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The Story of Saul & Goliath

I noticed something interesting this week. I have been preaching for over 10 years now and I’ve preached through a lot of different Bible stories. In fact, many of those great Old Testament stories are some my favourite sermons to preach! But as I looked back through my archives this week, I realized that I have never preached through the story of David & Goliath! I’ve touched on many of the other stories of David’s life – David & Jonathon, David & Saul, David & Bathsheba – but never David & Goliath!

So today is going to be a first for me, because in our study of 1 Samuel, we’ve now reached chapter 17 – which includes of course, perhaps the most famous Bible story of them all – the story of David & Goliath.

However, the title that I’ve given to today’s message is actually “The Story of Saul & Goliath” because as you read through the chapter, you see that this story revolves around Saul just as much as it does David. It actually continues the contrast that we saw last week between these two characters.

Because of Saul’s earlier disobedience, God had determined to end Saul’s dynasty and replace him with another – and David was the man that God had chosen. (Although at his time, he was still just a young lad.) But you’ll remember from chapter 16 that Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David at his anointing, and at the same time, the Spirit of the Lord left King Saul.

This is just the first of many contrasts that the author of 1 Samuel will draw for us as we go through these next few chapters. Saul is fearful – David is courageous. Saul is hesitant, David takes action. Saul becomes jealous of David, David remains loyal to Saul. These contrasts will continue for the next 14 chapters – right to the end of the book when Saul is finally killed in battle and David actually becomes king.

But of course, that’s getting ahead of ourselves! We’re not there yet. But this chapter, chapter 17, really begins to emphasize this contrast between Saul and David. And there is a lot of stuff that goes on in chapter 17, so I think I’ll divide this story into two parts. We’ll do Saul and Goliath today and then next week we’ll do David & Goliath to finish up.

So chapter 17 opens up with a familiar scene. It says…

The Philistines now mustered their army for battle and camped between Socoh in Judah and Azekah at Ephes-dammim. 2 Saul countered by gathering his Israelite troops near the valley of Elah. 3 So the Philistines and Israelites faced each other on opposite hills, with the valley between them. 1 Samuel 17:1-3

If you were with us several weeks ago when we went through the story of Jonathan and his armour-bearer, this scene will be very familiar to you. The last time the Israelites faced the Philistines, the battle lines were drawn in a very similar way – with the Israelites on one side of the valley and the Philistines on the other. 

In that previous battle, Jonathon and his armour-bearer climbed down and then up the other side of a steep gorge to reach the Philistine outpost – where God enabled the two of them to defeated an entire garrison of Philistines! This started off a chain reaction of events that resulted in the Philistines running in fear and in the end, God gave the Israelites a tremendous victory over the Philistines!

But that victory seems to have all but faded in their memories as the Israelites are now trembling in fear as they face the Philistines once again. But it doesn’t seem to be the size or strength of the Philistine army that has terrified them this time, but rather the size and the strength of just one Philistine man. Verse 4 tells us….

4 Then Goliath, a Philistine champion from Gath, came out of the Philistine ranks to face the forces of Israel. He was over nine feet tall! 5 He wore a bronze helmet, and his bronze coat of mail weighed 125 pounds. 6 He also wore bronze leg armor, and he carried a bronze javelin on his shoulder. 7 The shaft of his spear was as heavy and thick as a weaver’s beam, tipped with an iron spearhead that weighed 15 pounds. His armor bearer walked ahead of him carrying a shield. 1 Samuel 17:4-7

I find it interesting that the author of 1 Samuel takes such great pains to describe in detail just how imposing this Philistine giant was! He doesn’t just say “A big scary man came out to face the Israelites” – but he takes an entire paragraph to vividly paint the picture for us of how enormous and strong and well-protected this giant of a man was!

