How To Kill A Giant
I Samuel 17
August 27, 2000 | Ray Pritchard
As the mist cleared from the valley, the men on both sides knew the time had come. Before this day was done, many men would die. The soldiers of the army of Israel checked their weapons, made sure their uniforms were ready, and grabbed a quick bite of bread and cheese. Older soldiers took a swig of wine from the flask and spit it out. They had the hardened look of men who knew what was to come. The younger ones were quiet—all the bragging of the night before was gone. They were too scared to tell jokes and too ashamed to admit their fear.
As they looked across the Elah Valley, they saw on the other side the men whom they would soon meet in battle. The Israelites were on one slope, the Philistines on the other. In between was a valley, in the valley was a ravine, in the ravine was a wadi, a dry creek bed. Soon that valley would be a battlefield.
The story begins this way in I Samuel 17:1-3: “Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Socoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Socoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.”
Before we go on, it will help to know that the Philistines had started this war. Somehow the ragtag army of Hebrew farmers had defeated them just a few months earlier at the Battle of Michmash. It had been a stinging, humiliating defeat. The Philistines meant to pay them back with interest.
Now the day has come. Indeed the moment has come. The Israelites are ready to do battle. Each man has a club, a hoe, a spear, a bow and arrow. Each man is ready to die for his country. When the word is given, the battle will begin.
I. The Challenge
But the word is not given because a strange thing happens. The Philistines are not coming down the slope. They aren’t coming! And at first, the men of Israel think maybe they’ve won by forfeit.
But before they can celebrate, a sight unfolds before them, the likes of which they have never seen before. Something is moving down the slope. Something big. Something huge. It’s like a tree maybe or a mountain. Whatever it is, it is covered with glittering bronze. It looks like a tank only they didn’t have tanks back then.
The thing got to the middle ground near the ravine and suddenly a shudder ran through the men of Israel. It’s a man. The biggest man they’ve ever seen. First Samuel describes him in detail. He stands six cubits and a span. That doesn’t mean anything to us but if you convert it to our system of measurement, it means he was 9 feet 9 inches tall. We’re told other interesting things about him. His name, of course, is Goliath. He’s clad from head to toe in armor. He wore a bronze helmet and a bronze coat of armor that weighed nearly 125 pounds. He wore bronze shin guards and had a bronze javelin slung over his back. His spear was like a weaver’s beam, meaning it was a thick shaft of wood, like a small log. The head of the spear had an iron point weighing 17 pounds. Ahead of him marched a soldier carrying a shield large enough to protect his entire body.
Having gotten their attention, this is what Goliath says, “‘Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.’ Then the Philistine said, ‘This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other’” (verses 8-10).
What Goliath proposes is the ancient tradition of single combat. A little game of one-on-one, winner take all. One man from your side, one from mine. He would represent the Philistines and someone would represent the Israelites. They would fight to the death and the army of the winner would win the entire battle. This plan saved time and potentially avoided useless bloodshed, but it only worked if someone accepted the challenge.
When Goliath says, “Am I not a Philistine?” the Hebrew text actually reads, “Am I not the Philistine?” Meaning, “I’m the baddest man the Philistines ever had. If you want to find out how bad I am, just come on down and fight me.” Arrogance drips off every word. Now what would you do? Would you go and fight Goliath? Maybe you’re 5’ 8”, 5’ 10” tops, 25 years old, a hard-scrabble farmer from Hebron. You’ve got a wife and three kids back home. Would you go and fight Goliath? It would be suicide. At least that’s the way the men of Israel felt. Verse 11 says, “Saul and all Israel were dismayed and terrified.” Even Saul was terrified. Why? Because now he’s on his own. He wanted to do his own thing so God said, “Fine, go do it.” And the Spirit of the Lord had left him. Without the Spirit of the Lord, Saul has nothing with which to face the giant. God had lifted the divine energy shield for Saul and now he is filled with terror.
