Tag Archives: 1 Samuel 17

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How many times did David kill Goliath?

There’s a curious double killing in 1 Samuel 17:50-51.
50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.  51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.

1 Samuel 17:50-51

At first this looks like clumsy editing (the ignorant refactor blunders again, in his obsessive need to keep sources he wrecks the narrative flow, once again – fortunately Altar and others have taught us to credit the reactor with a little more sense).

Instead, the careful reader is faced with a question – why did Goliath get killed twice?  Surely once is enough.  

There are a few theories.  The first is that the blow from the stone merely stunned Goliath, the second blow was the one that really killed him.  That seems to be the sense of verse 49.  The the first blow caused him to fall.  But verse 50 seems to stop us going down this route.  It’s there to say “no, that one stone was enough; that was all he needed to prevail, and by the way he didn’t need a sword.”  There is a whole anti-sword thing going on in this chapter – it’s most prominent in verse 38, where David refuses Saul’s sword.  The whole point of the chapter is that the world of armies, and kingly posturing, and armour isn’t going to work for Israel.  She’s already tried this with Saul and it’s not been going well.  If Israel wants to play the human power game, the game of militarism and weapon acquisition then it’s going to fail.  It will fail because it will always meet a Goliath, and it will fail because an over-reliance on technology creates an army of cowards, who don’t know how to trust in God because all they know is the power of technology.  There is a quote from a French General which I can’t source who I am sure said of the Americans during the Bosnian war (when the Americans could kill from a distance through their technology) “what kind of soldiers are these who no longer look upon the eyes of their enemy” (similar points are made here).

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Killing The Monsters

But then a hero emerges.

The hero is never as strong as the monster

Never as well armed

But they have courage and they have skill

They do what no-one has done before

They stand up to the monster

But it seems that they will be doomed

But the hero, through skill and pluck is able to find a weak spot in the monster

And the monster, blinded by its own arrogance, doesn’t see the blow coming until it’s too late

And the monster is killed.

Killing monster stories go back to the Babylonians

The oldest surviving story in its original form, the epic of Gilgamesh, is a killing the monster story.

The Greeks told stories about Hercules killing the minotaur

The English told the story of St. George killing the dragon

Later on an Englishman, J.R.R. Tolkien told the story of Lord of the Rings, in which the hero, the half-sized hobbit Frodo, destroys the monster Sauron

The Americans told the story of Luke Skywalker

And the Scots gave the world Harry Potter.

“Killing the Monster” stories are not only fictional

The Second World War is a “Killing the Monster” story where the monsters are Hitler, the Japanese Armed Forces and the Third Reich

We tell these monster stories because we don’t stop being afraid of monsters the day that we finally have the courage to sleep with the lights off

You could tell a “Monsters are not really monsters story”

The Pixar cartoon Monsters Inc is like that

There the monsters are cuddly and are actually as scared of us as we of them

Sometimes you need a “monsters are not really monsters” story

But when the monster is a brutal, oppressive tyranny

When the monster is poverty, or domestic violence

When the monster lurks the mind – depression, chronically low self-esteem

When the monster is a relationship that has destroyed us – an abusive partner, a parent who suffocates, a child who destroys, a son-in-law who twists

When the monsters are, in Paul’s phrase, the “cosmic powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”

Then the monsters are not cuddly

We need a “Killing the monster” story.

This morning’s reading is the beginning of the second most important “Killing the monster” story in the Bible.

The Heart

Before we meet the monsters though

We have to go to David’s signature verse

Which is right at the start of his story when he is being chosen

You remember that the Prophet Samuel came to anoint a king from the sons of Jesse

And he went through the sons of Jesse starting at the oldest

He kept saying to God “This must be one”

But kept saying “Man looks at the face, but God looks at the heart”

And this story is about the contrast between the face that humans see

And the heart that God sees

We can be impressed by the outside

But God sees the heart.

That is the story of David, the man who was after God’s own heart

Who at his greatest moment of failure sang that what mattered to God was a broken and contrite heart.

And though the monster has many things

He is not after God’s own heart, and in that are the seeds of his destruction

It might not look it, but David is far better armed than Goliath

Goliath may be nine foot tall, and David a boy, but the contest is a total mismatch

David is a man after God’s own heart

And Goliath does not stand a chance, poor man.

