When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him. David said to Saul, ‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’ Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’ But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.’ David said, ‘The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.’ So Saul said to David, ‘Go, and may the Lord be with you!’
Saul clothed David with his armour; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armour, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.’ So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.
The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.’ But David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with sword and spear and 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. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.’
When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it.
When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. The troops of Israel and Judah rose up with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron. The Israelites came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp. David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armour in his tent.
When Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, ‘Abner, whose son is this young man?’ Abner said, ‘As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.’ The king said, ‘Inquire whose son the stripling is.’ On David’s return from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with the head of the Philistine in his hand. Saul said to him, ‘Whose son are you, young man?’ And David answered, ‘I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.’
The story of David’s victory over Goliath is well known but there is much else for us to reflect on in this passage. It reads as though it is an initial meeting between Saul and the boy David; the last paragraph makes this explicit.
David speaks only of his expertise tending sheep and his trust in God’s protection, when he offers to fight the Philistine. Saul, although he utters pious words, puts more trust in protection provided by armour and weapons of war; and clothes David with his own. We are presented with a ludicrous picture of David weighed down by oversize armour that prevents him from moving, which he immediately discards as useless. He steps forward equipped solely as a shepherd.
Goliath is disdainful towards David as an unarmed opponent and taunts him in the name of his gods. David’s response is all about the power of God to save without recourse to military force. He proclaims a confidence that God will give him the victory as a means of revealing both the divine power and divine will to save Saul and Israel. With a slingshot David triumphs and then he uses Goliath’s own sword to sever his head as the ‘proof’ of victory required by both armies.
This story can be an encouragement to any of us who feel very small in the face of opposition from powerful organisations, mighty structures or confident figures of authority. It reminds us that inequality in size or resources, whilst not totally irrelevant, are not the determining factors in whether we succeed in any endeavour or not. Trust in God can empower us to achieve great things, against all the odds from a human perspective: but only if our goals are in line with God’s purposes and for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Sovereign God, you call us to make known your nature and purposes in a world that believes it is self-reliant and all too often resorts to military force to demonstrate supremacy.
Grant us courage when we face what seem like big challenges. Empower us to declare our trust in you and to act and speak in ways that strive to establish justice, peace, and freedom from fear for all humanity. In the name of Christ,
The Revd Dr Janet E Tollington A retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge.