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LESSON FIVE - AN UNEVEN BATTLE

I Samuel 17:48-58

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. 50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. 51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath[a] and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp. 54 David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent. 55 As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is that young man?” Abner replied, “As surely as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know.” 56 The king said, “Find out whose son this young man is.” 57 As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head. 58 “Whose son are you, young man?” Saul asked him. David said, “I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.”

Chapters three and four of this book are based on an earlier section of I Samuel 17. Now, in this chapter, we have arrived at the actual contest between David and Goliath, the champions of Israel and Philistia. How many children have sung the song about “only a boy named David,” and been challenged for life to conquer difficulties, adversaries, fear, and various huge problems? This story has become one of the most inspiring and graphic symbols of weakness depending on God conquering boastful and vastly superior human strength. Today the story is still inspiring and the truth still enduring. One of the most advanced weapons in the Israeli military—an anti-missile missile—even today is named, “David’s Sling.”

1. Courage

“David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him (vs.48). That David with no sword will somehow hack the big head off and that it is the host of the Philistines on whom the vultures and jackals are to feed today are alluded to in David’s speech in preceding verses.

David does not even mention himself. Such utter suppression of self is inseparable from trust in God, and without it no soldier of His has a right to expect victory. To fight “in the name of the Lord” requires hiding our own name. If we are really going to war for Him, and in His strength, we ought to expect to conquer. Believe that you will be beaten, and you will be.

“David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him” (vs. 48). David running forward toward the battle is an indication of courage. When you have prepared, and prayed, the time for action arrives. When its time to prepare, let’s prepare; when its time to pray, let’s pray; but when its time for action, let’s act. The point is, we need to know what kind of time we are experiencing and then act accordingly.

Faith sees the number and sharpness of the enemy’s arms and remains unafraid and unashamed of the simple leather sling and smooth stones. The unarmed hand which grasps God’s hand should never tremble; and he who can say “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty,” has no need to be afraid of an army of Goliaths, even though each bristled with swords and spears like a porcupine.

Conflict is blessed if it teaches us about the unseen Commander who marshals not only men, but all the forces of the universe and the armies of heaven, for the defense of His servants and the victory of His own cause.

He who defies the armies of Israel has to reckon with the Lord of these armies, whose name means and proclaims His eternal, self-originated, and self-sustained being, His covenant, and His presence with His earthy hosts and the many in the ranks of obedient creatures who are His soldiers.

Contrast the slow movements of the heavy-armed Philistine in verse 48 and the quick run of the shepherd, who had “feet like the feet of a deer” (Ps. 18:33). David’s feet were shod with “preparation.” God makes our feet swift when they need to be.

2. Action

“Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground” (vs.49). Verse 49 is the action verse. Fifty-eight verses make up this famous and long chapter. Forty-eight verses precede verse 49 and nine verses follow it. The important action recorded in verse 49 is what make the whole story grand. Yet the amount of time spent doing what is recorded in verse 49 is short compared to the length of time David spent worshipping and learning to trust in God, hurling stones at trees near Bethlehem, killing a lion and a bear, the trip to the battle field, various conversations with Eliab, other soldiers, and Saul before killing Goliath, in addition to the clean-up operation the Israeli army did to the Philistine army and the conversation between David, Abner, and Saul that concludes the chapter. Verse 49 describes a rather quick work. God can act quickly when things are ready. In His time, He does act quickly, conclusively, and beautifully. We need to be patient through the hours in the valley, carefully conducted conversations using delicate people skills—pay the price of time and patience—then, at God’s right time, act and watch God work. The moment was powerful because all the other steps had been taken.

In the brevity of verse 49 is the record of the actual fall of Goliath. The short clauses, coupled by a series of “ands” reproduce the swift succession of events, which ended the fight before it had begun. Several verses from Psalms help us understand what happened with David and his sling. “He trains my hands for battle” (Ps. 18:34). “Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me” (Ps. 144:1-2).

3. The kill

“the stone sank into his forehead” (vs. 49). Something like that had never entered Goliath’s head before.

The site of David’s victory has been identified in the present day Wady Es-Sunt which still has a terebinth-tree (“Pistachia terebinthus” of the Mediterranean region) which originally gave it its name of “the valley of Elah” (17:2). It is called a valley. At that point it is about a quarter of a mile wide and runs east and west. In the center is a deep trench or gulley and on the sides and bed of that trench are strewn rounded and water-worn pebbles. This ravine is also called a “valley” in verse 3, but it described by a different word in Hebrew probably more accurately translated by the word “ravine.” The “valley” of verse 2 was much broader and open. From the ravine (“valley” of vs. 3) were taken five stones. The details and accuracy of the Bible’s description of the topography of the valley and the ravine remind us that we are reading history, not legend. The pebble-bed may therefore supply not only a stone to kill the giant of David’s time, but also a “missile” to hit the modern “giant” of skepticism and unbelief which boasts against today’s people of God in much the same way as Goliath of old. Yet for all this evidence, only the Holy Spirit can cause that truth to enter the head of the unbeliever.

