Sometimes there are big surprises in sport. Sometimes those you expect to win come a cropper. Sometimes football league minnows knock Premier League giants out of the FA Cup, for example. And when these sporting surprises and upsets occur, we call it a ‘giant-killing’ act. Our Bible reading this morning contains the original and definitive giant-killing act. An act by a shepherd boy named David that earnt him a positive reputation with his people and advanced his God-given destiny towards the throne of Israel.
As we look at this familiar story today, I want us to look at the difference between faith and fear. And I want us to realise that the battle between David and Goliath is a signpost to Christ, not simply a story.
Israel invaded! (v.1-10)
1 Samuel 17 begins with an invasion. The Philistine gathered their forces for war and invaded the land of Israel. In so doing, they brought the Promised Land under attack and put the future of God’s people in jeopardy. Understandably perhaps, the young nation of Israel feared for its future and, led by king Saul, sent its army to confront the foreign aggressors.
When the two sides met, they looked at each other across the Valley of Elah. The Israelites must have been terrified by what they saw – because the Philistine army included a giant of a man. The Bible tells us that this man Goliath was nearly 9 feet tall. At that size he would make a brilliant basketball player, a terrific rugby player or an unstoppable centre forward in football. But Goliath’s profession was of course as a warrior – a soldier in the Philistine army. Verse 4 today describes him as the Philistine’s “champion”, and understandably so.
As well as being physically strong Goliath had some strong armour and enormous weapons:
• In verses 5 to 7 we are told that Goliath had a big bronze shield, and wore armour plates like scales on his chest – he must have looked somewhat like a snake.
• Goliath also had a long javelin on his back, and a tall spear in his hands – with a huge heavy point on its end.
The Bible tells us that this monster of a man came and shouted at the Israelite army. He taunted the Israelites – and in so doing – mocked their God. In his arrogance Goliath challenged the Israelites to a duel. If someone fought him and won, then the whole Philistine army would surrender. But if he won, Israel must give in.
Victory for Goliath would have meant that God’s people would lose their Promised Land. God’s power and faithfulness would also be questioned. A vanquished, defeated, enslaved Israel would have made it impossible for them to fulfil their God-given vocation to be a light for the Gentiles. Under Philistine control, it would have been virtually impossible for them to fulfil their calling as a morally righteous and distinctive people of God – its almost certain they would have become morally compromised and assimilated into their surrounding Philistine culture. (Indeed, if Philistine enslavement was their future, the Israelites might as well have stayed as slaves in Egypt and not bothered with the Exodus under Moses!).
We should be in no doubt that when Goliath taunted King Saul’s army both God’s honour and Israel’s survival were at stake. Goliath was challenging God’s faithfulness to his promises and threatening his purposes for his people.
Saul’s fear and David’s faith (v.11-39)
For forty days Goliath came out and challenged someone from Israel to a fight. But the Israelites were too dismayed and terrified to fight him. Goliath looked far too big and strong. Even Saul, the king of Israel himself, was too scared to fight the giant.
But there was one person in Israel who had faith not fear. There was one young man who was willing to fight against Goliath. One shepherd boy who had confidence that God would and could save his people. And his name, of course, was David. As soon as David heard about Goliath, he knew he had to be stopped. And if no one else from Israel’s army was prepared to fight Goliath, then he would.
Can you imagine how surprised King Saul must have been when David came to him and volunteered to fight Goliath? Saul saw that David was only a shepherd boy, and thought he would be no match for the giant. But David insists. In verses 34 to 37 David says that he has killed wild lions and bears when they have attacked his sheep, and he can do the same with Goliath. David makes a wonderful confession of faith in verse 37, doesn’t he? “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.”
David’s faith is a great example to us today:
• Firstly, David’s faith rested on a real personal relationship with God. The word LORD he uses in verse 37 doesn’t just mean God in a general, non-specific sense. He is referring explicitly to the Lord of Israel, called YHWH, the living God whose name David knows. If we aspire to a faith like David’s we should invest in our personal relationship with the Lord, supremely through prayer.
