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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 17

 

 

Verses 1-58

The time comes when both Saul and David are to be publicly proven as regards their fitness to rule over Israel. The Philistines, though previously defeated through Jonathan's faith, return to challenge Israel, but with a different approach. The armies of Israel occupy a height on one side of a valley and the Philistines similarly stationed on the other side. If one army wanted to attack, they would have to cross the valley and climb up the other side, which would put them at great disadvantage.

The Philistines had a man who was their champion, a giant from Gath named Goliath, whose height was over nine feet. His armour is mentioned, first his helmet of brass. This tells us that typically he has made his head (his mind) impervious to being influenced by the word of God; for "the god of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not" (2 Corinthians 4:4). His whole body was similarly protected by armour of great weight, so that a sword in the hand of a weaker man would mean nothing. The size of his offensive weapon (his spear) is emphasized, both its shaft and its head. He could easily overreach any ordinary adversary and kill him before the other got within striking distance. He illustrates the stature and power of the well-trained controversialists of this world, the boasted strength of man in the flesh. He is well prepared too by the help of a man bearing a shield to go before him.

Goliath's challenge fills the hearts of the men of Israel (including Saul) with fear and dismay. He defies the armies of Israel, asking for one man to come and fight with him, and the whole issue of victory for either side would depend on which man killed the other. Even Saul, though head and shoulders above the rest of the people, was no match for the giant, and having rejected the Word of the Lord, he could expect no help from Him.

In verse 12 David is introduced again, with the reminder of whose son he was and his being the last of eight sons. The number 8 symbolizes a new beginning, just as the new covenant has set aside the old now that Christ has come. The three eldest sons of Jesse were in Saul's army, while David had returned home from Saul's service to shepherd his father's sheep. How long he was at home we are not told, but the giant continued to deliver his challenge to Israel every morning for forty days (v.16), before David returned to visit his brothers in army.

Verse 17 tells us that Jesse sent David with some provisions and a message to his brethren, just as God the Father sent His Son to Israel, His brethren in the flesh. At the time there was fighting continuing between Israel and the Philistines (v.19), though no one had accepted Goliath's challenge. David arrived as the army was in process of preparing to engage the enemy. He left all that he brought with him in the hands of an army steward, and ran immediately into the army to greet his brothers (v.22).

As they were talking together Goliath appeared, voicing his daily challenge against any man of Israel who would fight with him. This only made the men of Israel recoil in fear. Their words in verse 25 express this fear, but are an answer to David's question recorded in verse 26. David shows no fear of the giant in his questioning, for he asks, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" His formidable size makes no difference to David: when he defies God's armies, it is God whom he is defying. David is told that one who would fight and kill Goliath would be greatly enriched by the king, given the king's daughter as wife, and have his father's house made free in Israel. Perhaps this third reward was the reason for Saul's later inquiring as to whose son David was (v.58).

Goliath's defying of Israel surely reminds us of Satan's challenging God's authority among His people. It may be by means of ungodly men that Satan does this, as all history witnesses. David is a type of Christ, and also illustrates the work of Christ IN HIS PEOPLE during the present dispensation of grace when Christ is not reigning though having been anointed. David asked questions and also spoke plainly in his confession of "the living God" (v.26). This shows both humble wisdom and firm, decided faith.

David's questioning and his speaking for "the living God" awakened the animosity of his elder brother Eliab, who was evidently envious of David's having previously been anointed by Samuel. Eliab was not prepared to do anything by faith in regard to Goliath's challenge, and was not happy to think that his younger brother was suggesting taking positive action. He speaks insultingly to David, "Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your insolence and the wickedness of your heart: for you have come down in order to see the battle" (v.28 -- NASB).

David however uses a soft answer. He had come because his father had sent him: was there anything offensive in what he had done or said? So also the Lord Jesus did not respond angrily to Israel, his brethren according to the flesh, when they treated Him with unjust contempt. Yet He did not give up doing that for which God had sent him. We must not be intimidated by relatives or friends, no more than by enemies.

When Saul heard how David had been speaking among the people (v.31), he at least did not treat him with contempt: after forty days of Goliath's challenges he was ready to grasp any hope of having the giant defeated. He called for David, and David immediately told him that Israel may take courage: he would go and fight the Philistine. Saul objects that this was impossible for a youth like David, when Goliath was a practiced man of war. David had all the odds against him.

David's confidence was not shaken by this (v.34): he informed Saul of two occasions when he was keeping his father's sheep, one of a lion stealing a lamb, the other of a bear doing the same. In each case David pursued the animal, attacked it and took the lamb from its mouth. Then facing it head on he caught it by the beard and killed it. It is important for us to observe that David did not do this to show off his own strength: in fact there were likely no witnesses. It was his concern for the lamb that moved him, and God gave him strength on this account. If one has a shepherd's heart of love for the people of God, together with concern for the honor of God among His people, then he may fully count on God to enable him to defeat the power of ungodly enemies.

David therefore speaks with calm certainty (vs.36-37). The Philistine would suffer the same fate as the lion and the bear because he had defied the armies of the living God, not because David was more capable than he. The living God would certainly intervene in this case and deliver David. His confidence persuades Saul to give him permission to go, though Saul recognizes too that the Lord must be with him if he is to triumph.

Still, Saul thought it necessary that David should be protected by armour (v.38). this seemed only sensible, for Goliath was well armed. In fact Saul was willing to contribute his own armour for such a cause. It is no wonder, when it was put on David, that he was only encumbered by it. He was not accustomed to any such thing, let alone using the armour of a man so much bigger than he. God does not require human arrangements for the doing of His work.

David dispensed with the armour and took with him only a staff, a sling and five smooth stones in a shepherd's bag (v.40). The stones came from the brook, where they had been smoothed by the flow of water over a long period of time. The water is a well known type of the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26), and when it is running (or living) water, the energizing power of the Spirit of God is involved in it (John 7:38-39). Believers are said to be "living stones" (1 Peter 2:5), the stone being God's workmanship in contrast to bricks (Genesis 11:3) which are man-made. These stones are smoothed by the action of the water, the Spirit of God applying the Word of God to the hearts of believers. When this is true, the believer becomes vitally identified with the Word he believers. This is proven by Mark 4:14 : "The sower sows the Word," and Matthew 13:38 : "The good seed are the children of the kingdom." Similarly the stone speaks of a believer, but as formed by the Word and Spirit of God, therefore each stone may be likened to a particular scripture that has become real to the heart of one who uses it.

David is far more well armed than would appear to people on the surface, just as one who has learned the Word of God is far better armed than one who is well versed in all the arguments of unbelief. When Goliath sees David approaching him without armour or sword, he speaks to him with haughty contempt (vs.41-44). Was he a dog that one should come to him with sticks? Cursing David by his own idolatrous gods, he tells him disdainfully that he will give his flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field. Wicked men or women can be extremely arrogant when they think they have no real opposition.

David's answer (vs.45-47) does not show anything of the same spirit, however, for he does not come with sword and spear as does Goliath, but in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom Goliath had defied. He speaks respectfully but firmly with the calm conviction that the Lord would deliver Goliath into David's hands to be killed and decapitated, and that the dead bodies of the Philistine

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/1-samuel-17.html. 1897-1910.

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