And so the challenge went unmet. Goliath went back to his camp. But it’s not over, not by a long shot. Verse 16 tells us that Goliath came out 40 days straight, twice a day, morning and evening, to challenge the men of Israel. Each day it was the same: No one would answer the challenge. God’s people were losing the battle before it started.
I imagine that the military men of Israel got together each night and tried to formulate a plan. I’m sure they talked strategy and tactics. Saul was there along with Big Abner and the top brass. Maybe they even set up a model battlefield: Two clumps of dirt with the valley in between. They probably prayed, “O God, help us defeat the Philistines.” The next day would come, they would line up along the lip of the valley, Goliath would come out, yell and swear, and the whole army would run away. For 40 days! No one knew what to do.
It only takes one giant to stop you as long as you look at life from the human level. Our lens picks up a giant ahead and suddenly he fills the whole screen until the giant is all we can see. At ground level, giants unglue us and we can’t go on. The problem is not how big the giant is, it’s how small he makes us feel. So small that we don’t have a chance. Giants defeat us not because they’re big but because they make us feel small.
II. The Hero
Enter David, the hero of the story. But when we meet him, he’s not the hero. He’s the grocery boy. By this time, David is back tending the sheep at Bethlehem while his three oldest brothers are in the army. David’s father Jesse wants to get a report from the battlefield so he decides to send David with some food for his brothers. Actually, it’s a hefty load—five pounds of roasted grain, ten loaves of bread, ten cheeses. It’s 18 miles from Bethlehem to the Elah Valley. David runs all the way.
He gets there just as Goliath is making his daily rounds for the 40th time. This is pretty old stuff by now. Goliath comes out, makes a few threats, curses the men of Israel, and then goes back to his lines so he can toss off a couple of drinks at the Officer’s Club. But this time things will be different.
David hasn’t heard a thing about Goliath and his challenge. He’s just excited to be on the battlefield and away from those sheep. So he asks, “What’s going on? Why doesn’t somebody take care of that loud-mouth?” Look at the answer in verse 25: “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his father’s family from taxes in Israel.” It’s not a bad deal except for the part about Saul’s daughter. She was no prize. But notice David’s answer. It’s the key to the whole story. “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (I Samuel 17:26). Wait a minute, did you get that? “The armies of the living God.” Not “the armies of Saul” or “the armies of Israel.” That makes all the difference in the world. The soldiers are saying, “Do you see that guy? He’s like a mountain out there. You wouldn’t last five seconds.” David, don’t you see him? Yes, David sees him. But he also sees something else that nobody in the army of Israel had seen. David saw that Goliath was not only defying Israel, he was defying Israel’s God.
David looks at life differently. Israel saw Goliath—that brazen giant—as an immovable object. David saw him from God’s point-of-view. “He’s blocking the way of God. Let’s go get him.” David was no match for Goliath but when that uncircumcised Philistine took on God, he got in over his head. This is not braggadocio or big talk. No, it’s entirely different. This is a man who sees Goliath from above. It’s like looking down at Shaquille O’Neal from the top of the Sears Tower. At ground level, you look up at him. From the top floor, you need binoculars to find him. It’s all a matter of perspective. David’s screen was filled with God and therefore everything else was whittled down to proper size. He saw Goliath but he also saw God. And that made all the difference.
III. The Doubters
But before he goes after Goliath, he’s got to convince the doubters. The first one is his older brother Eliab who questions David’s motives: “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle” (I Samuel 17:28). Eliab’s problem is two-fold. First, he’s a jerk. Second, he’s a coward. He can’t stand the thought that his kid brother could do something he couldn’t do. David answered in the words of younger brothers and sisters everywhere: “Now what have I done?” (verse 31).
But still he wasn’t ready to go fight Goliath. Word comes to Saul that at last a man has been found. When Saul finds out it’s David, he can’t believe it. David in his eyes is just a kid. No chance in the world he could beat Goliath. He tells David, “You are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.” David’s answer is classic: “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (I Samuel 17:36-37).
