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1 Samuel 17:811, 3239, 4547comment (0)

July 8, 2010

By James Barnette

Related Scripture: 1 Samuel 17:811, 3239, 4547

Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University

The Power of Courage
1 Samuel 17:8–11, 32–39, 45–47

Courage Diminished (8–11)

By using a definite article (“the Philistine”), Goliath contrasted himself as the Philistine to the Israelites as slaves belonging to Saul. His speech was not a negotiation but rather a taunt. The verb “defy” is one of the key words in this chapter; in addition to verse 10, it appears in verses 25, 26, 36 and 45. Repeating the word highlights Goliath’s attitude toward his adversary, which is not only defiance but also open contempt. The verb appears in the first person performative perfect, which carries a declarative force: “I hereby challenge you!”

Goliath was utterly sure of himself. The more he was self-assured, the more the Israelites were intimidated. Note that the narrative need not describe Goliath as “strong,” “bold” or “frightening.” The story is so vivid that we need no adjectives to realize this warrior’s fierceness. 

Goliath’s imposing stature and harsh challenges were enough to strike fear and dismay into the Israelite army. Adding to its concern was the fact that the Philistine army was well trained and highly organized. Unlike the Israelites, the Philistines were sufficiently equipped with “modern” weapons. Far from being uncultured, “uncircumcised” people, recent archaeological discoveries have confirmed that they were a highly civilized culture.

Courage Discovered (32–39)
Saul was desperate and grasping at straws. Note the exchange between king and shepherd boy. One would expect Saul to begin the conversation, but the idealistic David initiated it. Here the primacy of David over Saul is made clear. Instead of referring to Goliath by name, David called him “this Philistine” derisively. 

Saul’s reference to David’s adolescence suggests that he was under 20 years of age, the earliest age at which an Israelite was allowed to serve in the military (see Numbers 1:3; 26:2). Saul’s initial rejection of David led him to offer some reasoned credentials for his taking on the Philistine. David recounted two episodes of mortal combat: one with a lion and one with a bear. In each case, David “went after” the beast and struck it. Then when the beast turned on David, he seized it by the hair, struck it and killed it. In David’s mind, the “uncircumcised Philistine” had proved himself a mere brutish animal because of his defying the army of the living God. 

Continuing his self-credentialing speech, David stated his case on new grounds. It was not that David killed the animals but that Yahweh had delivered him from the lion and the bear. In the first part of the speech, David validated his own bravery; in the second part, he acknowledged the Lord as the real Rescuer.

Saul equipped David with all the standard army gear. Israel had yearned for a king in order to be “like the nations” (1 Sam. 8:5, 20). What it got was Saul, who equipped for battle just like the other nations — just like the Philistines, only not as well. If David had opted to be like the other nations, then he would have reduced himself to a poor, ineffective imitation of the Philistine. David refused to be like the nations, like the Philistines or Saul. Instead he chose to identify with the great shepherd-leaders of the Torah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and, especially, Moses. David opted to live by faith in God’s promises and protection.  

Courage Displayed (45–47)
David was undaunted by the bombast of the supersized Philistine. Indeed he launched a verbal counterattack at Goliath. The shepherd declared that Goliath has committed a capital crime by insulting and blaspheming the most holy God. No doubt David knew what the Torah spelled out as punishment for blasphemy. Any individual guilty of such an act — even a non-Jew — should be stoned (see Leviticus 24:16). Some suggest that this is one reason why David chose his particular weapon of a sling and five smooth stones. Even before rising to king, David proved to be a devoted follower of Yahweh’s sacred law.

While many apply this great story to defeating the “giants” that we face in our lives, its primary concern is bringing glory to God. David wanted the Philistines, as well as the Jews, to know that the God of Israel is the one true and living God. Ultimately this is the story of Yahweh’s victory over all false gods of this world.

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