And I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if the author does this because he’s previously told us that King Saul was a bit of a giant himself. When we first met Saul, we are told that, not only was he the most handsome man in all of Israel, but he was also the tallest – standing head and shoulders taller than everyone else. We don’t know his exact height, but we know that everyone in Israel looked up to him… literally and figuratively! After his many military victories, Saul truly was the Israelite’s champion. But it’s clear that EVEN HE had nothing on the Philistine champion, Goliath. Verse 8 continues…

8 Goliath stood and shouted a taunt across to the Israelites. “Why are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul. Choose one man to come down here and fight me! 9 If he kills me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be our slaves! 10 I defy the armies of Israel today! Send me a man who will fight me!” 11 When Saul and the Israelites heard this, they were terrified and deeply shaken.

1 Samuel 17:8-10

So we can clearly see that every man on the Israelites’ side of the valley was terrified of Goliath – including Saul. His imposing presence and his boastful defiance left them filled with fear and deeply shaken, it says.

Again, this is not unlike their previous battle with the Philistines. Back then, like now, the Philistine presence had terrified the Israelites and at that time, almost all of Saul’s army had gone into hiding. They fled from the battleground and Saul was left with only 600 men. Of course, God only needed two men – Jonathon and his armour-bearer – to win the day. But like I said, the Israelites seemed to have forgotten all about that, and they now stood trembling in fear because of Philistines and their champion.

And by the way, this word ‘champion’ that is used here to describe Goliath – in Hebrew it literally means ‘the man in between two armies’. Apparently it was not unheard of to do exactly what Goliath had propose here – that one representative from each army would fight each other (instead of having the entire army fight) and the winner of that battle would claim victory for their nation.

That would certainly spare a lot of lives, but that would sure put a lot of pressure on the one guy who went to fight! Of course, Goliath had never lost a battle – that’s why he was still alive – and so the Philistines had every confidence in him to win again.

The Israelites on the other hand – had no such confidence. They didn’t have that confidence in their champion, King Saul, and it would seem that they didn’t have that confidence in God either – despite the fact that God had just handed them victory over the Philistines not too long before.

And so that’s where this scene ends – with Saul and all the Israelites trembling in fear, having completely forgotten what God had done for them in the past and having no expectation that God would do anything to help them in the present. It’s certainly not their best moment.

But then the next scene opens in verse 12.

12 Now David was the son of a man named Jesse, an Ephrathite from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. Jesse was an old man at that time, and he had eight sons. 13 Jesse’s three oldest sons—Eliab, Abinadab, and Shimea—had already joined Saul’s army to fight the Philistines. 14 David was the youngest son. David’s three oldest brothers stayed with Saul’s army, 15 but David went back and forth so he could help his father with the sheep in Bethlehem.

1 Samuel 17:12-15

So here we are introduced to David for a second time in 1 Samuel. The first time we met him, he had been left at home to tend the sheep while his older brothers and his father had gone to town for a sacrifice. Likewise, again in this introduction, we see “little David” staying home, taking care of the sheep – while his older brothers are out doing “grown-up things”! Now of course, we don’t know just how ‘little’ David was at this time. 20 years old was the age of military service back then, and so if David’s three oldest brothers were in the army, but David’s four other older brothers where not – David may have only been about 15 years old at this time since he was younger than them all! 

Anyways, verse 15 tells us that David went back and forth from Saul’s army. David was too young to be enlisted, but as we saw in the last chapter, as a skilled musician, David was frequently employed by Saul to play the harp for him whenever he got troubled and depressed because of a tormenting spirit from the Lord. And I’m guessing that as Saul faced off against the Philistines, he got troubled and depressed quite often. Look at verse 16.

16 For forty days, every morning and evening, the Philistine champion strutted in front of the Israelite army.

1 Samuel 17:12-16

40 days is a long time for a military standoff! Can you imagine how that must have impacted the morale of Saul and the troops of Israel? For 40 days, twice a day, the Philistine giant would come out, taunt and mock the Israelites – challenge them to a fight to which no one would respond – and then return to his camp having proved once again that Saul and the Israelites were all just a bunch cowards!

