The story of David vs. Goliath is one that most of us have heard ever since we were children. However, this isn’t just a kids story, rather it teaches us an essential lesson about God and how we can have the courage to face any spiritual challenge.
Fear: Israel’s response to the Philistine champion
The Philistines were a sea people, probably from the island of Crete, who invaded the coastland of Canaan around 1200 B.C. They solidified control of the coastal region, part of Israel’s promised land, and would extend their control over much of Palestine during the time of the Judges (see Judges 13.1; 15.9-12; 1Samuel 4.1-11, 21-22). Israel was victorious over the Philistines in the time of Samuel, but once Saul became king the Philistines exerted their power again. God gave Saul victory over them (1Samuel 14.47-48), but once the Lord rejected Saul as king, the Philistines returned (1Samuel 17.1)
The Philistine and Israelite armies arrayed themselves on either side of the valley of Elah, but rather than meet each other in open combat, a Philistine champion issued a challenge to any champion of Israel. Goliath, depending on the correct reading, was either 6’9″ or 9’9″ (either would have been considered a giant in ancient times). His strength was immense as related by the fact that his armor weighed between 125 and 150 pounds! And when Goliath issued his challenge (1Samuel 17.8-10), Israel was “dismayed and greatly afraid” (vs. 11). Goliath issued his challenge every day for 40 days (vs. 16), but when “Israel saw the man, they fled from him and were greatly afraid” (vs. 24). Israel was dominated by fear, and significantly they never even mentioned the Lord.
Doubt: how Israel felt about David
We know David as the hero of this story, but none of Israel had any expectation that David would be able to face Goliath, much less defeat him. David’s father sent David to the battle as an errand boy, not as a warrior (vss. 12-19). David’s oldest brother believed he was there to be entertained (vss. 20-28). King Saul, who had been waiting 40 days for one of his warriors to accept Goliath’s challenge, had no faith in David’s ability (vss. 31-33). And Goliath sneered at his puny opponent: “’Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.” (1 Samuel 17:43) No one believed in David.
Courage: the result of David’s confidence in the Lord
The text reads that when David went out to face Goliath, “he took his stick in his hand and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand; and he approached the Philistine” (vs. 40). However, David went out with much more than a sling and five stones; he went with courage in his heart, knowing that the Lord would be with him. David understood that Israel was the army of the living God (vs. 26, contrast with Goliath’s description of Israel as the “servants of Saul” in vs. 8). And David believed that the Lord would be with him because the Lord had delivered him in other times of peril (vss. 34-37). Thus, when David faced Goliath he could confidently state, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and 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 taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and 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 does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.” (1 Samuel 17:45–47)
Our need for courage
Fear inhibits. Israel did not, could not, answer Goliath’s challenge because they were afraid (1Samuel 17.11,24). Our Lord understood that fear inhibits action, so He exhorted His followers to not be afraid:
- Don’t be afraid of what others may think (Matthew 10.24ff). Jesus’ exhortation to not fear in vs. 26-31 must be read in the context of the surrounding verses. Jesus was hated, so they would be hated too (vss. 24-25). If they fell to fear, they would deny Him (vss. 32-33). Persecution and unfavorable opinions of those they loved was a consequence of the world’s hatred of Jesus (vss. 34-36).
- Don’t be afraid of failure (Matthew 25.24-28). Why did the one talent man not produce? He was too afraid of failure, too afraid that his efforts would not produce enough for the master. The other two men, while given different amounts and producing different amounts, were both praised and rewarded. Why? They were willing to use what the Lord gave to produce more.
But just as David understood that the Lord was fighting for him, we also are assured that our Lord is with us and that we can be “strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Ephesians 6.10)! Thus, no matter what the world may think of us, or do to us, “we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8.37).
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