Behind these brave words lies an important truth: Every giant in your path is also in God’s path if you are going in God’s direction. “Hey, God, guess what? We’ve got another giant.” “Good. Let’s go get him.” If you are in the will of God, the giants who fight you are actually fighting God. That’s why God sends giants in our path on a regular basis: First, to see if we will run or fight. Second, to allow us an opportunity to honor our God.
IV. The Battle
Off he goes into battle with his staff and sling. As he heads down the slope, he pauses at the creek bed to pick up five smooth stones. We’ve tended to romanticize this part of the story but the sling in David’s day was a deadly weapon — like an early version of the Israeli Uzi. And David’s got a five-round clip. While studying for this sermon I learned that these stones were not pebbles or small rocks. One authority said they were usually round, smooth stones slightly larger than a baseball. In the hands of an expert slinger, the stones were like a Nolan Ryan fastball. They would leave the sling at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour.
By this time David is coming near Goliath. Behind his shoulder, the whole army is watching. “Go get him David. You can do it.” As he walked, Goliath got bigger and bigger and bigger. On the other side, somebody spots David and the Philistines start laughing. Another fellow starts taking bets on how long it will take Goliath to break him in two.
But before they could fight, there was one more thing they had to do. In single combat, the fighters would first yell at each other, sort of an Old Testament version of trash talking. So Goliath says to David, “Come on over here and I’ll feed you to the birds and the beasts.”
Notice how David answers back in verses 45-47. This is one of the great statements of faith in all the Bible. “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” David is saying, “I come to you in the name of all that my God is. Watch out, Goliath. My God is bigger than you and he’s gonna lay your body down.” With that, David suddenly starts to run. As he runs, he puts a stone in his sling and cocks his arm. He’s like John Elway on a rollout. Run, load, fire, all in one motion.
The stone came in right between the eyes and lodged in his forehead. Goliath never knew what hit him. Such a thing had never entered his mind before. One moment he’s watching David run, the next everything goes black. And with a mighty crash he falls to the ground…stoned out of his mind. Verse 50 emphasizes how it happened: “So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.”
One other little detail. David had promised to cut off his head but he didn’t have a sword. So he borrows Goliath’s and starts hacking away. Meanwhile, the soldiers on both sides can’t believe what they’ve just seen. From the north end of the valley, the men of Israel are cheering, whooping, hollering. One grizzled old sergeant says, “Let’s go get ’em, boys.” On the other side, sheer panic. Here come the Israelis. There go the Philistines. It was a slaughter. The road back to Gath was littered with dead Philistines. Then the Jews went back to the battlefield and plundered their tents.
It was the most one-sided duel in history and Israel’s greatest military victory. All because one man saw life from God’s perspective. A whole nation saved, revived, and energized because a young shepherd dared to see life from the top down. David arrived early in the morning a grocery boy; by sundown he is a national hero. For that one act of bravery, he was enshrined forever in history. Never again would he be overlooked. Never again would he be taken for granted.
V. The Application
I want to ask and answer three questions and then we’re through. The first is this: What would qualify as a giant today? Sometimes we will find ourselves in situations similar to the one in which David found himself—in a valley, alone, facing a giant. But it’s not likely that we will find ourselves up against a literal giant like Goliath. How, then, does this story fit our lives?
The point to remember is the one David made in verse 26, again in verse 36, and again in verse 45: In defying the armies of Israel, Goliath was actually defying the God of Israel. What appeared to be a purely military conflict turns out to be a spiritual conflict as well. We may face exactly that kind of conflict today. In fact, there are numerous warnings in the New Testament to expect opposition from the world, the flesh and the devil. Consider Acts 14:22, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” I Peter 5:8 warns us to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Remember Paul’s sober words in II Timothy 3:12, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We need not think of persecution in a narrow or limited sense. The whole Christian life is one battle after another and most of us will face a whole army of giants before the story is fully told. To answer the basic question, a giant is any situation in our path which blocks the way God wants us to go. It might be a person who opposes us or it might be a combination of circumstances which when taken together block us from doing what God wants done.
