SHEPHERD AND SAVIOUR 1 Samuel 16–17
“I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Sam. 17:45).When the obstacles we face seem overwhelming, it helps to remember the young shepherd boy, David, whose faith gave him courage to face the giant Goliath.
David was Israel’s ideal king, a type of the Messiah whom the Old Testament predicts will one day rule not only the Holy Land but the whole earth. As Israel’s king, David welded the 12 tribes into a powerful, united nation. He conquered Israel’s enemies, and multiplied its territory 10 times. David also united the nation spiritually, making Jerusalem the religious as well as political capital. He reorganized Israel’s worship and wrote many of the psalms used in public services. Despite his many accomplishments, David is portrayed in Scripture as a very human individual. He was a man who truly loved God, yet a man who had serious weaknesses. What distinguishes David from Saul is David’s humility and his willingness to confess his sins, not only to the Lord but also publicly (cf. Ps. 51). Like so many other famous men, David’s children disappointed him, and David failed to deal wisely with them. David is an important figure theologically. The Old Testament predicts that the Messiah, the promised Deliverer of humankind, would descend from David. Other prophecies show that this Person, David’s greater Son, would also be the Son of God. Genealogies in the Gospels make it clear that Jesus Christ meets this requirement, and fulfills God’s promise to David that the ultimate Ruler would come from his family line.
God sent Samuel to the house of Jesse, where the old prophet anointed David to become Israel’s future king (16:1–13). David entered Saul’s service as a musician (vv. 14–23). When the Philistines assembled to attack Israel, only David was willing to face their champion, the giant Goliath (17:1–37). In history’s most famous duel, young David killed Goliath with his sling (vv. 38–58).
Understanding the Text
“Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” 1 Sam. 16:1–12. God sent Samuel to the home of Jesse of Bethlehem to anoint one of his sons king in place of Saul, whom He had rejected. There Samuel was impressed by Jesse’s oldest, who looked impressive but was not God’s choice. We see the wisdom of God’s rejection of Eliab later, when Eliab not only cowered before Goliath with the rest of Israel, but angrily rebuked David for expressing his belief that God would help an Israelite defeat “this uncircumcised Philistine” (cf. 17:26–28). It’s significant that even Samuel, a wise man with much spiritual insight, was deceived by Eliab’s physical appearance. It’s not surprising that today we place too much importance on beauty when choosing a mate, and on TV image when selecting national leaders. God’s rebuke of Samuel is one each of us needs to take seriously. Like God, we need to make choices based on what is in others’ hearts. Lacking God’s perfect knowledge, you and I need to go slowly in developing relationships. More than one life has been ruined by making a quick commitment without knowing enough about another’s character. “From that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David” 1 Sam. 16:13. The New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit now lives in each believer, and is the Source of our spiritual growth and power (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 3:18). But we should not read this New Testament meaning into the Old Testament phrase. In the Old Testament, the Spirit “coming upon” someone is a technical theological phrase. It means simply that God empowered the person spoken of for a specific task. In David’s case the task was to be ruler of Israel, with all the military and other responsibilities rule would entail. God provides the resources we need to accomplish any task He sets before us. “An evil spirit from the Lord” 1 Sam. 16:14–23. Saul, having rejected God, was now subject to fits of rage and deep depressions. The Old Testament ascribes the cause of his irrational moments to an “evil spirit from Yahweh.” Some take this to indicate a demon, one of Satan’s followers, who was permitted to torment Saul (cf. Matt. 12:24). Others believe the phrase speaks of Saul’s own spirit, “evil” in the sense of harmful or painful. Either interpretation affirms God’s sovereignty, and suggests either punishment or a last effort to turn Saul back to God. David was introduced to court life when he was recommended as a skilled harpist. David’s playing quieted Saul during his bad times. David did not stay with the king permanently, but was allowed to return home at times when Saul was well (1 Sam. 17:15). “I defy the ranks of Israel!” 1 Sam. 17:1–16 The armies of Israel and Philistia were drawn up opposite each other. A deep ravine cuts across the Elah valley, and apparently neither force was willing to risk attacking across it. So the giant Goliath came out daily for over a month and challenged Israel to send out a representative to fight him. Such duels before the main battle were not uncommon in ancient times. As Goliath was some 9’9″ (3 meters) tall, and carried a spear whose point was heavier than a modern shot put, the Israelites were too terrified to accept the challenge. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine?” 1 Sam. 17:17–31 In Old Testament times citizen soldiers had to provide their own supplies. So Jesse sent his youngest, David, to bring more food to his brothers. David was shocked that no one had been willing to fight Goliath, and openly expressed his surprise. The question, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine?” is dismissive. Since Goliath was not one of God’s covenant people, he could expect no help from the Lord and thus should be defeated easily. David’s repeated questions about the reward offered to anyone who would defeat Goliath, and his bold statements, angered his older brother. But they had their desired effect. Saul heard about David’s remarks, and called him to his tent. In Old Testament times the average Israelite was about 5’ tall. The picture shows a typical Israelite, Saul (who was a head taller than any of his people [cf. 1 Sam. 10:23]), and the giant Goliath. “You are not able” 1 Sam. 17:32–37. Saul’s heart must have sunk when he saw David, a mere youth, and smaller than average at that. But David confidently related his exploits against wild animals who attacked his father’s sheep, and his belief that the Lord would “deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Perhaps Saul was impressed. At any rate, he gave David permission to fight. God can still do more with one little person willing to try than with a whole army of hesitant soldiers. “I come against you in the name of the Lord” 1 Sam. 17:38–54. We all know the outcome of that battle. With a single stone hurled from his sling David killed Goliath, serving ever since as the prime example of faith overcoming impossible odds. “Whose son is that young man?” 1 Sam. 17:55–58 The question does not contradict the 1 Samuel 16 description of David in Saul’s court. Saul knew who David was, but did not remember his lineage. David identified his father, who benefited from David’s victory by being forever exempt from royal taxation (cf. 17:25).
Giant Killers (1 Sam. 17)
There have been too many sermons on the subject to belabor the point. The odds seemed impossible when David went out to meet Goliath. Yet, with faith in God and a simple shepherd’s sling, David won. Everyone has times when he or she faces a personal Goliath in some situation in which the odds seem impossible. A challenge that no one else is willing to take up. A struggle it seems impossible to win. When that happens, we, like David, have nowhere to turn but to God. We are to remember that we too can meet that personal giant in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of hosts. It was in God’s name that David killed Goliath. It is with God’s help that Christians through the ages have faced similar impossible odds—and won.
Learn to see your problems as “uncircumcised Philistines.” Face them with courage and faith.