David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
A Pebble that Rocked the World
So all of the pieces are now in place for this fraught confrontation. The Philistine’s have attempted to force Israel into a lose-lose situation. King Saul has countered by sending not Israel’s champion, but a mere boy, thus confounding the original scenario. And young David now stands before the giant Goliath with only his sling and five smooth stones.
Up to this point the only reference to God had been made by David: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (verse 26b). No one else has shown the slightest awareness of a power beyond that which faced them in the frame of the giant. But David had clearly been thinking primarily about the living God. It is in this moment of truth that David confidently makes his position clear.
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.”
It is here that the Christian Pacifist eagerly exclaims “See! This Bible passage denies the efficacy of weapons, teaching instead that it is only God who must fight our battles!” This is said in spite of the absolutely undeniable facts that:
- David will strike down Goliath in a violent assault and then use a sword to decapitate him
- The “carcasses of the Philistine army” upon which the birds and animals will feast will be created by the swords and spears of the Israeli army as they slaughter the fleeing Philistines.
Let’s continue in the Biblical text to see if these two statements are indeed true.
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.
The Biblical text has unmistakably confirmed the first point above. David defeated Goliath by striking him at a distance using a sling and stone. He then uses the giant’s own sword to perform the coup de grâce by decapitating the stunned man. Yes, God was certainly acting in this moment (as He does in all moments). However, His purposes are here achieved through worldly flesh and blood wielding weapons that stun and kill. It is not a spiritual head that David displays to the shocked Philistine army, but rather the bleeding head of what a few moments before was their supposed invincible champion. It was before that terror that they turned and ran.
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. 54 David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.
Point number two is now confirmed. For, it is the Israeli army, wielding their swords and spears against the fleeing Philistine army that produces the slaughter.
How then are we to interpret David’s statement 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.” The unavoidable conclusion is that it is not only by “sword or spear that the Lord saves.” That is, if we place all of our confidence in the physical weapons of war we cannot possibly prevail. Rather, we must provide for our own defense in this physical world while also clinging fast to God’s Word, seeking to be led in those terrible decisions by His Spirit.
This point is eloquently made in a rather surprising place, a recent article titled “Monster Movies Teach Us Key Truths About The Human Condition.”
Life is a choice of monsters: war and its attendant horrors, or conquest, devastation, and greater suffering at some later time; private property, with its temptations to fraud and greed, or crushing, unsustainable bureaucracy and universal poverty; morality with its taboos and potential for prudery, or a chaotic sewer where no one takes responsibility for his actions. Perfection will never be achieved because mankind simply lacks the power to change either his own nature or the nature of the world around him.
Make no mistake, we and our leaders face terrible, fraught choices today. We will have to decide on incomplete information and act when the full scope / depth of the consequences cannot be foreseen. So, we are all unmistakably bound to an ancient man from the Old Testament in our responsibility and frailty. Thus must we, with David, use all of our God-given capabilities while trusting in God’s promises and clinging to God’s grace.
I realize that the above are “fighting words” (so to speak) to pacifists. They may counter by claiming that the bloody God of the Old Testament has been superseded by the loving God of the New Testament. I have already carefully considered this line of reasoning (as well as numerous others, in six blog posts) and found it to be unsustainable.
So, yes, as Christians, God is with us. But in the vast majority of cases He expects us to actively do our part as opposed to engaging in passivity. The above Scriptural passage and many others make this point abundantly clear. Therefore, there were, are and will be situations in which, while we trust in the Lord, yet we must also take the battle to the enemy ourselves.