David had killed the lion and the bear

1 Samuel 17:34-36

 

Originally, Saul would not allow David to fight Goliath (17:33). Saul’s reason was simply that Goliath would be stronger than David. David was young and he did not have the experience to fight such a capable enemy as Goliath. David was likely to die, and his death would benefit nobody.

Often people wrongly imagine that they are acting in faith (in other words, that they are trusting God). Really, they are acting in a foolish manner, as if the danger is not real. They are not trusting in God, but in their own thoughts, hopes and desires.

David’s reply to Saul shows us his attitudes. This reply explains clearly why David had offered to fight Goliath. In other words, it shows how David considered himself able to defeat Goliath.

Like many boys and young men in Israel, David had worked as a shepherd. That is, he looked after sheep. He was responsible to look after those sheep in every way. In particular, he had to protect them from wild animals.

Lions and bears are some of the fiercest large wild animals. They were common in Israel at the time of the Bible. They are much stronger than a man (see for example 1 Kings 13:24 and 2 Kings 2:24). Only the bravest and strongest men were able to kill a lion (Judges 14:5-6; 2 Samuel 23:20). However, David had killed both a lion and a bear. He had killed animals that were stronger than him.

David did not believe that the strongest man would win the fight. David had a close relationship with God; he was trusting God to rescue him (17:37). David was not pretending that there was no danger. However, God’s Holy Spirit was active in David’s life (16:13). By the power of his Holy Spirit, God had given David the faith (trust in God) to fight Goliath. Because David really was trusting God, there was no reason for him to be afraid of Goliath.

How a weak person can defeat a strong enemy

1 Samuel 17:37

 

David knew clearly that Goliath was much stronger than him. Without God’s help, David would certainly die in the fight against such a strong enemy. However, David was not acting without God’s help. He trusted God to save him; he was not trusting in his own strength.

With God’s help, a weak person can defeat the strongest enemy. That is one of the most important lessons in the Book of 1 Samuel. Its author repeats the lesson on several different occasions.

The lesson appears clearly in Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. God is the judge of his enemies’ proud words. He gives strength to his poor people. He acts powerfully to save them from those enemies.

That was what happened to Israel’s men in 1 Samuel 7:7-12. They had to defend themselves against a much stronger army, and they did not have any opportunity to prepare for battle. However, God helped them, and so they defeated their enemy.

Jonathan expressed this principle well in 1 Samuel 14:6. Just two men - Jonathan and a young man who supported him - attacked Philistia’s vast army in 1 Samuel 14:13-15. Then God acted and he gave success to Jonathan.

Now David was ready to act in a similar manner. Even Saul could see that David was trusting completely in God for the fight against Goliath.

Saul then did something which, for him, was very unusual. Saul blessed David. That is, Saul asked God to help David. Saul had become an evil man and he had ruined his own relationship with God. However, he was still Israel’s king, and that gave him the authority to bless David. Saul was not just praying that God would help David. On God’s behalf, Saul declared that God would be with David in his fight against Goliath.

 

Goliath’s weapons and David’s weapons
1 Samuel 17:40


Weapons are a soldier’s tools for war. In the ancient world, the right choice of weapon depended on how far away the enemy was.

Goliath had three weapons: a javelin, a spear and a sword. His javelin was a metal pole with a sharp point. He would throw the javelin at an enemy who was running towards him. His spear was a long wooden pole with a sharp metal head. He would push the spear into any enemy whom he could reach.

Goliath’s sword was an extraordinary weapon (21:9). He would use it to kill any enemy who came close to him.

David would later learn to use these weapons (21:8). However, for the fight against Goliath, he was unable to use them. He did not have the experience to do that. Even when he took Goliath’s sword, he used it like a knife, not as a sword (17:51).

The reason was that David was working as a shepherd, not as a soldier (17:15). A shepherd is someone who looks after sheep. As a shepherd, David needed to protect his sheep from wild animals, and he chose weapons for that purpose (17:34-37; 17:43). He would make his own weapons.

So, David had two weapons: a staff and a sling. A staff is a long wooden stick. It would not be as long as Goliath’s spear. Perhaps David hoped that he could use it to defend himself against the spear. A sling was a leather bag with two strings. David would put a stone in it, then he would swing it round his body. With it, he could throw a stone accurately and with great force.

