Text: 1 Samuel 17:1-30
Who Doesn’t Love the Story of David and Goliath? David is one of the most popular characters in children’s bibles, and his famous battle against Goliath is an iconic picture of how God uses His people to overcome the greatest obstacles. And according to the New Testament, David is a picture of faithfulness.
I’d like for us to look at David’s faith in a few places, all drawn from 1 Sam. 17. We will see the ways in which David displays courageous faith in the fact of opposition. Sometimes this is against the overt enemies of Israel. Sometimes it is against members of Israel who themselves lack faith. Either way, David fights the good faith and trusts God to the end.
In our text this morning, David shows us how faith overcomes jealous naysayers. He shows us how to continue in faithful living, in trusting God, over and against the discouragement of resentful peers.
Is David an Example or a Type?
Now, before we get too far along, you should know that there are a great many people out there who would say that I should not preach about David this way. Having heard too many genuinely bad sermons about “slaying the giants in your life…,” there is now a definite trend away from holding David up as an example for Christians today. Instead, we are told that David is a pointer to Christ. He is a type of Jesus, and as such, we shouldn’t tell people to be like David but to see what Christ does for us in salvation as we read about David’s life.
There’s certainly something to this. Jesus is, after all, the “son of David.” Jesus comes to restore the throne of David. David is a kind of anointed one, and David is a picture of the messiah. And yes, in his battle against Goliath, David shows us how the Good Shepherd crushes the head of the serpent. So yes, David is a picture of Christ.
But that’s not the whole story. After all, the book of Hebrews says that David was a man of faith, a man who looked to God’s promise and the future redemption (Heb. 11:32-33). In that way, he was not doing the same kind of work that Jesus did but was instead being a believer who himself looked to Jesus for salvation. Additionally, I think we would all agree that David was a negative example in his sin, showing us what can happen when your passions get the better of you. In fact, we are so comfortable identifying ourselves with David, that the Church has used David’s great prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 as a regular means of repenting for our own sins today. Obviously we are allowed to learn something from his example.
So is David a pointer to Christ? Yes. Is he an example for us to imitate? Yes. Both are true. And we will see the benefits of both as we read about David’s faith in 1 Samuel.
David’s Faith Shames His Brethren
The battle between David and Goliath is rightly famous, but before we get to that, we should pay attention to the encounters David has on the way. There are two sorts of “mini-battles” in this chapter, before we get to the big fight. The first occurs between David and his brothers, specifically his oldest brother Eliab.
Our chapter begins with Goliath. He is a giant, and he knows it. Vs. 4 says that he was “six cubits and a span,” which means nine and a half feet tall. Goliath strikes terror into the hearts of Israel. And he knows it. He proceeds to make fun of Israel and to insult God. In vs. 8 he refers to the army as the mere “servants of Saul.” In vs. 10 he says that he defies them. When David describes this, he calls it a “reproach” (vs. 26) or a great shame.
How does Israel respond to Goliath’s insults? Do they rush out to defend the honor of Israel and of their God? No! They are terrified. “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Sam. 17:11).
This is the not the first time that Israel has cowered in the face of giants. In the book of Numbers, Israel was on the edge of the Promised Land, just about to take it for themselves, when the people saw giants in the land. Caleb was brave, then, and believed that they could take the land anyway (Numbers 13:30), but the majority of the people did not believe. They ran away in fear. Now, David is like a new Caleb, but his countrymen are still afraid of giants. They still don’t believe that God can do great things for them.
David hears Goliath’s taunts, he sees Israel shaking in fear, and he says, “Hey, what gives?!” He asks a question, but it’s really more of a call to action:
Then David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, “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?” (1 Sam. 17:26)
The people have actually just told David what will happen. They know the answer. David is asking them to repeat it, and he’s also implying the obvious, “So why hasn’t anyone gone out and done it yet?!”
At this point, David’s brother gets mad. Eliab, it says, is David’s eldest brother. And he’s been with the army the whole time. That means he’s one of the ones shaking in his boots while Goliath insults the whole country. He hasn’t volunteered to go out and fight. And here is his kid brother suggesting that they’re all chicken. He doesn’t like it.
