And I Will Strike You Down
September 18, 2016
1 Samuel 17:41-47
Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. They were the chief enemy of God’s people Israel. They gathered at Socoh, which belonged to Judah. This means that they were actually entering the sovereign and holy land of Israel. This wasn’t just a battle. This was an invasion.
Saul was Israel’s king. And so Saul gathered his armies and lined up against the Philistines. The Israelites were on one mountain. The Philistines were on another mountain. And in between them was a valley.
Out from the camp of the Philistines came not a man. Not a soldier. But a champion. His name was Goliath of Gath. And for the rest of this sermon, I will not utter his name ever again. I will just call him the Philistine. I’ll tell you why later. Now, the Philistine was over nine feet tall. He was a giant. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail that looked like the scaly skin of a reptile. Remember that, because it’s going to come back later in this sermon. His armor was heavy and thick. No human sword could pierce through it. He had a gigantic spear, the tip of which weighed about fifteen pounds. That’s just the tip. To put that into perspective, think of the last time you went bowling and how much your ball weighed. The Philistine was therefore not only super tall. He was super strong.
The Bible goes to great lengths to describe the Philistine because we’re meant to see what the Israelites saw. And what they saw was an invincible champion. An impossible and undefeatable enemy. And so they had no hope. And they were afraid.
But it gets worse. The Philistine stepped forward and shouted to the ranks of Israel. “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” The Philistine offered a one-on-one showdown. If Israel’s champion killed the Philistine, then all the Philistines would serve Israel. But if the Philistine killed Israel’s champion, then all of Israel would serve the Philistines. When Saul and all Israel heard this, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. And the Philistine himself was proud and confident. But what he didn’t know was that he wasn’t just defying the ranks of Israel. He was actually mocking God himself. What he did not know was who he was really picking a fight with. What he did not know was that heaven was listening, and that God had already prepared someone to destroy him.
Enter David. David was the eighth and youngest son of Jesse. He was a nobody. Three of his brothers were actually on the battlefield when the Philistine stepped forward. But David was just a shepherd boy. Or so we’re meant to think. As “fate” would have it, David was sent by Jesse to deliver food to his brothers on the battlefield - bread and cheese to be exact. So David went to the battlefield.
Every day for forty days, the Philistine stepped forward and mocked the people of Israel. The fact that it was forty days is symbolically huge. It means that Israel was completely and perfectly humiliated by the Philistine. David met his brothers to talk with them. And as he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.
The men of Israel were afraid. But David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” Everyone else saw an invincible giant. But David saw an uncircumcised blasphemer that was dissing his God. Uncircumcised meant that the Philistine did not know or believe in the promises of God. Blasphemer meant that the Philistine was making fun of David’s God. And all of that got David’s blood going.
But David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard what he said. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down?” Basically, Eliab mocked David. In Eliab’s eyes, David was just the family baby. Youngest of eight. And Eliab basically told David to get lost. Eliab, by the way, is ironically important, because when Samuel was searching for a king to anoint, he almost picked Eliab - because he thought Eliab looked like the ideal king for Israel. Interesting.
David kept going. He found Saul, the king of Israel. The lousy king of Israel. Why do I say that? Because Saul was supposed to be Israel’s champion. Saul should have stepped forward to fight the Philistine. After all, Saul was the tallest man in Israel! Makes sense! But instead he stayed silent and still for forty days and did nothing. Remember that. And so while the Philistine’s mockery was complete and perfect, so was Saul’s failure complete and perfect. What a sad sight. What a lousy king.
So David found Saul and said to him, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” David was preaching a gospel! There will be someone who will fight the enemy! But Saul looked at David and said, “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.” Ouch. First Eliab mocked David. And now Saul was kind of mocking him too. Remember that. But David told Saul that he had experience as a shepherd killing lions and bears in order to protect his sheep. David said, “Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” Notice what David is talking about. Notice what is important to him. For David, the honor of the living God was at stake. For forty days, no one in Israel was thinking about or talking about God. But this bread-and-cheese-delivery-shepherd-boy was. And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” If you listen to David’s words carefully, you’ll see that for David, the battle belonged to the LORD. He didn’t say that he will deliver Israel from the Philistine. He said that God will deliver him from the Philistine. Interesting.
Saul listened to David and said, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”
Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. But he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. Why stones? I’ll tell you later, but here’s a hint. Leviticus 24:16. David’s sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine… with no armor.
