Right up there with the creation of the world, Jonah, the Exodus and Noah, of the Bible’s most famous stories is the story of David and Goliath. Even those who’ve never even seen a Bible know the story of the little guy overcoming big odds. It is truly one of the great stories in all of human literature. Why is it in the Bible? Certainly not to tell us how we can overcome the odds or the giants in our own lives. Why is it part of the the story of the history of redemption?
One theme is that the people of God in their own power are helpless before their enemies, and the ultimate enemy is sin and death. The first thing you notice before David gets to the battlefield is that the Israeli army is cowering before the taunt of the Philistine giant, and that God is obviously the farthest thing from their minds. How can this be? For all of Israel’s history, from the Exodus through all their wilderness journeys, through the time of the judges to now, when God was with them, or more accurately, they with God, they routed their enemies; when he wasn’t, they were routed. When David enters the camp, that changes.
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?”
Notice that David isn’t going to do this for nothing. He probably overheard men in the camp telling each other that the king would handsomely reward whoever it is that can kill the giant. Not only will he receive great wealth, but he’ll get the king’s daughter in marriage and his father’s family will be exempt from taxes for life. That sounds good to him. But unlike all the other men, obviously, he knows whose fight this is. He says it again to Saul when Saul says he’s but a boy:
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.”
Out there in the wilderness tending his sheep, David was building a relationship with the Lord, and he knew his history. The Lord always gives the victory when his people seek him. So as he goes out to confront the giant he makes it clear to his enemy the nature of the battle:
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.”
Nobody else in the entire army thought it might be a good idea to enlist the Lord’s help against the giant? All they saw was the obstacle, the enemy’s size, for them obviously of greater strength than the living God, the God who had saved them over and over and over again throughout their history. David knew that history, and was bold; they didn’t and were cowards.
As soon as he’s picked the stones out of the river, David runs toward the giant and famously slings one into his forehead and he’s out. He takes Goliath’s own sword and kills him and as good as his word cuts off his head. There are a lot of funny details in this story. The last is that when Saul asks whose son this David belongs too, likely thinking about the tax implications, David is introduced to him still holding Goliath’s head in his hand.
The moral of the story? In David’s words, it is not by any human agency that the Lord saves. From our perspective in redemptive history that is known as the gospel. Why would we ever want to try to save ourselves, to trust in our own power or righteousness to defeat sin and death. The Lord Jesus is our righteous, holiness and redemption, period. End of story.