David and Goliath ( 1 Samuel 17)
David Volunteers to Face Goliath
David’s three oldest brothers serve in King Saul’s army. David (recall, the youngest) traveled back and forth between tending his sheep and Saul’s army to bring provisions to his brothers and news of his brothers’ back home. On one of these visits David heard Goliath shouting “his usual defiance” (verse 23). David is appalled by the situation, and immediately inquires as to how it will be resolved.
26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
David’s three brothers “burned with anger” (verse 28) at his presumption, followed by cruel personal attacks on his character and motives. David is undeterred by his brothers’ contempt, and continues to speak out about this inexcusable situation. In fact, David raises such a commotion that soldiers report this situation to King Saul. This is where we will pick up the story.
31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him. 32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” 33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lionand the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
The Central Mystery
The central mystery here is just why King Saul would allow David to face Goliath as Israel’s champion. What seasoned warrior would be moved by what surely appeared to be the extreme overconfidence and braggadocio of this young man? What king would place the fate of his nation into the hands of such a foolhardy youth? In many cases the assumed answer appears to be that, somehow, perhaps by God’s intervention, King Saul was convinced against all practical good judgement. I think it’s probable that a far more sinister motivation was behind Saul’s decision.
Prior to young David’s unexpected proposal there had appeared no way out of the Philistine’s trap. It’s made clear in the text that no-one in the Israeli army believed that they could possibly defeat Goliath in single combat. I have no doubt that there were many courageous men in Saul’s army that would have been willing to die for their nation. However, the consequences of their death is what made them shake in fear; that being “you will become our subjects and serve us” (verse 9).
David’s offer provided a way out. Imagine that the Israeli army had determined a clear champion who would face Goliath. Thus, they would have accepted the premise of the Philistine’s challenge. So, had the Israeli champion been killed (which they believed to be a certain outcome), honor would have dictated that they surrender to become subjects of the Philistines.
But, now imagine that the Israeli army choses an obviously inadequate but willing “champion,” such as a young boy. Now the tables will have been turned. If Goliath refuses to fight he can credibly be accused of cowardice. However if he kills the boy, in what possible sense can the proposed agreement’s terms possibly have been met. For, Goliath will not have defeated the Israelite’s best champion, but rather a pathetic little boy. Thus, the entire scenario would have been invalidated, allowing the armies to meet en mass.
Under this hypothesis King Saul’s offer to put David in an adult’s armor (verses 38 and 39) becomes completely reasonable. For, what could be more pathetic than the sight of a boy coming out to face Goliath in armor that is clearly too large, thus emphasizing the smallness of the Israeli “champion.”
Thus, from King Saul’s perspective, certain defeat and enslavement of the nation could be avoided through the sacrifice of one young boy. He grasped this opportunity eagerly.