David and Goliath

This lesson describes the dramatic entrance of young David to the stage of Israel's history and recounts the model story from which all later 'underdog' narratives are taken.
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What does it take to be a winner? Some say it is a combination of skill and luck. To be a winner you have to be good at something, work hard and be at the right place at the right time. This, people say, is what makes a winner in sports.

Of course, not everything in life is about sports. What about winning a war, or winning over discouragement, illness or loneliness, what about winning over fear, bad habits or dangerous situations? Sometimes ordinary people have to face extraordinary challenges in life, situations that seem impossible to overcome. In order to find inspiration for moments like these I want to retell the familiar story about a "little guy," a "nobody," who faced a great challenge and won the day. This is the story of David and Goliath.

The Scene — I Samuel 17:1-3

First of all, let us set the scene :

1 Now the Philistines gathered their armies together to battle, and were gathered at Sochoh, which belongs to Judah; they encamped between Sochoh and Azekah, in Ephes Dammim. 2 And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and they encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in battle array against the Philistines. 3 The Philistines stood on a mountain on one side, and Israel stood on a mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.

The Philistines were the arch-enemy of the Israelites. These people lived on a strip of territory with the Mediterranean Sea on one side and the Israelite nation on the other. They continually tried to expand their territory by attacking their Jewish neihbors to the east. In addition to this, the Bible says that God often used the Philistines' aggression to punish the Israelites because of their unfaithful and disobedient conduct.

When Saul, the first king of Israel, was anointed many of his initial military campaigns were aimed at pushing back the Philistines into their own territory. When he succeeded, there would be peace. This period of peace did not last long however since Saul himself disobeyed God and the Lord roused the Philistines to once again come and attack Israel, this time with a new secret weapon.

This is the situation we find as we begin reading chapter 17 in the book of Samuel. The opposing armies were grouped on two ridges facing each other with a valley separating them. They could see and hear one another, but had to go down into the valley to fight. It was a feature of ancient warfare that opposing armies would face, examine and taunt each other before entering combat. Today we would call this "talking trash" to each other. So this is the scene before us as we see the Philistines roll out a new weapon of war.

The Champion — I Samuel 17:4-7

This fearsome weapon was a giant fighter named Goliath.

4 And a champion went out from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6 And he had bronze armor on his legs and a bronze javelin between his shoulders. 7 Now the staff of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and his iron spearhead weighed six hundred shekels; and a shield-bearer went before him.

Try to imagine an age where there were no long-range weapons, where the majority of the fighting was hand-to-hand combat. Now imagine how intimidating this champion was. At a time where men's average height and weight were around 5'6" and 150 pounds, Goliath, the champion was:

  • 10 feet tall (3m)
  • Weighed 400 pounds (180kg)
  • Carried 125 pounds of armor (60kg)
  • His spear was 12 feet long (4m)
  • The tip of the spear weighed 15 pounds (7kg)
  • He even had someone else carry his shield

This was the secret weapon that the Philistenes unveiled on this battlefield. A giant champion superior to any man in either army!

The Challenge — I Samuel 17:8-11

I believe that most of us are familiar with the idea of psychological warfare. Tricks and ideas used to discourage or confuse the enemy. This type of approach is nothing new. Armies were using it thousands of years ago, and the Bible records a prime example of it here.

8 Then he stood and cried out to the armies of Israel, and said to them, "Why have you come out to line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us." 10 And the Philistine said, "I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together." 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Each day Goliath, the massive Philistine champion, would come out and challenge someone from the Israelite side to come out and fight one-on-one, man-to-man (winner take all). Whoever won became master and whoever lost became a slave. With one contest the Israelite nation could lose its freedom.

In verse 16 of this passage, it says that this taunting, this trash-talk, went on every day, morning and night for 40 days. Talk about mind games! Who could fight a giant? What was worse was that each day as the giant came out to taunt Saul and his army, other nations were getting the news that Israel, God's people, were being humiliated and defeated by a single man, and defeated without a single battle! Every day as Goliath came forth to successfully face them down, the Israelite army could feel their courage and self-esteem shrinking as their fear and shame grew. No one dared answer the call of the giant, except one.

