The Power of Courage

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you discover the courage that God provides when you face obstacles now or in the future.

Courage Diminished:  1 Samuel 17:8-11.

[8]  He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, "Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not 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 ranks 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.  [ESV]

So compelling and well-known is the account of David killing Goliath that it has become the primary historical metaphor in Western culture for describing any individual or group who overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to defeat an oppressor. But the biblical narrative is not primarily a story about human courage and effort; instead, it is about the awesome power of a life built around bold faith in the Lord. This account demonstrates the power of a single faith-filled life to inspire an entire army to victory. Chapter 17 opens with the Philistines assembling their army in the west frontiers of Judah at Socoh, about eight miles east of Gath and fifteen miles west of Bethlehem. In response to the Philistine invasion, Saul’s army assembled in the Valley of Elah, directly opposite the Philistine camp. Separating the two camps geographically was a wadi, a usually dry river bed, which prevented either side from instituting an ambush or initiating an unexpected attack. Among the Philistine ranks was a remarkable soldier named Goliath. His most remarkable feature was his height which was around nine feet nine inches. Adding to Goliath’s overwhelming appearance as a fighter was his combat gear. At a time when most Israelite soldiers wore only basic clothing in battle, Goliath was sheathed in metal. Goliath’s physical stature, armor, weaponry, and shield bearer must have made him appear invincible. However, the reader has just been warned in 16:7 against paying undue attention to outward appearances.

[8-11]  As Goliath stepped forth between the two armies, he spoke insolently to the Israelites. First, he questioned their resolve in defending themselves against the army now camped on their lands: if they were unwilling to engage in combat with Goliath, why did they line up for battle? Second, he educated them concerning the practice of representative combat. The concept was simple: a soldier chosen from the Israelite ranks was to fight to the death with Goliath. The results of the high-stakes context were also clear-cut: the nation represented by the dead soldier would become subject to the nation represented by the victor. The fact that Goliath is recorded as explaining the practice to the Israelites suggests that they had not previously participated in a contest like this; the fact that the Philistines later reneged on the agreement suggests that representative combat was not taken seriously even by those who advocated it.  Third, Goliath insulted the Israelites: I defy the ranks of Israel this day. The giant’s dramatic presentation, complete with costume, actions, and words, achieved its desired effect on Saul and his army: they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Courage Discovered:  1 Samuel 17:32-39.

[32]  And David said to Saul, "Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine." [33]  And Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth." [34]  But David said to Saul, "Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, [35]  I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. [36]  Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God." [37]  And David said, "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." And Saul said to David, "Go, and the LORD be with you!" [38]  Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, [39]  and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, "I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them." So David put them off.  [ESV]

The narrative focus shifts to David, who is now reintroduced to the reader. The standoff between the encamped armies of the Philistines and Israelites continued for at least forty days [16], a situation that would have strained the resources of the impoverished Israelite monarchy. This lengthy standoff also would have made life difficult for individual Israelite families since this event would have occurred during the spring or summer, when adult males would have been needed for agricultural chores. At the beginning and end of each day during that time, Goliath stepped forward to taunt the Israelites. The families of the soldiers supplies the rations for their relatives and others in the ranks. David bore the responsibility of transporting the foodstuffs to his three brothers. Early one morning David ran to the battle lines in order to check on his three brothers. Here David was able to witness Goliath as he took his place between the two armies. David heard Goliath’s words as he ridiculed the God of the Israelites. David also saw his fellow Israelites react in great fear to Goliath’s taunts. Word had been spread among the soldiers that Saul had determined that Israel should take up Goliath’s challenge. Though the king would not personally fight the giant, he would handsomely reward anyone who successfully did so. The offer to give him the king’s daughter in marriage [25] was particularly appealing, for it would provide access to additional, unnamed privileges reserved for the royal household. David was deeply disturbed that a Philistine, who was uncircumcised and therefore outside of a covenant relationship with the Lord, would so boldly heap shame on the armies of the living God. Having missed out on the details of the king’s response to Goliath because of his duties in Bethlehem, David asked for and received further information from the men standing near him [26]. David’s outrage sparked by Goliath’s blasphemies, as well as his keen interest in the particulars of the royal offer, did not escape the attention of others. Details of David’s reaction were even reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him [31]. It is a sign of Saul’s desperation that he would listen even to the views of a boy like David.

[32-39]  David’s words to the king express youthful idealism in its full flower. First he exhorted those around him to stop being disheartened. Then he proposed an astonishing solution to Israel’s dilemma: he himself would go and fight Goliath. Saul immediately rejected David’s offer. Then, speaking with the battle-tested voice of reason, he reminded David of some obvious but apparently overlooked facts: you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth [33]. Saul’s reference to David’s youth suggests that David was under twenty years of age, the earliest age at which an Israelite was permitted to serve in the military [Num. 1:3; 26:2]. Saul’s royal rejection of David’s offer should have concluded the meeting. However, David’s idealism was exceeded only by his determination and his faith in the Lord. Consequently, he continued his efforts to change the king’s heart. This time David emphasized his credentials and experience fighting animals that attacked his sheep. To David’s way of thinking, this uncircumcised Philistine had reduced himself to the level of an animal for he has defied the armies of the living God. Thus, in David’s mind, fighting Goliath would be just another fight with a wild beast. Since the Lord had delivered him from the paw of the lion, David was confident that He would deliver him from the hand of the Philistine. David’s faith and courage were as extraordinary as his logic was simple. The king, disarmed by David’s impressive presentation, decided to make what was perhaps, the greatest military gamble of his career and accept David’s offer. Saul offered David his own armor but David rejected it. Instead, David armed himself as a shepherd would have, with a stick and a sling. David also took some stones from the bottom of the river bed. Because the stones were intended for use with his sling in battle, they probably were about the size of typical ancient Near Eastern slingstones – as big as tennis balls.

