When people read the story of David and Goliath, the story is often misunderstood as being a story about an underdog and people tend to miss the whole activity of God in the story; David and Goliath is a story that is more about God than about Goliath. Part of that comes from a lack of contextual understanding, since we tend to not pay attention to the inter-relationships of the various narratives in Old Testament historical books. Part of that comes from the fact that we often think we know Old Testament stories far better than we actually do.
Having preached on 1 Samuel 17 a short while ago, I was amazed in my preparation at how I missed a rather significant detail in the story of David and Goliath. We always recognize how amazing it was that David beat Goliath with a sling and a stone, but what we almost never know is that everyone else in the Israelite army was equally “unarmed”.
Well, if you look back at 1 Samuel 13:19-22, we read the following:
Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.” 20 But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, 21 and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads. 22 So on the day of the battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan, but Saul and Jonathan his son had them.
That was the military situation in Israel at the time of Saul. 2 swords for the whole army.
So how in the world did they fight with only 2 swords?
Well, the battle with the Philistines before the one with David and Goliath went like this:
– Jonathan and his armor bearer went off to fight a Philistine garrison with 1 sword since “nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6)
– Jonathan said to his armor bearer “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the Lord has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us” (1 Samuel 14:8-10)
– The Philistines called them up and they slaughtered 20 Philistines (1 Samuel 14:11-14)
– Then the Lord got active:” and there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a very great panic.” (1 Samuel 14:15).
– Saul noticed that someone was missing and he called the priest to inquire of God as to what was happening (1 Samuel 14:16-18) but when he heard the ruckus in the Philistine camp (1 Samuel 14:19), he went out “And behold, every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion. Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle. So the Lord saved Israel that day. And the battle passed beyond Beth-aven.” (1 Samuel 14:20-23)
Israel won the same way as they always did; the Lord brought them a victory.
Swords or no swords, the Lord tips the scales of any battle to the point of absurdity.
So, when Goliath went out every day to call out the Israelites for battle, they had already forgotten how the Lord had wrought them a victory before. They had already forgotten that the Lord doesn’t need a sword to defeat an enemy. The Lord doesn’t even need a warrior if he wants…he can just make the enemy panic and cause them to murder each other with as much ease as anything else!
But, the fact that there were limited swords in Israel (I’m guessing that a small amount of weapons were plundered in their battles with other nations and such) should give the reader pause in 1 Samuel 17, lest they scorn the Israelites as cowards and think in their minds that “if I were there, I would have gone out to fight Goliath”.
Even the bad examples in the Bible were faithless, not imbeciles.
If you were there, you would have seen all Goliath’s armor, his huge spear, and his sword and stood with all the other Israelites who looked at the problem from a perspective of “common sense”: bare knuckles don’t beat iron weapons. Any soldier who lives through more than one battle knows that if an enemy drops his sword and you have yours, he’s done.
David wasn’t that special; he was unarmed like all the other Israelites.
There’s only 2 differences between David and the rest of the Israelites
a. His memory. He knew that the Lord made a business of bringing miraculous victories, though he didn’t learn this from knowing about Jonathan’s battle with the Philistines (read 1 Samuel 17:33-37).
b. His age. He was young (young enough that both Saul and Goliath laughed at him) and that only gave the Lord more glory in the battle.
The hero of the story isn’t a little man who beats a giant.
The hero of the story is the Lord of Hosts who beats an armed, career-soldier giant with an unarmed, untrained, shepherd boy.
(Not only that, but the little “unarmed boy” leads the charge all the way to the gates of Gath and Ekron and when he returned to Jerusalem the people sang “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” – 1 Samuel 18:7)
Hence 1 Samuel 17:50 makes the explicit point “Thus David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in David’s hand.”
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “I’m not blogging much these days but I’ll do what I can” Unger