No wonder Saul just sat there with his army on the hilltop for 40 days! After being humiliated by Goliath day after day after day – every 12 hours repeatedly – nobody had the courage to fight the Philistines! They were terrified, humiliated, and felt absolutely powerless to do anything about their situation. Which is exactly what the enemy wanted!

And might I just interject here that our enemy wants the same thing. Satan wants us to be terrified, humiliated, and to feel absolutely powerless to change our situation! And frankly, he’s pretty efficient in accomplishing that. I think most of us could identify times when we’ve felt fearful, when we’ve felt humiliated or ashamed, and felt absolutely helpless to change our situation!

But I just want to remind you today that we don’t have to feel that way. Do you know the most frequent command in the Bible? It’s “Do not fear.” “Do not be afraid.” We read that command more than any other command in the entire Bible.

Probably one of the most famous ‘do not fear’ commands is in Joshua 1:9. The Lord said to Joshua…

9 This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

That verse is absolutely applicable to us. With the Lord beside us – in fact, with the Holy Spirit living within us – we have no reason whatsoever to be afraid. John writes in 1 John 4:4….

4 But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. 1 John 4:4

Our God has never failed. He has never lost a battle. He has never been the victim of a surprise attack! Remember, we’re talking about GOD! The one who has power over everything in the universe. The one who knows everything about everyone! The one who has predetermined the future! And the one who loves you so much that He was willing to die for you.

So what is it that we have to be afraid of?

Don’t get distracted by the giants in your life. Don’t allow them to fill you with fear because far greater is He who lives in you, than he that is in the world.

Unfortunately for Saul and all the armies of Israel, they couldn’t quite see that. All they could see was this enormous giant defying and mocking them. And they were filled with fear.

But thankfully, not everyone shared that same perspective. Our story continues in verse 17.

17 One day Jesse said to David, “Take this basket of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread, and carry them quickly to your brothers. 18 And give these ten cuts of cheese to their captain. See how your brothers are getting along, and bring back a report on how they are doing.” 19 David’s brothers were with Saul and the Israelite army at the valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.

20 So David left the sheep with another shepherd and set out early the next morning with the gifts, as Jesse had directed him. He arrived at the camp just as the Israelite army was leaving for the battlefield with shouts and battle cries. 21 Soon the Israelite and Philistine forces stood facing each other, army against army. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies and hurried out to the ranks to greet his brothers. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, came out from the Philistine ranks. Then David heard him shout his usual taunt to the army of Israel.

24 As soon as the Israelite army saw him, they began to run away in fright. 25 “Have you seen the giant?” the men asked. “He comes out each day to defy Israel. The king has offered a huge reward to anyone who kills him. He will give that man one of his daughters for a wife, and the man’s entire family will be exempted from paying taxes!”

1 Samuel 17:17-25

Now this is interesting. The situation has grow so desperate that King Saul is offering a huge reward for anyone who will kill Goliath.  He will give that man riches, one of his own daughters for a wife, and his entire family will never have to pay taxes again!

That’s a pretty good reward. But yet no one has taken the king up on his offer! And that’s really no surprise. After all, if King Saul won’t fight Goliath – who would? No one is more qualified than Saul. Of all the people of Israel, Saul has the advantage of size, he has the advantage of military experience, and as we read a few chapters back, he’s one of only two guys with a sword. What’s more, Saul’s job description was that he was to lead the people of Israel into battle – that was the whole reason the people of Israel wanted a king in the first place! Remember, they said “We want a king who will lead us into battle” – in other words, “We want a king who will fight Goliath!”

And so if Saul wouldn’t fight Goliath – who would? Saul’s failure to lead by example spoke louder than any promise of reward that he could ever offer!

But now contrast that with the reaction of David in verse 26.

26 David asked the soldiers standing nearby, “What will a man get for killing this Philistine and ending his defiance of Israel? Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?”

27 And these men gave David the same reply. They said, “Yes, that is the reward for killing him.”

1 Samuel 17:26-27

First of all, David finds it incredible to believe that the King has offered such huge reward for killing this giant. But what’s more, David finds it even more incredible to believe that this pagan Philistine has been allowed to continue defying the armies of the Living God day after day after day – and no one has done a thing about it!

