1 Samuel 17 St Paul's Sermon
In previous weeks you have looked at David the shepherd boy and David the future king. Today we will be looking at David the giant-killer – and we will see that the previous themes play their part in the story.
Our story opens with a problem – a big problem! A problem over nine feet tall. A fully armed problem. Goliath is a giant in every sense of the word. He is covered from head to toe in heavy armour, and he has the latest technology – an iron headed spear. He is so laden with armour, in fact, that he has someone else to carry his shield. And he challenges anyone of the soldiers of Israel to a fight, where the winner takes all. The problem is, only two people in Israel own a sword – the king, Saul, and his son, Jonathan. What is more, they are normal sized people. Everyone, including king Saul, is terrified. No one moves a muscle.
The problem doesn't go away, though. Every day, for forty days, Goliath comes and makes his challenge, and waits. Every day, for forty days, no one in Israel's army moves. The stakes grow as king Saul grows more desperate – he'll give immense riches to whoever fights Goliath; then, he'll give his daughter in marriage to the man who will accept the challenge; finally, he'll even exempt his whole family from taxes forever! But still, for forty days, no one in Israel moves.
But then, one day, David arrives at the battle, sent with supplies for his three eldest brothers who are with the army. He hears Goliath's challenge. He even hears of all that king Saul has promised for the man who will respond to that challenge. And he goes to king Saul and says he will fight.
His brother pours scorn on the idea – David is only good to look after a few sheep – what can he do against such a giant? Saul laughs at the possibility – David is only a boy, and he has never even had formal military training! This giant Goliath has been a soldier his whole life. How can David hope to win the fight? Because it won't just mean David's death – it will mean the captivity of the whole nation – the death of the whole nation.
But David sees things differently. If you read through the whole story up to this point, you will notice something: no one has mentioned God. Goliath talks of the armies of Israel, the servants of Saul. The soldiers of Israel talk only of Goliath's strength, and the rewards which Saul has promised. But when David arrives, he cannot stop talking about God. He talks not of the armies of Israel, but of the “armies of the living God” and “the God of the armies of Israel.” You see, Saul and the rest of the army see only what is in front of them, and are terrified. David knows who is behind him, and he has confidence.
So David goes out to the fight, and the contrast could not be more obvious. David is a boy, Goliath is an adult. David has no armour, Goliath is covered with it. David is small, Goliath is huge. David is a shepherd boy, Goliath is a life-long warrior. There is one, final, striking difference. Goliath promises he will kill David. David, on the other hand, promises to kill Goliath and then the rest of the Philistine army!
And see again how David does not stop talking about God – he comes in the name of God; it is the LORD who will hand Goliath to David; the battle will show the whole world that Israel's God is real; it will demonstrate that God saves not by sword or spear, but because he is the living God. And we have one more person who talks of gods – Goliath. So this is a fight, not just between two nations, Israel and Philistine, but between two gods – which one is the true, living God? The God of Israel, or the gods of the Philistines?
The battle is quick. After forty days of build up, the action is over quickly. David kills Goliath, just like he was used to killing lions and bears in defence of his sheep. But note what is said in verse 50 – he struck him down “without a sword in his hand”. And so we know this was God's battle, his victory, because “it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves”.
What then can we learn from this story of God's work in history?
Firstly, we see the importance of knowing there are two perspectives to see things from. One is our own human perspective. The other is God's perspective. For the first half of this story, everything is from a human perspective. Goliath is huge. He has all the benefits on his side – size, strength, armour. He has an army behind him. He has all the training and knowledge. He even has all the noise, with a voice loud enough to carry over a valley! Saul and Israel have no weapons to match the Philistines; they have no champion to match Goliath; they have no confidence.
But then, David arrives with God's perspective. Israel is God's chosen nation, her armies are God's armies – and her God is a real God who acts! David has experience, not of military training, but of God helping him and defending him against far stronger enemies. David has more faith in God than fear of people. Saul and the other Israelites see a giant standing against them. David sees a human standing against God.
Which perspective do we have? Do we see giants coming against us, and sit in trembling and fear? Or do we see God behind us, and run forwards in his strength?
Secondly, even for those who know God and belong to him, there are different responses in this story. For instance, the armies of Israel are always the armies of God, but they forget this. They sit in fear, not even tempted by huge rewards, because they forget who they are fighting for. Some Christians can sit in fear of the world, because they forget who their God is.
Or take David's eldest brother. He was present when David was anointed king, but he pours scorn on David for thinking he could take Goliath on. The idea of anyone trying to defeat Goliath was laughable. Sometimes Christians can see the world in all its strength and give up. What is more, they can prevent other Christians from acting for God because of their own fear.
Or take Saul. He was king of Israel (for the time being) and one of only two people to own a sword and armour. Yet he too sits in fear. He had started with all the gifts needed to follow God in faith, but had disobeyed God and now lived in fear. Some Christians take away their own assurance of God's presence with them because of disobedience.
We need to learn as much from these people as we do from David. If you are fearful of opposition to your faith, or if you are turning others away from trusting God because of your fears, or if you have disobeyed God and have lost the assurance of his help, turn back to God now. Tell him what you have done and put your trust back in him.
Thirdly, we see what happens when the hero dies. “When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.” But David did not live forever. He too died – and the story of what happened is just as sad. Israel's kings became more and more distant from God and the whole nation went into captivity. They abandoned God. Their hero died and they ran away from God. David was a great king, but he was still only human. But God promised that David would have a descendant who would be king forever. He promised a hero who would never die. And he fulfilled his promise in Jesus. Jesus died, but rose again from the dead. After his death, the disciples were filled with fear – they too turned and ran. But then God raised Jesus from the dead to live forever and the disciples were transformed. They had a hero who would never die.
We may have no weapons, no armour, for ourselves, but we have a hero who needs none of those things. We can have the same hero as those first Christians, Jesus Christ. And when we face giants in whatever form, we can know that as our hero, he will fight for us and with us. So do not look in front of you in fear of the giants ahead, but know that as a Christian, you have a great God behind you and his son Jesus Christ as the hero alongside who will never die.