“I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.”
Chapter 17 of 1 Samuel is the story of David and Goliath. When we think of that story, we consider mainly the confrontation between the two, the sling and stone, and David’s unlikely victory over a giant. What we often don’t realize is that that part of the narrative covers on a few verses (41–51) out of a relatively long chapter (58 verses). There’s so much more to learn!
The rest of the chapter actually contains very rich biblical theology, important historical and biblical-legal background, as well as important life lessons that apply throughout God’s kingdom. For this reason, we will be considering this chapter in two parts. The actual “battle” between David and Goliath will come in the second part. Here we will discuss something just as important, perhaps even more important, even if not quite as monumental. Here we will discuss David’s battle just to get to the battle—for it was an uphill climb just for him to get in the position to face Goliath. Along the way he had to withstand spiritual and social forces that impeded him and desired to squash his mission.
Just the same, we today have a massive uphill fight to restore godly freedom and liberty to our land. We face, and have faced, all the same forces as David just in the effort to get to the real showdowns. In short, there are people who do not even want to the right information to get out, or the right discussion to take place. As we shall see, these forces arise in the home, among our friends, within our government—in short, in places we would often assume to be friendly and supportive, and yet they turn out to be the real problem. We will discuss these forces and draw instruction and inspiration from the way David overcame them all.
“Hell is—other people”
The French existentialist philosopher (and atheist) Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a famous play called “No Exit” in which the main character realized at last that he was in hell, and that the punishment of hell was to be locked in a room with people who annoy you and test your own personality in critical ways. The climactic line at the moment of his recognition of this fact was his declaration, “Hell is—other people.”
Reading though the first half of our narrative, one could understand if David arrived at a similar conclusion. He seems to be the only faithful person (unlike Sartre’s protagonist, by the way) in a world of other people who do nothing but belittle him, attribute evil motives to him, make decisions that place obstacles in his way. In short, the sins and failures of other people become tests and trials of David’s faithfulness.
In fact, the whole narrative is set in the form of a clear covenantal test of Israel’s faithfulness. The Philistines had encroached to make war. Their champion Goliath approaches and blasphemes Israel. We’ll discuss more about him in particular in the next sermon. But here we briefly note two things. First, the Israelites, including Saul, were dismayed and greatly afraid (17:11). This shows that they had no faith. Once again, they were judging by outward appearances. Saul had been chosen because of his imposing physical stature. But God tested them on this abysmal standard, almost mockingly: the other guys now had a guy who was even bigger—way bigger. Trust in size, eh? What think ye of this? Saul was trembling. Second, Goliath continued his taunts for 40 days (17:16). Forty is a number repeated throughout Scripture to denote a period of testing or trial. Moses was on the mount for 40 days—during which Israel abandoned faith and worshipped a golden calf. Then, the same Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, during which they failed God’s tests multiple times. Here we see another test period—a test of battle Israel should have met specifically by not fearing, even when outmanned and outnumbered, which is how God’s Law called Israel to wage war against such an invader (Deut. 20:1, 3). Israel consistently fails these tests in her history. Finally, Jesus, the true Israel, would spend His 40 days in the wilderness fasting, and then successfully past the temptation by the devil. But here we see Israel on the verge of one of her failures.
Into this scene, we see God working providentially to bring His new king, David. David at this point has been conscripted to work for Saul, but has obviously not yet become his armor-bearer. Thus, the statement made in 16:21 had to have been giving a general overview of David’s future from that point, and chapter 17 backs up to give some specifics in the interim. What’s important here is that we see David’s faithfulness to all his duties: even after having been taken to serve Saul, David makes periodic trips home to make sure his shepherding duties are fulfilled (17:15–16) and his aging father (17:12) cared for and obeyed.
We learn again of David’s humility and servant-mindedness. His father instructs him to take provisions to his brothers in the camp, and to bring back a report of their status. David not only performs such lowly tasks without complaining, he rose up early in the morning to get them done. Yet, he also did not neglect his sheep, but made sure someone was there to tend them (17:20). Even though David had been given a prominent position in the royal court, he did not neglect his duties to his family, nor think of himself as too high to perform menial tasks and to care for lowly sheep. This is a picture of the Gospel. Compare Paul’s words about Jesus:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:5–8).