• Because, like David, we should trust that God keeps his promises. David believed that God would keep the Israelites in the Promised Land. And we should believe the wonderful promises that God makes to every Christian today – promises laid out for us in the pages of the New Testament.
• Like David we should also have confidence that God can help us in difficult situations. For example, if we are the only, lonely Christian in our family, friendship group or place of work. Or situations when we face illness, isolation or an uncertain future. We should tell ourself what David told himself on the day he encountered the giant. We should tell ourselves that the sovereign God is always with us by his Holy Spirit – ready to give us the courage, stamina, and wisdom we need in the most challenging situations we face. We need faith, not fear.
• And thirdly, like David, we should be upset when God’s goodness or power is questioned. When God’s name is We should share David’s passion to honour our Creator, and be passionate about sharing the good news of the Gospel to a confused and needy world.
Confronted with David’s faith, King Saul eventually let him fight Goliath, and even offered him his own armour to wear. But it was too big and heavy for David. David was a shepherd not a soldier, and he wasn’t used to having a helmet, shield and sword. All he needed was some stones, a sling – and faith.
God’s victory over Goliath (v.40-50)
Rather than being impressed by his bravery, verse 42 tells us that Goliath despised David when he saw him walk towards him. He even cursed David in the name of his Philistine, gods. But in this ‘battle of the deities’ there could only be one winner, as David knew well. Which is why he says in verses 45 to 46: “I come against you in the name of the LORD almighty, the God of the armies of Israel. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.”
Goliath had seriously underestimated David because he had underestimated David’s God. Goliath had only his strength and his spears to rely on, but David was supported up by the sovereign power of the one true God. And so with a “whizz” and a “bang” it was all over. David used his sling to throw a stone at Goliath’s head. It flew straight through the air and hit him in the forehead, and he was dead. A man that size must have collapsed with quite a thud!
With their champion defeated, the rest of the Philistine army quickly fled, and the people of Israel were saved. David was the hero of the day! As we shall see next week, by popular acclaim he would soon replace Saul as Israel’s king.
A signpost not just a story
David and Goliath is a great story. A story we have probably all heard since childhood. But you may not know that the story of David and Goliath is also a signpost. The battle between David and Goliath is a signpost to a bigger battle. A bigger cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. A battle that took a decisive turn one thousand after David defeated Goliath. Today’s story should bring to mind the battle that took place between Jesus Christ and the forces of sin, death and evil during his earthly ministry.
As we learnt last week, the Lord Jesus was a new and greater David. Jesus was a greater christ, a more perfect and permanent God-given ruler for his people. He came to wrestle with the forces of evil on our behalf. Forces even more intimidating than Goliath the giant. For example:
• Jesus fought the devil when he tempted him in the wilderness. Jesus quoted God’s words when the devil tempted him. He disarmed Satan with words of Scripture.
• Jesus also overcame the power of sin and the crushing weight of our guilt before God when he died on the Cross for our salvation. He bore our penalty on his shoulders and in so doing removed the devil’s ability to accuse God of injustice or of apathy towards evil.
• And best of all, Jesus defeated the power of death when he rose from the grave on Easter day.
When David defeated Goliath, the snake-like giant of Philistine, the people of Israel benefitted from his triumph and experienced liberty from foreign aggression. As Christians, we share in the benefits of Jesus’ victory. His victory over that great snake Satan, and over all the forces of sin, death and decay. If we align ourselves with him by faith, and acclaim his as our king, then we can personally share in the forgiveness, life and hope that Jesus won for us.
So next time you hear about David and Goliath, remember it’s a signpost as well as a good story. It’s a signpost to Jesus, the best Saviour and the greatest hero that anyone could ever hope to have.
Copyright © 2015-2018 St John the Evangelist, Ashton Hayes. All rights reserved.