David and Goliath: From Self-Confidence to Gospel Courage

4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.
8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified….
20 ….Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear….
26 …David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?…”
31 …What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.
32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.
“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”
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.”
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.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.

1 Samuel 17:4–11; 20–24; 26; 31–51

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Matthew 26:36–46

The question I want to raise for us this morning is simply this: what does it mean to assume David’s posture, to have David’s kind of courage, in our lives today, rather than Goliath’s? What does it mean to trust in God to win the battle for us, rather than Saul’s armor? What does it looks like for you and me, to face our greatest fears, not with the weapons of the world, but with the faith in the assurance of God’s love for us through the gospel — foreshadowed in David’s life?

David and Goliath: It’s one of the most famous stories in the Bible. And yet, I couldn’t remember the last time I read the story all the way through for myself.

And isn’t kind of weird, and a little ironic, that it’s also one of the most popular children’s stories, and yet it’s also very violent and has these disturbing elements. But regardless, David and Goliath remains one of those stories, though, that’s so vivid, and classic, that you still see best-selling authors writing about the story even today. People like Malcom Gladwell, for example. Old Testament stories in general seem to be making a comeback in Hollywood in recent years. And I don’t even know this, but there was a David and Goliath movie that came out just last year! I don’t think it was a blockbuster, but it’s true — I watched the trailer just the other day.

But it reminded me just of the way people tend to think about the David and Goliath story, and the way it usually gets portrayed, where David is presumed to be the prime example of courage standing up to his fear, which is Goliath. And so we should all aspire to be more like David and face our fears head on with this tremendous courage that he demonstrates. But there may be a little more to the story than that…

The fact that the passages gives such extensive description of Goliath’s physical appearance and armor is apparently very rare for ancient Hebrew literature. This suggests that the writer of the story is trying to make an important point about Goliath. And what he represents. He has the latest, greatest weaponry, and he’s totally decked out in the finest warrior wardrobe you can get. It’s huge. And he’s huge — probably around 8 feet tall, and his armor weighs around 125 lbs!

So where is Goliath’s courage and faith coming from? He has the courage that the world typically strives for: it’s self-confident courage. Believe in yourself, and what you can do, because of how great you are, and you will be successful. Positive thinking. Block out your fears. They’re not real. You have power over them. Oh, and here’s a bunch of really great stuff that can help you get there — the latest, greatest performance enhancing product (cutting-edge technology, the best weapons, military, etc.).

Goliath is operating with a false sense of courage, or at least a superficial courage — trusting in what he is able to do, in and of himself. He’s not dealing his own mortality or finitude — he’s trying to defy it. And on top of that, he doesn’t respect his opponent. For all these reasons, he’s actually quite vulnerable. Vulnerable to an attack by a weapon that doesn’t have as much entertainment value. In the Gladiator arenas of Rome, they don’t hand out slingshots and stones to the contestants. No, it’s swords and spears the like, that are thought to offer the best security and threatening force.

And Remember what Goliath says to David:

42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

But now, let’s look again at what David says in reply, by comparison (v. 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.”

I doubt David himself, is even able to fully appreciates the weight of these words when he says them. There’s theological truth and wisdom packed into those words. The battle is the Lord’s. Goliath’s not a giant. God is the giant. Eugene Peterson notes about this how David has God-sized imagination.

Yes, David, has a sling, and he’s pretty good with it. Let’s not take that away from him. But his courage is not derived from that. He says in verse 47, “it is the Lord who will give all of you into our hands.”

Now: is anyone familiar with the Divergent book series now movies? — they’re not very good movies. The books were pretty popular I guess, which is why they made movies about them, and the first one wasn’t bad — there were three of them though, you know how that can sometimes go.

In the movies, people are divided up into five factions. They each have their own name, but essentially those names correspond to a virtue: 1) Selflessness, 2) Intelligence, 3) Peacemaking, 4) Honesty, 5) Bravery. And… David would be in the brave group — the dauntless, they’re called. Maybe there’s a group that you identify with most in this list? Or if there’s not, there’s a group for that too. It’s called Divergent.

And I guess I would have to say I’d be in the intelligent group — not because I’m so smart, but because I definitely don’t belong in any of the other ones. And in the movie, the intelligent people are the ones who sit back and study/strategize. Safely observing from a distance. That’s me. Definitely not upfront like David. I envy people like David for their courage. I would be very afraid in his situation.

So if you’re anything like me, you’re not identifying very easily with David in this story. And you’re probably not Goliath either. You’re one of the other Israelites saying, there’s no way I’m fighting that guy. Be my guest David. I’ll pray for you. And here, you can even have my armor. I’m sure it will help… Go for it. I’ll be cheering you on.

Courage is not going to look the same for everyone, and yet I think all five Divergent groups are capable of it. A big part of the spiritual journey is going to be figuring out what courage looks like based on who you are — not necessarily who David was, or anyone else.

This week, several of us on staff at Saint Peter’s attended a one-day training seminar on public speaking. It was pretty intense, and it reminded me of one of my biggest fears.

There was that famous study from a while back that said people in general are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death? And I’m kind of like that, but only certain kinds of public speaking. Not what I’m doing right now, but the kind where I don’t have time to prepare what I’m going to say.