Through persistence in faithfulness, God leads his humble servants through even the humblest of missions and darkest of consequences—and leads them into victory. But there are many such obstacles along the way.
Other people’s disobedience
The first obstacle here is the effects of other people’s disobedience. Why had the Philistines gathered for battle at this point, after all? Perhaps it was for revenge for what happened back in chapter 14, but that seems like old news by now. More likely it is a reaction to the news that Saul had been rejected from being king and that he was experiencing fits of spiritual torture and depression. The rejection had been quite public at the end of chapter 15. News certainly spread. News of his torments probably did as well. The Philistines would have interpreted these as weakness, and would have readily moved to exploit it.
But these things had resulted from nothing except Saul’s disobedience and failures (chapters 13–15). And, of course, Saul’s very office was the result of Israel’s failure. It seems this whole scenario is the climax of a series of disobedient acts on Israel’s part. Goliath was beast of Israel’s own making. Yet David, one of the few faithful people in Israel, is being affected by it, and will be thrust right into the middle of it to deal with it.
This disobedience included other people’s inaction. As we’ve already noted, God’s Law called the people to engage in war at this point. But here they sat. Once Goliath revealed himself and taunted Israel, the Israelites were frozen in fear. Frozen, almost literally. They would not move to confront him. They sat paralyzed for 40 days and did nothing but shake. Saul even put out a very rich bounty for anyone who could kill him, but no one would volunteer. The enemy was certainly emboldened.
We mentioned in the last sermon how David’s situation among his brothers paralleled that of Joseph: the youngest receiving the honors, and the elder brothers refusing to believe, acting in envious hatred. Here we see David’s brother treating him contemptuously. But he could not have been doing so without the prior episode with Samuel in the back of his mind. His actions show that, at this point, he did not believe in God’s anointing on David which he himself had witnessed. If he did, he was acting in rebellion against it. The text says he reacted to David’s presence on the battlefield with anger (17:28). He unleashes a stream of ridicule.
First, he mocks David’s station in life: “Why are you here? You’re not supposed to be among soldiers, little boy; you’re supposed to be with the sheep.” It is actually quite possible that David was not quite twenty years of age here, and thus technically would not have been numbered among the soldiers for battle (Num. 1:3). This would also explain Saul’s hesitance over David’s youth (17:33). Even if this were true, it would not get to the true motive of Eliab. He was less concerned with honoring God’s Law than with throwing it in David’s face. Simultaneously, Eliab suggested that David not only belonged with the sheep, but that he was derelict even in that small task: “with whom have you left those few sheep.” He spoke ignorantly, not knowing that David had, in fact, made just such a provision.
Second, he attacked David’s motives. “I know your presumption and the evil of your heart” (17:29). It is an unfortunate but not infrequent tactic to malign someone with whom we are at odds not with any genuine charge or argument (for which we would have to be accountable), but by accusing them of some spiritual deficiency. Here Eliab accuses David of deceit and of having an evil heart. People lacking any real case against those they despise often manufacture one—and one which cannot be tested by facts is very convenient. The problem is, in presuming to know the contents of David’s heart, Eliab implicitly asserts that he is omniscience, and thus like God. He is very near blaspheming is such a sin. But such is human depravity: some people are willing to demean God Himself if they can satisfy the lusts of a personal prejudice or grudge.
Eliab further asserts that he knows David’s true reason for coming out: for you have come down to see the battle. The implication here is not that David merely wanted to observe, but to gawk, and possibly see some gory battle, and thus have some stories to tell. Thus he left his real duty to come sneak about the battle camp. But Eliab speaks out of ignorance again. David came only because his father asked him to do so. He was doing nothing except acting in perfect, humble obedience to his father’s wishes.
Thus while David sought only to honor God and to honor his father (fifth commandment), his brother impeded him with wrongful accusations and mockery. He derided David as insignificant, and accused him of unfaithfulness, deceit, and pride. Yet David brushed these pressures aside: “Was it not but a word?” (17:30). In other words, David was responding to his brother’s unwarranted attacks by saying, “All I did was ask a question,” which was quite true.
