THE NAMES OF DAVID and Goliath (1 Sam. 17) conjure up a story many have known from their youth. Sometimes David is made into a very little boy, though in reality he is at least a young man who has bested both a lion and a bear.
But today the pair of names becomes evocative of little people and organizations taking on the "Goliaths." Doubtless there are lessons to be learned about courage and boldness, but the most important lessons lie on slightly different lines.
(1) Perhaps one should first reflect on the slightly obscure chronology. At the end of 1 Samuel 16, David already appears in Saul's court to play soothing music; yet after David's fight with Goliath, Saul must still find out who the young man is (1 Sam. 17:55–58). Skeptical scholarship insists the problem cannot be resolved, and therefore infers that there is plenty of nonhistorical material here. Yet: (a) There is no particular reason why Saul should have made special inquiries into the background of just one more musician in the royal court, no matter how soothing he was. Saul may not have been motivated to find out until after the events in chapter 17. (b) More probably, the events in chapter 17 may have taken place before 15:14–23. Hebrew verbs do not convey time distinctions the way English verbs do, and it has been shown that there is no reason why we could not translate 17:1, "Now the Philistines had gathered ..." etc., establishing important background for the relationship between Saul and David that occupies the attention of the succeeding chapters.
(2) Although David's words to army personnel (1 Sam. 17:26) could be taken as the impetuous arrogance of untested youth (and certainly David's brother Eliab took them that way, 1 Sam. 17:28), behind the brashness is a transparent concern for the glory of God, a concern that drives him to answer Goliath without a hint of personal bravado but with an abundance of faith (1 Sam. 17:45–47). Of course, manipulators sometimes hide behind God-talk. But David is not of that ilk. At this stage of life he might be faulted for lacking the polish of self-restraint, but at least his heart is in the right place.
(3) Above all, one must not read this chapter without remembering Samuel's anointing of David: "from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power" (1 Sam. 16:13). There lies the source of the God-centeredness, the source of the courage, of the unerring aim, the great victory, and the elevation of the name and glory of God.
The text calls us not to admire David the man and no more, but to ponder what the Spirit of God may do with one person.
1 Samuel 17; Romans 15; Lamentations 2; Psalm 33