The Challenger — I Samuel 17:12-24

In verses 12-24, the writer introduces a new character on the scene as the story shifts gears. David is the youngest of eight sons. He wasn't permitted to go to the battle, he had to stay home to take care of his father's sheep. As the youngest, his father used David as a messenger boy to bring food and get information from his other sons who are at the front lines. David was a teenager at this time.

At this point, David is a shepherd boy not aware of the great challenge that will face him the next time he goes on an errand to the battlefront and for his father.

The Transformation — I Samuel 17:25-37

As we continue reading, we see three things that happen to transform this humble shepherd boy into one of the greatest heroes/winners of all time. The first step in this transformation:

1. He hears and accepts the challenge

25 So the men of Israel said, "Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel; and it shall be that the man who kills him the king will enrich with great riches, will give him his daughter, and give his father's house exemption from taxes in Israel." 26 Then David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, "What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" 27 And the people answered him in this manner, saying, "So shall it be done for the man who kills him." 28 Now Eliab his oldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab's anger was aroused against David, and he said, "Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle." 29 And David said, "What have I done now? Is there not a cause?" 30 Then he turned from him toward another and said the same thing; and these people answered him as the first ones did.

By now, the army is visibly afraid, another day or so and the Philistines will cross the valley and destroy them all. Notice that his brothers are angry that he is there to witness their shame. King Saul is offering a reward to someone who will fight the giant. Actually, he is offering a position in the royal family and the money to fit in. The problem is that he is desperately looking for someone to do what he himself should be doing!

David, however, hears and accepts the challenge. He doesn't just hear the words of the giant, he is able to see exactly what the problem is. Despite his youth and inexperience at warfare, he recognizes that the insult isn't only directed against the army, the king or even the nation of Israel; the insult is actually against God because if you insult God's army or king, you insult God Himself.

And so, David's transformation begins with a vision, an understanding of what the true problem is, and how serious it is.

The second step in David's transformation:

2. He decides to do something

31 Now when the words which David spoke were heard, they reported them to Saul; and he sent for him. 32 Then David said to Saul, "Let no man's heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine."

David doesn't react with fear. This young man burns with righteous indignation (holy anger). It was so wrong to insult God, and someone had to do something about that. He decided that if no one else was going to, he would do something about it.

This brings us to the third and most important step in David's transformation; he saw the problem, he decided to do something:

3. He put his confidence in God for victory

33 And Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth." 34 But David said to Saul, "Your servant used to keep his father's sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, 35 I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God." 37 Moreover David said, "The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." And Saul said to David, "Go, and the Lord be with you!"

David had faced danger and death from wild animals while guarding his sheep, and had defeated them with his bare hands! He had spent many lonely nights by himself in the mountains, and these had given him a lot of time to be with God, to know and trust Him for protection. What was the difference: a lion, a bear or this Philistine animal? David would risk his life and go down into the valley to fight, and he was ready for battle because the transformation from shepherd boy to warrior was complete:

A. He was right

  • Insulting God was wrong and this guy had to be put down.
  • "Rightness" gives you power.

B. He was set

  • Action was needed and he made the decision to act. (So many whine or criticize, but few take action.)

C. He was confident

  • David knew that his victory would come from God, not himself or his strengths; so he went into battle with the right kind of confidence.

Transformations occur when we make up our minds to do right and trust God for the strength to do what is right.

The Victory — I Samuel 17:38-52

Our story now shifts back to the scene of battle.

38 So Saul clothed David with his armor, and he put a bronze helmet on his head; he also clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 David fastened his sword to his armor and tried to walk, for he had not tested them. And David said to Saul, "I cannot walk with these, for I have not tested them." So David took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand; and he chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag, in a pouch which he had, and his sling was in his hand. And he drew near to the Philistine.

At first King Saul gives David his armor, sword and helmet, but this equipment proves to be too bulky for David. He chooses to fight with his own weapon which is the shepherd's sling:

  • This was a primitive slingshot where you placed a rock in a patch of leather connected by two lengths of rope and swung the rock in a circular motion over your head to create speed of delivery before releasing.
  • These were deadly and very accurate within 100 feet.
  • This is how David had killed animals that had attacked his sheep.
41 So the Philistine came, and began drawing near to David, and the man who bore the shield went before him. 42 And when the Philistine looked about and saw David, he disdained him; for he was only a youth, ruddy and good-looking. 43 So the Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 And the Philistine said to David, "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!"