In that sense, many of us face a giant right now. It may be an impossible situation at work or at home. It may be a financial difficulty or a broken relationship. It may be a task before you that you know you can’t handle. It may be a dream that seems unreachable. Giants by definition are enormous, threatening, intimidating. They fill the screen until we can see nothing else.
There is a second critical question: Why does God put giants in our path? Primarily because men grow up on the battlefield and we will never grow up until we dare to go out and face Goliath head on. There is nothing like war to turn a boy into a man. As long as we turn tail and run when the giant rears his ugly head, we’ll have to face him tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. He won’t go away until we stand up and fight him. Whenever we stand up to a giant and fight him in the name of the Lord, mighty miracles begin to take place. God wants us to grow up and we can’t until we go out and fight in the name of the Lord of Hosts. Though it may sound strange to say it, giants are absolutely necessary for our spiritual growth. As long as we cower in the rocks instead of going down into the valley to face the giant in our path, we can never become all that God intended us to be.
There is one final question to consider: What lesson was God trying to teach David? You might say it many ways but at the heart it was the lesson of faith. David had to learn what faith in God could do. Naked faith. Unarmed faith. Faith plus nothing and minus nothing. Faith in God’s power in the face of impossible odds.
This truth comes into focus if we ask what might seem like an obvious question: At what point did Goliath die? When did David kill him? You say, “Easy. When he cut off his head.” No, not really. “When the stone hit him.” No, not even then. Go back a little bit. Was it when he picked up the five smooth stones? No. Was it when he told Goliath what he was going to do? No, but you’re close. Was it when he refused to wear Saul’s armor? No, but you’ve passed over it.
Between those two events something critical happened. First Samuel 17:40 tells us that after David picked up the five stones, he “approached the Philistine.” When he took that first step, Goliath was a dead man. He just didn’t know it yet. David won the victory with that first step. The rest is history. David possessed Goliath’s head while it was still attached to Goliath’s shoulders. Goliath never had a chance. He was just a paper giant.
Many years ago I heard a definition of faith that has never left me. It goes like this: “Faith is belief plus unbelief and acting on the belief part.” Did David know something the other men of Israel didn’t know? No, he didn’t. They also knew God was great and mighty and powerful. They knew he was the Lord of Hosts. It wasn’t a matter of knowledge. Any one of them could have killed Goliath if they had been willing to take that first step in the name of the Lord. The difference between David and the other soldiers was not that he had faith and they had doubts. Or that they had doubts and he had none. The difference is this: David acted on his belief and ignored his doubts while they acted on their doubts and ignored their belief.
Faith is not waiting for 100% assurance. Faith is not waiting until all your doubts are gone. If you wait for that, you’ll wait forever. Faith is seeing the giant, understanding the odds, believing that God wants him dead, and then taking that first step. If you can do that, the rest is easy.
The First Step is the Hardest
Now apply this truth to your own life. What giants stand in your way today? Name them. Write them down. Think about how the giants of circumstance and opposition have combined to keep you enslaved to fear and sometimes have driven you almost to the brink of despair. How much longer will you hide in the rocks of fear? When are you going to step into the valley and face the giant eyeball to eyeball? But the giant is big, you say. True, that’s why they call him a giant. He’s fearful. I’m sure he is. I might get hurt if I stand up against him. That’s true. There are always a thousand reasons to run away when Goliath stands before you. But whenever you are tired of running, the Lord stands ready to walk into the valley with you. Sooner or later you’ve got to peek over the top of the ridge, look into the valley and take that first step forward. It won’t be easy and there are no guarantees. But you’ll never know until you take your heart in your hands and step forward by faith.
Faith is not talking about the giant, analyzing the giant, or praying about the giant. Big talk will never slay Goliath. Faith is taking that first step—knees knocking, hands shaking—with fear and trembling going into the valley in the name of the Lord of Hosts. You take that first step not because you think you can do it but because you know you can’t. Therefore, you know that if the giant is defeated, it is because God has done it through you.
The reason this story is in the Bible is because there are still giants in the land and God is looking for some Davids. Amen.