David collected 5 stones for that purpose. His weapons were clearly not as good as Goliath’s weapons. However, David had prepared as well as he could. Now he must trust God, and fight Goliath.

 

Goliath insults David
1 Samuel 17:41-44


David did not begin the fight against Goliath: Goliath started it.

David had gone down to the stream to select suitable stones for the fight. That stream was in the valley between the two armies (17:3).

Goliath was in his usual position at the front of Philistia’s army. He was trying to frighten away anyone from Israel who dared to move forward.

Then Goliath saw David. David was perhaps 15 or 18 years old, but he seemed very young in Goliath’s opinion. The description of David in 1 Samuel 17:42 is like the description in 1 Samuel 16:12, when David was just a boy.

Goliath was a very cruel man, and immediately he hated David. Goliath moved closer to David because Goliath wanted to kill David with his javelin. The javelin was a metal pole with a sharp end. Goliath needed to be close enough to David so that he could throw the javelin accurately.

Soon, David would be in great danger. Goliath laughed at David. The staff (stick) that David was carrying seemed very weak in Goliath’s opinion.

Then Goliath cursed David in the name of his false gods. In other words, Goliath asked his god to punish David with an awful death. Nobody would even bury David’s body. Instead wild dogs and vultures (nasty wild birds that eat dead bodies) would eat up David’s body.

Goliath was close to David, but David could not throw a stone at Goliath. Another soldier from Philistia was carrying a shield in front of Goliath. A shield was a large board, probably of wood and leather. If David threw a stone from his present position, it would hit the shield and not Goliath.

 

David’s reply to Goliath
1 Samuel 17:45-46


Goliath intended by his words in 1 Samuel 17:43-44 to insult and to frighten David. However, David replied very carefully to everything that Goliath had said.

David’s speech sounds very much like the judgement that a judge gives in a court. In fact, it really was a judgement. David was declaring God’s judgement against Goliath. It was necessary for Goliath to know that his bitter and evil words against God’s people had offended God himself. It was God, and not merely David, who would punish Goliath.

Goliath had laughed at David’s staff, that is, his stick (17:43). David knew that Goliath’s weapons (tools for war) were much better than his own. Goliath trusted in his own strength and in those powerful weapons. However, David did not trust in such things: he was trusting only in God (17:37). David knew that God is more powerful than any weapon (Psalm 18:1-2; 1 Samuel 2:2-4; Isaiah 54:17).

Goliath had asked his false gods to punish David. David declared that the real God would punish Goliath. Goliath’s false gods had no power. The God who leads heaven’s armies had brought Israel’s army to fight against Goliath and the army of Philistia. The events during that day’s battle would prove that God was on Israel’s side. Israel was the only nation where people served the real God. So therefore, Israel’s army really belonged not to its king, but to God himself.

Goliath had cruelly promised that wild birds and wild animals would eat up David’s body. David replied that, after the battle, wild birds and wild animals would eat the bodies of Philistia’s soldiers. That was what happened after a battle: there were too many bodies for people to bury. It would be clear evidence that God was on Israel’s side.

Everyone present would know that God saves
1 Samuel 17:47


David could see that his fight against Goliath was not just a personal fight between two men. God had allowed it to happen so that he could save his people in Israel. However, God was not merely doing this for Israel’s benefit. God used his people in Israel so that people across the whole world would learn about God (17:46).

At that time, only people in Israel served and obeyed the real God. However, in the future, people from every nation would have the opportunity to know him. God is especially the God of Israel, but he is also the God of the whole world (2:10).

That battle would show to everyone present that God saves his people. He does not need strong people or powerful military equipment to do that. When his people are poor and weak, they can still depend on him (2:8-9). He himself will act to save them.

David said that everyone present would know these things. He meant both Israel’s soldiers and their enemies.

Israel’s people had a special relationship with God. God had made promises to them, but often they were not loyal to him. They needed to remember that they should obey God. If they trusted God, he would save (rescue) them. (7:3)

That battle would also show the power of God to the army from Philistia, Israel’s enemies. Many of them would only know about that power in judgement. They would die in the battle as a punishment for their evil deeds.

However, God cares about the people in every nation (Jonah 4:11). He even cared about Israel’s enemies in Philistia. He wanted them to turn to him so that he could save them. In 2 Samuel 15:19-22, we see that in the end, some soldiers from Philistia actually did that. They were among David’s most loyal soldiers.