This is huge - the fact that David goes without Saul’s armor. In Saul’s eyes, David could only defeat the Philistine if he becomes like the Philistine. “Well, he’s got armor! So should you!” But there’s also something else, something that we as readers know but Saul does not know. David is actually the true and anointed king. Before this story, David was anointed by Samuel to be the new king of Israel. And as the new king of Israel, David… had his own armor, so to speak. Remember that too.
David approached the Philistine in the valley. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The trinity of humiliation was now complete. Eliab mocked David. Saul mocked David. And now the Philistine mocked David. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”
The following words are one of the greatest words ever uttered by a human being.
Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, 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, and I will strike you down and cut off your head.”
This is interesting because A) David does not have a sword, and B) there is a huge symbolic reason for David to cut off his head, which I’ll tell you later. But here’s a hint: Psalm 115:8.
David continued, “And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”
What happened next was quick, easy, and kind of anti-climatic. The Philistine started going toward David. David ran quickly toward the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag. He took out a stone. He slung it. He struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and the Philistine fell on his face to the ground. That’s odd. Basic physics would have him fall backward on his back. But instead, he fell forward on his face. Remember that. So that’s what happened. Quick, easy, and anti-climatic. It’s almost like it was no big deal. And I personally cannot help but think that just a moment ago, David was delivering bread and cheese.
Levicitus chapter 24 verse 16 says this. “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall… stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.”
On one level, David slung a stone at the Philistine to kill him. But David wasn’t just winning a battle. David was acting as a righteous king of Israel who was supposed to enforce the Word of God and execute the Law of God and maintain the honor of God. And so when David picked up the stones and put them in his pouch, he brought down judgment upon the Philistine for his sin. That’s why it had to be a stone.
But why did David pick up five stones? No one knows for sure. But it is worth nothing that there were five lords of the Philistines. And it’s worth nothing that when the Philistines returned the Ark of the Covenant to the Israelites earlier in 1 Samuel 6, they sent back special items of five each, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines. Perhaps David picking up five stones symbolized the total judgment that was to come down on all of the Philistines. Perhaps they should have stayed home that day.
Okay, pop quiz. Where did David strike the Philistine? The answer is: the forehead. Now that is interesting because: A) the Philistine had a helmet on, and B) Genesis 3:15. Remember that.
But, what about the Philistine falling on his face? Why is it important that David cut off his head? What do we mean when we say that David actually did wear armor? Why does it matter that the Philistine’s armor looked like the scaly skin of a reptile?
Ah, I’ll tell you everything soon.
So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. Okay, so I didn’t use that person’s name in this sermon… because the narrator of the Scripture didn’t either. And that was intentional, because God judged the Philistine and blotted out his name from heaven. Pretty cool.
I think it’s also pretty cool that David had no sword - and yet he told the Philistine that he would cut off his head! The cutting off of the Philistine’s head wasn’t for show. It wasn’t a nice little touch for such a cool story. No, it was a necessary symbolism to connect the fall of the Philistine with the doom of the Philistine’s god. You see, ultimately, God wasn’t just signaling the end of the Philistines. He was signaling the end of their false god. His name was Dagon. And before the story of this battle, a funny thing happened to the statue of Dagon. When the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant, which was basically the throne or footstool of God, they put it in their temple right next to Dagon, or the statue of Dagon. The next day, they found that the statue fell down. It fell down toward the ark of the covenant. It fell face down toward the ark of the covenant! As if it were bowing down toward the true God of Israel. The Philistines were like “whatever” and fixed the statue. But then the next day, they found the statue fallen down again, face down toward the ark of the covenant. But this time, they found that Dagon’s head was cut off. Therefore, it was fitting for the Philistine to fall facedown before David, as if he were bowing down before him. And it was fitting for the Philistine’s head to be chopped off. Psalm 115:8 says that those who make and worship idols and trust in false gods… become like them.
When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. And on that day, God won the battle. The end.
Brothers and sisters, that is the main point of the story. God saved his people. God delivered David from the Philistine champion. God delivered Israel from the Philistine nation. God fought for his people and God won.
And this story is ultimately a picture of our salvation in Jesus Christ.
