“The Lord Saves”

Setting: Battles continued between the Philistines and the Israelites. One soldier of the Philistines, a 9 ½ feet tall, heavily armed and armored man named Goliath, challenged Israel with a proposition to avoid an all-out battle. He asked that one man be sent to battle him and in the process did all he could to insult the Israelites (17:8-10). Saul and his army were “dismayed and greatly afraid.” Jesse, father of the recently anointed David, had three sons in the army) and sent, by the hand of David, food for their stay on the front lines. For forty days the massive Goliath appeared with his challenge and none dared take it but “fled from him and were much afraid.” David heard the challenge and inquired about the king’s promise to the one that would kill “this uncircumcised Philistine” that dared to “defy the armies of the living God.” Eliab, David’s oldest brother, reprimanded and insulted David for making the inquiry. This probably indicates a heavy dose of sibling jealousy, for Eliab had been passed over by Samuel in favor of David to be anointed the future king. David persisted in his quest for information and, when his words were reported to Saul, David received an audience before the king.

I. David’s discussion with Saul – 17:32-37

A. David volunteered to fight the Philistine – Seemingly surprised at the lack of faith based on an understanding of the covenantal status of Israel, David told Saul that none should faint because of Goliath. He defied the armies of the Living God. David would “go and fight with this Philistine.”

B. Saul looked on David’s size and inexperience and told him the match was impossible. David was only a “youth” and Goliath had been a “man of war from his youth.” The incongruity was laughably obvious.

C. David recited his occasions for combat against formidable odds. David, however, though his trust was in the purpose of God, was not completely without experience against great odds. He had been tested against fierce and virtually invincible beasts in his job as a shepherd. Both a bear and a lion had fallen to David’s courageous and tactically successful engagement with the predators. In these life-and-death struggles David knew that the Lord had delivered him and he would do the same against this uncovenanted, uncircumcised Philistine.

D. Saul consented to the one-on-one contest. In consenting to the combat, Saul sought to outfit David with some of his own armor, but the parts were too cumbersome and more of a hindrance than a help. From a human standpoint, David’s tactic depended on the ability to be quick and accurate in order to find the place of vulnerability.

E. He left the armor and picked up five smooth stones. He carried his sling with him, as he approached the place where the Philistine had stationed himself.

II. David’s Discussion with Goliath – 17:41-47

A. Goliath looked “on the outward appearance.”

1. Goliath saw him as young and inexperienced and, thus, unworthy of the conflict. He felt insulted by the “pretty boy” effect of his physical features. This is the second time David’s physical appearance has been described as “ruddy and handsome.” The first description  also included “beautiful eyes.”

2. Goliath obviously felt that his apparently unblemished appearance meant that he was not rugged, could not stand up to an experienced fighter, especially of his stature. This would be no contest and would not truly demonstrate his prowess and superiority to the best of Israel.

B. Goliath was enraged that his challenge had been received only by one that seemed so unworthy of the task.

1. Goliath expressed his rage at the apparent inequality of the match. “Am I a dog?” he asked. “You come to me with sticks,” indicating the paltry estate of David’s weaponry. He cursed David by the Philistine gods. How ironic that he thought David’s weapons were virtually nothing, and then he invokes curses from gods that have no existence.

2. He threatened David with not only death but a grotesque disposal of his body to the beasts and the birds. David was nothing to him, an insult to his uber-manliness and he would show it by an utter obliteration of any trace of such a despicable specimen of war-making.

C. David confronted Goliath with a heart full of trust in the purpose of God and a mouth that confessed his trust in the God of Israel.

1. To Goliath’s dismissing the weaponry of David, David responded by showing the superiority of his weapons. Goliath had only a spear, a sword, a javelin. Also he had a shield with a separate man to bear it for him. But David had more than weapons of mere matter, wielded only by the power of human skill. David came in “the name of the Lord of Hosts.” Not only does this God possess unilateral, invincible omnipotence, he marshals all the created forces of heaven to do his bidding (see Hebrews 1:14; Matthew 26:52, 53; 2 Kings 6:15-17) and he is also the God of the armies of Israel. During the days of Eli, the Philistines already learned of the independent power of the God of Israel (1 Samuel 5), but they were short on memory and hard in heart.

