God Our Champion (I Samuel 17:31-51)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 17:31–17:51
Crying for a King
I. Familiar, But Unfamiliar
The second paragraph of the news story went something like this: "Most people accept that they are at the mercy of corporate bureaucracy when trying to address a consumer problem. But some take matters into their own hands."
Can you guess the title of this article about a man winning a small claims court case against computer maker HP? Yep, "David vs. Goliath: The little guy can win when taking on a corporation."
This morning we're going to look at one of the most well-known Bible stories ever: the tale of David and Goliath. I say well-known, but I think we need to qualify that a bit.
What I mean is that while most people are familiar with David and Goliath, most do not know the real point of this story. If we did a survey, I think most people would describe the story as being primarily about the triumph of the underdog against seemingly insurmountable odds.
If that's true, then it's no wonder that almost everyone likes this story, because everyone likes these "against all odds" stories where the underdog wins, whether it be a sports story or, like this newspaper story, an account of an individual taking on a powerful corporation.
But is this really what God wants us to take from this tale of David and Goliath? Is the main point of this story that God loves the underdog?
Well, the only way we can answer that is by looking together at I Samuel 17.
If you've been with us in the past couple of months, then you know that this young man named David was introduced to us in the last chapter, chapter 16. Since King Saul failed to listen to God's voice, since he failed to be a leader for God who was first led by God, David was anointed as the new king.
II. The Passage: "For the Battle is the Lord's" (17:31-51)
Now, there are 58 verses in this chapter and there is no way for us to work through all of them. So let me try to sum up the first 30 verses of chapter 17, and then we can look together at the heart of this story, which is found in verses 31-51.
A. Summing Up (17:1-30)
So as we come to our story this morning, we find the Israelites fighting their neighbors to the west and south, the Philistines. Actually "fighting" is too generous of a word. It's more like they're staring at each other.
So why are all the Israelites just standing around? Well, the Philistines have challenged the Israelites to representative combat, which means that each side is supposed to send out their best warrior for a duel that will decide the conflict.
But the Israelites have failed to send out a warrior. Why? Well, they would tell us it's because the Philistine's champion is a huge almost ten-foot tall fighting machine named Goliath who is wearing 126 pounds of armor, is carrying a spear with a 16 pound spearhead, and has the Israelites shaking in their sandals.
Now at this point, we have to remember that the people asked for a king back in chapter 8 for this reason: "that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles." (8:20)
But even though Saul is still on the throne, but he is a rejected king who has been stripped of God's Spirit and God's favor. This is clear in chapter 17 from the fact that Saul, who was supposed to lead them in battle, is doing nothing in this situation. He is once again failing to do what he was called to do. (Remember, Saul was the biggest of all the Israelites! (9:2b))
So what happens? Nothing happens. For well over a month nothing happens. Every morning and every evening, Goliath would come and try to provoke the Israelites. And every morning and every evening, the Israelites, and their king, Saul, do nothing except cringe.
Now verses 12-22 of chapter 17 tell us that David came to bring supplies to three of his brothers who were in the army under Saul. But wait, isn't David the king's armor bearer according to 16:21? Well, we don't exactly know how much time as elapsed between chapters 16 and 17, AND verse 15 tells us that "David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem." So this probably one of David's 'off months'. But again, here is bring supplies to his three brothers.
In verse 26 we read that after David heard Goliath's taunts, that he...
... said to the men who stood by him, "What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?"
B. David Volunteers (17:31-33)
Now there are a lot of parts to this story, too much for us this morning, but let's finish the story, starting at verse 31:
31 When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. 32 And David said to Saul, "Let no man's heart fail because of him [because of Goliath]. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine." 33 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."
Now very clearly, Saul is trying to talk some sense into David, who is probably a teenager at this point. This kid might have spunk, but he would be no match for this seasoned warrior.
C. David Explains (17:34-37)
But look how David puts things into perspective for Saul. Verse 34...
34 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, 35 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. 36 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."
