“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse…” The most famous of the promises that the LORD made to Abram regard land and nationhood. Though Abram would not live to see it, his descendants would indeed become a great nation “in the land that I will show you.” This promise sustained Isaac and Jacob and their grandchildren, and propelled Moses and Joshua across the wilderness.
But the LORD also promises blessing and curse according to how others treat Abram and his family. Yesterday we witnessed God’s long memory regarding Amalek, who opposed Israel in the desert. Today the results are more immediate, as a Philistine champion dares to defy the LORD, Israel’s army, and a man after God’s own heart.
The story of David and Goliath in chapter 17 is one of the most well-known in the Old Testament, and so it might be difficult to read it anew. It’s important, however, to put aside popular impressions and pay attention to what point the author is trying to make.
Our first guides are contextual. Remember the fascination with height and appearance throughout 1 Samuel; the Goliath narrative is a final rejoinder to Israel’s attraction to kings like those “of other nations.” Consider also that Israel’s wars were religious in nature: a question of whether the LORD was indeed greater than other gods.
Next, listen to how the rich dialogue reveals character. David’s youthful exuberance before Saul is coupled with experiential logic: as a shepherd, “when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb… I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth.” Goliath’s speech calls Israel “servants of Saul,” but David comes against him “in the name of the LORD of Hosts, the God of the Armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
Now I have to address an issue of chronology here, because it seems throughout this story that Saul has no idea who David is, which seems impossible following yesterday’s reading. A few possibilities exist, which all assume that the author or compiler of 1 Samuel knew what he was doing. It could be that some time has passed since the events in chapters 16, that David had gone back home to tend sheep in the meantime, and his appearance had changed as he aged; however, David could easily have said, “Remember me?” and cleared the whole thing up. It could also be that the LORD’s Spirit has so departed Saul that his lack of awareness is evidence of deeper madness – and future stories will point to this.
However these issues are resolved, one of the author’s key purposes is to show how David’s approach to the kingship will differ from Saul’s. David refuses to take the king’s armor, choosing the clothing, and weapons, of a shepherd. And whereas Saul seemed ill acquainted with the LORD’s character or promises, David takes the fight to Goliath on the grounds that Goliath’s slight of the LORD and His people is unacceptable.
Our verse for this week is Isaiah 40:28: Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.
1 Samuel 17 and 18. Now let’s read it!
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.