The history of the Israelite nation is punctuated by countless battles, many of which serve as parallels to the spiritual battle Christians face today. The battle against Goliath provides a few noteworthy points that we may reflect upon and learn from.
In this well-known battle, the real polarity is actually not found in the physical opposition between the Philistines and the Israelites¡Xit is within the Israelite camp. By revisiting this all-too-familiar story, some reminders may surface about our tactics in the spiritual war that we, the children of God, inevitably are engaged in.
The Failure of the Israelites
It was a military checkmate. The Israelite army could see no way of defeating the Philistines, at least not with Goliath around. Towering to a height of about nine feet, his very appearance probably sent chills down the spines of the Israelites and paralyzed their morale.
On top of that, Goliath wore a bronze helmet, armor on his legs, and a coat of mail weighing five thousand shekels. He also carried a spear (1 Sam 17: 5-7). When they saw him, "all the men of Israel... fled from him and were dreadfully afraid" (v. 24). Physically, it was impossible for any Israelite soldier to fight and prevail over him.
Goliath's challenge was simple and straightforward:
Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But, if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us. (vv. 8- 9)
Pathetically, but understandably, not a single Israelite soldier dared to fight him. Even Saul, the king whom they had chosen to rule over them so they could be "like all the nations" (1 Sam 8:7), was completely helpless. The Israelite camp must have been in a state of frenzied panic with the expectation of doom threatening to become a reality.
The Israelites did not resign themselves to the fate that seemed to await them. There were desperate attempts to improve their chances of averting imminent doom. The king proclaimed that the one who killed Goliath would be endowed with riches, tax exemption, and even the hand of the princess in marriage (v. 25).
This was certainly more than a generous offer. And, no doubt, this is a strategy that has endured the test of time, for such still remains the most effective method of attracting human resources of the highest caliber. It was a frantic but clever attempt to solve the problem that was at hand.
The news of the reward spread throughout the camp; however, there was simply no man who accepted the challenge. Who could fight the menacing giant who was armed from head to toe? No one wanted to volunteer for what seemed like guaranteed-death.
The clever, time-tested strategy did not work.
A Boy Called David
Against this backdrop of a chaotic and frightened army, David the young shepherd boy appeared on the scene. Calmly and firmly, he declared that he would go and fight Goliath (v. 32).
Yes, one little lad volunteered to battle the seasoned warrior who had been "a man of war from his youth" (v. 33).
Impossible. Sheer insolence. Overbearing pride. These were the reactions from the soldiers and even his very own brothers (v. 30).
How easy it is to label someone who has true zeal for God! How easy it is to disregard the other person's point of view and believe that one's own understanding is right! This is the common response to someone who operates out of pure, simple faith from a majority accustomed to handling situations via well-thought-out human strategies.
Saul agreed to let David go into battle, but not without some good reinforcements. So "Saul clothed David with his armor, and he put a bronze helmet on his head; he also clothed him with a coat of mail" (v. 38). It must have been the best armor, for it was the armor fit for a king.
Unfortunately, the armor was more a hassle than help. David was unable to walk under the bulk and the weight, so he took them off (v. 39). David would go fight Goliath without the armaments that seemed essential from the human perspective.
There were many good-willed strategies that emerged in the Israelite camp, from rewards for bravery to adorning David with the best armor. Nevertheless, all of these human strategies wrought no success. Ultimately, it was a young David, coming in the name of the Lord and wielding a little stone and sling, who saved the Israelites.
Lessons behind the Victory
The Power of God
In David's mind, it was not an impossibility to defeat Goliath. It had nothing to do with ignorance, insolence, or unrestrained pride. To David, the crisis was fundamentally an issue of whether or not God was included in the solution.
From the beginning, when he inquired about the situation at the battlefront, David defined the problem as a God-related matter: "For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (vv. 26, 36).
Unlike the rest of the Israelites, David did not see God as separate from the problems that arose. Even in his daily life as a shepherd, he recognized the role of God in his triumph over the lion and the bear (v. 37).
