The story of David and Goliath is the great, timeless story of the victory of the underdog over the champion when the odds were stacked against him. David was a stripling; young and weedy, accustomed to life on the rugged and barren pastureland surrounding Bethlehem, tending sheep, fighting off ravenous beasts and poisonous snakes.
He was young, untried, and above all else optimistic. Life hadn’t jaded David in the same way that it had jaded his king, Saul. But then again, Saul was jaded by circumstances of his own making. At a time when God had commanded absolute faith and submission, Saul instead offered him a paltry faith and a kind of nervous, soft-spoken rebellion that did nothing to draw Saul into a true and rich relationship with God.
David on the other hand was unspoiled by the vagaries of human pride and self-exaltation. Alone on the frontier of his father’s lands, facing peril and sleep deprivation, David had an almost unlimited supply of time to contemplate the beauty and purity of the Divine.
God was not a mere theory, a shadow being wrapped in the mists of time and obscurity, God was as real to David as his own flesh and blood. He saw him, experienced him, as he considered the stars in the heavens above him.
As he contemplated the stars David understood the omnipotence and omniscience of God. He understood how small and pale and insignificant man was in the face of God’s majesty and power.
David understood what Saul and many others in Israel had failed to understand; that man is nothing but a speck of dust in the eyes of a God who can bend an entire universe to his will. And yet, that same God, lowered himself to consider the plight of man, to care for him, to commune with him, to direct him, to pledge his son to die for him. The contemplation of these realities molded David into a man of faith; a simple, pure faith that made him a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield.
The Armies of Israel and the armies of the Philistines had arrayed themselves against each other in Sochoh on either side of the Valley of Elah. The Philistines, wary of engaging in open warfare set the terms of the battle by sending out a champion from the camp; a towering hulk of a man named Goliath of Gath.
Goliath lumbered onto the valley floor day after day and flung out a challenge to the army of Israel. He demanded that Israel choose a champion to fight against him and that the outcome of their hand to hand combat should decide the fate of the entire war.
Israel had no one to send. In fact, they were all too terrified of Goliath to even contemplate who would be suitable. They huddled in their tents, miserable and terror-stricken while Goliath challenged them day after day for forty days.
It seemed as though the taunting of the Philistines would continue interminably. It seemed as though no one would ever fight Goliath. It seemed as though they would all stay on in Sochoh for the rest of their lives and grow old and die there because there didn’t seem to be an end to the humiliation in sight.
And then, God brought David to the camp. David’s advent was innocuous enough. He came to check on his brothers and bring them food and supplies. No one told him about the current state of affairs and David would have been none the wiser had he not heard Goliath’s challenge himself.
While David was talking to his brother, Goliath came out to perform his daily ritual. Like baiting a hapless bear, he shouted out his challenge and waited, sneering at the beleaguered camp of Israel, assured that no champion would be forthcoming.
When David heard the Philistines’ mockery, he was enraged. He was taken to Saul and promptly told the king that he would fight. Saul, wary of sacrificing the ruddy and optimistic young man to a battle-hardened veteran like Goliath tried to dissuade him but David refused to be turned aside.
Finally, in an act of desperation, Saul agreed to let him go but entreated him to at least take his armour. David agreed at first but then realised that he can barely move in Saul’s armour. He hasn’t tested it in battle and it’s more of a hindrance than a help.
Shucking off Saul’s armour David picks up what he knows. His sling, a sturdy leather strap worn and familiar. Five smooth stones which he slips into a little satchel slung around his body and his stick. With these three simple implements, he has beaten back ravenous lions and angry bears. Surely this Philistines can be no stronger or more ferocious than that.
But David doesn’t bank his success on his past experience, though he does rely on it to help him in battle. His source of courage and certainty is found in God. He is sure, after long acquaintance with the goodness and majesty of God, that God’s hand will go before him to defeat the blaspheming heathen who dares to malign the name of the Living God of Israel.
It turns out that David is right. It is not by might, or by power but by the Spirit of God that David defeats an alarmingly self-assured Goliath. Though Goliath could have withstood David he could never withstand David’s God and so the Philistine is slain and his army is routed and Israel is victorious.
All of this, every shred of this jaw-dropping victory was due to the faith of a single young man who dared to face giants in the name of His God and for the glory of His God. This is the secret of every spiritual victory over every spiritual giant. As the reformers of the 16th century posited so eloquently; sola Christus et soli deo gloria. Only in Jesus and only for the glory of God.