The unarmed forehead of Goliath illustrates the truth that, after all precautions, some spot is bare, and that there is no armor against God’s weapons.

The picture of the huge man mountain fallen upon his face to the earth in a huddled heap of useless mail, recall the words of a psalm, “When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall” (Ps. 27:2).

4. Reflection

“So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him” (vs. 50). With just a sling and stone and without a sword! God asked Moses what he had in his hand and Moses showed Him his staff. God asked David what he had in his hand and David showed Him his sling. What do you have in your hand? A unique skill? Specific training? A special ability?

“When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran” (vs.51). The arm of flesh will fail you. Choose your heroes carefully. Your hero may fail you. Your hero may die. But, your hero will never die or fail—ever!—if you choose the right hero.

The champion of Israel, the soldier of God, standing over the dead Philistine, whose brass armor had been useless and whose brazen defiance of God was so publicly punished, was a lesson for Israel of that day and also a symbol for us and until the end of time that the true equipment, the true martial art, and the certain victory lies in God’s hands. All who go to battle in the name of the Lord do so in their own weakness against the giants of ignorance, sin, and evil, yet shall have victory through their faith.

5. Identification

"Whose son are you, young man” (vs. 58)? David had been with Saul numerous times. I Samuel Chapter 16 tells of David in Saul’s court. In 16:21 Saul liked him very much. David became his armor bearer. That means that the very armor David tried on in Saul’s tent he may well have carried for Saul on a previous occasion. In 16:22 Saul sent word to Jesse for David to stay at court. In 17:15 David went back and forth between Saul and the sheep. Saul and David had a lengthy conversation recorded in 17:32-39. So why does Saul now need to ask who David is?

Possible Explanations: 1. The two accounts come from different and discrepant sources. (But, it is possible to synthesize the two). 2. Saul had rarely seen him except in moments of madness (But, Saul also made him his armor bearer and would not have been mad all the time). 3. Saul was preoccupied. 4. Time had passed, David had changed. 5. David was unimportant to Saul. 6. The accumulative combination of 3 – 5. Saul had problems of his own which preoccupied him. David had grown up and changed in appearance during the months Saul was working on the anti-Philistine war plan. David may have dressed differently running an errand for his father Jesse than he did when he played the harp for the king in his court. And it is easy for a selfish person to ignore unimportant people. David was not important to Saul until he killed the giant. Saul had heard his name, his harp, and his song, but none of that was important to the high and mighty, self-impressed and preoccupied Saul. Now that David had killed Goliath, he was somebody. Then Saul wanted to know who he was.

Even though David had been in the court at an earlier period, having been absent during the war with the Philistines, and Abner had been absent from court when David was there, Saul had forgotten him, being melancholy and mindless, and Saul little thought that his musician would have spirit enough to be his champion. Therefore, as if he had never seen him before, he asked whose son he was. Saul’s ignorance was understandable.

You may do something noteworthy, serve in court, ease the king’s mental depression or demon-inspired fits of fear, but people will not notice, care, honor, reward, or even remember who you are. But that will never happen to sheep in the “good Shepherd’s” flock or the soldiers in the army of the “Captain of the armies of the Lord” (Joshua 5:14). God, our King, is very unlike Saul. There are no unimportant nobodies in God’s kingdom. There are no nameless sheep in his flock. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (Jn.10:3). Each of us is important to Him.

Today the same thing happens. Our bosses, teachers, supervisors, fellow workers, pastor, youth leader, coordinator etc. may not notice what you are doing for God. But God doesn’t wait until you have killed a giant to recognize you. He knows if you have served faithfully in every assignment. We serve Him. If we hit enough trees with our stones, care for our sheep faithfully, kill a lion and a bear, God may give us our opportunity to kill a giant. But, even if not, it is He we serve and He knows all about each faithful bit of service we do for Him.

The question about who David was and Abner’s answer must be taken in connection with the astonishment felt at David’s bold accomplishment. What David did was, after all, an amazing thing. Even if you knew who he was, you might be tempted to ask again, “Who are you?” David himself may well have asked, “Who am I?” You too may have to ask yourself, “Who am I?” We ourselves don’t even know who we are. Let’s watch and see.

The story of David killing Goliath is famous and inspiring, but it is only the beginning of a series of chapters, tales, successes, and failures of Israel’s most famous king. I Samuel 18:1 mentions the friendship between David and Jonathon so we can gather that a longer conversation occurred with David, Saul, Abner, and other more important observations than who David’s father was. The drama continued—as does God’s work in your life and mine. After the victory—or failure—of today’s saga, there is more to write in your story. If we experience victory, let’s learn to keep humble and move on; if we experience a disappointment, let’s learn to maintain God-centered confidence and still move forward. In all cases, like Paul in the New Testament, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13 -14).