In reading the passage in 1 Sam 17 (which even non-Bible readers people have heard in story form as David and Goliath), it is readily apparent that faith is key. For most of the players in the Biblical account and for most hearers, faith is not of prime importance. They either consider David foolishly headstrong, extremely lucky, or an expert marksman. Yet, a careful reading of the passage reveals that David was completely driven by his faith and he did not rely upon his own strength or luck.
“David slays Goliath” by Gustave Doré (1866).
Let me begin by summarizing the scene as described in 1 Sam 17:1-10. The armies of Israel and Philistia were lined up across from one another with a valley through which coursed one or more streams between them. It appears by reading between the lines that the assessments of troop strengths on either side by the other made them about equal so that neither side would charge across the exposed valley at the other. There is also the question of the tactics of either army leaving the security of the high ground on their side and permitting themselves to become sitting ducks in the exposed valley. King Saul and the army of Israel found themselves at an impasse.
From King Saul’s point-of-view, his keeping the army dug in was central. As long as they were dug-in, they were not losing ground. Faith in God intervening and being able to overcome the obstacles of the valley and the opposing army was something that may have received lip service, but it was not something in his core. Since faith is the same thing as trust, we can restate this as Saul did not really trust God to fight for Israel. The edge of that valley marked the limit of Saul’s faith in God. We learn also that Saul considered his kingship central to his life also. Reading between the lines (again) we see in verses 31 and 32 that he was very concerned that if a champion of his were to lose, he would be in dire straights of losing what was important to him.
Israel’s belief was also stymied in the same way as King Saul’s and such is the faith of many of those who profess it — it is something that one can talk about, “but, you know, God really cannot and does not move in today’s circumstances.” Such faith is superfluous and, in the words of James, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14 NKJV) He is not describing works as things that we can do to appease God. He is describing works as those acts and actions that are driven by and work in conjunction with a powerful, living faith and so become solid as soon as the believer steps out on them. Frankly, superfluous faith is the faith of losers.
To further complicate the conditions surrounding the situation, we must now pay attention to the loud, profane words of a giant warrior from the Philistine side. Goliath, towering at about nine and a half feet, stepped out into the no-man’s land of the valley with his armor bearer and shouted at the Israelite army (1 Sam 17:4-11,16,23-25). He, according to the Biblical narrative, had done this for the past 39 days. He was big, boastful, and brash. He shouted defiance to the enemy army dug-in on the opposite hillside to his Philistine compatriots. His faith was solidly placed equally in his own strength and his armament. From his perspective, God was some sort of mythical being invented by the Israelites who were cowering in fear across the way. His assumption was bolstered by the lack of power of their “God” over the past 39 days.
On this momentous day, something different occurred. A young teenage shepherd-boy named David had been sent by his father to the Israelite army placements to drop off some care-packages for his older brothers (1 Sam 17:12-15,17-22). This young man happened to be there to witness Goliath’s 40th day of stepping out and shouting his twice-daily challenge (verses 23-25). He watched in dismay how the armies of Israel cringed and ran back to their secure emplacements in retort to the giant’s challenge.
Even before this moment, we are led to understand that David placed his full trust in God. His faith was central to who he was. You could not separate David the person from David’s faith. He fully grasped that God is solid and real as anything he could see and touch. He knew that God is able to accomplish anything that He willed. In verse 37, David enunciated his creed: “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (NKJV) There is no sign of doubt or indication of dependence upon his own strength on David’s part. He recognized that it was God who wielded power to kill the lion and the bear in his earlier experience (verses 34-36) and he knew that God was moving him to become His tool to obliterate the foul-mouthed Goliath!
Faith sets all problems in their proper perspective and places them in their right track. Hebrews 11:1 states that “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In other words, faith is not some sort of foolish wishful thinking. It is not a matter of looking to God as if He were some cosmic genie Who grants us three wishes! Instead, faith is sure hope based upon the believer’s completely meshed understanding of God’s will for and His call upon their lives. It is this sort of concrete faith that formed the scaffolding which under-girded the life of this young shepherd-boy.
The other party in this encounter is the army of the Philistines. What was central to them? Obviously it was Goliath’s strength. They virtually projected his strength into their own arms, which we can infer from the last sentence in verse 51, “And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.” When Goliath fell, so did all the tenets of their beliefs! They held the same disregard for God that Goliath did so when God showed up in the valley, they did not know what to do. When one assumes that God does not exist or that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” (Rom 8:28 NKJV) then one is shocked when He turns up.
I believe that we all know the key parts that jump out of the Biblical documentation: how David was “on fire for the Lord;” how he stepped into the valley and picked five stones (one for Goliath and one to represent the rest of his brothers, Rapha’s sons); and how he confronted the giant. What is important for us to glean from David’s sureness is that if concrete faith in a real God Who has a concrete will is not central to the person, no other assumption will stand. David aimed his sling but deep inside his heart, he knew that it did not matter where he aimed. The victory was not going to be his by skill and marksmanship. I am convinced that even had David had randomly slung that stone in the opposite direction, by God’s intervention it would still have found its mark squarely in the center of Goliath’s forehead.
David knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that the victory belonged to the Lord and that He had an important point to make. The beneficiaries of that point were all of the people mentioned above. Israel and King Saul were about to learn that one faithful person can move a mountain, or at least a mountainous-sized person. The Philistine army were on the brink of learning how stinging defeat is to those who rely upon the arm of flesh. Finally, Goliath was about to eat his blasphemous words as he transitioned to God’s judgment!
Even David himself benefited because he learned once again how God expressed His will to him and how He gave him the victory from not only from the paw of the bear and the paw of the lion, but also from the might of the Philistine giant. Obedience in faith to God’s will begets greater faith. In spiritual stature, David towered over Goliath because he was a super-giant of faith who was fully dependent upon an infinite God rather than upon feeble flesh.
Now the circumstances of 1 Samuel 17 need to move forward 3000 years to the here and now. The questions and beliefs from then still surround us today. Which character best describes you? Upon whom or what do you place your faith? Are you like David who wrote “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1 NKJV) or is your faith built on something else? If you don’t have a concrete faith in a real God, then how reliable is that something else in the light of all eternity? Consider the comparison God raised in Habakkuk, “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.” (Hab 2:4 NKJV) God’s position on faith is stated in Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (NKJV) Faith is the beginning and the lifeblood of a vibrant relationship with God. The gist of this is that without active faith being front-and-center in one’s life, there is no relationship.
So, let each of us ask ourselves where our faith lies….