Those were dark days in Israel. Saul, the nation’s king, had progressively pursued the path of apostasy. He had been presumptuous and rebellious (see 1 Sam. 13:8-14; 15:10f), and the Spirit of God had departed from the monarch (16:14).
Accordingly, Jehovah had allowed the heathen Philistines to encroach deeper and deeper into Israel’s territory. Actually, the Hebrew people were but reaping the consequences of not having carried out the Lord’s bidding to exterminate these pagans from the land (cf. Ex. 23:31-33).
About fourteen or fifteen miles southwest of Bethlehem was the valley of Elah. According to the record in 1 Samuel 17, it was here that the armies of Israel and the Philistines faced one another across a stark recess between two mountains. Israel’s posture was more defensive than anything else. Trembling, she cowered in the oppressive shadow of the Philistine forces.
Goliath of Gath
Philistia’s most intimidating weapon was a huge brute by the name of Goliath. According to the biblical record, he was nearly ten feet tall. His brass coat of mail weighed approximately 156 pounds. The staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam – the spear’s head itself weighed about eighteen pounds.
Goliath was the Philistine champion (vv. 4, 23), and daily — morning and evening — for forty days he had challenged the Hebrews. He had defied the armies of the living God to send someone to meet him in combat (26). Upon this solitary conflict would the fate of the respective nations rest.
As his verbal gauntlet was hurled in the morning mist and in the shadows of each twilight (designed, no doubt to elicit “sweet dreams”), the Israelite men quaked in fear. The biblical text, brutally frank, states that “they were dismayed and greatly afraid” (v. 11). Sadly, their confidence was not grounded in the Lord.
David, Son of Jesse
To the northeast, in Bethlehem, lived the aged Jesse. Jesse’s three eldest sons were serving in Saul’s army, and his youngest boy, David, tended his father’s flocks near the home place.
In common oriental fashion, one day Jesse dispatched David to the battle site with grain, bread, and cheese for his sons and their captain. The trip likely took the lad a bit more than half a day. Thus, arriving in the afternoon, David made his way to the front lines to find his brothers.
As the shepherd boy talked with his brothers, the monster Goliath appeared and once more bellowed his godless anathema toward the Israelite forces. Many of the soldiers fled like frightened rabbits and David was greatly perplexed. Could this uncircumcised Philistine continue to defy Jehovah and utterly nothing be done? Though great reward had been offered to any Israelite who would accept the challenge, there were no takers.
When David wondered out-loud about this sorry state of affairs, he was promptly rebuked by an older brother who hinted at the lad’s insignificance by suggesting that they might all be better served if the boy would just stick to minding his “few sheep in the wilderness” (v. 28) — clearly a backhanded insult.
At this point David’s lips give rise to one of the most thrilling inquiries in the sacred volume. With a note of exasperation, he exclaimed:
“Is there not a cause?” (v. 29).
In other words, is there not a time to take a stand? Is there not a truth worth living for; indeed, worth dying for if necessary? Where is Israel’s conviction?
His noble heart pulsing with divine patriotism, David volunteered to fight the evil giant. He was ushered into the presence of the anemic Saul who sought to discourage him because of his youth.
But “let no man despise your youth,” was a principle as applicable then as later (cf. 1 Tim. 4:12). The Hebrew shepherd declared that God had spared him from wild animals on more than one occasion, and he was confident that the Creator would deliver him from this beast as well.
David Accepts Goliath’s Challenge
The king thus, perhaps in desperation, consented for David to go forth in battle. Interestingly, when Saul attempted to fit David with his personal armor, the lad would have none of it.
Armed only with his shepherd’s staff and a leather sling, Jesse’s “stripling” son (v. 56) made his way across the valley floor. Briefly pausing, he selected five smooth stones (four of which he would never need) from a brook bed, then made his way toward the enemy.
Let your mind go back and savor the sights and sounds of that event.
Goliath Insulted By the Ruddy Youth
When Goliath saw the ruddy-faced (pink-faced) youth, he was grossly insulted. “Am I a dog,” he complained, “that you come to me with staves?” The pagan warrior cursed David by his idol gods and boasted that the boy’s body would be consumed by scavengers. David responded magnificently:
“You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a javelin: but I come to you in the name of Jehovah of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today will Jehovah deliver you into my hand; and I will kill you, and take your head off; I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this day to the birds of the heavens, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and all these people shall know that God saves not with sword or spear; for the battle is Jehovah’s and he will deliver you into our hand.”
The Battle Begins
One wonders if the Philistine had sat down to muse over this one-sided contest, for the text states that “he arose” and advanced toward his diminutive opponent (v. 48).
Undaunted, David ran toward the lumbering giant. As he ran, he retrieved one of the stones from his pouch and inserted it into the pocket of his sling. The whirring buzz of that primitive weapon may have been the last sound that Goliath ever heard upon this earth.
Straight to the mark, the missile found its destination. Deep into the infidel’s forehead the stone buried itself — the giant had not bothered to lower the face guard on his helmet.
Like a felled oak tree, the brute crumpled in a cloud of dust, the echo of his clanging armor reverberating down the Valley. David approached the massive body, took the giant’s sword (which had not even been drawn), and beheaded the oppressor.
