Twilight Kingdom (2)

Morning’s First Shadow: David and Goliath   (1 Samuel 17:1-58)

Halfway through the book of 1 Samuel, in chapter 16, we finally met David, the youngest son of Jesse of Bethlehem; he was keeping the sheep when Samuel called for and anointed him with oil. He also gained the favor of King Saul, who found emotional relief from David’s worshipful harp music. Up to this point, however, no one other than Samuel (and perhaps Jesse and David) knew that David was God’s choice to succeed Saul as king of Israel. The young shepherd was unknown in Israel, and he has not yet voiced a single word in the Biblical story. In chapter 17 everything will change.

Once again, the Philistines, Israel’s primary nemesis, were mounting up an attack. Out from the Philistine camp came an impressive figure – Goliath of Gath. He stood over 9 feet tall, wore over 150 lbs. of armor, carried a 12-foot spear and defiantly boasted against Yahweh and His people. Goliath brazenly challenged Israel to send a representative to fight him in a winner-take-all battle royale. It was for such a challenge that the people chose Saul as king; he was the tallest among Israel, after all. But the Israelite giant was no match for the Philistine giant. Instead, King Saul and the people cowered in fear as Goliath mocked God. We breathe a sigh of relief in verse 12 of chapter 17, as we are introduced to the hero and savior of our story.

David sees this challenge purely in theological terms. In verse 26, he speaks for the first recorded time in the Bible: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”  Again, in verse 37, he valiantly declares, “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” In verses 45-47 we find that the glory of God motivates David to fight: “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

Spoiler alert: David defeats Goliath! Is there anyone in the world who does not know that? But what spiritual lessons can we learn from this, the most popular story in the Bible? The text has been taught and preached in many ways. Some moralize the story; others solely see Christ as the champion who defeats sin and death; while for others, the story is used as an emotional pep talk.  The narrative of David and Goliath is meant to direct our minds back to the Garden of Eden, when God promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). The story also points ahead, as the earthly conflict typologically points to the great spiritual conflict that the Messiah will win when he crushes the head of the serpent.