David and Goliath is a great story. I am sure that you have all heard it before and the lessons that are usually drawn from it.
So I want to start by looking at the Philistines. I want to say, they were wired up differently to the rest of us. What do I mean by that? Looking back to the Second World War I would say that Englishmen fought to live. They didn’t want to go to war, but they went to protect their homes, their families and their way of life from the terrible evil which was spreading over Europe. They were prepared to fight to live. Philistines on the other hand, lived to fight. Their whole lives were given over to killing and stealing. That’s why I say they were wired up differently to the rest of us.
The Philistines did not belong to Israel and they were not a part of the indigenous tribes who were there when the Israelites entered the Promised Land. Just as today’s Palestinians (the old Roman name for Philistines) do not belong to Israel and have no claim to the land. The Palestinians are Arabs and cannot even claim to be descendants of the Philistines of old. The Philistines came from the island of Crete which essentially makes them European. Originally they were pirates and the scourge on the eastern end of the Mediterranean. During the summer months they sailed on the Mediterranean killing other sailors, taking the cargos and sinking their ships. Then when the winter came and the sea was no longer safe, they returned home to Crete, to their wives and families with their loot. If you go to Crete today and go up into the mountains you come across these tiny white-washed villages whose inhabitants will quite proudly tell you that their ancestors were pirates and these little hidden villages provided a safe winter haven for them. They served a god called Dagon. He was made from wood and was in the shape of a ships figurehead. If you want to know more about Dagon I suggest you read 1 Samuel 5.
So what were the Philistines doing in Canaan? The sad fact is that if you spend all the growing and harvesting season sailing the sea and killing and stealing, you cannot be growing food. That didn’t bother the Philistines who were equally happy to find a store of grain and loot it. With that in mind the Israeli farmers became sitting ducks and the Philistines had settled along the Mediterranean coast in their fortified towns of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. If the Israelites remained strong in the Lord and obedient to Him, that’s where the Philistines stayed. But we know that the Israelites didn’t keep faith with the Lord and became physically and spiritually weak. Then God allowed the Philistines to invade Israel’s space. So the story of David and Goliath opens with Saul’s army lined up on one hillside and the Philistine army lined up on the opposite hillside. This time the Philistines have gained and added extra – a champion in the shape of Goliath.
This was a real giant. It’s so easy to get him muddled up with stories like Jack and the Beanstalk. Even the children’s hymn that we used to sing years ago, which started with “When a knight won his spurs” goes on to say, “Back into story land giants have fled”. Giants didn’t come from story land, they were real but I am sure you know that. It is believed that they came originally from what the Bible calls the Nephilim and were the result of the fallen angels coming to earth and having sex with women. This was a satanic attempt to contaminate the human race, making the birth of the Saviour impossible. It is also believed that one of the reasons why God flooded the earth during the time of Noah was to rid the earth of the Nephilim. Though a few giants like Goliath appeared after that and there were a few giants about until medieval times. Arnold Fruchtenbaum who is a well-known bible scholar, says that just as David was a descendant from Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, so Goliath was a descendant of Naomi’s other daughter-in-law, Orpah. I don’t know whether or not that is true, but if it is then Goliath was at least partly Moabite. He declared himself to be Philistine. There is a great deal of discrepancy among the various commentators on Goliath’s height. One has him at six-feet in which case I know a number of giants! I think it unlikely because King Saul must have been about six-feet as the bible describes him as head-and-shoulders above the ordinary man. Israelites were about five-foot-six at that time and surely Saul would not have been afraid of that size Goliath. The other commentators have Goliath at varying heights up to twelve-feet. The bible describes him as six-cubits-and-a-span. The cubic being the length from the elbow to the fingertip is usually agreed at eighteen inches. This would have made him around nine-feet-six-inches. If it helps, a normal doorway is seven-feet. So another two-and-a-half feet gives a picture of this huge man and you can work out whether or not you would have feared him.
It is said that he boasted about being the one who killed Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s two sons, and stole the Ark of the Covenant, placing it in the temple of Dagon. If that was true it was another reason to fear him.
The bible says that he came out twice a day, every day, for forty days. I have heard people describe the word ‘forty’ in the bible as just meaning a long time. I believe that forty actually means forty. I understand that for those poor Israelite men camped on that hillside, it was a long time. Unable to leave because the Philistines would attack, unable to attack for fear of Goliath, they were stuck in inactivity, wanting to go home to wives and families to work their crops and tend their animals all they could do was to wait in fear and frustration. I have been looking at forty in the bible and it would seem to signal a new beginning. The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years before leaving to enter the Promised Land – a new beginning. Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days before leaving to start His earthly ministry – a new beginning. So what about this forty days fearing Goliath? David ended this and I think this was putting David on the map as the new king of Israel – Another new beginning. It wasn’t obvious to anyone but both David and Saul knew that there was to be a new king.
Just one more point about the situation on that hillside. I have already said that the Israelites waited in fear of Goliath and the Philistines. I don’t know what they expected to happen. But fear is infectious. It only takes one frightened person to frighten others and it is into this that David strode. He must have been like a breath of fresh air. The difference between David and the rest of the Israelites was the difference between fear and faith. These two conditions are mutually exclusive. David, full of faith was not in fear of Goliath. The Israelites, full of fear had lost their faith in their God. This is important for us today. Are you full of fear or faith? I know that a lot of people suffer from fears of one kind or another, anxiety and depression. The only answer to all these situations is in the name of Jesus. There really is power in the name and in situations of fear and anxiety and those very dark places where even prayer seems impossible, the name of Jesus changes things. David of course lived one-thousand years before Jesus but he knew his God and trusted in Him in the many situation in which he found himself.
For David, in comparison to Saul and the others, Goliath’s challenge was an insult to his God. How dare this uncircumcised pagan defy the armies of the Living God? For David it was unthinkable that their God should be insulted in this way. It’s a situation just like we have today. The Muslims, Hindus etc are allowed to behave and speak in a way which is insulting to our God but like the Israelites of old we are too lacking in faith to even notice. We just want to keep the peace, to be tolerant, even though they are not. It is not good. We too need a fearless leader like David to stand up and say what is right.
So David goes out to face Goliath. He shuns the man-made protection of Saul’s armour and goes simply with God. He makes that wonderful declaration, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel who you have defied” (1 Samuel 17:45-47). He then paints a very straight picture for all the listening armies of what will happen next. Then David runs at Goliath and there are lots of comparisons made about facing your fears. David ran at Goliath, I want to suggest, because it was the natural stance for a slingshot and it added to the speed of the stone which smacked Goliath squarely between the eyes. That stone did not kill him. It simply knocked him out and he fell forward. David continued to run towards him, and not having a sword of his own, he used Goliath’s own sword to take off his head. Goliath’s head was held up as a signal to both armies that Goliath was dead. Now the situation changes; the Philistines, so relaxed behind their champion, Goliath, turn in fear and panic running blindly for home in their cities. The Israelites, so afraid of Goliath, pick up on David’s faith and become strong in their chase of the Philistine, bringing David’s prediction true.
When it’s all over and they are all going home Saul gives David Goliath’s head as a trophy. Not something we would want, or even think about. But the Bible says that David took the head and buried it near his home, and just outside the city which would one day be his capital of Jerusalem. It is believed that place became known as “the place of the skull”, or in Hebrew, Golgotha. That is a word we all know as the place where Jesus was crucified. If that is true then the trophy which signified God’s defeat of the evil Goliath through David was placed where God’s defeat of Satan was achieved through the death of Jesus on the Cross. I just want to add to that, a reminder of how carefully the Old Testament is linked to the New Testament. The more one reads it the more amazing it becomes.
We have already said what a good story this is and I have put in my plea to separate this from the fairy stories we all know. But we should not read this just as a good story. God did not put these stories in the Old Testament just as a good read for us. If you just want a good read there are literally thousands of good stories out there. No, these Bible stories are here to teach us about God and how He expects us to live in His Kingdom. What then should we take from this story? I really believe there are two points.
If you could choose to be one of the people in this story, who would you choose? Certainly not Goliath and not a Philistine soldier either. Not Saul who was a failure at this point. No, the out-and-out favourite has to be David. But how did David come to be in the position of faith which he brought to this battle?
David had a very difficult life as a youngster. He was put out on the hills at a very young age because his family didn’t like him or want to acknowledge him. When Samuel came to anoint David as king, the family were having a feast to acknowledge Samuel’s visit, but David wasn’t invited. It would have gone ahead without him. When David arrived at the battlefield his brother spoke very harshly to him. Usually in large families the little ones are well cared for, but not in this family. There is even a suggestion that David was put in such a dangerous position on the hillside with lions, bears, and wolves in the hope that he would not survive. Why? Some people say that David was an illegitimate son, the result of some indiscretion by Jesse and therefore unacceptable to the rest of the family. Very unfair on David but this is how things were viewed, even in this country and not that long ago. The problem with this idea was that it made the great king David unacceptable to Jewish society. So there is a rather convoluted story in which Jesse got tired of his wife, Nitzevet, and began an affair with her maid. However, the maid told Nitzevet when Jesse was about to sleep with her and they did a swap (a bit like Rachel and Leah) and Jesse actually slept with his wife producing David. Sadly, months later when Nitzever was obviously pregnant, Jesse accused her of infidelity. This made things right for the Jews because they can see David as legitimate even though his family did not.
What has this to do with us? The result of all this was that David spent days at a time alone on the hills. He had no-one to talk to and no friends. He could talk to the sheep but only get woolly answers. He could talk to himself but still get no answers. He was left with the only sensible choice of speaking to God and waiting for His answers. This resulted in the close friendship of God and David. David spent hours talking to God and learning from God. The very musical David began to compose those beautiful songs which we know as the Psalms. David’s whole life became a time of worship and reverence for the only Friend he had. I wonder how much time we spend with God. A quick prayer each morning for help with the day does not equate. “But I am talking to God all day”, is not the same as those times of quiet spent with God. David’s friendship with God was exceptional and part of the life he lived as fugitive and then as king. Nothing, but nothing compares with the time we give to God. It is the most valuable thing you have to give Him.
The other thing which David spent time on was practise – Practise with his slingshot. In cowboy films you see them lining up bottles to shoot at over and over again until they become proficient. The only thing David had to line up must have been rocks but he spent time shooting and shooting his slingshot until he knew that he could hit the target, even when it was moving like Goliath. He knew the stone had to hit Goliath between the eyes. It would have no effect anywhere else, on a large heavily armoured man. When he slung that shot he had to be one hundred percent sure of where it would land. The only way he could be sure was to practise, practise, and practise. David’s life depended on his accuracy not only against Goliath but also against the wild animals. So what am I saying? Should we all be out practising the slingshot? Of course not but Ephesians Ch.6 tells us what our weapon is that we should be practising with. It talks about the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. How much time do we give to the Word? How often is our Bible open? Time spent in the Word is very valuable. It gives a timely verse to pass on to someone in need. It gives the confidence to face life’s difficulties.
These are the two things which I believe made David such a man of God. Time spent with God and time spent in practise. We have the choice. Time spent dozing in front of the TV or disciplined time with God. This is the important lesson from David and Goliath.