David and Goliath confront each other. They're like two prize-fighters trying to psyche each other out. Goliath is angry that the Israelites have sent a mere boy with no weapons to fight him. He curses David and threatens to kill him and give his body to the animals to eat.

45 Then David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. 47 Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's, and He will give you into our hands."

David is not afraid and pronounces not a curse, but a judgment on Goliath in the name of the Lord. He tells him that because he insulted the Lord, both he and his army will be defeated by the Lord. This is exactly why a teenager with no weapons of war was sent, to show where the power for victory was really coming from. David had five stones but needed only one, knocking out the giant with his first shot. He then jumped on the fallen warrior and cut off his head with his own sword. (This was akin to being shot with your own weapon; talk about humiliation.)

When Goliath's men see that their secret weapon has been defeated, they lose courage and run, chased back to their boarder by the jubilant Israeli army.


Literary historians tell us that this story is the basis for every story where the "little guy" takes on the "big guy" and wins. This is where the idea comes from. But this story is special because it also teaches us what it takes to win spiritual, emotional and social battles, not just sporting events or wars. In David's case, he defeated the giant because:

1. He was a child of God

  • The real difference between Goliath and David was not size or strength, it was who they were.
  • Goliath was a pagan, a blasphemer, a sinner.
  • David was one of God's chosen people, a believing, obedient, holy child of God.

Power to overcome is given because of our relationship with God, not our personal strength. All the working out in the gym won't help if God is not your helper!

2. He was zealous for God

The word "zealous" means jealous. It means that the things of God are important to you. David respected the things and the person of God. He was concerned about an insult to God and His people. This zeal is what inflamed his courage to go out and fight, even if he was outmatched! He was spiritually pumped!

It is this same quality that moved Noah to build the boat; John the Baptist to preach; Jesus to go to the cross for our sins; the Apostles to risk their lives preaching the gospel. Zeal is that quality that separates those who are just fooling around for Christ from those who are becoming fools for Christ.

David was a fool for God because only a fool, a zealous fool, would go fight a giant with a sling shot.

3. He had confidence in God

  • The Philistines relied on size and strength alone; David relied on God for His size and strength.
  • David knew from experience that the Lord saved those who called upon Him for help.

David was confident because with the God of salvation on his side, he could not lose.

All right, now you have the story of David and Goliath, an event that took place some 3000 years ago. Let us bring this battle into the twenty-first century and see if it is relevant to us today by asking the following questions:

"Who is your Goliath?"

Each person has his/her own personal Goliath facing them each day:

  • Worry, bad habits, family problems
  • Fear of death, money problems, issues dealing with sex

You see, every day our own personal Goliath gets up with us in the morning and challenges us to come out and fight. And every night he taunts us for having refused.

Let me ask you, when it comes to your personal Goliath, "Are you winning?" "Have you cut off his head yet?" Or are you like Saul, shrinking back in fear, paralyzed by his size and power?

Do you really want to be a giant killer?

Well, I have good news for you: you can become a victor, today! The challenge and the victory came in one day for David and it can come in one day for you. Here's where and how to start:

1. Become a child of God today

You can't defeat Goliath unless you are a child of God. And you become God's child when you are born again by the water and the Spirit (John 3:5). The water and Spirit John refers to here are further explained by Peter when he was encouraging the people he had just preached to to become Christians. In Acts 2:37-38 he tells his audience that those who repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus receive not only forgiveness for their sins but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as well. It is with the confidence of a forgiven sinner and the power of God's Spirit living inside of us that we are thus able to take on the Goliaths in our lives.

The victory is yours if…

2. You become zealous for God

Become a fool for God in your good conduct, your attitude, your Bible study, your worship, your efforts to bring others to Christ. Zeal for God generates courage, and courage moves us into the arena to fight our personal Goliaths.

You'll cut off his head if…

3. You trust in God for the final victory

If God can create billions of stars each larger than the earth; if God can create a human life from the dust of the ground; surely He can give you the strength to take care of a few puny giants! The final victory may be long in coming, but when you put your trust in God, you know that the first and most crucial step towards victory has been taken.

So, what will it be? What will you choose? Are you going to come down into the valley to fight, or are you going to stay up on the hill and remain afraid and defeated? Will this be the day that you become a giant-killer?

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