David has no military experience, so his résumé of combat includes animals not armies. Now, while David's animal adventures are interesting, even impressive, I'm not sure Saul will draw the same conclusions about David's qualifications for this battle. But in finishing, David gets to the crucial truth about his past battles...
37 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!"
D. David Prepares (17:38-44)
Now Saul might be swayed by David's faith, but he still wants to help even the odds a little bit. So we read in verse 38...
38 Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, 39 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. 40 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. 41 And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 And the Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?"
[the only so-called weapon that Goliath seems to notice is David's shepherd's staff or "stick".]
And [so we read] the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 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."
E. David Declares (17:45-47)
Now listen carefully to how David responds here, because his response is going to be important for us as we try to understand this story. Let me read verse 45 translating the divine name we see written in all capitals...
45 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 (YAHWEH) of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day (YAHWEH) 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, 47 and that all this assembly may know that (YAHWEH) saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is (YAHWEH)'s, and he will give you into our hand."
F. David Triumphs (17:48-51)
Of course, this doesn't make the Goliath happy, so he moves to attack David; verse 48:
48 When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 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.
Now, in verse 50, we find a summary verse: 50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.
As we finish with verse 51, we find more specifics given about how David finished Goliath off:
51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.
III. Perspective: A Ridiculously Uneven Battle
Now, it's easy to see why a story like this has been so popular. This story has tension, it has action, it has great dialogue, and it the good guy wins in the end. But in spite of all of these characteristics, I think we can say that none of them explains the real importance of this story.
What we see emphasized here, over and over again, is the fact that this was a ridiculously uneven battle. What a mismatched fight! What a seemingly unfair advantage! This was a painfully lopsided pairing because one of these combatants obviously did not stand a chance, and his name was Goliath.
You see, while David's faith is important here, even more important is the object of His faith. Goliath's strength and stature were pitiful compared to the God of heaven and earth, and David knew it.
You see, while it's not traditionally thought of in this way, this story is extremely theological, that is, its primary emphasis is not on David, or the Israelites, or the Philistines, or even on David's faith. Its primary emphasis is explaining something about God.
We can say this because that was David's words confirm this very point. Listen as he teaches us about God, verse 37:
"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."
Do you see what David is telling Saul here? He's not bragging about his conquests. He is speaking truth about the God of Israel. He's saying, "God is good, and God is powerful, and God will deliver".
And David continues to speak the truth about God, even to Goliath. Look again at verse 45. Mark this verses because these are the heart of the whole story. David tells Goliath:
... "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 (Yahweh) of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.
Do you see what David is trying to communicate to Goliath and to every person listening? He is telling Goliath. "Your spear and your sword, and your javelin...(we could add the other details given at the beginning of chapter 17; given for exactly this reason..."your helmet of bronze, your coat of armor, the armor on your legs)...all of these things...none of them matter because I am coming against you today with something far more powerful."
You see, I think some people think that David was victorious because he had the element of surprise, or quickness, or because he found Goliath's "Achilles' Heel". As if being a small shepherd with some rocks in your pocket was some kind of tactical advantage.
No, what David is saying is, "Let it be known that the real battle here is between human power and the power of Yahweh, the God of Israel." That is what is going to be decided. So what David is pointing out here is that he is not Israel's champion in this representative combat. He is not their best warrior. The Israelite champion is God himself.
This is clear from the end of verse 46 and verse 47:
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 [here's David's intent...that...] all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 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."
This is why David's rejection of Saul's armor is so important. David had no advantage, and therefore, Saul would have no share in the glory.
This is why verse 50 is so emphatic: ... David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.
This was a ridiculously uneven battle. Goliath was no match for God.
The idolatrous Philistines should have known this fact from firsthand experience.
They had obviously forgotten what had happened to them some 25 to 30 years earlier when they captured the Ark of the Covenant. I Samuel chapter 5 and 6 tell us about how Yahweh the God of Israel humiliated their idols and oppressed their people. They should have known that Yahweh was powerful and not to be taunted.