It’s not the reward that gets David all riled up – it’s the fact that this Philistine is defying and mocking the armies of the Living God! Doesn’t Goliath realize who he’s dealing with? The God of Israel isn’t just some stone idol like all the gods of the Philistines. He is the Living God! He is the all-powerful God of the universe! How dare Goliath defy Him! And how dare the Israelites to allow it! Somebody has to do something to put a stop to this!

But before David can do anything else, his big brother Eliab steps in.

28 But when David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard David talking to the men, he was angry. “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!”

29 “What have I done now?” David replied. “I was only asking a question!” 30 He walked over to some others and asked them the same thing and received the same answer. 31 Then David’s question was reported to King Saul, and the king sent for him.

1 Samuel 17:28-31

You might remember Eliab from the last chapter. At the sacrifice when God was going to identify his choice as the next king, Samuel first thought it might be Eliab, but God said “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” Eliab looked impressive on the outside, but God didn’t like what he saw in his heart – and now we can see why.

As soon as Eliab hears David talking with the other men, he immediately gives him a verbal lashing – accusing him of abandoning his sheep (those FEW sheep, he emphasizes as a further put down.) And then he goes on to accuse David of pride and deceit. And of course, these are all false accusations.

We saw back in verse 20 that David was sure to leave his sheep in the care of another shepherd so he wasn’t neglecting his duties. In fact, in coming to the battlefield, he was being obedient to his father who sent him to bring back a report.

And I guess we can’t really speak to whether there was pride and deceit in David’s heart – only God knows that, but we sure haven’t seen any evidence of it. So Eliab’s accusations seem very unfounded and uncalled for.

But David seems to take it all in stride. He’s got more important things to do than to get into a pointless argument with his brother. He’s got a giant to deal with! And so he basically brushes off his brother’s comments and he continues talking with the men until finally King Saul gets word of David’s questioning and David gets called to see the king.

And this is where we’ll stop for today. We’ll pick it up here again next week and try to finish up the story.

But it’s interesting: Even though David has just arrived on the battlefield, already we can see quite a contrast between King Saul and David.

On one hand, Saul is fixated on and terrified of enormous giant and the mighty Philistine army before him. He’s humiliated by Goliath’s taunts and his fear seems to paralyze him. He does nothing but offer a reward to anyone who will do his job for him! His fear causes him to neglect his responsibilities as the King and as Israel’s leader. Even though God has done mighty things through him in the past, Saul seems to have no expectation this time that God would even show up.

David, on the other hand, has a totally different focus. When he sees the giant and hears Goliath’s defiant boasts, he doesn’t feel fear, but he feels a sense of duty to protect the name of his God – the Living God. And even when he is put down and falsely accused by this brother, he shrugs it off because he knows the truth – He’s been obedient to his father and he’s made sure his sheep are taken care of. And next week, we’re going to see that David has absolute confidence that God will show up. God’s done it before and David’s sure that God will come through again!

Saul and David were looking at the same situation, but they focused on totally different things – And their difference focus completely changed how they responded. 

And so I’d just encourage you to consider your focus this week.  There are always going to be Giants. There will always be enormous problems that we might face. There will always be people who mock us and taunt us – who accuse us and put us down.

But how we respond to all these things are determined 100% by our focus. Do we focus on our problems or do we focus on our God?

I couldn’t help but think of Hebrews 12 verses 1 & 2….

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Hebrews 12:1-2a

Saul fixed his eyes on the Philistine champion, Goliath; we need to fix our eyes on a different champion – Jesus – the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. The one who has already won the victory for us though his death and resurrection. The one who command us not to fear, not to be discouraged, because He lives within us and is with us where ever we go.

Whatever giants you’re facing this week, no matter how huge they are, no matter how intimidating they are, no matter what they say about you, don’t worry about them – don’t listen to them. Set your eyes upon Jesus – listen to what he says – and allow Him to bring you the victory.

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