Meeting The Monster

Back to the monster

The monster turns up in Sucoh in Judah

Do you notice that

The monster is a Philistine, he should just stay in Philistia

But monsters don’t respect their own boundaries

Monsters invade

They like the pleasure of camping out in the peaceful place that you hoped someone would just leave you alone.

Monsters don’t wait for invites, they invade.

The monster’s name is Goliath

And we read about Goliath

We read about his height – nine foot nine

And he is covered in bronze chain mail which weighs 125 pounds

We read about his helmet – and the helmet weighs

And he had bronze grieves on his legs

And he has a javelin over his shoulder

And he has a spear, whose shaft is like a weaver’s beam

And his shield is carried by a man

And…

And…

Well before we find remind ourselves what Goliath does next

Let us also ponder that he might be slightly over-armoured

Why does someone need that much armour

Because when your heart is blackened with its banishment of God, the thing that comes in it’s place is fear, and when you are afraid, then is when you start protecting yourself.

And Goliath marches out.

And he taunts the armies of Israel

Let someone come out from amongst you

And instead of us all fighting, let us fight one on one

If he were Glaswegian he would have shouted “Come ahead”

Give me a man, he shouts.

Now there is one man who might fight

One man who is head and shoulders above everyone,

He is Saul, the king

But Saul’s own heart has been crushed, by his disappointments, by his weariness, by his cynicism that God does not act any more

He is the man who used to have faith, but the faith has gone.

Here and now I challenge the Israelite army. I dare you to pick someone to fight me!” 11 When Saul and his men heard this, they were terrified.[1]

Then monster appears opposite the Israelite armies and screams at them

Not just for one day,

Not just for two days

But for forty days

Because that is how monsters like operate, repeated intimidation

Constant harassment

A refusal to leave us alone for any length of time.

After the first day, Saul and the people were dismayed

What were they like after the second day,

And the third day

And the thirty eighth day

And the thirty ninth day

And the fortieth day.

The monster is stronger, more intimidating

And they are dead men.

41st Day

And it seems like the 41st day is like any other day for Goliath

The tyrants never seem to realise how quickly things are going to change for them.

The old rulers of Eastern Europe never realised they were going to loose their power

The rulers of South Africa suddenly seemed to have to give in

The rulers of Iran this week woke up and they did not understand what was coming.

He wakes up and it is just another day.

But about 15 miles away

A young shepherd boy is saddling some donkeys with bread

The monster doesn’t know

And the shepherd boy doesn’t know

How must this day is going to change both of their lives.

For the young boy this is the day of promise that will eventually lead

To a baby in a manger at Bethlehem

And gathering of Jesus followers in Hallside

For the monster

The 41st day is going to be his last day.

The Biggest Battles

Now it is interesting that in the battles that follow

The helmet, and the chain mail, and the greaves are going to play no more part

They are not going to receive another mention.

The two battles that are going to be crucial

Are going to be David’s struggle with his own family

And his struggle to do things the right way.

The Family

The first thing that David is going to have to deal with is his older brother Eliab

Often it is those closest to us who cause us the biggest damage

Who get in the way of us fighting the battles that are given to us.

David appears in the Philistine camp and he hears Goliath roaring at the Israelites

And his initial pain is not disappointment in his brothers, in the army, in King Saul

You might think the story might be something like “David had previously worshipped these men as heroes, and this was a moment of unveiling, when he discovered that they were not as brave as he once believed.”

David is a man after God’s own heart.

David doesn’t seem to have been under any illusions about his brothers being great.

The person that is great for David is God.

Here we have an insight into one of the many benefits of being able to praise God.

We praise God because God is God

But it turns out that when we praise God we have a good attitude to humans – we don’t expect them to be amazing, to be God, we know that others are frail.
The other thing is that we have a passion for the things that matter to God

          justice, love, the renown that is given to God’s name (that one is one we don’t often mention, but it’s very important)

So when David hears this giant insulting the armies of God

He says “Who is this that insults the armies of God.

When he starts saying this, word gets out

And David’s brother Eliab hears about it and says to him

“Why have you come down

And left those few sheep in the wilderness – older brothers like to dismiss what their younger siblings do – a few sheep

And I know your presumption and the evil that is in your heart  – who’s heart is it that has evil in it at the moment?

David’s heart is after God

But Eliab’s heart, that might be twisted

Our enemies often accuse us of the complaints that they suffer from themselves

And when we are at our worst, we often complain about others, that which is in ourselves.