David’s earnestness and inquiry about Goliath had at its heart the desire to glorify God and take away the reproach the giant brought upon Israel with his blasphemies. David asked: “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (17:26). This shows first that he was motivated by God and His Law more than anything else. Second, his expressions were an implicit rebuke of the people, for why were they sitting here in fear?
In response to these things, a fearful and complacent people will naturally respond, “So why don’t you go, big mouth.” Apparently, the sentiment spread until someone told Saul about David’s speaking. Saul sent for him. David responded by doing what any faithful Israelite should do in such a situation: he applied Deuteronomy verbatim: “Let no man’s heart fail because of him” (17:32). This, again, is Deuteronomy 20:
When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, “Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the LORD your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory” (Deut. 20:1–4).
Just as Christ would quote the Law (and Deuteronomy in particular) in response to the temptations of Satan after his 40 days, so here David passes the 40-day trial by looking past the circumstances and relying totally upon that same Word.
But David was still surrounded by others who did not have such faith—in this case, particularly, Saul. As would be expected, Saul judged the situation purely by outward standards: David was too young, David was outmatched, David had no experience whereas Goliath’s whole life was steeped in battle. In short, David was treated initially as a youthful and zealous boy, but naïve to the point of delusion.
David overcame these objections by appealing to his own similar experience in killing large ravenous beasts—lions and bears—while keeping watch as a shepherd. Apparently, shepherding is not all harp strings and watching grass grow after all. Since Saul’s argument was based upon size, strength, and experience, he had to acquiesce upon such evidence. Not to mention, he didn’t have any other volunteers to fight this particular beast.
Yet Saul’s humanistic standard of measurement was not yet abated. He just knew David would not last long. To give the kid a chance, he clad David in his very own armor. It was just one more pitiful expression of trusting in the devices of men. The faithless not only fail in contrast to the faithful, but they cannot even comprehend the nature and power of faithfulness. They often desire to “gear up” faith with their own accoutrements and equipment, as if even the finest devices and arms of men could add a single benefit to the divine gift and the divine Word.
Saul’s armor was not a help but a hindrance to David. He would likely have gotten himself killed had he gone ahead with them—and he almost did. He started to go, but he realized at the last moment that as appealing as such armor may have been, it was not right. He confessed, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them” (17:39). David was not trained in these, he had not proven them, he was not comfortable with them. He would not pretend to be something he was not. When he killed those beasts as a shepherd, had he needed Saul’s mail and sword? So why place special trust in them now? No, David would go in the form in which the Lord had prepared him, even if it looked unfit to the world. David shed Saul’s devices, and approached Goliath as a mere shepherd. For the battle is the Lord’s, and it shall not be won by trusting in the devices of men.
Sartre’s maxim that “Hell is other people” is not entirely meritless, however depraved his motives and worldview might have been. Other people do not constitute hell—that is, ultimate divine punishment—but the cause of hell certainly is in view. That is, sin.
As we go through this life working to learn, disciplines ourselves, glorify God, and advance the kingdom of God, our lives are constantly intertwined with those of other people, and whether we fancy it well or not, all of those other people are sinners. So are you, so am I. Even as born-again Christians, even as well-seasoned, highly-disciplined elders, we are still not free (yet) of our fallen human nature. This means that all of our efforts to be faithful will encounter the annoyances and perturbations resulting from sin, including other people’s sins. Of course, they may be quick to inform us that we have returned the favor.
The takeaway here is to realize that David was on the path to a battle that would literally change the course of history. It would vault him from shepherdom to national prominence. Yet en route to that standoff with Goliath, David had to overcome several impediments ranging from his own spirituality to sibling rivalry to being publicly doubted by his government—among much else. How did David handle this? The simple answer is: with steady faithfulness. No matter what obstacle was thrown at him, he never took his eye away from God’s Law. This steadfastness involved humility, and it involved courage, and in involved being prompt in answering all challenges with appropriate words or actions. We can learn much from the types of challenges David met, and how me met them; and these lessons can apply whether we are speaking to our father, brother, community, or the king himself.
1. Remain faithful in the small things
Jesus taught his disciples, “ One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10; cp. Matt. 25:21). David illustrates this principle well for us here. He had already been elevated to a high position in Saul’s administration, and yet we find him caring for his aging father and even still tending sheep. This is a young man of tremendous work ethic and humility just as impressive.
