Today's Readings: 1 Samuel 17 | Isaiah 61 | Matthew 6
Reading 1 - 1Sa 17
The story of David's victory over the Philistine giant Goliath is an enacted parable of the promise of Gen 3:15 (the seed of the woman crushing the head, and power, of the serpent). It is also a powerful and provocative picture of our redemption.
David's defeat of Goliath typifies the work of Christ in two different, though related, aspects:
Christ's moral victory over the power of sin in himself, and
Christ's coming victory over sin in its military and political forms.
It was necessary that Christ first conquer the "world" in himself, by subduing the lusts of the flesh, so that he might be qualified to conquer the nations and rule over them. Both these victories -- the one past, the other yet future -- are beautifully outlined in the stirring drama of 1Sa 17. In this epic encounter between faith and force, Holy Spirit and human nature, the heavenly and the earthly, we see all the redemptive purpose of Almighty God, unfolding from Eden onward.
"Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war" (1Sa 17:1). The name "Philistine" has found a place in the English language as a common noun, describing those who are ignorant and uncultured, who are "of the earth, and earthy" (1Co 15:47), without the least aspiration toward higher things -- in short, the natural and mortal enemy of everything that is spiritual.
The Philistines pitched their tents in "Ephes Dammim", which signifies "the border of blood". This site was a little south of Jerusalem and halfway over toward the Mediterranean Sea, at the border between the Israelite hills and the Philistine plain. In this story, "the border of blood" marked the crest, or high point, of human power -- the point where blood, and sin, and death were to be broken and turned back. [It is also the "border of blood" in the sense that it prefigures the point where the blood of Christ, shed in obedience and dedication to God, established the boundary of righteousness and life!] "This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt" (Job 38:11). As such, "Ephes Dammim" typifies Golgotha in the past, and Armageddon in the future: the sites where "sin" reaches its high-water mark and is then repulsed by the hand of God. (Linguistically, Ephes Dammim is closely related to "Aceldama" -- the "field of blood", where the traitor Judas met his fate: Acts 1:19.)
"The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them" (1Sa 17:3).
Mountains and hills in Scripture often represent powers and kingdoms (Zec 6:1; Dan 2:35-45; Joel 3:17; Isa 2:2,3; Eze 38:20), while valleys are places of sorrow, humiliation, and trial -- and sometimes of destruction, such as the valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:12), where the serpent-power of the Gentiles will be broken when it comes against Israel.
Like David, Jesus had to descend into "the valley of the shadow of death" (Psa 23:4) to win his victory. He had to confront the "giant" of sin in the very arena where that giant reigned supreme -- the flesh of humanity. Like Israel too, Jesus had to go through his own "valley of Achor (trouble)" (Hos 2:15), and "valley of Baca (tears)" (Psa 84:5-7). On the other side of the "valley" of sufferings, he would come at last to the "glories that would follow" (1Pe 1:11) and , beyond that, to the Kingdom of God.
"Goliath" (1Sa 17:4) means "exile"; he was from "Gath", which means "winepress". The Philistine giant was, like Cain (Gen 4:14,16), an exile from God because of sin. He was trodden down by David, his enemy under his feet (Psa 8:6) -- even as all human power and pride will be trodden down by Christ (cp 1Co 15:25,27; Eph 1:22) in the great "winepress" of the wrath of God (Isa 63:3; Rev 14:19).
Goliath's height was six cubits (the number of man: compare the "666" in Rev 13:18). He was covered with bronze, or brass -- its reddish color suggesting its connection with the flesh. He was the human equivalent of the bronze serpent of Num 21 -- the power of sin destroyed by Christ on the cross (John 3:14). He was arrayed in armor and weapons of the flesh, in contrast to the spiritual arsenal of Eph 6:13-17, which was David's trust (1Sa 17:45), as well as Christ's.
This mighty champion of the flesh came out into the valley between the two armies, every morning and evening for forty days (v 16), to defy the God of Israel. It was a sad, shameful spectacle; not a man of Israel, not even King Saul (himself a giant: 1Sa 10:23!), nor his son Jonathan, a brave warrior, had the faith and courage to confront this blasphemer (1Sa 17:11). Goliath was too great, too powerful, and too fearsome to be overcome by any mere man, except...
Now comes a break in the narrative (v 12), introducing the second antagonist in this epic struggle: David, a young man, a shepherd of Bethlehem (v 15), has been sent by his father to take provisions to his three older brothers serving in Saul's army (vv 17-19).
David, when he comes to his brothers, is met with mockery and derision (v 28). Likewise Jesus, when he comes to save his brothers from the "giant" of sin, meets the same ridicule. How much natural man needs salvation; yet how little he realizes it. Like the drowning man, he will thrash about and generally resist the very one who has come to save him... and he must in fact be saved from himself, and his own worst instincts, as well as the external danger!
