Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the Valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper and took the provisions and went, as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the encampment as the host was going out to the battle line, shouting the war cry. And Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. And David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage and ran to the ranks and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.
All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid. And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.” And David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” And the people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done to the man who kills him.”
Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again as before. – 1 Samuel 17:19-30 ESV
For 40 days, the Israelite and Philistine armies had been a standoff, as each day the Philistine champion, Goliath made his way to the front lines and taunted the Israelites to send out their challenger. He continued to propose a simple solution to their conflict: A man-t0-man fight between the greatest Israelite warrior and himself. The only problem was that the Israelites, should they agree to his conditions and their champion lose, would become the slaves of the Philistines. Oh, and then there was the other problem that Goliath just happened to be huge. Based on the numbers in the text, he would have been over nine feet tall. Samuel, the author of the book, spends a great deal of time providing details regarding Goliath’s vitals.
He was over nine feet tall! He wore a bronze helmet, and his bronze coat of mail weighed 125 pounds. He also wore bronze leg armor, and he carried a bronze javelin on his shoulder. The shaft of his spear was as heavy and thick as a weaver’s beam, tipped with an iron spearhead that weighed 15 pounds. His armor bearer walked ahead of him carrying a shield. – 1 Samuel 17:4-7 NLT
While there is debate over the validity of the numbers involved in Samuel’s description and doubt among some theologians as to the exact height of Goliath, it is safe to say that he was most likely a very large individual and a formidable foe. Each and every time he stood before the Israelites and issued his challenge, they reacted in the same way: “All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid” (1 Samuel 17:24 ESV).
David arrived on the scene just in time to witness this daily event, and he was shocked. When he asked those around him what was going on, he was informed that there had been a reward issued by King Saul for the man who would dare stand against Goliath and defeat him.
The king has offered a huge reward to anyone who kills him. He will give that man one of his daughters for a wife, and the man’s entire family will be exempted from paying taxes! – 1 Samuel 17:25 NLT
Talk about incentive. But no one was taking Saul up on his offer. While the reward was great, it had proved not enough incentive to entice anyone to risk life and limb against Goliath. But David saw things a bit differently. The riches offered by the king were secondary to him. The real issue was the honor of Israel and, by extension, God’s reputation.
What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? – 1 Samuel 17:26 NLT
They were the people of God. They had God Almighty on their side. David could not believe that they could stand there day after day and allow this uncircumcised pagan to taunt them and their God. Their fear was proof of their lack of faith in God. Their failure to fight was evidence of their limited view of God.
But there is an interesting thing going on in this scene that can be easily overlooked. The men who were part of the armies of Israel were there unwillingly. They had been conscripted by Saul. He had formed his armies by enforcing a mandatory draft. And God had warned the Israelites that this was going to happen when they had demanded that He give them king just like all the other nations. In giving them exactly what they asked for, God had told the Israelites:
“This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-13 NLT
Even Goliath recognized what was going on. When he issued his challenge, he was very specific in how he addressed the troops of Israel.
“Why are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul.” – 1 Samuel 17:8 NLT
In questioning why they were all there, Goliath was appealing to their own feelings of regret and anger at having to be forced into the king’s service. These were not professional soldiers. And Goliath refers to them as “servants” of Saul. The Hebrew word he used is `ebed and it was commonly used to refer to one who was the slave of another. His use of this word was intended to cause the Israelites to turn on Saul, their commander, and to force him to step up and do what needed to be done. This was his battle, not theirs. And in demanding that the Israelites choose one man to come out and fight him, he was actually challenging Saul. And Saul knew full well that the daily taunts of Goliath were aimed at him. Which will explain why Saul will attempt to get David to wear his armor when he goes out to face Goliath. In the off chance that David should win, it might appear that Goliath was defeated by Saul. And if David should lose, it left Saul without his armor and free to blend into the troops when the Philistine came to find him.
But even Saul could find no incentive to face the giant, Goliath. His own personal reputation was not enough to make him risk life and limb by standing up to the Philistine champion. Even Eliab, David’s oldest brother, was angered to see him there. He jumped all over David, accusing him of neglecting the flocks and his duties just so he could witness the battle. But Eliab’s emotional outburst was most likely driven by the embarrassment he felt at his own fear and failure to face the champion. His youngest brother was witnessing his own spinelessness firsthand. But even this was not enough to make Eliab step forward and face Goliath. From the king down to the cooks, no one was willing to fight Goliath. No one could find the motivation to do what appeared to be the impossible. But David would. And his motivation would not be the reward offered by Saul, but the reproach issued by this uncircumcised Philistine, this enemy of the armies of the living God.
David’s view of God as alive and active would become a recurring theme in his psalms. His God was not distant and disconnected from everyday life, but actively involved.
The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation. – Psalm 18:46 ESV
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. – Psalm 42:2 ESV
David’s God was living, not dead. His God was active, not absent. His God’s power was greater than that of the Philistines or even that of their champion. David was about to prove that what was missing in this scenario was not a powerful man to defeat Goliath, but a faithful man who believed in the power of God.