worldly wisdom and calculating caution. There is a touch of tenderness in Saul’s attempt to caution David from the unequal conflict. He spoke of probabilities, and, like all such calculation, his results are quite right, only that he has not taken into account all the forces. His omission brought him to the wrong conclusion. It is quite true that David is just a youth and Goliath a giant and a veteran; but is that all to be said? If so, then the lad cannot fight the Philistine bully. But if Saul has left God out, that makes the difference. The same mistake is often still made today and victories of faith are either lost or won as a result of someone else’s faith and are a surprise to us.
A young shepherd came just this morning from keeping sheep, yet has more courage than all the mighty men of Israel. And he encouraged them. God sends good words to Israel and does good things for them even by weak and foolish things of the world.
David only wanted Saul’s permission to fight the Philistine. He says nothing about the reward Saul had proposed. David was ambitious for the honor of serving God and his country, not the king’s reward.
David, just as he had answered his brother’s accusation with meekness, so answered Saul’s fears, and, to Saul’s satisfaction, gives a reason for his hope for victory.
2. David’s Occupation Contrasted with the Doing of it.
David talked about his vocation and how well he did it. Saul did not regard the work of God, and therefore David, in reasoning with him, first presented his arguments with Saul’s frame of reference, not his own, in mind. He argued from experience. Though a youth and never in a battle, yet because he had done something equal in difficulty to the killing of Goliath, told of conquering a lion and a bear. It is nice to be able to tell of killing a lion and a bear, but in order to have those credentials he had to have had the experience. He could not produce the experience that day when he needed it; it had to have been prepared in advance. You are writing tomorrow’s resume today. What you are doing today is building your experience repertoire so you can use it in the future. What are you doing now to build up your resume? What do you want to become? What are you doing now? These two questions ought to have something to do with each other.
David compared the uncircumcised Philistine to a beast. David helped Saul realize that he is not as inexperienced as Saul first thought. Either a lion or a bear can easily kill and eat a human. Yet David had killed both.
Notice the contrast between an ordinary vocation and an unordinary man. He is just a shepherd, but he tells his story like a man of spirit. He is not ashamed to say he kept his father’s sheep even though his oldest brother had just criticized him being just a shepherd. Far from denying he watched sheep, he told how he did it so well. His employment as a lowly shepherd was more than compensated for because he was not an ordinary shepherd. His vocation as a shepherd was very common, but his execution of his shepherd’s responsibilities was very uncommon. However unimpressive our position may be, let the execution of our responsibilities be impressive. However menial the job, let the doing of it be very lofty. However ignoble the task, let the service be noble.
David could not see a lamb in distress but was willing to risk his life to save it. This attitude made him fit to become a king to whom the lives of his subjects was dear and whose blood was precious. “He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight” (Ps. 72:14).
David’s eager story of his fight with wild beasts is meant both to answer Saul’s objection on his own ground, by (1) showing him that, youth as he was, he had proved his power, and only after that, then (2) supplied the lacking element in Saul’s calculation. So he told, first how he killed the lion, giving enough details to make his story believable, and then told the true grounds for his confidence, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (vs. 37). Faith has the right to argue from the past to the future—the Lord who helped before will help again. He who has delivered does deliver and will deliver. He who answered prayer, does answer and will answer. He who carried you through difficulties in your past, does carry you through difficulties and will carry you through difficulties. He who comforted you earlier does and will.
3. David the Shepherd and Jesus the Shepherd compared.
By being a good shepherd, he is also fit to be a symbol for Jesus the good Shepherd who “tends his flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Is. 40:11). Jesus laid down his life for His sheep, but to have put his life at risk to save a sheep or lamb is equal to the sacrifice, because it indicates David’s willingness to have done it had it been required.
“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (vs.37). David acknowledged that it was the Lord who rescued him from the lion and the bear. While David was being a good shepherd to his flock, simultaneously God the Shepherd was being protective of His little lamb David. David gave praise to God for that achievement.
The lion and the bear were enemies only to me and my sheep and only in defense of my own interests did I attack them, but Goliath is an enemy to God and Israel. He defies the armies of the living God and it is for God’s honor that I attack him. God’s honor is a much greater cause.
He who sets boundaries to the waves of the sea and the rage of wild beasts can and will restrain the wrath of wicked men. Paul, as he nears the end of his life, placed himself in the stories of David and Jesus the good Shepherd: “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (II Tim. 4:17, 18).
