David first appears in the Bible as a young man with a great faith. While overlooked and dismissed by others, he has a heart for God that soon becomes apparent. He reminds us that it is our willingness to be used by God, not our usefulness to God, that makes a difference.
The Lord has judged King Saul as unfit to rule the nation of Israel. Now as 1 Samuel chapter 16 opens, God nudges Samuel to stop grieving over Saul and get back into action. God says to him in verse 1:
“How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”
Although King Saul has failed, the King of Kings has not lost control. Let me tell you, beloved, there is not any panic in heaven because of something happening down here on earth.
So off to Bethlehem Samuel goes to offer a sacrifice and quietly identify Israel’s next king. As God instructed, Samuel ends up at the home of Jesse to meet his sons, beginning with the eldest. Jesse probably assumes Samuel is looking for an apprentice to help him. Look at verses 6-7:
[Samuel] looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature . . . the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Samuel is looking for another king like Saul. Tall, handsome Eliab must be the guy. But God says, “I’m not looking at his height; I’m looking at his heart.”
After meeting all the sons Jesse brings before him, Samuel concludes, “The Lord has not chosen these” (verse 10). Then we read in verse 11, “Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.’” In other words, he’s not worth your time.
But as soon as young David is fetched, the Lord whispers to Samuel that this boy is the future king of Israel. So, “Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward” (verse 13).
There doesn’t seem to be any specific announcement here about David’s future. He probably goes back to tending the sheep. From the clues we can put together, David is somewhere around twelve to fifteen years of age here, and everybody but Samuel appears to be oblivious to what this anointing will one day mean.
Now immediately, David is contrasted with Saul. David is empowered by the Spirit, but in verse 14 we are told, “A harmful spirit from the Lord tormented [Saul].” This “harmful spirit” refers to a despairing conviction of sin from God that brought Saul great terror. The only relief he finds is when he is distracted by soothing music, as we see in verse 23.
In God’s perfect plan, young David is recommended to come into Saul’s service to play his lyre—a little handheld harp, the forerunner of the guitar. All this simply sets the stage for the drama in chapter 17.
This chapter opens with the Philistine and Israelite armies stationed on either side of the Valley of Elah. Neither army has an advantage, so the Philistines offer a common challenge of that day—to decide the outcome by a fight to the death between two representative soldiers. And the Philistines send out their representative: “a champion named Goliath” (verse 4).
Goliath is a giant! Verse 4 says his “height was six cubits and a span”—that is more than nine feet tall! He’s wearing “a coat of mail” weighing “five thousand shekels of bronze,” which is a little more than 100 pounds (verse 5).
Every day, Goliath comes out and repeats his challenge:
“Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants.” (verses 8-9)
Well, David shows up with some cheese and crackers for his older brothers in Saul’s army, and he overhears Goliath’s challenge. He asks the soldiers in verse 26, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
The soldiers see a giant insulting Israel; David sees a blasphemer insulting the living God. They see the size of this giant; David sees the size of God. Eventually, David’s courageous words reach Saul, who says to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth” (verse 33).
David recounts his victories protecting his sheep from lions and bears by the power of God. Saul is evidently convicted by David’s genuine faith, and he says to David in verse 37, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
Saul tries to put David into a suit of armor. He thinks David has to fight Goliath like Goliath fights. But David rejects the armor and goes out instead to the brook to pick out five smooth stones for his sling.
By the way, there’s some evidence in 1 Chronicles 20 and 2 Samuel 21 that Goliath had brothers. So, in gathering up fives stones, David may be preparing to take them on as well, if necessary.
I have stood there on the hillside overlooking the Valley of Elah, and I have tried to imagine the Israelite soldiers holding their breaths as they watched this teenager walk toward the giant.
Goliath lets out a roar in verse 43: “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” He might have seen the shepherd’s staff in David’s hand and probably the rod stuck in his belt. Israel has sent forth a shepherd boy—as if Goliath is a stray dog to be frightened away!
Goliath bellows that he’s going to feed David to the birds (verse 44); and David responds:
“You come to me with a sword and with a spear . . . but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand . . . that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.” (verses 45-46)
And with that, David lets that smooth stone fly through the air toward its target. The Israelite army thought Goliath was too big to kill; David believed Goliath was too big to miss.
That stone finds an open spot under Goliath’s helmet—right at his forehead—and verse 49 says, “[Goliath] fell on his face to the ground.” Then “David . . . took [Goliath’s] sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head” (verse 51).
David next does two things that are often overlooked. We read in verse 54 that, first, David takes Goliath’s head to Jerusalem, where it will serve as a warning to the enemies of Israel.
Second, he puts Goliath’s armor “in his tent.” He keeps Goliath’s armor as his plunder. We learn later in chapter 21 that David puts the sword of Goliath in the Lord’s sanctuary but eventually gets it back. These become wonderful mementos of faith. I imagine David had Goliath’s sword up on the fireplace mantle; and hanging from a peg nearby was his old slingshot—mementos of God’s faithfulness.
Let me recommend that you keep a mental trophy case or write down in a journal those steps of faith, those moments of victory, those experiences of God’s rescue at just the right moment. Find a way to remember the faithfulness of God.