Slaying Your Giants But Missing Christ- Goliath

You’ve heard the story about David and Goliath. At least you have if you spent any time in church, listening to TED talks, watching History Channel, or surfing documentaries on Netflix or Amazon Prime. David and Goliath is a popular part of God’s narrative. Normally, this part of the story is presented in a child’s Sunday School class or in one sitting. The text demands more than a children’s lesson and more than one hour. Preaching the Bible is like drilling for water in the desert. Our aim is depth. The deeper we drill the further we must travel to get from one side of the well to the other. So, the depth of a text determines the length. We don’t preach for the sake of being lengthy, and we desire to make the most of our time together. That is why some expository sermons require only thirty minutes and others require an hour or longer. We want the depth of the text, not to fill a time-slot on Sunday morning.

As we walk through the story of David and Goliath over the next five Sundays together. Let me encourage you to pay close attention. It’s easy to listen with dead ears to familiar stories. I am confident that this text will come to life for us like, perhaps, it never did in Sunday School as children.

1 Samuel 17:1-19

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; and they were gathered at Socoh which belongs to Judah, and they camped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. Saul and the men of Israel were gathered and camped in the valley of Elah, and drew up in battle array to encounter the Philistines. The Philistines stood on the mountain on one side while Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with the valley between them. Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was clothed with scale-armor which weighed five thousand shekels of bronze. He also had bronze greaves on his legs and a bronze javelin slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and the head of his spear weighed six hundred shekels of iron; his shield-carrier also walked before him.

He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel and said to them, “Why do you come out to draw up in battle array? Am I not the Philistine and you servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will become your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall become our servants and serve us.”

Again the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together.”

When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Now David was the son of the Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, whose name was Jesse, and he had eight sons. And Jesse was old in the days of Saul, advanced in years among men. The three older sons of Jesse had gone after Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and the second to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest. Now the three oldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s flock at Bethlehem. The Philistine came forward morning and evening for forty days and took his stand.

Then Jesse said to David his son, “Take now for your brothers an ephah of this roasted grain and these ten loaves and run to the camp to your brothers. Bring also these ten cuts of cheese to the commander of their thousand, and look into the welfare of your brothers, and bring back news of them. For Saul and they and all the men of Israel are in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.”

The scene (v. 1-3)

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; and they were gathered at Socoh which belongs to Judah, and they camped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. Saul and the men of Israel were gathered and camped in the valley of Elah, and drew up in battle array to encounter the Philistines. The Philistines stood on the mountain on one side while Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with the valley between them.

God already used Saul to deliver Israel from all her enemies, particularly the Philistines (14:48). Now, the Philistines are invading Israel again by gathering their armies in Judah’s cities closest to Philistia. The Israelites set up camp such that Philistia’s invasion could not progress. They camped on the high-ground blocking the Philistines’ entrance to the rest of Israel. Saul really is, here, a great defensive strategist. Philistia is at a disadvantage as the aggressor in battle. 

Goliath’s challenge (v. 4-11)

Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was clothed with scale-armor which weighed five thousand shekels of bronze. He also had bronze greaves on his legs and a bronze javelin slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and the head of his spear weighed six hundred shekels of iron; his shield-carrier also walked before him.

The Philistines’ best chance is to send a champion to challenge Israel in a way that is common for the time. The champion’s battle is a way for armies to save thousands of lives. The Philistines would incur major losses if they faced Israel army-to-army because Israel had the high-defensive position.

Goliath’s ancestry is interesting. Though we cannot trace it specifically past his father, the giant in Gath (2 Samuel 21:16), we can trace it geographically and genetically. Goliath is from Gath. In Joshua 11:21-22, we see that Joshua took the land of Canaan and forced the Anakim out to inhabit Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. So, Goliath was from a city of the Anakim. He was likely a son of Anak. In Numbers 13:28 and Deuteronomy 9:2, we learn that the Anakim, who inhabited Canaan, were great and tall. So, Goliath likely carried that particular genetic marker. If he did not, then he had a pituitary gland issue. In Numbers 13:33, the Anakim are described as a tribe of the Nephilim. Genesis 6, before the Great Flood, describes the Nephilim as children of the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” (Genesis 6:4). Moses refers to them as the mighty men of old, men of renown. If we want to think of the mighty men that predate Moses that Moses might have alluded to, we might consider Gilgamesh, the Mesopotamian Apkallu, or Egypt’s demigods including Pharaoh. Moses traces their existence to a singular event. Somehow, the Nephilim genetic deviation survived the Flood, probably through Ham’s wife, and now we meet Goliath. As an interesting side-note, Canaan is close enough to where Greece will be. As Greek culture develops, we will begin hearing tales of Hercules, Achilles, Ares, and Orion. The Bible traces all of those later traditions and legends to a single, ancient event. The existence of those tales validates the Biblical narrative because legends usually develop out of some truth.