So the first battle is the aspersions that cast upon him from those around about him.

And at this point, David could get distracted into a battle with his brother

But that is not David’s struggle.

Do you have that in your families – a family member who constantly brings you down, who belittles you, who questions you, who makes you feel this small?

How much time are you giving to that battle at the moment?

Is that the main battle that you are given to deal with at the moment, or is this distracting you?

David doesn’t let this be a distraction, and he says, as younger brothers are wont to do “What have I done now?  Was it but a word.”

And then David moves on.

The Armour of Saul

The next battle is with the person before who has tried to fight and his given up.

We all know people like this.

People who started out with great hope in their early careers, but their later results never matched their early promise, and now they are bitter.

The Church is full of people like that.

People who don’t actually like vibrant young people, because they call their own cynicism into question

I encounter this in committees often – people whose own Churches don’t sound like happy places, but spend a lot of time bringing down those who might be getting above themselves

It’s not just at a national level, it happens in congregations, and since our congregation is no greater than any other, it must also happen in ours.

Saul says to David

“Go out, but you should try to wear my armour.”

Now Saul is 7 foot himself

David is small

Is Saul’s armour ever, ever, ever going to help the boy David

So what is Saul thinking?

Saul must know that this isn’t going to work

And that’s the point – he helps him in a way that isn’t going to help him

Smothers him with advice, that will destroy him.

So that when David fails, Saul can still say “I tried my hardest to help him.”

Not “I fought with him”, no “I tried to help”

Remember that Saul needs a dead David here, because if not his own leadership is going to be shown up to be pretty bad

Do you ever work with people who are supposed to help you, but actually want you to fail, who try and get you to work in ways that will never succeed

People that need you to fail, because if you succeed it makes them look bad.

So he tries to suffocate David with armour that doesn’t fit

David’s first big victory was knowing not to fight his brother

The second big victory was having the courage to go up to Saul and say

“Thanks, but no thanks”

The big king is trying to get David to work a certain way

And David says no.

Then David takes his staff

Five smooth stones and goes out to meet Goliath.

He has dealt with the brother who questioned him

The cynical broken king who tried to get him to fight the wrong way

And now he is ready.

The giant comes up and he sees David, who is ruddy and handsome in appearance.

And the words in the Hebrew here are exactly the same as earlier “man sees the appearance, but God looks at the heart.”

Monsters don’t see so well.

And Goliath jeers and curses

But David says this speech, and listen to it, to hear some words that occur quite often:

45 David answered, “You are coming against me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the Israelite armies, which you have defied. 46 This very day the LORD will put you in my power; I will defeat you and cut off your head. And I will give the bodies of the Philistine soldiers to the birds and animals to eat. Then the whole world will know that Israel has a God, 47 and everyone here will see that the LORD does not need swords or spears to save his people. The battle belongs to the Lord, and he will put all of you in our power.”[2]

And so David with his vision of being surrounded by God

And conviction that he is doing the work of God

And having fought the battles that would have distracted him

And not being afraid of the monster that comes against him

Throws the stone

Now a nervous man would have missed

But David hits with his first stone

So what makes him not nervous.

Many of you have told me of this.

Of things that you have been terrified of, but when it comes to the point, the procedure, a strange confidence takes you over.

This is what happens with those filled with the confidence of God.

And he throws the one stone

One stone

And the giant is toppled.

And this lesson sets the pattern for a life

Which will have many mistakes – and we are going to learn what these were over coming weeks

But never forget that David was a man after God’s own heart,

And he lived with what he learnt that day never totally taken from him.

And when Jesus came,

How was he known?

He was known as the son of David

And one evening, shortly before he went into battle on Good Friday

Against the monsters of human sin, and an oppressive society

And all the monsters of the devil and his host.

Jesus did not take five stones

He took bread, he said this is my body, given for the world

He took the cup, and he said this the covenant sealed with my blood

And he, a man, went against the state

Went against sin

Went against the devil

And though Jesus died

On Easter morning he rose

But those three monsters

The monsters of the dark

Like all monsters that stand against God

Were slain

They didn’t stand a chance

AMEN

** With many thanks to “David” by Charles R. Swindoll




[1]None. Good New Translation – Second Edition (electronic ed.) . ,: :

[2]None. Good New Translation – Second Edition (electronic ed.) . ,: :