2. David returned the threat to Goliath.

This threat was expressed with the clear confidence that “the Lord will deliver you into my hands.” He continued that not only would he strike him down, but he would cut off his head.

He assured him also, that the birds and beasts would not be deprived of their meal but would be fed with far greater abundance than the single body of David. They would feast on the host of the Philistines.

Instead of the empty curses with which Goliath filled the air in the name of his gods, the victory delivered through this single inexperienced, virtually weaponless boy would show with palpable certainty that “There is a God in Israel,” and that he saves “without sword and spear.” The battle does not belong to David or to the army of Israel. No, “The battle is the Lord’s.”

God declared the truths of this event years later through Isaiah – “’Before me, no god was formed, not shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I am God. Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?’” (Isaiah 43: 10b-13).

III. David’s Victory over Goliath – 17:48-50

A. The posture of approaching the battle.

1. The giant moved deliberately as, perhaps, he had many times before. The fight soon would be over. Then, either he would continue his threats or the army of the Philistines would break the stalemate and rush into battle against a deflated, dismayed, and terrified foe.

2. David, without delay, when he saw the Philistine take a step to engage the challenge, ran toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. Every message of his deportment was one of unmitigated confidence in the purpose of God to glorify himself through the defeat of this arrogant pagan.

B.  The immediate dispatch of the enemy. As he ran, David reached into his pouch and in a seamless move from pouch to sling to swirl to release, the hurtling stone pierced the forehead of the massive Philistine. He fell to the ground, face forward, unconscious. David came, stood over the Philistine, removed Goliath’s sword, evidently pierced him with it through a vital organ and then severed his head. Using his despised implements of attack, a sling and a stone, David gained the victory and, without a sword of his own, captured the sword of the Philistine. That sword that had slain many others in the hand of Goliath, now became the instrument for the removal of his head.

IV. Lessons in Brief

A. God has not given his people the spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind. When we are overwhelmed by fear, either naturally or spiritually, we should find in the word of God sufficient reason for spiritual courage in realizing the superiority of eternal life to any aspect of life here, so that even death itself cannot terrorize us. As Paul noted with confidence near the time of his own execution, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:1).

B. God will not allow his name to be dismissed, minimized, or blasphemed. His name will be honored. “I am a great king” says the Lord of hosts, “and my name will be feared among the nations” (Malachi 1:14b).

C. God’s covenantal purpose will be performed. His people can have great assurance because he will accomplish all his holy will. David knew that Israel had been chosen as the covenant people and that he had been anointed as their king. They could not be defeated by this boastful Goliath. Neither can those for whom Christ has died in shedding the blood of the eternal covenant ever be separated from his love. He who began the good work in us will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).  Since his saints have been “predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his will,” those who have “believed in him, “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it [the redemption of the purchased possession –KJV], to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-14).

D. God’s preservation of Israel as a nation served two purposes: one, he still will bring many of the Sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to embrace in saving faith the Messiah who was promised through their prophets, who came from their loins, and the  true heir of their king David (Romans 11:23-36). Second they had to remain as a nation, genealogically distinct, though eventually under domination by other nations, for the identification of the Messiah through the line of David (Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 1:26-33; 2:4, 5; 3:23-38). These military conflicts fought in preservation of the nation and as a means of bringing divine judgment on egregiously perverse people do not transfer to the task of the church. The people of God, the church, are identified, not by physical circumcision and as devotees of ethnic lineage, but by spiritual circumcision of the heart, by faith in Christ and by the employment, not of carnal weapons, but of spiritual weapons, not for the physical execution of enemies, but for the spiritual discipline of local congregations. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6; Philippians 3:3; Ephesians 6:10-20).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts