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.