It’s everyone’s favorite Bible story of all time.
Battle lines are drawn in the valley of Elah, a massive giant lumbers to the front of the Philistine army and launches a thunderous challenge at the army of Israel—“Send me a man that we may fight!” Goliath repeats his challenge for forty days, following it up with a barrage of curses and mockery against the “servants of Saul”, as he calls them, and still the people of God are silent. Courage is waning, along with all hope. They’ve been presented with a golden opportunity to deal Philistia a fatal blow and no one can muster the courage to step forward. They’re all experienced fighters, battle-ready. Yet not one soldier is prepared.
Then, fresh out of the countryside, a shepherd boy appears, on a simple errand with food for his brothers—and volunteers to fight the giant.
Recognize the story yet? As with many biblical accounts, David and Goliath’s battle has become legend, retold and reworked so many times, it’s been reduced to a simple underdog story. We look at it and we see hope in the idea of an unknown youth with a menial job scoring a major victory that saves a kingdom. But I bet you know what I’m going to say. There’s so much more to it than that.
The fact is that David was NOT just a random shepherd boy who happened to be braver than all the soldiers of Saul. He didn’t just show up and decide to fight the giant. Of course, youthful bravado was a part of it, but the pep talk between David and King Saul prior to the battle tells us a lot about each man’s level of preparation for this particular fight.
"And David said to Saul, 'Let no man's heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.' And Saul said to David, 'You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.' But David said to Saul, 'Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion or bear and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him....this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, for he defied the armies of the living God.' And David said, 'The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion...will deliver me from this Philistine.'" --1 Samuel 17:32-37
This passage contains so many hidden lessons for us about spiritual leadership.
The first characteristic that separates David and Saul here is confidence in the Lord God and familiarity with His Nature. David had experience with God. He was a “believing believer”…someone who was living life with God, not just aware of His existence.
King Saul had been fighting for a long time. Yet Saul was not prepared for this battle. Why? You cannot win corporate, public victories if you haven’t consistently submitted your private battles to God. Israel had a history of suffering corporate consequences due to one man’s departure from the path of obedience. The spiritual principle still stands for the Church today—we are the Body of Christ. What one does affects all the others. Though we are under the Blood of Jesus, each individual serves the Body by managing their inner world before the Lord, walking in submission before Him, and proving His Faithfulness in all the areas of their lives.
Israel was meant to be able to count on the activity of the Lord in every battle they fought. The Lord’s Presence made them distinct among all the other nations and yet here they were paralyzed. Their king was not ready for this battle and was not able to win them the breakthrough they needed. How sad to reach a point of crisis and not have what you need because you haven’t cultivated it with the Lord. Saul had been a fierce warrior when the Spirit of God had rested on him, but now his poverty of spirit was evident.
Forty days Goliath taunted Israel. What a nightmare! The enemy should have no right to torment the people of God. However, we can open the door to torment when we’re not living in the confidence of who God is. He provides all that we need in Him, but a lack of commitment to the presence of God and the usage of His Resources will cause a poverty of spirit that leaves us vulnerable to enemy attacks.
Even in his own vulnerability, Saul was very quick to point out where David was physically inadequate for this battle. Yet David based his qualifications on the battles he had fought. Sure, he had never faced an army before. But he had kept his father’s sheep and fought off lions and bears. God had protected him then and would protect him now. David had honed his skills and learned the principles of God’s favor right where he was, without waiting around for something bigger and better. Now, his faith was being tested by something that had corporate significance. Be faithful to God and learn His Faithfulness in the secret place where no one sees you…practice His Presence, learn His Promises, cultivate faith and delight in His Ways…and you will be ready to stand when everyone else shrinks back in fear.
David had cultivated spiritual muscles in anonymity and he wore his confidence in God like armor. Because he knew the Lord, he was able to see the battle with God’s eyes. He saw all the fear and cowering as unnecessary. How dare an enemy mock the armies of the living God? He desired that no one’s heart fail because of Goliath. He stepped up for the good of others and stirred the courage of those around him—another mark of a spiritual leader.
Of course, David also offended some people. We can see from the way he is treated in this passage that he was still young and inexperienced with battle and his brothers assumed he was just trying to force his way in where he didn’t belong. He had been anointed king previously but was still living as a shepherd/errand boy, running back and forth between serving his father and serving King Saul in menial capacities. Even on this day, he was just bringing food to his brothers on the front lines. But he brought more than supplies. He brought a fresh perspective that came from life spent actively trusting in the Lord. God and His armies had been insulted and David felt that defeat was not an option with God on their side.
This perspective can be resented by people who have become comfortable with their fears. We can unfortunately become complacent and forget that God has called us to live supernaturally in Him, to lean on His ability, and watch Him do the impossible in and through us. David had seen God manifest Himself as Deliverer in his life and he trusted Him to deliver him again.
Even so, Saul still tried to dress him in his own armor. This is a difficult place…deciding how much we should rely on earthly resources. The decision lies in what God told you to do. Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. There would be times later in his life where David would wear traditional armor. But not Saul’s. Not that day. It was important for David to go forward with the faith God had given him. No more and no less. We need each other. We need advice and help. However, we cannot be drawn off track by things that are offered to us by those who are not accustomed to God’s resources.
And as we learn from the rest of the passage, the Lord gave David victory and saved Israel that day. The battle was the Lord’s from the beginning. David was just willing and ready to fight it because he belonged to the Lord and knew that God would protect His own.
The question for us today is how will we fight our battles? Maybe we aren’t facing the equivalent of a giant or an army. But what are we facing? Are we feeling weighed down with despair or are we lifting our eyes to the One who clothes us with strength and makes us mount up with wings like eagles? My strength has never been enough to save me. But just a simple shift in my focus has made all the difference. Let me invite you today to suit up. Clothe yourself in the armor of God and live with confidence—not in who you are, but who He is. Victory is inevitable.