When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”
Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine. – 1 Samuel 17:31-40 ESV
For most of us, the story of David and Goliath has become little more than a motivational lesson used to conjure up images of facing the giants in our lives. Like David, we can stand up against the formidable foes we face and come out victorious – as long as we have faith. And while there may be aspects of this story that can be used to encourage our personal faith and motivate us to stand up to the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in our lives, I don’t think that was intended as the primary takeaway. We must read this story while keeping it in its appropriate context. It is when we isolate biblical narratives and remove them from their context that we run the risk of arriving at interpretations that fail to meet the author’s original intentions. This is a story about God and the people of Israel. They have had a less-than-stellar relationship with the God who chose them out of all the other nations of the world. He had rescued them out of captivity in Egypt. He had faithfully led them through the wilderness. He had given them the land of Canaan just as he had promised. But they had failed to eliminate all the nations that occupied the land. As a result they were surrounded by hostile enemies who not only attempted to eliminate them, but were highly successful in negatively influencing their faithfulness to God by causing them to worship false gods.
The period of the judges, which followed their occupation of the land, was a time of turmoil, marked by their constant unfaithfulness, God’s punishment, their eventual remorse and God’s sending of a judge to deliver them. This cycle repeated itself over and over again. Then it ended with the people demanding that God give them a king just like all the other nations. So God gave them Saul. He fit the bill. He met the requirements they had asked for. And he proved to be not only a lousy king, but an unfaithful and disobedient one. So God determined to replace him with a man after His own heart. He chose David, a young shepherd boy. And the story of David and Goliath is the first glimpse we are given of this young man’s faith and the stark contrast it provides to the unfaithfulness of Saul.
The call of the Philistine champion that the Israelites send out a man to face him is a direct challenge to King Saul. He has clearly indicated that the soldiers in Saul’s army are nothing more than his slaves or bondservants. They have drafted into military service just as God had warned they would be (1 Samuel 8:11-13). Goliath is challenging Saul to a winner-take-all, one-on-one face-off. But Saul is cowering far from the front lines, unwilling to take on the giant. In fact, he has offered an attractive reward to anyone who will step up and take on the challenge. But there have been no takers.
Until David arrives on the scene. As Saul’s armor bearer, he had direct access to the king and was able to tell him to his face, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:32 ESV). Saul attempted to dissuade David, reminding him that he was no match for this veteran warrior. But David simply recounted his own exploits while serving as a shepherd over his father’s flocks.
Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God. – 1 Samuel 17:34-36 ESV
The issue for David was one of doing the right thing. As a shepherd, it was his duty to protect the flock and he was willing to do whatever it took to fulfill his responsibility. Why would these situation be any different? This uncircumcised Philistine was defying the armies of the living God. He was treating the king of Israel, and therefore the God of Israel, with disrespect. In David’s mind, this had nothing to do with the size of the foe or the odds against victory. It was about doing the right thing. Someone had to stand up to the enemy of God. And if no one else was willing, David would do it. And he would do it in the strength of the Lord. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37 ESV).
Saul reluctantly agreed, telling David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” (1 Samuel 17:37 ESV). And then he came up with a plan. He would dress David in his own armor in the hopes that this might fool the Philistines into thinking that the king of Israel had finally agreed to do battle with their champion. In the unlikely case that David won, the glory would go to Saul. Should he lose, it would be easy for Saul, without his armor, to disappear into the crowd and not be humiliated as the defeated king of Israel.
But Saul’s armor was much too large for David and he removed it. He would face Goliath with the very same weapons with which he had faced the lion and the bear: A sling and a few stones. His real weapon was God Himself. Remember what he had told Saul: “The Lord … will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” To David, Goliath was nothing more than another enemy of God. He doesn’t mention his height or the weight of his weapons. He didn’t dwell on size of the task or the odds against his victory. He simply recognized an enemy of the living God and the need for someone to do something about him.
Goliath represented an enemy of God, not David. This Philistine had done nothing to David. He didn’t stand as a personal problem or insurmountable obstacle in the young shepherd boy’s life. Goliath is presented in the story as the epitome of the ungodly and unrighteous enemy of God and His people. He is formidable and seemingly invincible. He is loud and brash. He questions the bravery of God’s people and the power of God Himself. He is self-assured and confident of his victory. He sees Saul as a coward and the people of God as nothing more than slaves of their king. So he taunts and ridicules them. And they take it, day after day.
But not David. He is a man after God’s own heart, and as such, he is unwilling to sit back and listen to this Philistine beat his gums and demean the honor of God’s name. He fully believed that the living God of Israel was fully capable of bringing victory over Goliath and that He could and would do it through him.