We also are in danger of committing the same error, but in a different way. We aren’t called upon to identify and anoint the next king of Israel like Samuel was, but when we read the Bible, we must be able to recognize Yahweh’s perspective and message. Sometimes we are so impressed by the accomplishments of Bible figures that we glorify these men and women and miss Yahweh’s brilliant glory that the reading attempts to highlight. That’s the danger that many fall into when they read about David and Goliath.
The battle between David and Goliath, although it is the center of the action, is not the central message of 1 Samuel 17. Neither did Yahweh include this chapter in His word to teach us “how to identify the Goliaths in our lives” or encourage us “to pick up the five stones of victory against our enemies”. Those are the kinds of
conclusions reached by people who read the story of David and Goliath like Samuel looked at Eliab: centered on the appearances and actions of men.
What is the purpose of 1 Samuel 17, then?
To find it, we must first look for God’s name. Notice that it doesn’t appear until verse 26 when it says, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26) Up to this point, 25 verses and 40 days have passed by… with no mention of Yahweh’s name!
This silence is strange when we remember another recent battle against the Philistines: “When the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:7). It’s a similar
situation. How do the Israelites immediately respond? “And the people of Israel said to Samuel, ‘Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines’” (1 Samuel 7:8). What happened next? “Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him… The LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel” (1 Samuel 7:9, 10). Yahweh was the center of Israel’s hope in this battle against the Philistines.
But remember too how Saul has distanced himself from Yahweh in the conflict with the Philistines at Gilgal in 1 Samuel 13 and in 1 Samuel 14 when Yahweh defeats the Philistines through Jonathan in spite of Saul. We attributed his
distance from Yahweh as being the result of his pride, his conviction that Israelite redemption depended on him. Now we see in 1 Samuel 17 that the divide between Saul and Yahweh has grown wider. Samuel isn’t in Socoh. Nor is there mention of any priest. The Ark of the Covenant has not appeared; there is no mention of any prayer, sacrifice or petition to Yahweh. His name isn’t even mentioned. The only one whom Saul and the Israelite army can see is this Philistine soldier. And for 40 days with no reference to Yahweh, Israel’s army is paralyzed in fear.
Enter David. He speaks for the first time in the Bible. He makes the first
reference to God in the entire chapter. And he calls Him by a title that appears rarely in the Old Testament, a significant title: The living God (1 Samuel 17:26).
Why does he call Him that?
Up to this point in the Bible, the title has appeared only once. When Joshua
gave the Israelites instructions on crossing the Jordan River, he said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites” (Joshua 3:10). By the miracle of crossing the Jordan River on dry land, the Israelites will see that their God lives while the gods of the pagan nations are only sticks and stones. We also see a reference to Yahweh as living in 2 Samuel 22:47 (and Psalm 18:46) when King David glorifies God near the end of his life because the nations have submitted to him. Centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah will declare, “The LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation” (Jeremiah 10:10). Notice that the truth of Yahweh as the living God is declared in situations: 1) in relation to pagan nations, and 2) when they are judged for their idolatry and must submit themselves to Yahweh. It is a title born of the conflict between the nations who are committed
to idolatry and Yahweh who is unique and exalted above their false gods, a title that looks to Yahweh’s victory over them. And as the entire Israelite army in Socoh trembles on seeing: “a champion… a man of war from his youth” (1 Samuel 17:4, 33), David sees the living God, the God who makes the nations tremble before Him.
Notice also that Yahweh’s name has a central role in the rest of the chapter.
David is convinced that this uncircumcised Philistine will end up like the lions and the bears that he has killed because:“he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:36). He testifies, not about his military prowess but about Yahweh’s
salvation: “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” (1 Samuel 17:37). Saul tries to convince David to depend on his own strength and armor, but David approaches the Philistine: “in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Samuel 17:45). Goliath: “cursed David by his gods” (1 Samuel 17:43); David declares, "This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:46). And the lesson is not only for Goliath and the Philistines but also for Israel who has forgotten Yahweh for 40 days: “And that all this assembly may
know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:47).
If we finish reading this chapter impressed with David, with Goliath, with the Goliaths that torment us and the five spiritual stones that we need to throw against them, we have not gone beyond Samuel’s erroneous reading of Eliab when he saw him and said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him” (1 Samuel 16:6). But if we look at the real Warrior in this chapter, at Yahweh the living God, we will be impressed by the God that makes His glory shine in brilliance through His humble and despised anointed one, even when His people have neglected His name. Salvation still comes through Yahweh by grace.