As David looked out to the battlefield, there stood Goliath of Gath, the Philistine giant, defying Israel’s God. In David’s hands were a few small stones. Did anyone believe this shepherd boy could stand against a warrior like Goliath? As David walked onto the battlefield, he responded to Goliath with words meant to reassure Israel that they had a better champion than the Philistines. Did anyone believe these words? And who was the identity of this champion? The Lord God of Israel. All the assembly today will know, David said, that “the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Sam. 17:47).

Israel needed to learn a profound lesson. They were absolutely helpless before Goliath. The lesson was never to be missed: You can’t win this battle, so the Lord must fight and win for you.

Sadly, many Christians still haven’t learned this lesson. The most common interpretation of this passage places the responsibility squarely on us to slay the Goliaths in our lives. Some of the best-selling Christian books today provide full descriptions of the Goliaths we face and the steps to slay them so that we can live a victorious Christian life. Why is this interpretation a problem? Is this how we should read the story of David and Goliath?

Introducing Goliath

One of the greatest showdowns in the Bible is presented to us in 1 Samuel 17. The Philistines have gathered their armies for battle on one mountain, and the Israelites have gathered theirs on the other. Between the two armies is the large valley of Elah. The Philistines send their gladiator off the mountain and into the middle of the valley.

Goliath is introduced to us in a way that is intended to make the reader tremble. He is “six cubits and a span,” which equates to nine feet six inches in height. From head to toe, he is covered in 130 pounds of armor, and in his hand he holds a spear with a sixteen-pound iron head. Goliath is a monster. His biceps are bigger than an average man’s torso. The intended effect on the reader requires a collective “Wow!” In the history of warfare and of intimidation, there are few figures more impressive than Goliath of Gath.

Goliath’s voice thunders over the plain as he presents an offer to Israel. Israel is to choose a single man to face him in battle. If this man is able to kill Goliath, the Philistines will become Israel’s servants, but if Goliath wins, Israel will (again) become slaves to a foreign nation. The presentation of Goliath ends with a chilling taunt: “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together” (1 Sam. 17:10).

Is there any man in Israel who can beat Goliath?

The Making of Goliath

The presentation of Goliath cannot be appreciated until the reader understands that he represents an idol of Israel’s own making. Israel already created “Goliath.” The only difference is that the Philistines had a greater Goliath than Israel’s Goliath. When Israel sinfully asked for king just like all the other nations, they requested a powerful, physically impressive king—one who would go out and fight their battles. Israel received just what they desired. Saul, Israel’s “Goliath,” was magnificent in appearance and in size, being a foot taller than all the people. Israel’s choice of Saul to be their king exposed their idolatry, for the Lord would tell Samuel that the proper selection of a king has nothing to do with appearance, since “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). With Saul, Israel got their dream king in the place of the Lord.

With this background in mind, we can now appreciate what Goliath represents. What Israel desired most in their rejection of the Lord had now failed them in the worst way. Israel specifically asked Samuel for a king so that he would “go out before [them] and fight [their] battles” (1 Sam. 8:20). Saul, the powerful king of Israel’s choosing, should have gone “out before them,” as Goliath did, onto the battlefield to fight. Instead, he cowers before the strength of the Philistine.

When we try out idolatry, God has a remarkable way of making our idols powerless before the very fears that created them in the first place.

Through Goliath, the Lord confronted Israel’s idolatry. Israel wanted a powerful savior-king like the kings of the other nations to deliver them. But what happens when your enemies have a greater Goliath, a greater savior-king than the one you have fashioned?

An idol is anything we put our trust in other than the Lord. When we try out idolatry, God has a remarkable way of making our idols powerless before the very fears that created them in the first place. Israel wanted security, protection, and power. Now they stand in fear, cowering before the much greater idol of the Philistines. God raised up an outwardly more impressive warrior than Saul to expose Israel’s helplessness and fear.

We see how misguided it is to teach that this passage is about slaying the Goliaths in our life. How do we slay the idols that we desire, create, and worship? When our idols beckon us, as Goliath did that day, we cower and become their slave. We are crushed by their strength and taken into captivity. We are unable to slay the Goliaths, the idols in our lives.

The Arrival of God’s Champion

At this point, a surprising character is introduced into the narrative. David is his name, and there is nothing remarkable about him, humanly speaking. He comes from a house of obscurity in Bethlehem, and he is the youngest of the sons of Jesse. He is a shepherd.

One day, David is sent by Jesse to take food to his brothers. As he visits them on the battlefield, he heard Goliath taunt Israel. The men of Israel are saying, “Have you seen this man who has come up?” David responds, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26). This response earns him the derision of his brothers. David confidently asserts that Goliath will fall at his hands.

To us, David may seem like the underdog, but that reveals that we read this narrative incorrectly. We look for strength in all the wrong places. David is not the underdog. God chose to set His strength on this shepherd boy. With a single stone, David strikes the Philistine on the forehead, and he dies in the presence of both armies. There isn’t much of a fight to write about. It is over before it starts. In this victory of the Lord, Israel went forward to plunder the Philistines (1 Sam 17:52–53).

Stand back from the story of David and Goliath, and the much bigger story of the Bible emerges. David foreshadows someone much greater. God’s champion, Jesus, arrived in obscurity. He, too, came from Bethlehem, and was of a lowly profession. Despised by His brothers and weak in the eyes of Israel and Rome, Jesus veiled His glory in humility.

This is the story of Scripture: God sent His Son, who took on our human nature. In the wilderness and then at Calvary, Jesus confronted and defeated our greatest foe, our greatest Goliath—Satan himself. At the cross, Jesus disarmed principalities and powers and atoned for all our rebellion and idolatry.

“Goliath” didn’t stand a chance before the Christ. Jesus was the Anointed of God, our champion, sent to overcome all our sin. We stood to the side and watched God’s Anointed step onto the battlefield and win. It is in Jesus’ victory that we are more than conquerors.

Circa AD 30, in the first month of the Jewish calendar, Nisan, at about the sixth hour of the day, Jesus said, “It is finished,” and forever crushed “Goliath” for us. There is no sin in our lives that He cannot forgive and no idol that He cannot conquer.

Today the Lord calls us to put our trust in Him as our King and give up all confidences in other deliverers. By faith, we go forward in this victory. The battle has always belonged to Jesus Christ. May we never try to take this honor from God’s true champion.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 29, 2020.

From Judgment To Restoration

Does the Church Need Anything Other than...