1 Samuel 17

Sermon Discussion Questions:

  1. "You pay attention to what your imagination is captive to." What captivated the imagination of Saul and Israel? What captivated David's?
  2. Why do you think this story is so popular?
  3. What does this story do for demonstrating to you that God uses the weak to shame the strong
  4. How does that affect how you view your own weakness?
  5. In what ways is Goliath connected with the god of the Philistines, Dagon?
  6. Read Genesis 3:15. How does this passage unroll into the David and Goliath story? How does it roll into the gospel?
  7. What was David zealous for in the battle?


You pay attention to what you expect you will see. 
You pay attention to what your imagination is captive to.

Two wrong ways of interpreting this story:
1.     I am David, Goliath is my problem.
2.     David serves as no model at all, only points us to Jesus.

We need to see how David and Goliath both points us to Jesus and also provides a model of courageous faithfulness.

When is this happening?
There are several instances in this chapter that make it somewhat difficult to discern when this event is taking place. At times it feels like we are bring re-introduced to David again, like we weren’t just introduced to him back in chapter 16. For instance, at the end of the chapter Saul is asking who David’s father is (1 Sam 17:55-58), yet at the end of chapter 16 Saul is corresponding with Jesse already, asking his permission for David to remain in his service (1 Sam 16:22). Or, when David volunteers to fight Goliath, Saul says this is impossibly since David is only a youth (1 Sam 17:33), but at the end of sixteen David is described as a “man of valor, a man of war” (1 Sam 16:18), and in 16 we are told David becomes Saul’s armor bearer (1 Sam 16:21), yet in 17 when David is outfitted with Saul’s armor he says he is unfamiliar with it (1 Sam 17:39)—further, it is improbably that an armor-bearer would be given leave to tend sheep in the midst of a battle, yet David is described as journeying back and forth between the battle and the sheepfold in 17:15. Thus I think it is likely that the events of chapter 17 are actually taking place after David’s anointing as king (1 Sam 16:1-13) but before David’s entrance into Saul’s court as a musician and armor bearer (1 Sam 16:14-23). (See 1 Sam 18:2 compared with 16:21-22, likely describing the same event).
Why would the author of Samuel rearrange the material like that?
Rearranging the sequence of chronology is a common device in the Bible.
To emphasize that theological theme of sight and blindness in chapter 16 we discussed last week.
The weakness of “strong” Saul being helped by the strength of “weak” David at the end of 16 through David’s music helps prepare you as the reader for the even greater reversal in chapter 17 of the weakness of Saul being contrasted with the strength of David in the dramatic exposé of God blessing weakness in the face of worldly strength.

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?” And 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.” 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 the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD 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 the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD'S, and he will give you into our hand.” 
-       1 Sam 17:41-47

Scene 1: Fearful Israel

We find ourselves in Ephes-Dammim, stationed on the precipice of a hillside. The ancient enemy of Israel, Philistia, is encamped on the opposite hillside. Between the both of us runs a small creek and the green Valley of Elah (1 Sam 17:1-3). The Philistines had begun another incursion into the land, and so Saul has drawn up the battle line to stop them. Perhaps the Philistines still have their ego bruised from when the ark of the covenant humiliated their god, Dagon, and they were forced to send the ark back, defeated, and embarrassed (1 Sam 5-6). Surely, given Israel’s past and how God has delivered them they will be boldly facing down the enemies with confidence and courage, right? Not so much.

The Philistines have brought a secret weapon with them: “And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span,” (1 Sam 17:4). If you don’t know anything at all about this story, you know that Goliath is really, really tall. It could be that Goliath is a descendant of the Anakim, an ancient Canaanite people know for the enormous stature (cf. Deut 9:2). In fact, Joshua 11:21-22 tells us that the city of Gath, Goliath’s home, was a residence of the Anakim. The word for “champion” literally means “a man in-between.” Goliath is one who stands in front of the army, gets in-between the two armies and challenges Israel himself. And he has good reason to. He is anywhere from 6 and half to 9 and half feet tall!

Not only that, he is well outfitted: “He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6 And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 7 The shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and his spear's head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him,” (1 Sam 17:5-7). The enormously heavy “coat of mail” catches our attention, not just because it weighs five thousand shekels of bronze (120 lbs.!), but because the word for “mail” is the Hebrew word kashkashim, which is only ever used in the Bible to describe the scales of a fish (eg. Lev 11:9) or the scales of a serpent/dragon (Ez 29:3-4). So, the author here could be using this word to associate Goliath with the Philistine god Dagon (who was half fish) or with the offspring of the serpent, Satan (Gen 3:15). This has already happened once before in Samuel, when Saul defeated the king of the Ammonites, Nahash (1 Sam 11:1), whose name means “serpent.” Whether Goliath should be seen as being associated with Satan overtly or Dagon, either way he represents a demonic or overtly Satanic entity. His super-height (g’boah, 1 Sam 17:4) corresponds with Hannah’s warning: “Talk no more so very g’boah g’boah (proudly)” (1 Sam 2:3). Goliath is tall in stature, tall in heart, and so he is tall in speech. 