Courage Displayed:  1 Samuel 17:45-47.

[45]  Then David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with a sword and 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 down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, [47]  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."  [ESV]

The events of the fatal confrontation now unfold rapidly as Goliath and his shield bearer advanced toward David. As Goliath drew near, he noticed for the first time the details of his opponent. Looking David in the face, he saw that he was but a youth. Winning a contest against a crudely armed, underage challenger would not be particularly prestigious for the Philistine giant, so he despised David. In order to make the most of the contest, however, Goliath began a psychological assault. First, he insulted David’s most prominent weapon – the stick in his hand, suggesting that it was an instrument fit only for spanking a dog. Next, he cursed David by his gods. Finally, Goliath threatened to kill David, dishonor his corpse, and then deny him an honorable burial. Undaunted by the Philistine’s words, David launched a verbal counterattack. He began by demonstrating that he was not going into the battle ignorantly: he was fully aware of Goliath’s arsenal. David also proved he was aware of the greatest of his own military resources, the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel. Furthermore, David expressed an awareness that Goliath had committed a capital crime by insulting, and thus blaspheming, the God of Israel. According to the Torah, any individual guilty of blasphemy – even a non-Israelite – must be stoned [Lev. 24:16]. Perhaps this was an underlying reason why David chose the weapon he did in confronting the Philistine. Even before serving as Israel’s king, David would prove himself to be a diligent follower of the Torah and thus a man after the Lord’s heart. At the same time, of course, David’s use of the sling and stone also must have been motivated by the fact that he was skillful in their use and the weapon was especially suited for exploiting Goliath’s vulnerabilities. As David, viewed it, Goliath was outnumbered and would soon be overpowered, for the Lord would fight with David against the giant. In the battle that would occur this day, the Lord will deliver you into my hand and I will strike you down and cut off your head. David’s efforts would not be limited to slaying Goliath; he also would slaughter and humiliate the Philistine army. Yet the Philistines would not die in vain. In fact, their destruction would serve a high theological purpose; it would be a revelatory event by which the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. Achieving a depth of insight remarkable for a person of any age, young David perceived that the events of this day would give rise to narrative accounts that would reveal the Lord’s power and reality to all who might hear them. Eyewitnesses to the ensuing battle would learn an additional truth from the Lord: that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand [47].

David, the Lord’s anointed one, discerned a theological purpose in warfare. This perspective is one that must be examined because it is of utmost importance for understanding the mind-set of orthodox Israelites in the Old Testament. For David, armed conflict was fundamentally a religious event. Only when the Lord willed it were Israelites under David’s command to engage in it. And when the Lord ordained battle for David’s troops, it was to be performed in accordance with divine directives. Furthermore, because soldiers were performing God’s work, only individuals who were in a state of ritual purity were to participate in military missions. The Lord was the one who gave victory to David and his troops in battle, and thus the Lord alone was worthy of praise for David’s and Israel’s military successes. The conflict reached a climax as words ceased and both parties moved toward one another for battle. David was clearly the more dynamic combatant; whereas as Goliath merely walked, David ran quickly to meet him. David’s sling provided him with a tremendous advantage over the weapons at Goliath’s disposal. All of Goliath’s weapons were of value only in close combat; even the giant’s spear, because it weighed over fifteen pounds, could not have been used effectively against an opponent standing more than a few feet away. On the other hand, David could use his sling with deadly force from comparatively great distances. With his youthful vigor and unencumbered by heavy armor and weaponry, David could quickly more to locations from which he could hurl the tennis-ball-sized stones directly at Goliath. Taking a single stone, David felled the Philistine with deadly accuracy. The rock was hurled with such great force that it crushed the frontal bone of Goliath’s cranium and sank into his forehead. David had achieved a stunning victory over the Philistine. Immediately after Goliath died, David followed the battlefield customs of the day by stripping the dead man of his weapon and decapitating the corpse. These final acts against the giant served as undeniable proof to the Philistines that their hero was dead. In shock and confusion, they turned and ran in a westerly direction, away from the Israelites.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Often the leader of a family, company, army, nation, etc., sets the tone for the people under their leadership. If the leader is wise and courageous, then the people tend to follow their example. But if the leader is foolish and cowardly, then the people also tend to make foolish and hasty decisions based upon fear rather than courage. How do you see this scenario playing out in the first part of chapter 17?

2.         Into the midst of this account of the dilemma of the Israelites steps a young man who chooses to act differently. Describe David’s attitude and actions here. How do you account for David acting differently from Saul and the Israelite army? What can you learn from David that you can apply to your own life?

3.         David’s credo was: “Just as the Lord has delivered me in the past, so will He deliver me in the future.” Isn’t this a guiding principle that every believer can apply to all of life? This week, seek to apply this principle to every situation which God brings your way.


1, 2 Samuel, Robert Bergen, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Samuel, Mary Evans, Intervarsity Press.

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