When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled in panic, and the Hebrews pursued them to their cities. The Jewish historian Josephus declared that 30,000 Philistines were killed and 60,000 wounded in that rout. Goliath’s head was taken as a trophy to Jerusalem, and his sword eventually found its way into the tabernacle at the city of Nob (21:9). It was a time of great victory for Israel.
Lessons From the Valley of Elah
The foregoing narrative is one of the most exciting from those savage days of antiquity. And there are many valuable lessons to be learned from this ancient conflict.
We must remind ourselves that “the things written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through the comfort of the scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).
Let us reflect upon some of these matters.
Spiritual weakness affects a nation
Spiritual weakness can have national consequences. As the rebellious Saul moved farther from the truth, difficulties for his nation intensified.
Righteousness does exalt a people (prov. 14:34), and nations that forget God are led to punishment (psa. 9:17). How blessed Israel was that a man of David’s caliber appeared — human though he was.
Each Christian today must seriously attempt to contribute to the moral fiber of his nation.
Paralyzing fear is a reproach to God’s people
It is sinful for the people of God to crouch in fear in the face of the enemy. The Lord has not given His church a “spirit of fearfulness” (2 Tim. 1 :7). Spiritual phobia will condemn (Rev. 21:8).
The early Christians were admonished to overcome their fear (cf. Acts 27:24), and their boldness is frequently mentioned in the divine record (Acts 4:13, 29, 31; 9:27).
In a time when many of our people are disposed to snuggle down with the advocates of error, it is refreshing to note that there are still those who will encounter the opposition, fighting the good fight, and speaking the truth in love. And there is a balance in battling for truth and exercising love (cf. Eph. 4:14,15).
Yes, there is the cause. Christianity is not a vacation; not a cruise, but a cause. Issues that affect the destiny of human beings must not be ignored. Crucial truths cannot be sacrificed on the alter of toleration and diplomacy. We cannot cry, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace!” (cf. Jer. 6:14).
Is the cause nothing to you, all ye who pass by? (Lam. 1:12).
Everyone has something to contribute
Not everyone can be on the front lines, but everyone can contribute to the effort. Jesse was too aged to fight, but he was interested in the cause nonetheless.
He did what he could. He supplied nourishment for his sons and their captain. He encouraged those in the battle with such resources as he had.
Not everyone can teach publicly, preach, debate the advocates of error, or publish materials to defend the truth, but those who cannot engage in the activity personally can support and hold up the arms of those who do. To fail to be involved in the battle for truth in some way, is to be a traitor to the cause for which the Lord died.
Will we “be carried to the skies, on beds of flowery ease; while others fight to win the prize, and sail through bloody seas”?
Defying God has consequences
It is a fatal mistake to defy the living God by opposing His children. Even though Jehovah sometimes used wicked powers to punish His wayward people, He would, nevertheless, eventually deal with those arrogant rulers who were fit for nothing more than to be employed as vessels of wrath (cf. Isa. 10:5f; 13:1f; Jer. 25:9f; Hab. 1:5-11).
When Goliath challenged Israel, he challenged God. When Saul of Tarsus persecuted the church (Gal. 1:13), he persecuted Christ (Acts 9:4). It is not a light thing to mistreat the saints of God.
Overcoming adversity prepares one for greater service
This great victory providentially prepared David for the crucial role of leadership that lay before him. Edersheim remarks:
“It is not too much to assert that this event was a turning-point in the history of the theocracy, and marked David as the true king of Israel, ready to take up the Philistine challenge of God and of His people, to kindle in Israel a new spirit, and, in the might of the living God, to bring the contest to victory.”
Preparation is a necessity in any successful endeavor and the Lord has always prepared His men for their assigned roles. More of our young men and women need to be encouraged to prepare themselves for Heaven’s service.
Where are the Davids of the future? Are you training your children to this end?
Do not despise small things
The narrative forcefully emphasizes that one should never disdain the small, apparently weak, or seemingly insignifIcant, for God can choose the weak things of the world to put to shame those that are mighty (cf. 1 Cor. 1:27).
It is not wise to despise “the day of small things” (Zech. 4:10). In his excellent book, This Grace Also, Mac Layton has the following little poem that is so meaningful:
Shamgar had an oxgoad; Rahab had a string;
Gideon had a trumpet; David had a sling;
Samson had a jawbone; Moses had a rod;
Dorcus had a needle; But all were used for God!
The kingdom of Christ started out like a stone, but it became a great mountain (Dan. 2:35); it was as a tiny grain of mustard seed, but it became a tree in which many found lodging (Matt. 13:31, 32).
Thirteen apostles spearheaded a movement that turned the ancient world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6). The amazing expansion of primitive Christianity from such an inauspicious beginning is forceful testimony to its divine origin.
The power of truth
The Lord’s cause does not depend upon elaborate methods for its success. David did not assault the giant with sword, spear, or sophisticated armor; rather, his confidence was in the power of truth.
Perhaps we could learn a lesson from this. In a time when we have sought every method and gimmick imaginable, and we have put plain, solid gospel preaching on the back shelf, the church’s growth has slowed dramatically. Perhaps it is time to reconsider where the real power is (Rom. 1:16).
Truly, there are many thrilling lessons to be learned from the great adventure of David and Goliath. Refresh your mind with this Old Testament narrative and be motivated by it.