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you suddenly have a speaking engagement in a few minutes but you’ve forgotten about it and haven’t prepared? I’ve had a few of those. It’s like showing up to school in your underwear. So this training that I attended uncovered some of that fear.

But I learned something from this class that wasn’t what I was expecting. If you go to a workshop on public speaking, what you might assume is that they would teach you the best way to give a presentation, for example. Maybe prescribe it for you. Tell you what to do. But what was actually stressed from the beginning of the day on, was first of all to be yourself, and to strive for authenticity in how you speak to people. Which may sound a little cliché, but it actually helped me.

It’s a little bit like the Divergent movies. You know, everyone has to figure out who they are and learn how to play their part. But it’s also like David and Goliath. It’s not that we’re supposed to be like David, necessarily. Or, that David was supposed to be like Saul.

Saul’s armor was probably very nice armor. Similar to what Goliath was wearing. But it didn’t fit him. It was going to slow him down.. It’s heavy, it’s big, it’s the most expensive and decorated. But David can’t wear it, and he knows this.

Seriously, how many times in life do people try to give you their armor? Good armor, but not yours… Good advice. Valuable wisdom. But still not what you really need. It just doesn’t fit you or what God has already given you to work with.

David knew what God had already given him. That it would be enough. So he took off the armor and picked up his sling. The weapon that was true to who he was.

So, David’s courage is not like Goliath’s — it comes from a confidence that the battle belongs to the Lord. And, at the same time, that same courage manifests in who David truly is. It has to be authentic to his personality. How God has made him. David needs knowledge of God and knowledge of himself to be courageous in this story. Thirdly though, there’s a limitation to David’s character that shows up in the story as well.

Right after killing Goliath — using his sling — David puts down the sling, and picks up Goliath’s sword, and proceeds to cut off his head. And it’s at this point, that something changes. Violence progresses from a necessary evil to being glorified. We see David’s sinful nature starts to rise to the surface, as he indulges in the victory. He does an end zone dance. Taunts the Philistines. The armies of Israel pursue, kill, and pillage them.

Now, I’m not saying we’re supposed to feel bad for Goliath, or that David shouldn’t have fought him. No, because again, I think we would missed the point if we made it that simple. God works with us in spite of our sin, and sometimes even through it — while at the same time still opposing that same sin. We learn certain things from David, but we also know that David, like us, needs the gospel.

Christian courage depends on knowledge God, knowledge of ourselves — who we are and who we’re not — and it depends on the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this regard, David points us to Jesus — beyond himself. He even prefigures him, as a savior type. A Savior-king of Israel. But a flawed king — not the savior, though his is from Jesse’s messianic line, from Bethlehem! And Jesus is a Son of David. But Jesus fulfills and perfects David’s heritage.

But we have to keep in mind all along that it was never God’s best for Israel to have a king in the first place, remember? The Hebrews went against God’s wishes when they named Saul their king. But God is very patient and flexible. He’ll work with us, even when we don’t perfectly follow his will. And he calls David .

I think we can say it’s also fitting that this is a story from the life of young David. Not always, but usually when we’re young, we understand courage mostly as bursts of bravery and willpower for extraordinary moments. There is some value in this — rushing into a burning to save someone’s life, that kind of thing. It’s the Hollywood-style courage that easily impresses.

More often, though, especially as we get older — and most of you know this better than I do — the kind of courage that’s required of us is patient, slow, mundane, and unglamorous. Unromantic. It’s needed for months and years.

The news about cancer that could kill you — the waiting, the daily battle with no worldly gain to show for it. That’s whole different quality of courage. And it’s usually not something you choose to go through, you know? Life’s most demanding, suffering seasons are like that. Something you don’t want, you don’t choose, but that you try to bear nonetheless.

True courage, friends, is less about overcoming fear, or conquering a giant, and more about receiving the grace God gives us to do what good in spite of our fears — while we’re still afraid. Because we can’t defeat Goliath. The world says you can! The gospel says you can’t. But God can, and God has.

There is no better example of this than Jesus in the garden. He prays for deliverance from this hour. He doesn’t want to be crucified. He’s afraid. But God gives him the courage, he’s willing to do it — even though he doesn’t want to. And he knows the battle is the Lord’s anyway.

David risks his life for one nation. It’s admirable. It’s kind of what the 4th of July is about. Christ. Gives his life — not just risks — for all nations.

Let’s go back to David’s experience, one more time: He finds five smooth stones. You can feel them. You pick them up from a stream of flowing water. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful. You hear the flowing water over the rocks. You kneel down close to the bank. Just a few minutes later, David’s going to walk into a very hostile environment: noise all around, intimidating, jeering taunts, in front of Goliath! Belittling and dismissive insults being hurled at him. The sheer power and size of Goliath with his shield bearer out in front of him. But before he steps into the battle zone, maybe David has just this one minute of serenity, tranquility — because he knows.

He knows what? Does he know what’s going to happen? I don’t know that he does! But what does he know? He must know, that God is with him. Yes, and he also knows, Goliath is not God, and David — David knows that David is not God. This is a fight that God must win for him. Not the other way around.

We don’t have to be exactly like David, and in fact, we shouldn’t. But we have to find our own creek side place in our lives — every day. Where we can be reminded that even if everything goes south and the worst should come, it’s still going to be okay. That’s gospel courage, and it gives us a peace, trust and freedom to face any giant.


Originally published at William A. Walker III.