4. The Lord with David Contrasted with the Lord not Being with Saul
Saul said to David, “Go and the Lord be with you” (vs. 37). These words are spoken often and can become a mere greeting. If reduced to mere formal words, they only sound nice. If intended as a sincere prayer, nothing can be better said than that the Lord be with you. It was the fact that the Lord was with him (16:18) that commended David to Saul in I Samuel 16. Now for the Lord to be with him in his battle against the giant is a continuation of the story. Lion, bear, Goliath, Saul, Philistines, Amalekites, Moabites, Aramians, Ammonites, Absalom, Ziba, Shimei, Sheba, and Adonijah are all enemies that David defeated. David’s life is a life of fending off many attacks from within his family and outside his kingdom. The reason he kept winning was because the Lord was with him. Let’s live, pray, think, humble ourselves, and do whatever we have to do so that the Lord is with us. But what about David’s failures? An affair with Bathsheba? The murder of Uriah? Not correcting Amnon? Not correcting Absalom? Not correcting Adonijah? Numbering Israel? Since when is perfection a prerequisite for the Lord being with us? If our heart is toward God, we repent quickly and move forward. David knew how to do that. David was not perfect but the Lord was with him because his heart was toward God.
If we modestly and boldly show the power of our faith, we may kindle godly desires in some gloomy heart from whom God’s Spirit has departed, or in whose heart God’s Spirit has not yet been welcome. Even Saul was touched by David’s faith and attitude.
There is, however, a possible deeper meaning in Saul’s parting blessing. “Go, and the Lord be with you.” Saul was aware that the Lord had left him and that his day for going into battle with the assurance of God’s help was gone forever.
If Saul’s softened mood and affirming attitude toward David had lasted longer, the history of the relationship between Saul and David for the next 10 years would have been quite different—instead of being adversaries they could have been mentor and apprentice.
5. Saul’s Armor Contrasted with David’s Armor
The next thing David had to escape was Saul’s armor. Escape armor? Yes. Saul put his armor on David. We may suppose Saul’s armor was very fine and firm, but what good would it do David if it did not fit? Not only because of its size and weight did Saul’s armor not fit David, it was not a fit. It was a misfit. Those that aspire for things above their education and personal qualifications, who covet the clothes, position, or armor of princes forget that what is fit for us is better for us than what might normally be superior. Does it fit us? Are we accustomed to it? Are we suited for it? Does it fit us? Is it fitting?
The Philistine might well go with his armor. It was fit for him. But what arms and ammunition is David furnished with? None, but what he brought with him as a shepherd. No breastplate, belt, sword, bow, quiver, arrows, spear, helmet, or shield. David had his shepherd’s clothes, staff, sling, shepherd’s bag and picked up five smooth stones only on his way to meet Goliath. His confidence was plainly not in armament, but in God.
David trusted that He who put it in his heart to fight the Philistine would put it into his head what weapons to do it with.
6. The Boast of Defiance Contrasted with a Boast in the Lord
Goliath despised David. He thought it was beneath his dignity to enter a contest with what he perceived to be a wimpy kid. What kind of victory would it have been for a giant to kill a shepherd boy? If looks could kill, David would be dead. If words could destroy, David would have been wasted. But, clearly there is more happening here than meets the eye. That is just the point. How many times is more happening than meets the eye? Things are not as they appear. A servant serves as unto the Lord and is blessed by God almighty. A ruler lords it over his subjects and the Judge of the earth is displeased. What audience are you playing to? Whose favor do you seek? Whom do we want to favorably impress? These are choices we make every day. Or, more likely, one choice we make and then live out again and again in incident after incident throughout the day.
David relied on the name of God as Goliath did on his sword. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Ps. 20:7). “All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I cut them off. They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the Lord I cut them off” (Ps. 118:10, 11).
Both champions were confident, but the reasons for their confidence were very different. David spoke with as much assurance as Goliath, but with better reason. It was his faith in God that said, “This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head” (vs. 46). David did not, like Goliath, seek his own honor but the honor of God.
David had just picked up five smooth stones in the gully as he crossed the valley and did not even have a sword with which to kill the giant, much less take off Goliath’s head.
God is the army, we are the observers. David referred to the armies all around as “those gathered here” (another translation calls them an “assembly”). “Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire” (Ps. 46:8, 9).
David acted more like a priest than a soldier. He prepared more to offer a sacrifice to the justice of God than to engage an enemy of his country.
We have observed the final preparations in the moments just before David killed Goliath. Notice, however, the progression of David’s life: David is prepared to handle his difficulties in interpersonal relationships with Saul by having first endured training at home possibly for many years through difficulties with Eliab. David is prepared to handle military and physical battle with Goliath by having experienced similar difficulties with a lion and a bear. David’s poetry and musical gifts were developed in the solitude of the shepherd’s valley near Bethlehem and David is ready to not only lead Israel but, through the praise literature of the Psalms, the entire world of godly people in praise to God. God tailors our training to prepare us for our tasks. It is not just that we are trained, but that we are trained specifically for unique assignments. Valor, interpersonal diplomacy, music and worship were skills God gave David. What has God given you? That may be a hint of what He eventually wants you to do.