Although the sin of our first parents had placed us under bondage to the serpent, God very quickly gave us a promise that we would be avenged upon that serpent. He thus established the antithesis and promised a Messiah in the same place. This running battle is seen throughout Scripture, and the obligation to pursue giant-killing is an important part of it.
“Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and were gathered together at Shochoh, which belongeth to Judah, and pitched between Shochoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and pitched by the valley of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines . . .” (1 Sam. 17:1-58).
Summary of the Text
This is a longer chapter, so as we summarize we will cut our pieces of meat a little larger. The Philistine army invaded and camped in territory of Judah, and Saul and his men gathered against them (vv. 1-2). A valley separated the armies (v. 3). There was a champion of the Philistines named Goliath who was huge (vv. 4-7). He came out and challenged any one of the Israelites to single combat, a fight that would settle everything. His words made Saul and all Israel “greatly afraid” (vv. 8-11). David was the eighth of eight sons of Jesse. The three oldest were in Saul’s army, and David had returned from his stint at Saul’s court (vv. 12-15). Goliath taunted Israel for 40 days (v. 16). Jesse then sent David with some supplies and told him to get news from his brothers (vv. 17-18). There was fighting with the Philistines, but nothing decisive—more like skirmishes (vv. 19-20). But they mostly put on armor and formed up in battle array to do some trash-talking (v. 21). David came with the supplies, and as he was visiting with his brothers, Goliath came out (vv. 22-23). David heard the taunts, but the Israelites were afraid, and David heard the talk about what would be done for the champion who killed Goliath (vv. 24-27). Eliab, the oldest, didn’t like the way David’s thoughts were going (v. 28), and charged him with impudence. But David ignored him, and went right on (vv. 29-30).
David’s talk came to Saul’s ears, and David was summoned (v. 31). David volunteers to fight (v. 32). Saul says that David is too young to fight such an experienced warrior (v. 33). David tells the story of how he killed both a lion and a bear as a shepherd, and he says he will do the same to Goliath (vv. 34-37). Saul then gives his blessing (v. 37b). David tries out Saul’s armor, but rejects it as untested (vv. 38-39).
So David went out with his staff, five stones, and his sling (v. 40). Goliath comes out with his armor-bearer (v. 41). Goliath despises David, curses him by his gods, and threatens him (vv. 42-44). David replied, countering the Philistine’s weapons with the name of God (v. 45). He declares that God will deliver Goliath up, he will lose his head, and everyone will know that God does not fight conventional battles (vv. 46-47). And so they approached each other, and David ran toward him, slinging the stone as he went (vv. 48-49). David struck him without a sword (v. 50). David ran to cut off his head with his own sword, and the Philistine army fled (v. 51). And the Israelites pursued them, striking them down, and taking spoil (vv. 52-53). David kept Goliath’s armor (v. 54). Saul wanted Abner to find out who David was (vv. 55-56). And so Abner brought David to Saul, Goliath’s head in his hand (v. 57), and Saul found out he was the son of Jesse (v. 58).
As we consider all this, we should remember that the book of Samuel was not originally structured the way we do it, with chapter breaks. Here is a chiasm which helps frame this section.
a Samuel leaves Ramah to anoint David (16:1-13
b David plays the harp effectively for Saul (16:14-23)
c David kills Goliath (17:1-58)
d David celebrated at court (18:1-6)
c’ Saul jealous over the Goliath triumph (18:7-30)
b’ David plays the harp ineffectively for Saul (19:1-17)
a’ David flees to Samuel at Ramah (19:18-20:42)
This is one of the most famous stories in the Bible, and consequently, many of us have a mental image of it taken more from bits and pieces from things we have heard or from Bible story books—instead of from what is actually said. David rejects Saul’s armor as untested, and not as too big (v. 39). Of course, the greatest faith here was David’s, but it was an act of faith on Saul’s part also (v. 37). This was a single combat that put all of Israel’s army at stake, and Saul gave his blessing to it. And last, it is not often recognized that the five smooth stones are the five points of Calvinism. Joke. But the slingshot here is not something that a ten-year-old boy would use to plink at bottles on a fence. This was a bona fide weapon of war (Judg. 20:16), and the stones would be about the size of a modern softball. And of course, we should consider the size of Goliath. He was over nine feet tall, and his mail weighed 126 pounds. The Anakim (giants) had been exiled by Joshua to Gaza, Ashdod and Gath (Josh. 11:21-23), and Goliath was likely descended from them.
David the Giant-Killer
David comes into this story as a glorious type of Christ. Goliath was a giant, but he was also a serpent, a dragon. The Hebrew word for his armor means scales, which made him a gigantic reptile, like a dragon, and David topples him with a wound to the head (Gen. 3:15). David fights him with the same weapons that he would use in fighting wild beasts. When he is done, he takes Goliath’s armor and places it in his tent (v. 54).
This is precisely what Jesus does when He came upon the strong man. He attacks, like David did. He is victorious, like David was. He strips the armor (panoply), as David did. He partakes of the spoil after battle (Luke 11:22). Jesus is the greatest of all giant-killers. He gives victory to His people . . . and He awakens the envy of any who would be great in Israel on their own terms.