“When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him.”
(1 Samuel 17: 48-50)
We now come to perhaps the best known story in the whole of the Old Testament, the slaying of the giant Goliath. The background to the story is that God, through the prophet Samuel, has rejected Israel’s first king, Saul (1 Samuel 15). And as we saw in yesterday’s passage, again through the prophet Samuel, God has appointed another man to be king – David the Ephraphite from Bethlehem.
Yet Saul is not relinquished of his duty immediately, and throughout the rest of the book of 1 Samuel there is a period of crossover where Saul is still king, but continues to fall, and David – God’s anointed – continually rises, increasing in strength, in valour and in dependence on God as Saul seeks his life.
Not for the first time we therefore have the theme of the first man failing and being passed over, and another being raised up to receive the inheritance (think Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob). Ultimately, this is a picture of the fall of the first man and first king, Adam, and his ultimate replacement by the last Adam and the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.
Into this narrative, which is woven throughout the book of 1 Samuel, comes the episode with Goliath. You know the story. Massive man-mountain comes into the valley between the army of the Israelites and the army of the Philistines. And every day he comes out from the ranks of the Philistines to taunt the Israelites, goading them to send someone to fight with him. He does it every day for 40 days. Why 40? Because 40 is the number which is always associated with being tested in the wilderness, before finally conquering.
For instance, the Israelites wandered for forty years in the wilderness, and Deuteronomy 8:2 tells us that this was so God might humble them and test them, to know what was in their heart. At the end of 40 years, they conquered the land of Canaan. And the other great instance of this is of course Jesus being tested in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, overcoming Satan, before going on to conquer the promised land, this time not through warfare, but through preaching, teaching and healing, and ultimately by his death and resurrection.
But here the Israelites are again in the wilderness, and once again they are being tested. Who is the one doing the testing? Check out his attire:
“And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armour on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him.”
Covered from head to foot in thick heavy bronze armour, the picture is of a dragon or serpent, similar to the picture of Leviathan given in Job 41:
“His back is made of rows of shields, shut up closely as with a seal. One is so near to another that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another; they clasp each other and cannot be separated…When he raises himself up, the mighty are afraid; at the crashing they are beside themselves. Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail, nor the spear, the dart, or the javelin.”
All Israel, including Saul the King, are afraid of him, and dare not approach him. All Israel, including Saul the King, believe him to be impenetrable and invincible. All except one: David, the Shepherd boy.
He goes to Saul and asks for permission to go fight the Leviathan, Goliath. Saul, the King of Israel, should be the man to do it, and yet he is too afraid and so agrees to let the ruddy youth David have a go. At first, Saul tries to dress him in his own armour – a helmet of bronze and a coat of mail, just like Goliath – but David takes them off and ends up going in his simple shepherd’s clothing, with no sword, but just a sling and five smooth stones from the brook.
And what does he do? He goes out to meet Goliath, trusting fully in God’s deliverance, and slings a stone to land in the one place where Goliath is vulnerable – his head (anyone who has read the Hobbit will know that Dragon’s always have one place on their body where they are vulnerable). The stone sinks into the giant’s forehead, and he drops down dead.
Now, remember all the way back to Genesis 3 and God’s original promise of a seed of the woman. What did he say this seed would do? He said it would crush the Serpent’s head. Through faith in God, and armed only with a sling and five stones, this is what David does. He is a head-crusher, and his head-crushing at the end of the 40 days of testing in the wilderness was followed by a great victory.
And yet, Goliath wasn’t the ultimate Serpent who needed crushing, and David wasn’t the ultimate Messiah who would do the crushing. Yet again, God was giving a picture of the ultimate battle, one which is “not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Yet again, the world would have to wait for that day.