Rethinking David and Goliath

By Billy Doolittle


“…And that is how God can unlock our full potential to defeat our [insert personal deterrent].”  This lesson is taught frequently which many of you are familiar with.  David is a feeble young man and defeats a titanic of a man with a single stone. The story of David and Goliath is seen as an extremely relatable story, God calling the feeble to do the miraculous yet is taught in the hope that God can do the same for you. Time for a fresh take on the beginnings of King David and the beautiful story of David’s rise as a leader called by the Lord. The biblical intertextuality may be surprising.

There is a distinct literary strategy the author is implementing in the narrative of David and Goliath. The philistine army is encamped between Socoh and Azekah and meet Israel’s army in a valley.  These two armies are facing each other on either side of two mountains. A philistine champion steps forward wearing decadent armor, “a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him” (1 Sam 17:5b-7).  The Philistine “mighty man” Goliath steps forth in the middle of these two forces and begins threatening Israel and says that if a man rises against him and defeats him, the Philistines will become servants to Israel.  Likewise, if Goliath defeats one Israelite mighty man, they then would become servants to the Philistines. Goliath finishes threatening Israel and they became “greatly afraid”.  What is the author trying to communicate in this heroic narrative?

The setting of this story takes place in a valley which is surprisingly familiar.  Before we explore the setting of this story, let’s look back to Joshua. After Joshua defeated the enemy Ai in Joshua 8, he built an altar on Mount Ebal (Josh 8:30-35).  Half of Israel were on Mount Ebal and the other half were on Mount Gerizim (8:33).  While on the mountian, Joshua wrote and recited all the words of Torah to the people. The people on the mountain were not only Israel, but sojourners as well (8:33a, 35). There is a gentile people (sojourners) in the presence of Joshua who are joining the people of Israel through covenant. Standing between the people is the ark of the covenant (8:33c). So too, Israel is standing against a people who are not with Israel, the Philistines. But what other similarities are there?

Lets track back a little further to Exodus 19. Here, the Lord told the people to come up to the Mount Sinai when they heard the sound of the trumpets (Ex 19:13). Well, the trumpets sounded but the people were “afraid” (Ex 20:20), thus causing the Sinai covenant as we know it today (Ex 24). These are all elements present within Goliath’s speech making it clear that Goliath is attempting to covenant with the people (1 Sam 17:9). These elements include: people on a mountain ( Ex 19:13; Josh 8:33; 1 Sam 17:3), 40 days (Ex 24:18; 1 Sam 17:16), the decadent sign of the covenant in the middle of the people (Ex 25:10-22; Josh 10:33; 1 Sam 17:4, 16) and the people became “afraid” (Ex 20:18; Josh 10:2; 1 Sam 17:11). Goliath coming between the people and threatening to make Israel his people is not only mimicking the covenant that Joshua had made with the people, but also the ark of the covenant (Ex 25:10-22) with the detail given to his armor which alludes back to Josh 8:33c. Goliath wants possession of the Israelites just as God had previously made them a “treasured possession” (Deut 7:6) to Himself.

The narrative in 1 Samuel continues and David insists that he be the one to strike this Philistine man down. Saul clothes David in his bronze armor and coat of mail. David refuses to fight in the armor and took it off.  He went down to a stream and collected five stones.  One question that has been puzzling pastors is “Why did David pick up 5 stones?” A common explanation for this is he killed Goliath’s brothers. By David picking up the five stones, the author is communicating an anticipation for the other stones to be used. They are commonly thought to foresee the death of Goliath’s brothers (or relatives), as seen in 2 Sam 15-22. Lets take a look back to where the Philistines were encamped. They were between Azekah and Socoh (17:1). In Joshua 9, directly after the renewing the covenant (Josh 8:30-35), the Gibeonites deceived Joshua into adding them to Israel’s numbers as servants, thus having Israel’s protection. Several foreign kings came together in order to attack Gibeon because they were “greatly afraid” of Israel’s God (Joshua 10:2). God caused the foreign armies to flee and  “the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died” (Josh 10:11b). There were five kings and the Lord killed these 5 armies. The five kings and armies (Josh 10:3, 10) five stones (1 Sam 17:40) provide further evidence of an intertextual strategy for David and Goliath and early prophets, as well as the Pentateuch.

This narrative concludes with “There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword” and “There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.” (Josh 10:11c, 14). By the author drawing a parallel between David and Joshua, he is setting up a figure that will be like Moses and Joshua, whom Israel was expecting (Deut 34:9-12). Ultimately David failed to be the prophet like Moses but prefigured the One who would come and deliver the people fully from the enemy and lead the people to rest in the land.

Billy Doolittle is a graduate and former Garrett Fellow at Boyce College. He is married to Brittany Doolittle and is a member of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.  You can follow Billy Doolittle on twitter @BillyDoolittle

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