Now Eliab his oldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab’s anger was aroused against David, and he said, “Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” (1 Sam. 17:28)
How about that? It’s really quite remarkable. Not only does Eliab rebuke David, but he turns David’s virtue into sin. He says that David is just being proud. “I know your pride and the wickedness of your heart.” David was trying to rally Israel to faithful battle. He was the one person there who wasn’t being wicked. And yet, his own brother gaslighted him, turning the situation around against him and accused him of sinful pride in front of the people.
There’s an important lesson to observe here. Faithless people don’t like it when other people are faithful. It highlights their own sin, and if they are in the church, it highlights their hypocrisy. It makes them envious, and so they try to drag the faithful down to their level. This is what they did to Jesus. He feasted with people, and the Pharisees called Him a drunkard. He ate with sinners, and the religious people said He wasn’t protecting His testimony. And Jesus told us that it would happen to us if we followed Him— “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (Matt. 5:11).
We know that the world is enmity with God. But we often forget that the world has a foothold in each of our hearts, and the world can and often does infiltrate the church. When it does that, it tries mightily to hold back the faithful, to discourage them, to keep them from doing what’s right, and to tarnish their reputation and try to trap them in sin. We see this with Eliab and David.
Now how does David respond to this? It’s actually very tricky to respond to the charge of pride. What are you supposed to do, argue? Wouldn’t that just be further proof or your pride? “See there, you don’t ever listen to anyone else. You always think you’re right!”
It would be easy to get sucked into a losing argument here. So David doesn’t even bother. He doesn’t defend himself. He says, “What have I done now? Is there not a cause?” (1 Sam. 17:29). This is basically a dismissal. We might translate it as, “Whatever!” And then David does the only responsible thing, he ignores the fake charge and keeps on about his business, moving right along with his original plan. “Then he turned from him toward another and said the same thing” (vs. 30). This is what we could call godly disregard. David is not deterred by the false piety of his resentful brother. He perseveres in doing the right thing. He perseveres in faith. In this way the words of Hebrews were demonstrated, “David… through faith subdued kingdoms” (Heb. 11:32-33).
Thus we see in David a picture of courageous faith in the face of opposition. He is not deterred by lesser men, but allows his conviction in God’s goodness and sovereignty drive him to overcome challenges and do what is right.
Now, let me ask you, when David does this, is he a picture of Christ?
Yes! David shows us exactly what will happen to Jesus. As we said, Jesus had his virtues held against Him by His hypocritical countrymen. Jesus’ righteousness made the religious people of His day jealous. In fact, it was their envy which led them to arrest Him and ask that He be put to death (Matt. 27:18). Still, in the face of this, Jesus persevered in faith, going to battle the serpent for us, when we were cowering in unbelief, huddled with Peter around the fire, denying the Lord who would soon redeem us. Jesus is the greater David, the true champion of the army of God.
But, as we said earlier, David is also an example for us today. And he shows us how we ought to persevere in faith, even when faced with opposition, even when it comes from other Christians, from our friends and family. Jesus said that we will have false things said against us, we will be reviled and exiled, and he said that this is how the world has always treated the prophets, “for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:12). The world went on to persecute Jesus just like that, and the Bible promises us that, if we are faithful, we will be persecuted in the same way. “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).
So we need to learn to imitate David in his faith, and on this occasion we see a very important example. We should do as he did in rejecting the discouragement of our resentful peers. We must learn to develop a godly disregard for naysayers, even those within the Church. Don’t even waste your time and energy arguing against them. Just move along, know that their twisted logic isn’t true, and continue in doing good.
There’s only one way we can do this, of course. It’s by faith. After all, if things really were dependent on our righteousness, then the naysayers would have a point. We aren’t perfect. We do sin, repeatedly. We could have done better. There are always missteps and mistakes along the way, and if you accepted the challenge of works’ righteousness, you would always lose.
So here we see the glorious grace of the gospel. Christ didn’t die for perfect people. He died for sinners. He was the perfect one who accomplished true perfection. And in doing so, He paid all our penalties. He made us acceptable to God. But now, because of this, He makes us acceptable to God. He frees us up to serve God, to go out and fight the giants of our Christian lives. And He promises the victory precisely because it doesn’t depend upon us. Because salvation is all of grace, we can believe and fight.
Let us take heart in this gospel, and let it free us up to ignore the false accusations of Satan and of the world. Let it free us up to serve God.
Let us pray.