A few chapters ago we read
I Samuel 14:47 After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them.
But then Saul failed to obey God at the battle with the Amalkites and as a result the Lord commanded Samuel to anoint David. His Spirit left Saul and settled on David, and in 1 Samuel 16:14 we read ‘Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.’
David was conscripted to play the lyre to calm Saul but that was not a full-time job and in 17:15 we will read ‘but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.’
Read 1 Samuel 17:1-2
1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines.
In those days (as also today in Israel) every man over twenty was an army reservist who could be called up whenever war threatened. While the Philistines were gathering their troops (v1), Saul too was conscripting soldiers to join him in battle. David’s brothers were called up, but not David himself as he was still too young.
Read 1 Samuel 17:3-11
3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.
4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. (About 3 meters – nearly 10ft) 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armour of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; (About 125 pounds – 57kg – the weight of a teenager!)
6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. (About 15 pounds – 7kg) His shield-bearer went ahead of him.
8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, ‘Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and let him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.’ 10 Then the Philistine said, ‘This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.’ 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
When the devil attacks, it is on his terms – but we don’t have to agree to them. With God on our side we can resist the devil, and he will flee from us. (James 4:7)
Saul, now without the help of God, was not experienced enough to reject this offer – he was simply ‘dismayed and terrified’.
Read 1 Samuel 17:12-15
12 Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul’s time he was very old. 13 Jesse’s three eldest sons had followed Saul to the war: the firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. 14 David was the youngest. The three eldest followed Saul, 15 but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.
Verse 13 suggests that not every man was required to join the army; so Jesse sent three of his oldest sons, with the rest being left to work the land. (Of course as Jonathan was the King’s son, he could not only join up as a teenager but have an army under his control too.)
Read 1 Samuel 17:16-19
16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.
17 Now Jesse said to his son David, ‘Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.’
Jesse may well have heard about this stand-off and after forty days wanted to hear from his own sons what was going on. So he sent supplies to his boys and their commanding officer, by his youngest son, David.
Read 1 Samuel 17:20-24
20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.
By now the Israelites were totally demoralised and the Philistines were toying with them. I imagine they would soon attack and expect the Israelites to be routed.
Read 1 Samuel 17:25
25 Now the Israelites had been saying, ‘Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.’
Of course David, having just arrived was ignorant of this. But he guessed a generous incentive would have been made to encourage someone to take on Goliath.
Read 1 Samuel 17:26-27
26 David asked the men standing near him, ‘What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?’
27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, ‘This is what will be done for the man who kills him.’
Even at this young age David felt the humiliation of his people and understood that it was also an affront to ‘the Living God’.
Read 1 Samuel 17:28-31
28 When Eliab, David’s eldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, ‘Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.’
29 ‘Now what have I done?’ said David. ‘Can’t I even speak?’ 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. 31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.
I love verse 29! How typical that David’s brother, an older practised soldier who would have experienced many battles, should mock his youngest brother who appeared to be criticising the army for not attacking. How typical that David should reply ‘Now what have I done?’
But the argument was overheard, and Saul sent for David (who of course was his lyre-player).
Read 1 Samuel 17:32-37
32 David said to Saul, ‘Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.’
33 Saul replied, ‘You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’
34 But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.’Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the Lord be with you.’
What was the difference between the relationship David had with God, and that of Saul?
To David, the Lord was real. He had helped him before (v37) and would help him again. David felt the dishonour of his Lord and was immediately compelled to do something about it. Saul had shown no such personal relationship with God and the best he could say was the equivalent of ‘God bless you’.
Read 1 Samuel 17:38-40
38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.
‘I cannot go in these,’ he said to Saul, ‘because I am not used to them.’ So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
Saul could not bear the thought of David going out unprepared and gave him the best protection made by man. David could not move in the amour and preferred his sling and stones – and the protection of the Lord. (People try to
work out the significance of five stones but it was probably what he always considered sufficient – like making sure your revolver had six bullets in it. And yes – someone who could sling accurately was considered as effective as a good archer)
Read 1 Samuel 17:41-47
41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield-bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 ‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!’
45 David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.’
Goliath threatened to feed him to the birds and animals (v44), David told him that the outcome would be that the whole Philistine army would suffer that fate (v46). But more than that, he knew for a fact that the Lord would fight for them and have the victory that day.
Read 1 Samuel 17:48-50
48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.
There were rules for battles: because of the logistics involved with moving large numbers of foot soldiers, it was agreed to have a battle line for your men to line up behind before battle commenced. Also, if two champions were to fight to the death to decide the outcome (Actually not unusual – it saved the lives of many men and was quick.) there was an unwritten rule that no-one else would come to their aid.
Read 1 Samuel 17:51-58
51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.
54 David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.
55 As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, ‘Abner, whose son is that young man?’
Abner replied, ‘As surely as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know.’
56 The king said, ‘Find out whose son this young man is.’
57 As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head.
58 ‘Whose son are you, young man?’ Saul asked him.
David said, ‘I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.’
Saul would probably have paid little attention to David when he played for him – rather like putting on some background music when he was feeling low – but now the King is much more interested. This young lad will go far.
So we read 1 Samuel 18:2 ‘From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family.’