On the contrary, the Israelite army saw only Goliath's size and their impending doom. They came up with one strategy after another, all to no avail. Even when David offered himself, they failed to see beyond his physical limitations.
In essence, they failed to see things at the spiritual level. When this happens, one inevitably fails to see God and His power. This was the crucial difference that set David apart from the rest of the Israelites: the ability to see God.
This is also the fundamental dividing line between Christians who are victorious through God and those who are locked in stalemates with problems that beset them.
Do we act like the Israelites and simply react to issues and events as they crop up? Or do we see things as part of the big picture¡Xa spiritual battle between the soldiers of God and the devil?
How we define problems determines how we delve into them, and hence, how we attempt to solve them. The spiritual insight that David possessed is something absolutely necessary in all our spiritual endeavors for God.
Inner Spiritual Mettle
David was not only able to see God amidst crises and define problems in terms of God's power, but he also possessed the courage to say "no" to human methods.
When Saul adorned him with kingly armor, David found himself bogged down by its weight. Even though it was the king's well-meaning offer, David was bold enough to reject it (v. 39).
Put in today's context, it is important that believers and servants of God possess the right mentality with regard to the weaponry we use.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)
The work of God cannot be accomplished if we rely on human strategies and allow other factors to take greater importance than God's power. When there is a need to say "no" to human ways, we have to be bold and say "no," or we will not see the victory that David received.
In place of the full armor, David brought his staff, his sling, and five smooth stones from a brook. There was nothing magical about those stones. It could have been any stone from anywhere that David used to hit Goliath right on his forehead. What was instrumental in David's defeat of Goliath was simple:
[Goliath] come[s] to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come... in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel... know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear. (vv. 45¡V47)
It was pure-hearted zeal to defend the name of God and complete confidence in God and His power.
Today, in the search for workers of God, it is tempting to recruit those with expertise rather than spiritual character and knowledge of God's word and power. How easy it is to forget that true spiritual battles are never won by skills or expertise but by the power of God!
The message from times of old still holds true today: "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,'" (Zech 4:6).
David's faith in God and His power did not come at the spur of the moment, serendipitously driven by the occasion. True faith does not rise and abate with the rising and falling of events or the call of the occasion.
David's faith in God came from his experiences with God while he tended his father's sheep. Working alone, David probably had time to reflect upon the ways of God. This was quite similar to Moses' character-building in the wilderness of Midian.
Extended stretches of time alone, with God as the only form of reliance, make a good platform for building up one's faith. When the lion and the bear attacked the flock, David had only himself to fight these wild beasts. God was the only source of help. Such experiences fostered a relationship of trust and reliance.
These times of quietude and reliance on God are crucial to bringing forth a strong, inner spiritual mettle required of anyone who wishes to possess God's endorsement and abidance to work for Him.
True Spiritual Victory
David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. But there was no sword in the hand of David...when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. (vv. 50-51)
The crisis was over. The Israelites prevailed.
At the end of it all, it was inner spiritual substance that won the day. There were no "heroes" that came forward because of the reward offered, no heroes who fit the standard definition of conventional wisdom. There was no room for any praise of human-tested strategies. This was true victory, for God, by God.
David's victory over Goliath was not inexplicable magic or coincidence. There were good reasons behind the glorious defeat of Goliath. David's winning formulae were precisely what the Israelites fail to seize hold of. They also simply did not possess David's spiritual mettle.
When we examine the success of David, we also see the contrast depicted by the reactions of the other Israelites. In our daily lives, do we handle situations the way David did, or are we often tossed and thrown about like the frenzied and rowdy Israelites?
In our service to the Lord, are we little "Davids"¡Xwith real approval from God and allowing Him to work? Or do we operate by human will and project that upon God, as if it were His will also?
May God bless us with spiritual wisdom and inner strength like David, so that we have true spiritual victory against any form of Goliath.