You see, this kind of story is not unusual in the Old Testament. God often chose to use the youngest, or weakest, that is, from a human viewpoint, the most unlikely people because He wanted to show that the deciding factor is not human skill or wisdom or power; no, the deciding factor was the power of God.
And the Israelites should have known this. If during those forty days sitting in the Valley of Elah they would have just looked down at the ground and remembered how it was they came to live in this land, they might remember that the first generation of Israelites redeemed from Egypt found themselves in very similar situation.
Do you remember? Why were they afraid to go into the land that was promised to Abraham? Because of giants.
So history is repeating itself. For forty days the Israelites wallow in fear in the face of the giant Goliath just as their ancestors spent forty years in the desert because of their fear of giants.
This morning, there are many lessons we could draw from this story (e.g. David's faith, David's love for God's honor, the oppressive power of fear). But I think the foundation of this story, I daresay the foundation of the entire Bible, is the reality of the incomparable, unrivaled power of God. The greatest warrior, the greatest challenge on earth is considered as nothing before Him.
But as profound as this might be, we're talking about something that happened 3000 years ago. Even if we accept the reality of the unrivaled power of God, how can we today know something of this power?
V. Practice: David's Covenant and David's Son
If we were to look back at chapter 16, we would discover there the anointing of David, this shepherd boy, as king over Israel. As we learn from I Samuel 13, David was chosen to be king because he was a man after God's own heart. And I Samuel 17, this story of David and the giant is here to tell us something about what it means to be such a man, a man who would honor God as God.
If you remember, God was the true king over Israel. Therefore, in desiring a human king, the people had, in essence, rejected God's rule. But now God would have a king who would lead God's people in following God as their true King.
Now, if we were to fast-forward David's story, we would see that after God removes Saul and gives David the throne, that God comes and makes a promise to David in II Samuel 7. He says: ...Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. (v. 16)
So how was this promise to David fulfilled? Well even though there were many kings from David's family that came and went, there was only one who could eternally establish this throne.
Getting closer to Christmas, we might remember these words: 30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." (Luke 1:30-33)
Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God's promise to David. And because He is, you and I, by faith, can know the unrivaled power of God in our lives; we can call God our champion.
Are you trembling in fear this morning? Are you failing to do what you know God wants you to do? Do you feel like the odds are stacked against you? Do you feel like you will be squashed if you step out? Is there some circumstance or some person in your life that you believe is too big for God?
Have you been praying for God to soften someone's heart, but feel like you should give up because they just seem so hard, so far away? Well, whose battle is it? The battle is the Lord's.
Are you afraid to seek help for a lingering struggle because of shame and that nagging feeling you will never know victory? Well, whose battle is it? The battle is the Lord's.
Are you hesitant to let Christ direct your life in some area because you are simply afraid of the consequences, of what or who you might lose? Well, whose battle is it? The battle is the Lord's.
So if the battle is the Lord's, what do we do? Sit and watch from the sidelines? No, we do what David did. We run to the battle. With sling and stone? No, with faith and prayer, in light of God's word.
That is how we fight the good fight of faith. We must trust that God will make a way, that God will change a heart, that God will meet a need, that God will handle the outcome.
What assurance do we have of these things? Just like David, we can do all these things because we have covenant promises from God. For David, it was God's covenant with Abraham, "I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you."
For us, our covenant promise is through Jesus Christ. God is for us. As the Apostle Paul wrote:
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That is our assurance for the battle. God did not spare His own Son. The cross is where the twin giants of sin and death came tumbling down. The cross is where our victory was secured, forever. If our faith is in Jesus Christ, because of that victory, then we don't have to be afraid.
I believe God is calling us this morning to stop trying to fight our battles according to human wisdom, according to manipulation, according to our efforts, for "the Lord saves not with sword and spear". No, we need to reject the armor of worldly wisdom and self-sufficiency.
The battle belongs to the Lord. Through Jesus Christ, let God be your champion.