The Victory is God’s – 1 Samuel 17:41-53
By: Alistair Brown
(Part 4 of a study of 1 Samuel 17.)
One of my friends when I was about twelve was David. David and I had two things in common. Both of us had signed up for violin lessons. Both of us were Baptist. Actually we had something else in common; when we were twelve God’s work of sanctification had a long way to go in our lives.
The violin lessons took place in Castlehill School. The name Castlehill says a lot about that school for it was an old building perched on a small hill and it had been built on the site of a very ancient castle. It was a fun place to go to school, and we had all sorts of stories of how people had been tortured in times past in an area we called the ‘dungeons.’ Our violin playing was often torture, but the lessons were not in the dungeons but the large school hall.
We got to the end of one day’s lesson, and the teacher asked David and me to move the piano to where it was stored at the far end of the hall. It was a heavy piano, but once you got it moving it was easy enough. We put our shoulders behind it and off it went. When we were half way up that hall, David and I looked at each other and one of us – I am sure it must have been David – said: “This piano would make a great battering ram…” We smiled. We knew what we would do next.
At the end of that hall was a very old, thick oak door. It was maybe eight feet tall and probably about four feet wide – the perfect target for our battering ram. Now we really got pushing. That piano started to roll faster than it had ever gone before. We let it go about fifteen feet from the door.
It stopped before it got there. Maybe the wheels should have been oiled better. Well, that wasn’t going to happen again. David and I were not going to be thwarted. We pulled the piano back, got it rolling even faster and at about only six feet from the door sent it at speed straight at that old, heavy door.
There was an almighty crash, tinkling of piano keys, splintering of wood… and the door did not budge. Nothing about the door broke. But the piano did! Panels fell off, the frame came detached, and many of the piano keys got out of shape. It was not in a good way. The door was unscathed, not in the least damaged, but the piano which we had thrown against it was in deep trouble. And, of course, so were we. A very unpleasant encounter took place with the violin teacher and the next day with the school headmaster. We were not his favorite students.
To this day I don’t know how that door stood up. But it won the contest with the piano. The door proved to be the immovable object and the piano was not the irresistible force.
The young shepherd boy David moved forward towards Goliath. David, small and not at all a warrior, was clothed in only his tunic and armed only with a staff and a slingshot. Goliath was huge, battle hardened and armed from head to foot. At that moment not one onlooker believed David was the irresistible force, and not one onlooker doubted that Goliath was the immovable object. David was about to die and the Israelites would either become slaves of the Philistines or their corpses would fill the Valley of Elah.
God, however, had other plans.
1 Samuel 17:41-53
41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”
45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 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.
50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.
51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 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. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.
This last section of our look at the story of David and Goliath is far from pleasant. Thousands of violent deaths took place that day. But there are important lessons here.
1. The folly of underestimating what God can do through his people.
Goliath sneered when he saw this young boy come out to fight him. David had nothing bigger in his hand than a staff. “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” Goliath snarled (v.43). He may have despised David but he wasn’t going to refuse to fight him. And he had no doubt he would kill him. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!” (v.44).
The reality, of course, is that the one about to die was Goliath. The birds and animals would soon be eating his flesh, not David’s. Goliath was completely confident of victory and wholly underestimated what God would do through this young boy David.
Brian and Edith seemed to have all the world could offer. They were happily married, owned their own home, had good jobs with healthy incomes, and took great pride in their son and daughter. Most people would have said Brian and Edith had it all. If the devil had been setting out a menu of socially acceptable delicacies, Brian and Edith were consuming every one. No-one would have thought they’d have been interested in spiritual things. Victory was going the devil’s way.
What, I guess, the evil one never imagined is that Brian and Edith were not satisfied with the perfect package of marriage, home, money and children. So when two Christians knocked on their door and asked if they could share the good news of the gospel, Brian and Edith immediately invited them in. “We have it all… but we know we don’t have it all,” they said. Within days they gave their lives to Christ and found the peace and satisfaction that was missing.
Long ago I learned that when all seems lost it is never lost. Not people. Not churches. Not great causes. Not vital missions. The world and the devil constantly underestimate God and what God can do through his people. Sometimes we do too. But the battle is not over as long as God has someone standing out there for him, defending his honor, being his hands and feet, speaking his word, working with him in his mission.
