The stage had been set. David—at this point only a 17 year old shepherd boy—had vowed to face the mighty warrior Goliath.
David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” 34But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!” 38Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, 39and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. 40Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.
All along, God had been preparing David for this encounter—though in not quite the same way as boot camp. As a shepherd, he’d spent time in the wilderness, perfecting his skill at keeping animals at bay. This included some experience using a slingshot.
Do you remember the old movie Karate Kid? The film featured Ralph Macchio, playing a young man determined to learn karate to beat the Cobra Kai. He goes to Mr. Miyagi for training. What does the old man have him do? Wax the car. “Wax on; wax off.” Paint the fence. Sand the floor. Finally the kid snaps and confronts his mentor. It’s then that Mr. Miyagi shows him the real import of “wax on; wax off.” The repetitive motions he’d been making during all this manual labor? They became the basis for defensive karate moves. Waxing the car hadn’t been some arbitrary stunt; it had been a vital part of a warrior’s preparation.
David was no different. God had used his past to prepare him for his future. So much so that David declines the armor from Saul—weighty and a few sizes too big. He faces Goliath instead with a bag full of rocks and a heart full of faith.
41And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” 45Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand.”
48When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49And 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.
50So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. 51Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. 52And the men of Israel and Judah rose with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron. 53And the people of Israel came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp. 54And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his tent.
David slew the giant not with sling, sword, and stone, but with confidence in what God could accomplish through him.
Here’s the danger: all my life I’ve heard this taught as an example of how you and I can “face our giants.” That if we have the “five smooth stones” of faith then we can conquer our fears, conquer our temptations, emerge from our struggles victoriously. So whether our “giants” are addictive behaviors, sexual temptation, prolonged suffering, childlessness, singleness, we have only to “stand and fight.” Pray more, read the Bible more—you know, be a “better Christian.” That actually preaches really well. But there’s just one problem: you’re not David. You can stand and face your struggles all you want, you can throw as many rocks as you’d like. But you’ll miss every time. Why? First of all, David occupied a position you and I do not. He was God’s chosen leader over Israel. Perhaps you and I aren’t empowered to fulfill this same destiny.
But there’s another key issue. Your Goliath is too small. So long as we see our problem as merely an issue of circumstance—of singleness, of suffering—we miss the real Goliath that roams the horizon.
If we search the pages of scripture, we find a powerful theme of conflict that runs through the great narrative. Peter, for example, tells his readers to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Years earlier, Isaiah had predicted that God’s true servant would “swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth” (Isaiah 25:8). There is a greater Goliath. He bears the names of sin, Satan, and death. None of us can face these adversaries on our own. We need a true and better champion. We need Jesus.
Paul tells us that on the cross Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). So prominent was this theme in early Christendom it got its own Latin name: Christus victor—literally “Christ the victor.”
Therefore Jesus is the true and better David, who slays the greater Goliath of sin, suffering, and death. And his victory has been imputed to our account—that is, by following Jesus we, too experience victory over sin and death. But if that’s true, why do we still hurt? If you’ll pardon the allegory, it’s because while the giant has been struck dead, we still wait for him to fall. And so as we follow Jesus, Goliath’s shadow falls on our shoulders—but his spear can never touch us. Goliath looms on the horizon—but his sword can never cut our flesh. The gospel assures us there will be a day when even death itself will be “swallowed in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). And until that day we wait for the giant to topple, we wait for God’s Kingdom to triumph.
Fall Goliath, Fall.