Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 23, 2024

1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 Commentary

What’s not to like about this story? It has everything a good story needs: a scrappy young up-start, in intimidating and arrogant bully and a dramatic reversal of fortune with national consequences.  For all that we say the Bible isn’t a book of heroes, this story — and it’s popularity in Sunday school classrooms around the world — nearly proves us wrong. Nearly.

The Scrappy Young Upstart

It might be helpful to begin this reading a few verses early to set the stage.  What was a young kid doing at the battle front?  According to v. 17-22 he was obeying is father and serving his brothers.  His father was eager for news of his three oldest sons on the battle front. “See how your brothers are doing and bring back some assurances from them.” (v.18) So David attended to his father’s emotional need and his brother’s physical needs by bringing several dozen pounds of grain, and 10 wheels of cheese. After dropping off supplies, David “ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were.” (v.22) This context sets a picture of David as a servant, even though he has already been anointed by Nathan to be the next king.

David’s character is further revealed (though hard to pin down) through his interactions on the battle field. He is curious about the state of the battle. He heard Goliath’s taunt and watched his fellow Israelites cower in fear.  David asks what the man who kills Goliath will receive for his effort.  Hearing this, David’s older brother does exactly what you’d expect an older brother to do: gets up in his face, calls out his arrogance. “Sit down, son.” But it is unclear whether this rebuke is fair or not. David certainly doesn’t think so.  But history will show David as the conflicted and complicated man, just as his brother already believes him to be.

Next David is brought to Saul and asks to fight.  Saul clearly sees the absurdity of the request but David offers harrowing accounts of his shepherding bravery in the face of lions and bears. But when Saul offers him his armor and the traditional tools of warfare, David demures. He is unaccustomed to armor and wouldn’t know how to use weapons except his own.  So he steps out with worrying vulnerability. Just a kid. Just his shepherding clothes, a slingshot and 5 stones.  Anyone looking would know these tools are inadequate to the task. And yet.

The Intimidating and Arrogant Bully

Goliath is huge. He has been trained for battle since his childhood. And his armor is build to impress.  The Philistines were known for their ironwork. They were lightyears ahead of their enemies in terms of military technology. According to David Jensen, “Arms races of today are hardly remote from ancient stockpiling of iron spears. Technology, then as well as now, and demonstrate superior power as well as undue confidence that a nation is invincible.”  Showing up for battle with all the power of an empire behind him, the text tells us Goliath is offended by David’s appearance. His youth, his good-looks, his unpreparedness and vulnerability.

In one of the fastest recorded battles in history, David whips a stone into his sling-shot, winds up and lets it fly with remarkable accuracy — right between Goliath’s eyes. If the Richter scale had been invented, one imagines it would have picked up some activity as Goliath’s body hits the ground and oh! How the mighty have fallen.


Here we have a story of great triumph.  So much so that even those with barely a passing knowledge of Scripture can cite a David-and-Goliath story in literature, film or real life.  David seems like a great hero but, again from Jensen, “What distinguishes David from all of the other characters in this episode is his trust in God: Goliath is confident in his stature and weapons; the Israelite soldiers lack confidence in themselves and lack of trust in YHWH; Saul seeks to protect David with his own armor. But David is different: his trust in YHWH is complete, and in this trust he offers both a model for kingship and a posture for the people Israel.”

David isn’t a hero for his physical prowess but, as Christians, we might still be tempted to make a faith hero out of David.  He trusted God and got a good result for it.  We also ought to trust God and, perhaps, there will be a good result in that for us as well. Perhaps, then, the rebuke of David’ older brother is well-placed in the text for us: “Despite David’s present reliance on God, this youth will commit evil when he becomes king. Perhaps the heart that Eliab discerns is the heart of the king who seizes the wife of his best soldier and plots murder. Eliab may recognize something about Dave that the reader does not yet know: that the pure heart is also capable of evil, even the heart of God’s anointed.

So we return to where we started: the early portrait of David as a servant and his vulnerability in approaching the Philistine empire unarmored, with a seemingly inadequate weapon in hand.  From this image, we look ahead to another king who presented himself as a servant, who obeyed the will of his Father, who fed the hungry and trusted in God’s will and God’s promise.  Jesus who, similarly, approached an empire unarmored in order to be killed and raised to life on the third day.  Our hope is not in David as our hero or our example.  Our hope is in David’s son, Jesus Christ, who died for David’s failures and for ours.

Response Time:

Depending on your context, there are a variety of ways of offering a response time. In this case, it might be a good idea to have smooth, palm-sized rocks available.  Invite people to come forward to receive or pass them out during a song of response.  Pair this with some reflection questions:

  • Is there an aspect of life do you feel you are up against an intimidating and arrogant bully?
  • Isaiah 30 says “in quietness and trust is your strength.” (You might also use a similar line from a psalm text for the day).  What would it look like for you to bring a quiet confidence, a trust in God’s strength into the coming week with you?
  • Following the song of response, you might offer a prayer of the people or a prayer of commitment as folks prepare to take the rock — and more importantly a renewed trust in God’s strength on their behalf — into the week ahead.


Preaching Connections:
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