Read the Passage: 1 Samuel 17
The Setting (17:1–16)
This story, which is a real-life historical event, is an account with which you have probably been familiar since childhood. Yet, the narrative portions of the Old Testament are sometimes hard to apply to the Christian life. The way this story is often applied to modern Christians is along these lines: Goliath represents some great trial or other insurmountable problem in the life of a believer. David represents a follower of Christ. By way of application, then, Christians are told that if we will trust in the Lord—like David—in the face of life’s difficulties, with God’s help, we’ll be able to overcome the metaphorical “Goliaths” in our lives. In support of such an interpretation we can note that this application is in accord with the general content of other biblical passages, such as Ps. 37:5–6; Prov. 3:5–6, among many others.
While there is biblical truth in the application of this narrative as described above, I’d like to suggest that the point of the David and Goliath narrative is not primarily to exhort believers to trust in the Lord in order to overcome trials. Rather, I believe that this historical account is primarily a gospel narrative. In other words, I’m suggesting that this real-life account is recorded in the Old Testament in order to point to Jesus, the promised Messiah. By way of application of this narrative, I suggest that Goliath is meant to picture our greatest challenge—that is, our sin and alienation from God. The helpless, gathered masses of Israel are meant to represent us—that is, God’s people. And David, as he always does in Scripture, represents Christ. With these identifications, then, the stage is then set for a gospel event to take place.
The Characters (17:17–40)
Let’s consider further the characters in this account. First, there is the giant Goliath. He is described as being “six cubits and a span” with a coat of mail weighing “five thousand shekels” and a javelin and spearhead that weighed “six hundred shekels” (1 Sam. 17:4–70). This means that Goliath was at least 9 feet 9 inches tall, with armor weighing over 125 pounds and a spear weighing 15 pounds. Further, Goliath is described in the text as being a champion of the Philistines. It is clear that Goliath, like sin itself, could not be overcome by the abilities of natural man. Second, there are the relatively helpless, gathered armies of Israel. Understandably, we are told more than once in this passage that the Israelites were “dreadfully afraid” of Goliath (cf. 1 Sam. 17:11, 24). Indeed, this is the proper reaction of natural man to sin, for we are “dead in trespasses and sin” (Eph. 2:18; cf. 4:17–19).
Third, there is David, whom we know was a man after God’s own heart (cf. 1 Sam. 16:1, 7; Acts 13:22). The author is careful to tell us that David was sent by his father to aid the gathered people. Interestingly, although he was an Israelite, David was unlike the gathered army, for he was not afraid. Indeed, David believed there was a cause for engaging in battle and he was confident in his ability to overcome Goliath (cf. 1 Sam. 17:29). Note several of the parallels between David and Jesus: first, both David and Jesus were misunderstood and persecuted by their brothers (cf. 1 Sam. 17:28; Mark 3:20–21); second, the Jewish leaders did not know where David or Jesus was from (cf. 1 Sam. 17:55–56; John 9:29); and third, both David and Jesus willingly volunteered to intercede on behalf of God’s people (cf. 1 Sam. 17:32; John 10:18). So the battle is set. David and Goliath are ready to engage in mortal combat.
The Victory (17:41–58)
Note the way that David, the Christ figure, approached Goliath, who represents sin and death. David did not use the armor and weapons of men, but rather approached the giant with a simple sling and a bag of stones (cf. 2 Cor. 10:4). The author reports that Goliath asked why David was approaching him with a wooden stick. Of course, we know that the Greater David would later overcome sin with a large cross-shaped wooden stick as He nailed our sins to the cross and overcame death (cf. Col. 2:14). In 1 Sam. 17:44 Goliath claimed, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” The response of David to Goliath must have confused the giant as David said, “The Lord does not save with sword and spear, for the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Sam. 17:47). As we know, David proceeded to win the battle by slinging just one stone. Indeed, the outcome of the battle was never in doubt.
- How have you understood the story of David and Goliath to apply to the Christian life? How have you heard this narrative taught in the past?
- What are some differences between the ways in which we should read and apply narratives in the Bible as compared to commands or teachings?
- Do you fully realize your helpless estate in view of your sin problem? Have you cast yourself completely on Jesus for salvation and for Christian living?
- Why are we so easily tempted to place more confidence in our own resources—such as money, friends, power, experiences, etc.—rather than in God?
- What kinds of past challenges have caused you to doubt God’s sovereignty and His promise of all things working together for good?