The Old Testament account of David and Goliath, 1 Samuel 17, usually ranks in the top ten of all Bible stories. Like Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the lion's den, and Noah's ark, the epic of shepherd boy David facing the giant Philistine Goliath registers strong even in the secular world. The other night Harriet and I were probing one of the networks for some new viewing material and the title Goliath flashed across the screen. No, it's not another angle on the ancient Bible story and is more profane than we would prefer. The story line is about a washed-up, alcoholic attorney trying cases against the corporate giant law firm he previously owned. You know, little guy against big guy...David and Goliath. Who can't identify with that?
There's some confusion about the chronology of David's life as noted in the Old Testament. Typically we read the Old Testament with the idea that the events recorded there always occurred in sequential order. When the Bible was translated from Hebrew into Greek and Latin the various books were arranged topically---law, poetry, history, major and minor prophets in the Old Testament. If you are interested in the current arrangement of Bible books, click here for an informative article. In 1 Samuel the biographical data about David, son of Jesse, is arranged more topically than chronologically. David was anointed King in 1 Samuel 16 and faced Goliath in chapter 17. In chapter 17 Saul, Israel's King did not know or recognize shepherd boy David even though David had soothed the king with lyre music in times of spiritual stress. But, we must not allow our confusion to minimize the theological truth preserved for us in these biblical accounts.
David, Goliath, King Saul, Jonathan, David's father Jesse, three of his brothers, and the amassed Israeli and Philistine armies are support characters in this great episode. The text and David's response to the challenge by Goliath are totally Theocentric, that is, focused on God. What is more, the lessons we learn from this young shepherd are more profound than life contests between the great and small, the rich and poor, the advantaged and disadvantaged, educated and uneducated, the in-crowd and the out-crowd, and any of the other opposites we favor in our story lines. Yes, at the time David was a youth and Goliath had been a mighty warrior since his youth (1 Samuel
17: 33, ESV). Of a fact Goliath had taunted and terrorized the Israeli soldiers for forty days. Still, this picture of a young shepherd boy against a sizeable professional soldier isn't the main story line. David himself clarified the lesson of what happened in the Valley of Elah that day. He said---
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
1 Samuel 17: 45-46, ESV
That David already knew the outcome of that confrontation means several significant things to readers many generations later.
1. Evidently Jesse of Bethlehem had taught his children the history of their nation.
Surely young David knew about God's protection and guidance of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes of Israel. No doubt he was familiar with how God had worked through Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and the conquests early in the reign of King Saul. Young David demonstrated manly courage because he was confident in God's plans for his chosen people. God had been their help in ages past. David knew that those who would defy God would be the recipients of his wrath. As a result, David was bold and fearless as he went out to Goliath.
2. David was a boy after God's own heart before he was that kind of man.
His certainty was an outcome of his personal relationship with the Father. That he could bring genuine spiritual solace to troubled King Saul testifies to spiritual wisdom beyond his musical skills. As the youngest son of Jesse David may have learned Godly confidence from experience with his timid brothers. In any event, his knowledge of God's ways gave him direction in shepherding Jesse's flock and being aggressive when they were threatened. This truth underscores the biblical concept of teaching our children when they are young and preparing them for the realities of life.
3. David boldly announced the ultimate outcome of his clash with Goliath.
Once again, the time-lines of David's life are obscure. No one is absolutely sure how old David was when he met Goliath. It is believed by many that service in the Israeli army was limited to men aged 20 and above. So, most accept David's age that day in the valley was less than twenty. Regardless, with no hesitancy David told Goliath what was going to happen---
...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.
1 Samuel 17: 46-47, ESV
And, that is lesson one we can learn from this shepherd boy. It is a lesson that the Apostle Paul wrote about several thousand years later--- "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31, ESV). It is the reminder, a fact known by shepherd boy David, that God is central in all things, and we have merely supporting roles.