1 Samuel 17:12-39

David Witnesses Goliath’s Challenge (1 Samuel 17:12-39)


Goliath challenges Israel. In this passage, David witnesses this challenge and the writer begins his second cycle of confrontation-challenge-consternation.


Confrontation: Philistines and Israelites Face Each Other (vv. 12-22)

Goliath, the Philistine champion, is described in verses 4-11 in terms of his towering physical stature and his impressive defensive and offensive armor. David, Goliath’s opponent-to-be, is introduced in verses 12-15 by a very different description. Nothing is said here about David’s stature, his strength, or his weapons. We are simply told that he is the youngest of eight sons of Jesse, the Ephrathite of Bethlehem Judah.


Why this “family” emphasis in describing David when Goliath is described in terms of his awesome looks, weapons, and aggressiveness? There are several reasons. First, it is not David’s appearance which causes God to choose him, but his heart, his character. Second, in order for David to be recognized as the one whose offspring will someday be the Messiah, he must be of the tribe of Judah (see Genesis 49:8-12), and he must be a Bethlehemite (see Micah 5:2). Third, his being the youngest in the family explains why he is assigned to care for the sheep, and also why his aged father sends him to deliver food to his brothers and bring back a report about their welfare.  [4]


Practical Application — In the midst of what seems to be rather mundane background information, one can miss a providential chain. The use of “now David”, “so David”, and “then David” follows David step by step until he is at the front lines and hears the brute from Gath – speak one time too many. Had he arrived a few minutes later, things might have been very different. He would have found his brothers still at their camp, where he could have simply handed them the supplies Jesse sent, asked about their well-being, and then set out for home before his three brothers go to the battle line. Had Jesse only known how much would rest on the parched grain, bread, and cheese David was lugging to his brothers. Had he only known how critical David’s mission would be! Casual. Natural. But don’t forget to worship before you proceed. [1]

Challenge: David Hears Goliath Defying the Ranks of Israel (v. 23)

For the 41st time, Goliath says what he always does, but this is the first time David has heard him.


Consternation: Fearful Israelites, an Angry Brother, & an Indecisive Saul (vv. 24-39)

David is stunned to see the consternation of the Israelites. Unlike the others, he does not see Goliath’s taunts to be against Israel itself but rather as a cursing of God Himself. Notice three things:


The Voice of Faith [1]

For the first time – in the Bible – David speaks! The silence is broken and David brings a completely different world view for our consideration. To this point the narrative has been “godless” (much like our own stewing over some insoluble dilemma), but now David injects the godly question into the episode. Doesn’t having a living God make a difference in all this? This fellow has mocked God. Do you expect a living God to allow an uncircumcised Philistine to trample his name in military and theological mud?


Practical Application — David’s question is not a magic charm for solving every problem; but surely it instructs us. It shows us how crucial it is that we hold the right starting point, that we raise the right question at the very first. All the believer’s life and all the church’s life requires such theocentric thinking. We have a living God!


The Presence of Obstacles [1]

David must overcome several obstacles. First, he is young and not even in Saul’s army. He is a shepherd boy, tending his father’s flock a number of miles away. Second, he must obtain official permission to engage Goliath on the battlefield. As difficult as that obstacle is, he must also deal with a third obstacle – his oldest brother, Eliab. We hear Eliab – one who does not have the same heart as David or he himself would have been chosen as the next king — vent his spleen on David in typical older-brother style (v. 28).


Practical Application — One must not breeze by Eliab. Eliab tends to be a mirror. In Chapter 16 he was a mirror of the handsome Saul (9:2). Here, however, Eliab mirrors someone else. His tongue drips contempt as he alludes to David’s “few sheep in the wilderness” and when he omnisciently declares the evil of David’s heart. Eliab is Goliath. Goliath will express contempt for David (vv. 42-44), but Eliab has already expressed it.


The Vitality of Faith [1]

Finally, we see David’s secret. His answer in verses 34-37a tells the readers what it is that so enlivens faith that it dares to stare Goliath in the eye. David explains what sheep have to do with Philistines. A shepherd lives with constant threat to his life and flock. It was not unusual for a lion or a bear to make off with one of David’s sheep. In such cases he went after it, struck down the marauder, and forced it to release its prey. If it turned on him, he collared it and struck it until he killed it. As if to make the point with Saul: Don’t say I’ve no experience of war; striking down enemies is part of my job – it’s just that they are ferocious mammals rather than arrogant giants. Then comes the bottom line (v. 37). There is the interpretation of David’s experience. He does not ascribe his escapes to luck or skill or audacity; Yahweh delivered me.


Practical Application — Looking back in faith enables David to look forward in faith: “He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” You must keep verse 37 before you. If you don’t, you will misconstrue verses 34-36. David will be delivered not because he has true grit but because he knows the true God.


End Notes


[1] Dale Ralph Davis, “1 Samuel – Looking on the Heart”

[2] Tremper Longman III & Daivd E. Garland, “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 Samuel – 2 Kings”

[3] David Toshio Tsumura, “The First Book of Samuel”

[4] Robert Deffinbaugh: “David and Goliath” (1 Samuel 17:1-58)

[5] Robert Deffinbaugh: “David Joins Saul’s Family” (1 Samuel 18:1-30)

[6] See — Robert Alter, “The David Story” and David Toshio Tsumura, “The First Book of Samuel”

[7] See — Robert Deffinbaugh: “David Joins Saul’s Family” (1 Samuel 18:1-30), Dale Ralph David, “1 Samuel – Looking on the Heart”, Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland, “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 Samuel – 2 Kings”, and Robert Alter, “The David Story”

[8] S.G. DeGraff, “Promise and Deliverance”

[9] Robert Deffinbaugh: “David’s Divine Deliverance” (1 Samuel 18:30-19:24)


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