Reflections on I Samuel 17 —
On December 23, 1982, the #1-ranked and undefeated Virginia Cavaliers traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii, to face the NAIA Chaminade Silverswords. Virginia was led by Ralph Sampson, the two-time national college basketball player of the year. The game was expected to be a blow-out. Only 3,400 fans were in attendance. The game was not televised.
Chaminade’s 6’8″ Tony Randolph was given the daunting task of guarding Sampson, who at 7’4″ towered above him. It was a huge mismatch, but Randolph had played against Sampson in high school, and that little bit of familiarity gave him confidence.
Chaminade came out ready to play, dunking on their first possession. With Randolph giving his all, Chaminade kept making shots while their defense held Sampson in check. In the end, the Silverswords pulled off a 77-72 upset over Sampson and the mighty Cavaliers. Randolph finished with 19 points, seven more than Sampson.
Sports Illustrated called it the greatest upset in the history of college basketball. At the 20th anniversary of the monumental event, Randolph recalled, “that team we had wasn’t scared of anybody.”
Chaminade’s upset of Virginia spawned countless references to what is perhaps the best-known Bible story ever — David defeating the mighty Goliath in I Samuel 17. Yet for all the lessons we hear on David’s heroism, courage, or proven skill with a sling, what strikes me most about David isn’t so much the fact that he won the fight, but the confidence he had going into it, the certainty that he would win. Too many modern-day Christians lack confidence and authority. It all comes from a lack of knowledge of God. The two go hand-in-hand. David’s victory over Goliath and his confidence prior to the battle sends a message to contemporary Christians — know God, have courage!
The situation was this — the armies of the Philistines and Israelites faced one another on opposite hills, neither side taking the initiative. They were deadlocked in a stalemate, when one day, a champion of the Philistines decides he’s had enough. His name was Goliath. At 9’0″, Goliath was the freakish offspring of demonic beings bent on destruction of God’s people. He had been a warrior from his youth, and was now bedecked from head to toe in armor that weighed well over 140 pounds. Goliath made it his ambition to come out alone and defiantly challenge any man in the ranks of Israel to come fight him, man on man. He did this twice a day for forty days, with no reply. Whenever Goliath approached, King Saul and his Israelite army were “dismayed and greatly afraid” (I Samuel 17:11).
Then we meet David. He has been tending his father’s sheep, while his older brothers were with the army. David runs errands to and from the battlefield, bringing provisions to his brothers. On one of those errands, he is present when Goliath came forward to make his challenge. When David hears the taunt, he doesn’t quake like the soldiers around him. Instead, he speaks bold words that turn heads: “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” (I Samuel 17:26). Word gets around that a young boy wants to fight Goliath. Eventually, he is brought before the king, where he confidently says, “the Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”
As the old adage goes, “let not him who puts on his armor boast like him who takes it off.” In modern day terms, don’t start bragging until you win! But David exuded confidence the minute he heard Goliath’s challenge. For all practical purposes, he had no chance of winning, yet he spoke with such audacity, such swagger, such absolute certainty of victory. He was able to convince his peers, and ultimately the king, that he was the guy for the job.
In the world of sports, mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation. I’ve seen plenty of talent-laden professionals who just can’t seem to win the big games. Often, what these guys lack is mental toughness, an undying thirst to win, fearless passion, heart. Fierce competitors have this. You can see it in their eyes. Tony Randolph had this look in his eyes that December night in Hawaii. These are the guys that win championships, guys that can overcome tremendous odds to knock off the #1 team in the nation.
We need a few Christians like that. We need some mentally tough Christians who are fearless when facing impossible odds. These are guys who speak confidently and with certainty. We need more guys like David.
Even as he approached Goliath, he was not afraid. Imagine the defiant look on his face as he delivered this powerful speech, while staring down death:
“You come to me with a sword, a spear, and 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 taunted. This day, the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and 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 does not deliver by sword or by speak, for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.” (I Samuel 17:45-47)
David was able to speak and act with confidence because he had an intimate knowledge of God’s love for His people and His absolute sovereignty, the by-product of his time in, and reverence for, God’s word.
David’s countless hours in the pasture had been a perfect learning environment. I’m not just talking about how he developed his skill with a sling. David not only read of God’s protective love for His people, he had the privilege of experiencing it. Somehow, he loved those sheep like they were his own children. Throwing caution to the wind, he took down bears and lions with his bare hands. In a frenzy of valiant heroism, he rescued hapless sheep from the jaws of death, seized beasts by the mane, and struck them down (I Samuel 17:34-36). Like few others, David was able to act the part of God, the Shepherd of Israel. When he met Goliath that day, he clearly and correctly saw that God would not let him harm the people of Israel. All they needed was someone with confidence.
David also saw something that no one else did. Whereas the entire army of Israel quaked in fear at Goliath’s approach, David got excited. The difference? David was not afraid to believe in a Sovereign God who is in charge of every detail, even Goliath’s boastful words. David saw this as a scene out of a play, a stage set for God! God was about to enact a play that would display His love for Israel and His majestic power that trumps weapons, skills, and tactics (I Samuel 17:46-47). David was so confident in God’s careful arrangement of every event leading up to that moment, he was able to boast in Goliath’s face — “this battle is the Lord’s!”
The story of David and Goliath shows us the dangers of not knowing God’s word, and not taking His words at face value. People who don’t take the time to read the word, who don’t try to understand it, who quickly forget it or cast it aside because it’s too difficult or doesn’t fit their “free will” worldview…these people will lack confidence when they need it most. They will sidestep issues. They will not have answers. They will not speak with authority or certainty.
We need guys who know the real God, the God expressed in the words of scripture. These guys can speak with authority, even when questioned or challenged. When David first spoke defiantly about Goliath’s challenge, his brother Eliab heard him, and bitterly accused him of irresponsibility and insolence (I Samuel 17:28). Paraphrasing, Eliab said, “you’re just here see a gory battle, you have some kind of sick ambition to witness a bloodbath.” The most hurtful criticism is the criticism of family, which can deflate the noblest idea. David’s faith was severely threatened. But his knowledge of God trumped that threat. Later, King Saul dished out some criticism of his own (I Samuel 17:33), flat out telling David, “you are not able to go against this Philistine…” But as we see, David’s conviction overcame the negativity thrown his way. His knowledge of God enabled him to remain confident in what he was about to do. The rest is history.
In my own experience, I thought I knew the word pretty well, but I never had conviction about God’s sovereignty until He led a few key people into my path and challenged my thinking. They took II Timothy 2:15 to a whole new level for me, and taught me to appreciate the fact that God placed every word in scripture intentionally and carefully, that He always does what He says, and that He orchestrates everything to demonstrate His glory. This new appreciation for the word and God’s sovereign sway carried me through some difficult years. The new-found confidence in God has given me confidence, and sheer enjoyment in what I do. I’m thankful.
So guys, get in the word. Let your definition of who God is be determined by the descriptions He uses, even when those descriptions don’t fit what you’ve always heard. Be certain of His nature — His love for His people, and His sovereignty. Let Him be your confidence.