On that day in the Valley of Elah, that someone was David, and Goliath may have thought the battle would be over with just one blow, but he wholly misjudged who would deliver that blow.
2. The battle is not ours but God’s.
Now it is the shepherd boy’s turn to speak, and David’s words are very strong, very sure, and very confident. Goliath may have his earthly weapons but David comes against him in the name of the Lord Almighty. And that God will destroy Goliath and the whole Philistine army, and the whole world will know there is a God in Israel. David finishes: “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (v.47).
Those last words are the crucial ones: “for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” Goliath and the Philistines had thought they could conquer Israel: all they needed were superior numbers and a giant of a man at the front to challenge the Israelite army. But he was challenging God. He had insulted God. He had set himself against God. And without a single sword or single spear, God would save his people and destroy their enemies. The battle was God’s and he would get the victory.
In ancient Egypt Pharaoh thought he could refuse Moses’ command to let his people go, and make their slavery even worse than before. But it was never Moses’ command; it was God’s, and Pharaoh paid a huge price – the wellbeing of his nation, the lives of many of his citizens, and even the life of his own son (Exodus 12).
In the days of Elijah, King Ahab thought he could abandon the Lord and lead the people to worship other gods. He thought he could push God aside. Risking everything, Elijah stood against him. It came down to a test of power on Mount Carmel. The prophets of Baal failed completely. Elijah knelt down and prayed quietly: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18:36-7). The fire of God fell, and that day the prophets of Baal all died.
In my late teens and early twenties, I went on many mission trips. They were not to far away parts of the world but they were to some very dark and dangerous places. In one tough neighborhood we were constantly under threat. Gangs controlled the area and we were challenging their grip on people’s lives. One Christian worker told me how his house had been firebombed by those who wanted to drive him out… or to kill him. While I was there people broke in during the night to the room where I was sleeping. All around there was poverty, theft, drug addiction, unemployment, assaults, rape, murders, devil worship. I confess: I was frightened. It was a scary place and I did not feel brave.
Then, in a quiet moment, words from the Bible came into my mind: “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). I spoke out those words and then said them again, louder and with more confidence: “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” ‘Yes, he really is,’ I told myself. ‘God is not absent from this place, he is right in the middle of it and the battle is his, not mine. And this God lives in me.’ That truth transformed me for that mission, and for everything I have done since.
The battle is not ours but God’s.
3. God wins utterly and decisively.
First, Goliath was struck down (v.49). It took just one stone from David’s sling. It was well-aimed and thrown with force. It sank into Goliath’s forehead and down he came. A moment later came the ultimate humiliation for Goliath as David took the giant’s sword and used it to cut off Goliath’s head (v.51). The young Israelite shepherd boy had the head of the Philistine’s champion.
The whole Philistine army took fright. If Goliath could be killed, what chance did they have? An army in panic cannot fight, and the Israelites easily overtook and destroyed them. Philistine bodies lay dead all along the road (v.52).
This was victory, complete and utter victory for God and his people. It wasn’t like a sporting match that goes into overtime and though one team scrapes the win fans debate forever which team was really better. Here, there is no question who is better. God won the battle, and used his servant David whose story will dominate the pages that follow.
Not every challenge in life will be resolved so immediately or completely and, indeed, David had many more confrontations later in life with the Philistines (such as described in 1 Sam. 18:30).
But on that first day, God gave complete victory. David had marched out against Goliath and the Philistines because he knew that God cannot be defied, that God will fulfill all his promises and purposes for his people, and that God’s mission can never be stopped.
I learned at the age of twelve that a very strong door could withstand the battering ram of a piano at several miles per hour. It was several years more before I knew that nothing can stand against God and against God’s work through his people. I read Jesus words “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus will build it. Nothing will stand against God’s church as no size of Philistine army could stand against God’s servant and ultimately God’s army.
Following Jesus and serving Jesus can be hard. David was described as “glowing with health and handsome” (v.42). Many of us could not be described that way. We’ve gained some scars along the way.
But we can hold our heads up high, sense the Spirit is with us, and go forward confidently in God’s work. We are his and the battle is his. His victory – his decisive victory – is not in any doubt.