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David and Goliath

The story of David's victory over the Philistine giant Goliath is an enacted parable of the promise of Gen 3:15 (the seed of the woman crushing the head, and power, of the serpent). It is also a powerful and provocative "picture of redemption".

David's defeat of Goliath typifies the work of Christ in two different, though related, aspects: (1) Christ's moral victory over the power of sin in himself, and (2) Christ's coming military victory over sin its political forms. It was necessary that Christ first conquer the "world" in himself, by subduing the lusts of the flesh, so that he might be qualified to conquer the nations and rule over them. Both these victories, the one past, the other yet future -- are beautifully outlined in the stirring drama on 1Sa 17. In this epic encounter between faith and force, Holy Spirit and human nature, the heavenly and the earthly, we see all the redemptive purpose of Almighty God, unfolding from Eden onward.

"Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war" (1Sa 17:1). The name "Philistine" has found a place in the English language as a common noun, describing those who are ignorant and uncultured, those who are "of the earth, and earthy" (1Co 15:47), without the least aspiration toward higher things.

The Philistines pitched their tents in "Ephes Dammim", which signifies "the border of blood". This site was a little south of Jerusalem and halfway over toward the Mediterranean Sea, at the border between the Israelite hills and the Philistine plain. The "border of blood" marked the crest, or high point, of human power -- the point where it was to be broken and turned back. "This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt" (Job 38:11). As such, "Ephes Dammim" typifies Golgotha in the past, and Armageddon in the future: the sites where "sin" reaches its high-water mark and is afterward repulsed by the Hand of God. (Linguistically, Ephes Dammim is closely related to "Aceldama" -- the "field of blood", where the traitor Judas met his fate: Acts 1:19.)

"The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them" (1Sa 17:3).
Mountains in Scripture often represent military powers (Zec 6:1), while valleys are places of sorrow, humiliation, and trial -- and sometimes of destruction, such as the valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:12), where the serpent-power of the Gentiles will be broken. Like David, Jesus had to go into "the valley of the shadow of death" (Psa 23:4) to conquer the "giant" of sin. Figuratively, too, Israel will have to go through the "valley of Achor (trouble)" (Hos 2:15), and the "valley of Baca (tears)" (Psa 84:5-7) before finally reaching the Kingdom of God.

"Goliath" (1Sa 17:4) means "exile"; he was from "Gath", which means "winepress". The Philistine giant was, like Cain (Gen 4:14,16), an exile from God because of sin. He was trodden down by David, even as all human power and pride will be trodden down by Christ in the great "winepress" of the wrath of God (Isa 63:3; Rev 14:19). Goliath's height was six cubits (the number of man: compare the "666" in Rev 13:18). He was covered with bronze -- symbolic of the flesh. He was the human equivalent of the bronze, or brass, serpent of Num 21 -- the power of sin destroyed by Christ on the cross (John 3:14). He was arrayed in armor and weapons of the flesh, in contrast to the spiritual arsenal of Eph 6:13-17, which was David's trust (1Sa 17:45), as well as Christ's.

This mighty champion of the flesh came out into the valley between the two armies, every day for forty days, to defy the God of Israel. It was a sad, shameful spectacle; not a man of Israel , not even King Saul (himself a giant: 1Sa 10:23!), had the faith and courage to confront this blasphemer (1Sa 17:11).


Now comes a sudden break in the narrative (v 12), introducing the second antagonist in this epic struggle: David, a young man, a shepherd of Bethlehem (v 15), had been sent by his father to take provisions to his three older brothers serving in Saul's army (vv 17-19).

David, when he came to his brothers, was met with mockery and derision (v 28). Likewise Jesus, when he came to save his brothers from the "giant" of sin, met the same ridicule. How much natural man needs salvation; yet how little he realizes it!

The boy David could not understand the inaction of Saul's men: "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (v 26).

The words of the shepherd boy come to the ears of the distraught king, who is so desperate that he sends for him. And the poor shepherd boy says to the mighty king: "Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him" (v 32).