The boy David cannot understand the inaction of Saul's men: "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (v 26).
The words of the shepherd boy come to the ears of the distraught king, who is so desperate that he sends for him. And the poor shepherd boy says to the mighty king: "Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him" (v 32).
Saul reasons according to the flesh, which is fatally obsessed with size and natural advantage: "You are not able..." (v 33).
BUT WHY NOT, IF GOD IS WITH HIM? "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31). How often do we forget the strength of faith, and make the same mistake -- being tentative, timid, and even afraid? How often do we forget that, if God is on our side, then nothing can stand in our way!
David wisely refuses Saul's offer of armor. The children of the Spirit are no match for the children of the flesh IF they attempt to meet them on their own ground and do battle with their own weapons. The "seed of the woman" will always be outclassed by the "seed of the serpent" in numbers, experience, prestige, and learning. Their defense -- and offense -- must be in the "shield" of faith and the "sword" of the Spirit (Eph 6:16,17)!
For the battle, David chooses five smooth stones out of the brook (1Sa 17:40). (Why five? is it because Goliath has four brothers -- 2Sa 21:15-21 -- who were also giants?) The stone which is to bring down the mighty giant has been slowly and meticulously shaped by the flowing waters of the brook, its rough edges smoothed and rounded, until it is ready for the use at hand. This smooth stone, then, typifies Christ -- prepared through the trials and tribulations of daily life and special, providentially-developed experiences for the unique work of deliverance. (In a similar figure of speech, Christ is also spoken of as the Stone rejected by the builders, who is later made the cornerstone of God's temple: Psa 118:22.)
David's sling would propel the stone to its destined target. The sling, made of animal skin, would have required a death for its preparation. Like the garments that God prepared to cover Adam and Eve's nakedness after their sin, the sling also typifies a sacrificial death. This sling (representing, in effect, the sacrifice of Christ) gives all the power to the stone which David hurls against the giant: it is the sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ, coupled with his spotless character, which had been tested and prepared by the Father, that destroys the Power of Sin on behalf of all mankind.
Prophetically, David is also the stone cut out of the mountain of human flesh WITHOUT HANDS (that is, born of a woman but without a human father: Gen 3:15), which strikes and destroys Nebuchadnezzar's image (Dan 2:34), and then proceeds to fill the whole earth with the glory of Yahweh.
The smiting of the "dream" image in Daniel 2 is parallel to David's smiting of Goliath, with one significant difference: one stone strikes Goliath in the HEAD (cp Gen 3:15), which symbolizes the vital life center. The other strikes the image upon the FEET, symbolizing the time when destruction is accomplished -- at the very end of the age of the Kingdom of Men. But, each time, the end result is the same: the great image of "Sin" is destroyed, and Israel is saved.
The Nebuchadnezzar image represents the accumulated history of the four great empires that collectively make up the "serpent-power" of the Kingdom of Men, which has oppressed and will oppress God's kingdom of Israel. David's selection of FIVE smooth stones relates his victory to the FIFTH great Kingdom: the Kingdom of God that will finally conquer all and fill the earth with His glory.
"Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground" (1Sa 17:49), already dead (v 50). On this verse the old Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, quaintly writes: "See how frail and uncertain life is, even when it thinks itself best fortified, and how quickly, how easily, and with how small a matter, the passage may be opened for life to go out and death to enter."
This is the typical fulfillment of the Edenic promise that the woman's seed should crush the serpent's head. The antitype stretches from the cross to the military destruction of the last vestiges of human misrule and oppression, when Christ returns.
"David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine's sword and drew it from the scabbard. After he killed him [that is, with the stone: see v 50], he cut off his head with the sword" (v 51). And later he brought the head to Jerusalem (v 54). Jerusalem proper was at this time still under the control of the Jebusites (2Sa 5:6-10). We know that Goliath's sword came to be kept at Nob (1Sa 21:9), an Israelite settlement of priests very near Jerusalem (cp Isa 10:32; Neh 11:32). So probably Goliath's head was buried there too. Nob may be identified with Golgotha ('the place of a skull'). David's act symbolized the destruction of the power of sin, accomplished by Jesus in his life, and finalized at Golgotha just outside the walls of Jerusalem. (Ancient Hebrew tradition also suggests that Golgotha was so named because it was the burial place of Goliath's head.)
David's act also prefigures the cutting off of all mortal ruling power, and the transferring of all the world's headship to Jerusalem, "the city of the great king" (Mat 5:35).
"Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron" (1Sa 17:52).