And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord‘s, and he will give you into our hand.”
When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground. – 1 Samuel 17:41-49 ESV
As usual, it would be so easy to make this passage about David. And while he is the central character of the narrative, he is far from the central focus. Even David himself will not allow us to make him the leading man. He goes out of his way to place the attention where it rightly belongs: On God. Repeatedly, the author, Samuel, draws the reader’s attention to the word’s of David as he stands to face the giant, Goliath:
“I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” – 1 Samuel 17:45 NLT
“Today the Lord will conquer you…” – 1 Samuel 17:46a NLT
“…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel!” – 1 Samuel 17:46b NLT
“And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people…” – 1 Samuel 17:47a NLT
“This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!” – 1 Samuel 17:47b NLT
It is so easy for us to focus on David, his sling and the five smooth stones. We could even spend time trying to conjecture why he chose fives stones when only one was needed. Was this a sign of a lack of faith? But while the details provided to us by Samuel are important, we should not allow them to overshadow what is going on in the narrative. David, the man after God’s own heart, who has been anointed to be the next king of Israel, has stepped into a situation where he has found the armies of Israel in an awkward stalemate with the Philistines. They have been offered a challenge by the Philistine champion to send out a warrior to do battle with him, man to man. But Saul, who has been rejected by God as king, is gripped by fear and unwilling to do what needs to be done. He has no faith – in himself or His God. And his lack of faith in God was not a recent development. Early on in Saul’s reign, Samuel had warned the people of Israel:
“And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king. And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.” – 1 Samuel 12:12-15 ESV
Several years later, Saul found himself in a predicament. The Philistines had gathered to do battle with the Israelites – “thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude” (1 Samuel 13:5 ESV). And his “crack” troops scattered when the heard the news. “When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns” (1 Samuel 13:6 ESV). The soldiers who remained with Saul were petrified at the prospect of having to face the Philistines. And this was after Jonathan, Saul’s son, had just defeated the Philistines in a battle.
Saul had been instructed by Samuel to go to Gilgal and to wait seven days. On the seventh day, Saul became anxious because the prophet had not shown up, so he decided to do the prophet’s job and offer a burnt offering to God. But as soon as he had done so, Samuel arrived and expressed his anger with Saul at his impetuosity and disobedience.
“You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” – 1 Samuel 13:13-14 ESV
Saul lacked faith in God. When confronted with a desperate situation, he took matters into his own hands. Yes, he offered a sacrifice to God, but he did more out of a sense of superstition or as a form of good luck than anything else. Like rubbing a rabbit’s foot, Saul hoping that offering a burnt offering to God would somehow obligate Him to provide victory. But notice the different between his actions and those of David. He faced the very same enemy: The Philistines. And he was greatly out-manned, a shepherd boy facing a well-trained Philistine champion. But unlike Saul, David was fully confident in the face of overwhelming odds because he wasn’t focusing on himself, but on God. This wasn’t going to be his battle, but God’s. And the victory that was coming would not be his doing, but God’s. The Philistines were not his enemies, but God’s. And the taunts and jeers of Goliath weren’t really directed at David, but against God. Whether he realized it or not, Goliath had defied the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel. And now he was going to have to face the consequences.
The real lesson here is that the battle between the enemies of God and the people of God is always the Lord’s battle. Yes, we may have to get involved, but our participation is not what guarantees the victory. David’s sling and stone were used by God to defeat Goliath, but they were not the primary cause of victory. God was. And He always is.
When the people of Judah had faced the Moabites and Ammonites, God had said to them:
“Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.” Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you. – 2 Chronicles 20:15-17 ESV
Years later, when the people of Judah faced the Assyrians, King Hezekiah encouraged them with these words:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” – 2 Chronicles 32:7-8 ESV
David understood that this was far more than just another battle. They were being confronted by the enemies of God and, as the people of God, they had an obligation to place their faith in the superiority of the Lord of Heavens Armies. This wasn’t about a shepherd boy facing a well-armed, well-trained soldier. This was about the God of Israel doing battle with those who would defy His name and His honor. And David had all the confidence in the world that his God could snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat with a shepherd boy, a sling and a few smooth stones.