When we think about Goliath, then, we picture a Herculean sort of figure because the Hercules of Greek mythology is probably based on a historic Anakite champion. The Hebrews, standing at about five feet and six inches would have stood as tall as the giant’s, standing at nine feet and six inches, pectorals. The Israelites are right to be scared out of their minds from a human perspective. What champion can they send to defeat the brute?

Goliath not only has his stature, but is technologically advanced. His armor reflects the end of the Bonze Age (c. 3300-300 BC) and his weapon the beginning of the Iron Age (c. 1200-550 BC). Scripture is sure to describe the massive size of Goliath’s armor and great weight of his spear’s head. The giant is somehow on the cutting edge of technological advancement.

He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel and said to them, “Why do you come out to draw up in battle array? Am I not the Philistine and you servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will become your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall become our servants and serve us.”
Again the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together.”
When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

This herculean man challenged Israel. He wagered something unreasonable. Israel could hold the position, but they feared Goliath. Notice, also, that Goliath is not fighting on Dagon’s behalf (cf. chapters 5-7). He fights for Philistia. Goliath sees Israel as fighting for Saul, not God. At this time in history, as the world transitions from the Bronze to the Iron Age, state gods are becoming less important. That is the social development of the day and we see it manifested in Goliath, who probably rejected all gods and saw himself as the captain of his own soul, the master of his own destiny. He mocks God by not recognizing Him at all. Instead of glorifying God, Israel quakes.

Jesse’s instruction (v. 12-19)

Now David was the son of the Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, whose name was Jesse, and he had eight sons. And Jesse was old in the days of Saul, advanced in years among men. The three older sons of Jesse had gone after Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and the second to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest. Now the three oldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s flock at Bethlehem. The Philistine came forward morning and evening for forty days and took his stand.

Samuel recounts David’s lineage and his role as a shepherd boy for us. His three oldest brothers are fighting with Saul. David, one of Saul’s armor bearers, travels back and forth between his work for Saul and his work keeping the family’s sheep. David is not constantly in Saul’s presence with his harp, especially since Saul is now in battle.

Then Jesse said to David his son, “Take now for your brothers an ephah of this roasted grain and these ten loaves and run to the camp to your brothers. Bring also these ten cuts of cheese to the commander of their thousand, and look into the welfare of your brothers, and bring back news of them. For Saul and they and all the men of Israel are in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.”

David does not have it in his mind to fight, but to take care of God’s people and trust God to win His war. After all, God promised that Saul would deliver Israel from the Philistines (9:16). David is trusting God and serving as he is needed—taking food to his brothers, to their commanders, and keeping his father informed about his brothers’ welfare. Here, we already see a contrast between David and Saul in this part of the narrative. David trusts God to deliver Israel with or without him. Saul and the other Israelites shake with fear because they perceive that they are unable to deliver themselves from the Philistine champion—the man who is perceived as some sort of demigod because of his heritage. In this story, Goliath does not represent our biggest problems. He is a blasphemy against God. He represents idolatry in the self-glorification of humankind. Goliath represents human unrighteousness and depravity in their fullness. Yes, those are things we cannot overcome. We will see what David represents in the next passage.

I want us to, for a moment, picture the hurdles we are facing in life. Every page we have turned in 1 Samuel describes God’s sovereignty and providence. Those hurdles are placed by God for His glory and the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. No matter what those hurdles are, when we make it our goal in life merely to jump those hurdles we serve our own glory rather than God’s. We are like Goliath, blasphemy from unrighteous self-glorification, when we stand by ourselves against the whole world and challenge our every problem as if to overcome it by our own means. Most applications made from this text are backwards. The story of David and Goliath is not about us overcoming our giants. It is about God’s glory (David) waging war against human self-glory (Goliath) despite the faithlessness of God’s chosen nation (Israel). This story ought not draw us to focus on overcoming our problems. Instead, this story ought to draw our attention to Christ for God’s glory alone. God is the only one who can deliver us from both our unrighteous pride and our unfaithfulness to Him. The story is about Christ, not us.

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