Slaying the Giant (1 Samuel 17)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation for this morning comes from our Old Testament text, especially where we hear David’s words, “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. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
We’ve completed three weeks out of ten, tracing God’s salvation story through the Bible, but we don’t seem to be making much progress, do we? We’ve only gotten through two of the Bible’s sixty-six books! But it was worth taking time here at the beginning because the Bible has already given us a powerful picture of the mission of Jesus Christ. He’s the Seed of Eve who will crush the serpent’s head, He is the substitutionary Lamb of God, and He is the Passover Lamb whose shed blood saves us from the angel of death. Today, we jump ahead another five hundred years to 1000 BC where we see another Old Testament prefigure of Jesus, this time in the person of His ancestor, David.
In the 500 years since Moses and the Exodus, God’s people had experienced so much. They had seen the incredible miracles of YHWH their God. He’d led them mightily out of Egypt, maintained them in the wilderness, led them in their conquest of the Promised Land … and yet, time and again, the people fell into the same sins endemic to humanity since Adam and Eve. The entire book of Judges is a case study of the downward spiral of sin’s impact on the people; the Judges themselves were hardly paradigms of fidelity to YHWH’s Law and love for their neighbor. Suffice it to say, though they were the Messianic people, the chosen … they were still lousy, rotten, no-good, stinkin’ sinners who rejected their God.
You may think that when His people rejected Him, God would, or even should, reject them in turn. Thankfully, that’s not the way God works. He loved His people, in spite of their willful rebellion and sinful desire for a king, even choosing a man named Saul to be their first king. God filled him with His Holy Spirit, equipping Saul with everything he would need to be a good and faithful king. He started out faithful and humble, fighting against Israel’s enemies, particularly the Philistines. However, in time, Saul grew proud and defied God’s will—again, maintaining the trend of all who had come before him. He felt it was his nation to lead, not God’s. Thus, when he rejected God by his pride and lust for power, YHWH rejected him as king, sending the prophet Samuel to anoint a replacement king. He was led a young shepherd named David from the town of Bethlehem, and Samuel anointed him king. The Holy Spirit, who had left Saul, now filled David.
Meanwhile, a war raged with Israel’s historic enemies, the Philistines, and David’s older brothers joined Saul’s army. David’s father, Jesse, sent the boy with provisions for his brothers. When David arrived in camp, he heard a booming voice coming from the Philistine side of the battlefield. It was the Philistine champion, a giant named Goliath, who stood over nine feet tall. He said, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? 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.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.”
For forty days Goliath kept issuing this challenge, and King Saul and all his men were terrified. None dared oppose him. When David finally arrived on day forty and heard Goliath’s rant, he was filled with a holy anger—no doubt the Holy Spirit prompting him. He asked, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
The soldiers who overheard David brought him to King Saul. David assured him, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine. . . . 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. . . . 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.” Saul permitted David to go. He even offered him armor and weapons. But these were too big and cumbersome for David, and he wasn’t used to moving around in them. So he went, just as he was, with nothing but a sling and a pouch with five smooth stones he took from the brook nearby. He would only need one.
Goliath saw the young Israelite coming toward him and despised him. He mocked and cursed David, but David answered with great courage and faith: “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. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down.” David took his stone, placed it in the pocket in the sling, swung it round and round, and released it at full speed. It found its mark, striking the giant on his forehead. Goliath collapsed to the ground without a sound. David rushed up and killed him with his own sword.
Many here, if not all, know this story very well. It very well may be the archetype of the underdog story. Well known though it is, the question becomes, “How does David’s courageous battle against Goliath foreshadow Jesus’ salvific work?” David carried nothing but a sling and a pouch with stones and yet was able to take down a man easily over twice his size. It was, from a mortal perspective, not an attainable win. David should not have won. But he did. It wasn’t that his aim was so accurate or his arm so strong or that Goliath’s head was just in the right spot to get knocked out by the stone and allow the boy the opportunity to divorce his head from his body. It was entirely God’s doing, and the victory belongs to Him alone.
Jesus faced a fierce enemy as well. A trio in fact: sin, death, and the devil. He waged His battle on a cross. His weapon of choice? Not a stone, but His Word, His willing and willful submission to the Father’s plan, His Godhood. His blood poured out decimates sin’s stranglehold on His people. His death, after breathing His last and yielding up His Spirit, is the death of death. And on that cross, David’s greater Son sank His foot into the serpent’s head, inflicting a blow more lethal than David’s stone and slice attack.
David was a shepherd-king, defending Israel from her enemies, ruling justly and wisely. Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd and King who provides for us, protects us, forgives us, and leads us safely toward our eternal home. You and I are part of His kingdom, not isolated to one nation, but scattered around the world, all who trust Him and gather around His Word and sacraments. On the Day our Lord Jesus returns, He will restore His creation and establish His eternal kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth, to live with Him and all our fellow believers, including David, forever.
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.