In Genesis 3:15, after Adam sinned and brought the curse of suffering and death upon us all, God made a promise. God promised that a person, a human being, an anointed messiah, would one day come and win. But the cool thing is how God said it in Genesis 3:15. He said that this promised anointed messiah will one day crush the head of the serpent. Hmm… crush the head of the serpent? Hmm… what did the Philistine’s armor look like? Bronze armor and coat of mail that looked like the scaly skin of a reptile. Hmm… and where did the stone land on the Philistine? On his forehead. Hmm…
When was this battle really over? Was it over when David cut off the Philistine’s head? Was it over when the stone hit the Philistine’s head? What the center of this story? When you look at the original Hebrew language and analyze the structure of the entire story, the middle of the story, the apex and high point of the drama is actually not found in the moment that David kills the Philistine. The apex and high point of the story is actually found in the moment David counter trash talks the Philistine. This is why the moment of the actual fight was quick, easy and anti-climatic. That moment wasn’t the real important moment! So, when was this battle really over? Was it over when David cut off the Philistine’s head? No, he was already dead at that point. Was it over when the stone hit the Philistine’s head? That’s better, but not quite. Was it over when David cursed the Philistine with his trash talking words of doom? Yes, that’s pretty much it! But also no. When was this battle really, really, really over? Brothers and sisters, it was all over in Genesis 3:15, when God opened his mouth and made a promise.
Unlike David, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is THE champion. Jesus Christ is our representative that single-handedly fights the war - the war that we cannot fight - on our behalf, and wins eternal life and forgiveness and the love of God for us. Just as David went into battle in weakness, without any physical armor, and in the eyes of the average human being, completely outmatched by the Philistine, Jesus Christ went into battle and won the victory in the most amazing and necessary way, and in the most opposite way of today’s story - Jesus won by dying on the cross. On the cross, Jesus was severely bloodied and weakened. At Calvary, Jesus was mocked and cruely treated. Just as Saul and Eliab looked at David and thought he was a nobody, people looked at our Lord and thought he was a fake. They thought, “This man cannot possibly be the anointed messiah! This man cannot possibly be the one that God promised from Genesis 3:15!” According to the eye test, like David, Jesus was indeed nothing. Carpenter’s son. A kid from Nazareth. Born in a manger. Poor and homeless. Powerless against Pontius Pilate and Rome. And far from looking like a messiah king as he hung half naked and dying on the cross. Like a lamb led to the slaugther.
But all of that, all of that humiliation and weakness, was necessary for our salvation. Jesus suffered and died in order to pay the price for our sins. And so when we see David getting mocked by Eliab, and then Saul, and the Philistine, we see an ancient and distant picture of the mockery that our LORD Jesus endured for us.
But there’s more. When we hear David talk about how he protected his sheep from the lions and bears, we are meant to see an amazing prequel of how love Christ the Good Shepherd loved his own sheep. When David declared inevitable judgment on the Philistine, you are meant to think about how God declared unchangeable forgiveness on you. When David killed the enemy of Israel, we are meant to think about how Christ defeated our two enemies: death and the evil one. David enforced God’s law in Leviticus as the King of Israel and answered the Philistine’s taunts to put him in his place. Jesus affirmed God’s word when he was tempted by the Devil in the wilderness and answered the enemy’s taunts to put him in his place. David’s blood boiled for the honor of his LORD. Jesus’ blood flowed for the shame of his people. And later on, when David sinned and died, all were meant to put their hope in the final king who would never sin and who would resurrect from death and never ever die again. All in all, in David’s story, we’re meant to see the ultimate victory of the Son of David, Jesus Christ our LORD.
Therefore, let us give praise and honor and thanks to Jesus Christ. He is the promised anointed messiah king that saves us. Praise the LORD.
This should be enough for all the folks in the room who are into application. But I’ll throw one more application to close out this sermon. And it has to do with what David wore that day on the battlefield.
David rejected Saul’s armor and walked onto the battlefield with no armor on him. According to the eye test, David had no armor, while on the other hand the Philistine had the best armor of his day. But according to the eyes of heaven, David did have armor on him, an armor that was far more superior than the Philistine’s. David had the armor of God. He had the belt of truth. He had a breastplate of righteousness. He had the readiness of the gospel as shoes for his feet. He had a shield of faith. He had a helmet of salvation. This was all his armor. And for his weapon, David had the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Thousands of years later, the Apostle Paul would tell us about this heavenly armor. Paul would tell us that this armor was manufactured and blacksmithed by none other than Christ himself. And Paul tells us the church today to put it on and use it. Brothers and sisters, do you realize that in your Christian life you use the same exact armor that David used a long time ago? Yes, it is very old-school armor. It may not look as nice as the belt of money or the breastplate of fame or the shoes of success or the shield of family or the helmet of romance or the sword of pride. But when you put on this ancient armor of God, you put on an armor that has never failed. Everyone who had the humility to put this armor on has safely made it to heaven. Abraham used it. David put it on. Daniel used it. Your grandparents who believed in Christ put it on. And I ask you tonight to put it on as well, and keep it on. Put on the armor of Christ so that you may stand.