Although David entered Saul’s service soon after Samuel anointed him as king (1 Sam. 16), David did not spend all of his time with Saul. As we see in today’s passage, David would return to his home in Bethlehem from time to time in order to feed his father’s sheep (17:15). Three of David’s brothers—Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah—also served Saul as part of the Israelite army (vv. 12–14). And as part of this army, they took part in the war against the Philistines, the most famous battle of which involved a confrontation with the Philistine soldier Goliath.
This battle took place about fourteen miles west of Bethlehem in the Valley of Elah (vv. 1–2). The armies of Israel and Philistia were facing each other, and Goliath came out to challenge Israel to send one man against him. The nation of the defeated man would become servants of the victorious man’s nation. In the ancient world, the outcome of a confrontation could sometimes be decided by having one man fight another, and that reduced the amount of bloodshed that would occur. The description of Goliath emphasizes his height and his strength. In today’s measurements, Goliath was about nine feet tall, and the armor he wore weighed more than 125 pounds. Clearly, he was not someone to be taken lightly (vv. 3–11).
One commentator remarks that given Goliath’s height, Saul was the best match for the Philistine, since the Israelite king was likewise quite tall (9:1–2). Yet, Saul feared Goliath no less than the rest of Israel did (17:11). David, however, was not afraid. The young shepherd boy knew whom he was facing and, more importantly, who had the Lord on his side. Who, indeed, did that Philistine think he was to defy the armies of “the living God” (vv. 12–26)? This was not an expression of empty bravado or presumption on the Lord’s favor. The Israelites were engaged in a holy war against the Philistines, and the Lord fights for those who trust Him when they confront God’s enemies (see Ex. 14:14).
No other Israelite was willing to go against Goliath, but David presented himself as one who would stand against the Philistine. And Saul finally agreed even though David’s young age and his vocation as a shepherd made many people think David would be unable to accomplish the task (1 Sam. 17:27–36). But David had faced danger before, and he knew that the same God who delivered him then would deliver him as he fought for the honor of the Lord against the taunting Philistine (v. 37). Goliath’s charge would not go unanswered.