These small things were the training ground for David’s “much.” Massive trials lay ahead for David, but he would hardly be prepared for them if he had not remained faithful through all these small things. In consistently conquering these, David was being prepared by God for the Goliaths, the commanding of armies, the national spotlight, the assaults from Saul, the national judgments to come, and eventually, the throne. In none of these things could David have succeeded had he not first honored God in the small things.
So it is with us as well. We want national revival. But it is pointless to announce you candidacy for Congressman, etc., if you have not first proven yourself as a father, businessman, or simply as a God-honoring individual in general. It is delusional to think we shall vault ourselves to the reins of power and restore liberty without first having been honed and perfected in self-discipline and self-sacrifice. A leader without humility and a servant’s heart is not a biblical leader; he is destined for some great failure—either distraction, inefficacy, or corruption. Most leaders end in corruption—they just learn how to work the crowds and smile for the camera. They talk Christ but do not honor His Law. Since they never learned the small task of tending the sheep in humble, caring service, when they become national shepherds, they only thing they are spiritually prepared to do is to fleece them.
National revival and the restoration of liberty—and all the grand things that come along with these—must follow a grand spiritual transformation which arises in the hearts and lives of individuals. This will transform culture. This can, in turn, lead to restoration of liberty. But the small things must come first. If they do not, any change will only be the replacement of one Saul for another. Or worse, a Goliath.
But it is not enough here to talk about individual spirituality. Just as James argues that faith without works is dead, so humility without works is not true humility. Humility means by definition a submission before God, and then service to men according to God’s Word. This means that in all things, humility means submission to God’s Word, and God’s Word means duty and action. Just as David’s humility was seen specifically in his service to his father, to Saul, and to his country, so must our spirituality lead to faithful service among our families, churches, communities, and even state in some cases. With this in mind, recall the lesson we stressed recently in this series: do your job. We can reiterate this in this lesson: do your duty. Humility demands it. And he who speaks of humility without works, let him know that his humility is dead—which means, it is really rebellious arrogance.
2. Ignore the mockers and naysayers
We saw David mocked and ridiculed by his own brother. From this we can learn that those who embrace a policy of radical faithfulness will be ridiculed for it, and this ridicule will come even from those closest to them.
This occurs in a number of ways today. It occurs in families when one member is persuaded of a new eschatology. Families have been rent, emotionally, by dispensational parents or uncles angered at their newly preterist and postmillennial son or nephew. Christmas dinner grows awkward. In many cases, children grow up and leave the faith altogether due to the annoyances imposed upon them with what is perceived as—and sometimes is—hard-headed theological bigotry. The same can happen when Arminians convert to Calvinists, or Roman Catholics to Protestants, and more.
Just as frequent a problem is the manner of argument used: uninformed and prejudiced ridicule. We hear even Christians trying to end arguments with other Christians by accusing them of wicked motives, or—the granddaddy of all Christian conversation-stoppers—accusing their opponent of “pride.” Anger is a popular accusation used for immediate dismissal as well, but pride is more versatile: it requires even less evidence to be wielded. Find himself pressed in a theological discussion, and backed into a corner? Why not escape by calling your interlocutor prideful? It’s so easy. Not too long ago I myself was pressing another public theologian to justify some unwarranted and suspect, yet undocumented, theological claims he had published in which my ministry was implicated. Where are the facts for this? Where are the footnotes, references, etc.? No one I know in my movement actually believes this. I will join you in refuting such a claim if you can just show me someone who actually made it. I was greeted with just such evasive heart-reading: people in my movement allegedly have “spiritual problems.” End of discussion.
And such a guy claims to be a leader of Christian culture.