Saul reasons according to the flesh, which is fatally obsessed with size and natural advantage:

"You are not able..." (v 33).
BUT WHY NOT, IF GOD IS WITH HIM? "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31). How often do we forget the strength of faith, and make the same mistake -- tentative, timid, and even afraid? How often do we forget that, if God is on our side, then nothing can stand in our way!

David wisely refuses Saul's offer of armor. The children of the Spirit are no match for the children of the flesh if they attempt to meet them on their own ground and do battle with their own weapons. The "seed of the woman" will always be outclassed by the "seed of the serpent" in numbers, experience, prestige, and learning. Their defense -- and offense -- must be in the "shield" of faith and the "sword" of the Spirit (Eph 6:16,17)!

For his weapon, David took his sling and then chose five smooth stones out of the brook (1Sa 17:40). (Why five? was it because Goliath had four brothers -- 2Sa 21:15-21 -- also giants?) The sling, made of animal skin, would require a death for its preparation. Like the garments that God prepared to cover Adam and Eve's nakedness after their sin, the sling also typified a sacrificial death. The sling (suggesting a sacrificial death) gave all the power to the stone which David hurled against the giant. The stone which brought down Goliath typifies Christ: he is the stone rejected by the builders, but later made the cornerstone of God's building (Psa 118:22). He is also the stone cut out of the mountain of human flesh WITHOUT HANDS (ie, born of a woman without human father: Gen 3:15), which smote and destroyed Nebuchadnezzar's image (Dan 2:34), and then filled the whole earth.

The smiting of the "dream" image in Daniel 2 is parallel to David's smiting of Goliath, with one significant difference : one stone smote Goliath in the HEAD (cp Gen 3:15), which symbolizes the vital life center. The other strikes the image on the FEET, symbolizing the time when destruction is accomplished -- the end of the age. But, each time, the end result is the same: the Image of "Sin" destroyed, and Israel saved.

The Nebuchadnezzar image represents the accumulated history of the four great empires that collectively make up the "serpent-power" of the Kingdom of Men, which oppressed God's kingdom of Israel. David's selection of FIVE smooth stones relates his victory to the FIFTH great Kingdom: the Kingdom of God that will finally conquer all and fill the earth with His glory.

"Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground" (1Sa 17:49). On this verse the old Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, quaintly writes: "See how frail and uncertain life is, even when it thinks itself best fortified, and how quickly, how easily, and with how small a matter, the passage may be opened for life to go out and death to enter."

This was the typical fulfillment of the Edenic promise that the woman's seed should crush the serpent's head. The antitype stretches from the cross to the military destruction of the last vestiges of human misrule and oppression, when Christ returns.

"David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine's sword and drew it from the scabbard. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword" (v 51). And he brought the head to Jerusalem (v 54). Jerusalem proper was still in the hands of the Jebusites (2Sa 5:6-10). We know that Goliath's sword was kept at Nob (1Sa 21:9), very near Jerusalem (cp Isa 10:32; Neh 11:32). So probably Goliath's head was buried there too. Nob may be identical with Golgotha ('the place of a skull'). David's act symbolized the destruction of the head of sin, accomplished by Jesus in his own body on the cross, and finalized at Golgotha just outside the walls of Jerusalem. (Ancient Hebrew tradition suggests that Golgotha was so named because it was the burial place of Goliath's head.)

David's act also prefigures the cutting off of all mortal ruling power, and the transferring of all the world's headship to Jerusalem, "the city of the great king" (Mat 5:35).

"Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron" (1Sa 17:52).

David's wonderful feat revitalized the army of Israel, which then went on to rout the Philistines. Those who were powerless and afraid to face Goliath received new strength and courage in the victory of David. Like David, Jesus was the only one capable of winning the special victory over the "serpent". Yet his victory over that "devil" -- like David's over Goliath -- delivered his brethren who -- previously -- "all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Heb 2:15).

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?... The sting of death is sin... But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Co 15:55-57).

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