Goliath walks into the open valley below and taunts Israel, challenging them to single-combat to determine the outcome of the battle: “And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together,” (1 Sam 17:10). Now, who is the man who should be stepping forward to face this incredibly tall giant? Israel has her own giant, of a sort, in their king: tall Saul, who stands a whole head above everyone else (1 Sam 10:23). In fact, hasn’t he defeated a serpent-king before? But what is Saul doing? “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid,” (1 Sam 17:11). What enabled Saul to victory before wasn’t his own strength or stature, but the Lord, and the Lord has departed from Saul (1 Sam 16:14), so he and all Israel are crippled with fear.

And there they stay for quite some time: “For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening,” (1 Sam 17:16). What is happening here sounds oddly familiar. Back in 1 Samuel 13, Saul goes to war with the Philistines and Israel becomes so frightened at the sight of the enormous size of the Philistine army that they run in terror, actually crossing over the Jordan river—leaving the promised land! (1 Sam 13:5-7). This is the land that God had promised to them and had sworn that He would Himself deliver to them from the hands of their enemies, like the Philistines. But they struggled to see that in the presence of the enormous army, and now they are struggling to see that same truth in light of the enormous descendant of the Anakim in front of them, Goliath. This is what has happened ever since God’s people came to the land God had promised them. When Moses first led Israel to the edge of the promised land, they sent in the twelve spies and they returned saying that the land looked wonderful, but that there was no way little Israel would be able to take the land. So Israel complained to Moses: 

“Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ (Deut 1:28). There are giants there! But Moses recounts, “Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. 30 The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, 31 and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ 32 Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God,” (Deut 1:29-32). And so, what was their consequence? They were forced to wander around through the wilderness for forty years (Deut 8:2) until all in that generation had died for their fearful faithlessness. And here, in our story, Israel is paralyzed by fear for forty days in the presence of a giant of Canaan, once again forgetting that God is the one who fights for them, God is the one who can be counted on, even when others—like Goliath—say otherwise. The author of Samuel is pointing out to us that Israel’s problems haven’t changed much.

But this is the way the Serpent works—obscure what God’s Word says with what your eyes see and what your ears hear. This is what he has always done. Did God really say…? Look at how desirable this fruit is, is it not a delight to the eyes? (Gen 3:1-7). We know that voice. We know what it is like to lay paralyzed by fear, to be drained of strength by temptation, to feel like God’s promises and warnings, what once felt as strong as shining steel, now seem like a memory of mist. And in the moment, caving in to fear or lust or cold bitterness seems so plausible, so sensible. The voice of Satan doesn’t often seem like a sharp turn away from wisdom—sometimes it looks like wisdom itself: “When the woman saw…the tree was to be desired to make one wise,” (Gen 3:6). What else could we do in the face of such enormous problems that taunt us, that promise to slay us in single-combat? What would it be for you? What looms and leers over you, 10 feet tall, snickering at your childish faith, mocking your backwards convictions in the light of real power and strength? 

When Jesus was teaching His disciples that His path was a path of humble service, not celebrity like fame, and that it would be ultimately displayed in His humiliation through death on a cross, Peter is so flustered that he actually rebukes Jesus, and what does Jesus tell Peter? “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man,” (Mark 8:33). Peter had no categories for a crucified, servant Messiah; for strength to be displayed through weakness; for victory to come by defeat. How does that work? Maybe that sounds good in stories, but in the “real world,” that just doesn’t work. And maybe that is what Saul and Eliab and the rest of Israel is thinking too. But Jesus would say to Israel, You are setting your mind on the things of men, not God. 

All Israel, except one.

Scene 2: Faithful David

David is sent to the battleline by his father with food and a request to bring back a token from his three eldest brothers to ensure they are okay (1 Sam 17:17-20). David arrives at the encampment just as the two armies are lining up on the battle line, and he finds his brothers, but as he does Goliath steps forward and again takes up the same taunt as before (1 Sam 17:21-23). As soon as Goliath thumps down, “All the men of Israel…fled from him and were much afraid,” (1 Sam 17:24). “And David 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?” (1 Sam 17:26). David hears that Saul is offering a monetary reward and his daughter’s hand in marriage to the Israelite who will face the Philistine champion (1 Sam 17:25), but he is mostly outraged that this Philistine is mocking the living God.

“Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab's anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” 29 And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” (1 Sam 17:28-29). Some classic big-brother-little-brother dynamics going on here. But why is Eliab so angry? Remember, last chapter, Eliab, the eldest brother, was passed over for the role of king by Samuel who chose little, young David instead. That had to sting for Eliab. And here that same little brother comes waltzing in and talking like he isn’t afraid of what every grown soldier is afraid of. Who does this kid think he is? Maybe there is also mixture of shame in that response? If you remember, back in chapter 16 we were told that Eliab himself was a tall man (1 Sam 16:6-7), so perhaps he has thought, or even had others suggest, that he should be the one to go face Goliath. But that’s the thing about putting your confidence in worldly strength: there is always someone stronger, faster, smarter, or better looking than you are. Eliab is big, but he knows he isn’t Goliath big.