Speaking of culture, I can think of no greater area of the unjust ridicule problem than among Christians in politics. A precise example occurred in our most recent election, particularly in the primaries. Conservatives who called for a peaceful foreign policy where unjustly ridiculed as closet liberals—a ridiculous claim considering that warmongering has historically been the trade of progressive liberals. Claims made in ignorance followed as well. The proposal that America had enough problems at home that perhaps we should not be the world’s policemen was met with charges of “isolationism”—another ridiculous claim that misrepresented the only position that calls for international free trade a la Jefferson. Finally, their own party-brethren continued to slander them as malignant and evil-hearted deceivers—like David’s brother, playing God in allegedly discerning hearts and attributing evil motives. When once the golden rule was referenced, a roomful of Christian conservatives booed and told the world that its proponents hate America and blame America first. The odd logrolling of prejudices against the so-called “Liberty movement” ended with millions of Bible-believing, born again Christians holding aloft a cult member as the only viable solution to their ills, booing God’s Word, and ridiculing many of the radically faithful. What have we here except a party engrossed in Saulism—judging their socio-political situation by outward standards, and trembling in fear at the Goliath before them? Yet when a David draws attention to a Deuteronomy 20, or other, he is met by his own brethren with derision, meanness, and falsehood. But let me ask you a question. What would have happened had David not been allowed into the fight in this story?
3. Do not trust in human devices.
Finally, we see David putting off Saul’s armor and simply trusting in what the Lord has provided and prepared him for. We must do the same. As we press ahead in family, church, and state, there will be many Sauls who desire to clad us in their armor—thinking that the only defense we can muster will come from their own tried and trusted methods. But we should not be distracted from simple faith in God’s Word by our own conceptions of strength. This is, of course, easy enough to say. Just as with Saul’s administration, whole nations can easily forget God’s Word and trust in human measures for salvation. Of course, they always find themselves trusting more in arms than in God, and eventually they find themselves trembling in fear. This venture, in the end, finds us shaping our world in fear of Goliath instead of God.
Again, this manifests strongly in modern politics. I was in a large political Committee meeting recently which was considering several resolutions. After much debate filled with some impatience and even unwarranted outbursts, a gentlemen to my left said, “Politics brings out the worst in people.” I agreed, responding, “That’s because politics is ultimately about who gets to apply force to whom. We’re all scared of the next guy.” We thus react in fear and strategize everything we do without specific prayer and recourse to God’s Word, but by human devices.
Such devices lead in circular fashion to deeper prejudice and fear. In that same meeting, a resolution was presented merely to study a particular matter. Granted, it was a matter which could in the future require large structural change, but the proposal was merely to form a study committee. In response, people on after another took to the microphone to blast their opinions on the matter itself, seeking to shoot down any chance for the party to study it formally. I have to admit I was shocked by the misinformation, opportunism, cheap shots, and contempt poured out by people whose Christian and conservative beliefs would lead us to expect more of them. In a heated effort to deny formal study, such a group is announcing—nay, demanding—to the world that they remain uninformed and make decisions accordingly. This is a party without a Berean spirit.
Any person or group of persons without a Berean spirit driving them back to Scripture and truth will find themselves trying to solve problems with human devices. They will go confront their Goliaths wearing Saul’s armor, and they will lose.
We must be of the opposite mind. Faithfulness means God-mindedness, Christ-mindedness. Sometimes this means thinking outside of the standard box. Sometimes it means courage in weakness. For the battle is the Lord’s, and it shall not be won by trusting in the devices of men. Without faithfulness, there will come a day when a Goliath stands on your national horizon, and you will quiver in fear of him. That day will come, and you will not think so highly of Saul’s armor, or Lockheed’s or Abrams’s, in that day.
Many forces colluded to keep David from the real battle. Yet why did David make it to the fight? Because he did not give up—even when those closest to him ridiculed him, told him he was wrong, and publicly maligned his heart and motives. People, it is easy to get discouraged when those we know and respect show us contempt and even cheat against us. It is easy at this point to leave such people to the Devil and go our own way—this is how we naturally feel. “I’ve tried my best, but you people don’t care! And if you don’t care, then I won’t waste my time anymore either.” But if we strongly believe in the truth, then we can never say we have tried our best if we ever quit on it. David did not, and in his persistence he is an example for us today: do not quit, do not give up. Ignore the naysayers, ignore the mockers, ignore even the lies and cheats. Move ahead, and press your cause ahead until you reach the momentous battle—the one that really counts. And if you die trying, so be it. You have served God; you have not feared man. And He knows the truth.
And the truth is that there is a big future for small, smooth stones—and for the people who courageously wield them.
 My emphasis.