 

David fights Goliath
1 Samuel 17:48-50


The actual fight between David and Goliath happened very quickly.

Goliath moved towards David because he wanted to throw a javelin (sharp metal pole) at him. David was then in great danger.

If David ran either towards or away from Goliath, Goliath could have aimed the javelin accurately. However, David ran across in the direction of the other soldiers.

As he ran, David put a large, heavy stone into his sling. The sling was a leather bag with two strings. David would have often used it to throw stones at wild animals that were attacking his sheep. So, he had the experience to use it accurately.

David then swung round to throw the stone from his sling at Goliath. Goliath was wearing a helmet (a metal hat to protect his head), but of course it could not cover his eyes.

The stone hit Goliath between his eyes and Goliath fell. By now, he was probably unconscious. David took Goliath’s own sword. Then David killed Goliath as he might kill an animal.

It is unpleasant to read about the death of any person, especially when they die in such an awful manner. Other people often expressed joy at an enemy’s death (18:6-7), but David had a more serious attitude. He expressed sad thoughts even when a wicked man died (for example, Saul in 2 Samuel 1:17-24 and Absalom in 2 Samuel 19:1-7).

As a soldier and as the king, David had the responsibility to carry out God’s judgements in this world. David considered that to be a serious and terrible responsibility. He wished that he had lived at a time of peace (1 Chronicles 28:2-3). However, that was not God’s plan for him. It was God’s plan that, by his wars, David should bring peace to Israel.

The head of Goliath
1 Samuel 17:51-54


After the death of Goliath, the battle began immediately.

Philistia’s soldiers were very afraid. They started to run back in the direction of their own country. They were trying to get back inside two of their principal towns: Gath and Ekron. Those towns had strong walls, so they would be safe there. Israel’s soldiers were chasing them all the way back. They caught and they killed many of Philistia’s soldiers along the road.

It seems, however, that David did not join in the fight against Philistia’s army. Instead, he remained with Goliath’s body. Slowly and carefully, he dealt with the body in the manner that he considered right.

First, David would have allowed the blood to drain out of Goliath’s huge body. Then he began to cut off Goliath’s head. That would be a long and difficult task. Finally he took away Goliath’s military equipment and he stripped the body. It was an ancient custom of war that David had a right to these things.

David clearly considered it important to take away Goliath’s head. Soon, wild birds and wild animals would eat up Goliath’s body, and nothing would remain (1 Samuel 17:46; see also 2 Kings 9:30-37). David took the head as evidence, both of Goliath’s great size, and of the fact that this famous enemy was dead. Saul’s enemies would later do the same thing to Saul’s head (31:9).

It surprises us that David took the head to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was not under Israel’s control then (2 Samuel 5:6). Perhaps the meaning is that David kept the head until the events in 2 Samuel 5:6-9.

However, 1 Samuel 21:8-9 gives another possible explanation. David did not keep Goliath’s sword for himself. He handed it to the priests at Nob, to put in God’s house. Perhaps he also took Goliath’s head there; Nob was very near to Jerusalem. David did not want to keep these things as prizes for himself; he handed them over to God.

The song about David’s success

1 Samuel 18:6-9

 

After a successful battle, people wanted of course to express their joy. That happened after the battle when David killed Goliath. Saul led his soldiers in a procession; Israel’s women sang and danced.

The women made up a happy song for that occasion. The song first praised Saul, their king. He had rescued them from their enemies. Those enemies had seemed so strong; there were many thousands of them. Israel’s defeat seemed certain until Saul began to lead their army. Then Saul, as a great hero, fought against those enemies. He defeated them and he freed Israel. That was what the first part of the women’s song meant. Of course, that part of the song would please Saul.

It was the second part of the song which upset Saul. Its purpose was to praise David as the hero of the fight against Goliath. However, that was not what the song said. It declared that David’s success was ten times greater than all Saul’s successes. That was how wonderful the women felt David’s success to be.

Of course, the women did not understand what their words really meant. However, Saul understood immediately. Samuel had told Saul that God had already chosen a better man to be Israel’s king (15:28). David had a close relationship with God (16:13) and God had given him success against Goliath.

Saul could see that David would be Israel’s next king. Saul’s son Jonathan approved of that and he wanted it to happen (23:17). However, Saul did not approve; he was jealous and angry.