David’s killing Goliath is one of the most familiar stories in Scripture. And it’s oft told badly. So the story goes, “David was a little boy like you who had lots of courage and went out and killed the giant Goliath. If you’re courageous. You can kill giants too.” Those who teach this story that way are doing this story and the over all story of the gospel a big disservice.
Read 1 Samuel 17:31-37 with me:
31 When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. 32 And David said to Saul, “Let no man's heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 And 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.” 34 But 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. 36 Your 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.” 37 And 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!”
It always struck me odd that David mentions the status of Goliath’s circumcision in this speech. I can see how killing a lion and bear would be relevant. That takes guts and so will fighting Goliath. Let’s keep it real and not take anything away from David. He was a man’s man. He had guts.
The lion and bear serve another purpose though. David reflects God’s creativity and dominion as he serves his father in the field. He expresses his God given dominion over the sheep he herds and also over the lion and the bear as they attack his sheep and he defends them. We also find out later that he often plays the harp while he does his work. Another reflection of the imago Dei.
After laying this gospel story groundwork, you read the odd detail, “this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them [the lion and the bear], for he has defied the armies of the living God.” I see two important allusions. First, as David reflects the God-given creation covenant in his dominion over animals, God will bring to bear his dominion as God of all creation on this Philistine Goliath. Goliath is a giant but God is in the heavens and he does whatever he wants. You also see the contrast in the phrase “armies of the living God.” Politically, Israel was the hand of God on earth. These troops were his armies. Their victory or defeat in the mind of the pagans said something about the God they served. By challenging God’s army, Goliath is challenging God, the living God.
Finally, mentioning something unseemly like Goliath’s circumcision reminds Israel of the covenant God made with Abraham. So the imagery progresses from the creation covenant to the Abrahamic covenant in the story. David is confident he will defeat Goliath because he is confident in the promises of God. He’s not some arrogant young rooster strutting his stuff. He’s not an Achilles. He knows God’s promises and believes them. He’s confident God will carry through.
The moral of the story then isn’t David is so courageous he killed a giant. It’s God is faithful and keeps his promise. You can trust him no matter what the situation you’re facing. He will not let his name, honor, and fame be diminished by abandoning you in the midst of your suffering. He will follow through because he’s God and he will be glorified. It’s worth noting that most commentaries believe the appearance of the commander of God’s army in the Old Testament is a Christophany (a pre-incarnate revelation of Christ). It’s Christ who leads God’s army and it’s Christ who vindicates his children. We see clearly now what was hidden then. Let’s boldly believe the promises of God in Christ.