Now Saul hears that someone isn’t trembling over Goliath, so he summons David and David confidently asserts: “Let no man's heart fail because of him. 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,” (1 Sam 17:32-33). When your toddler offers to help while you are working on bills, its cute, but not very helpful. When your friend who is a powerful tax attorney offers to help, it isn’t cute, but it is very helpful. When your sixteen-year-old confidently asserts that they can sort through your problems with the IRS, it is neither cute nor helpful. David’s offer to go fight Goliath feels like that. This is a serious problem and the offer of help from a teenager isn’t helpful, particularly when the other combatant, a grown man, has been fighting in wars since he was a teenager. 

But David is undaunted, “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.” 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!” (1 Sam 17:34-37).

What did David have? He had two things: (1) He paid attention. He had a mind and imagination that was dominated by all that God had done for him, and (2) he had a heart that was set ablaze with jealousy for the glory of God. And this blossomed within him a confidence that God would help. David is consumed with this that he wins skeptical Saul over.

“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,” (1 Sam 17:38-40).

What did Saul want? He wanted to help David, certainly. But do you notice what Saul provides sounds just like Goliath? A bronze helmet, coat of mail, and a large sword—the same type and order of armor and weaponry that Goliath has, albeit not as substantial. Saul’s thought is totally natural: to fight Goliath you need to be outfitted with the same technology and advantages he has. But this isn’t the way David will win. The armor is clunky and unfamiliar, David knows that he can’t fight in them, so he sheds them, and instead grabs the instruments he is familiar with: the tools of the trade that has led to him being scorned, mocked, and overlooked—his shepherding instruments. Eliab, wanting to make a dig at the confident David in front of everyone threw in his face: Where are those few sheep you are supposed to be babysitting? Because watching sheep would have been just that: babysitting. Not an impressive or honorable trade. Yet, it is those very tools that David takes with him out into the Valley.

Scene 3: Fateful Encounter

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?” And 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.” (1 Sam 17:41-44). David’s approach is laughable to the mighty Goliath; he calls David a pretty boy and compares him to a stick before cursing him by his gods and summoning the birds to come close to feast on David’s soon-to-be-dead body.

What does Goliath have? Size, age, battle experience, armor, a shield, a sword, javelin, spear, the support of his army, and incredible confidence.

What does David have? He is small, young, inexperienced, vulnerable, no armor, no sword, no spear, no javelin, lacks the support of his own army, and…is incredibly confident. “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 the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD 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 the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD'S, and he will give you into our hand,” (1 Sam 17:45-47). Where on earth is David’s confidence coming from? He is planning on cutting Goliath’s head off, but he doesn’t even have a sword in his hand. Goliath may have threatened to give David’s body to the birds, but David claims that he will offer the entire Philistine army to the birds!

David’s confidence comes from his certainty that this is really a battle of the gods. Goliath may have cursed David by his gods, but David knows that His God is bigger. And he knows that God has put him here in this Valley for two reasons:
1.     That the whole earth may know that there is a God in Israel.
2.     That Israel will learn that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s.

It is not by might that man shall prevail (1 Sam 2:9), and the tall Goliath is talking very, very proudly (cf. 1 Sam 2:3).

48 When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine,” (1 Sam 17:48). The battle begins and David is running. But unlike the rest of Israel, who “fled from” Goliath (1 Sam 17:24), David is running to Goliath. “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,” (1 Sam 17:49). Boom. Game over. The immense size of Goliath did nothing but provide a bigger target, and his full towering height crashes down like a fallen cedar.

“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. 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,” (1 Sam 17:50-51). 

Those who worship false gods become like them (Ps 115:8). When the ark of the covenant was taken into Dagon’s temple, it fell with its face on the ground at first, and then had its head cut off (1 Sam 5:1-5). Goliath, who was just taunting David by his god, Dagon, has now shared his same fate. When the Philistines see that Goliath has fallen, that their “champion”, their “man in-between” is dead, they turn and flee. And, just like Jonathan’s stunning victory dislodges the fear out of Israel’s hearts, so too does David’s, and Israel rushes after the Philistines in victorious pursuit (1 Sam 17:52ff). 

fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
-       Isa 41:10


David was the unexpected champion of Israel, their own “man in-between” who stood up for them while they trembled under the sentence of death. And, in weakness, he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, falling the giant, and using his own weapon to kill him. This should draw our mind to the truer and better David, Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate “man in-between”, the unexpected and overlooked Savior who saves the fearful and faithless through the strange path of weakness. But the giant that Jesus faces is much more serious. There is a record of debt that stands against us, a record of our sin, and that record of sin is what empowers Satan to condemn and attack and torment us. And because God is just and righteous, He cannot merely pretend that the record doesn’t exist. Wrongs must be punished, and Satan gloats in accusing us as “wrong-doers.” He looms and leers over us, 10 feet tall, mocking us, taunting us, condemning us. And we tremble. But Jesus comes down and steps “in-between” us and our judgment that awaits. David was remarkable for risking his life, but it would have been a very different story had Goliath just impaled David with his spear in the middle of his speech. David risked his life, but Jesus was impaled. Crude nails were driven through his flesh. It looked like Satan won. 

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col 2:13-15).