Many of us know the story well: A taunting giant stands in the way of victory. Though armies cower in fear, a lone shepherd boy armed with nothing but a sling and rocks stands up to the challenge. Proclaiming that God can defeat the giant, the young shepherd then slays the giant with his paltry ammunition and wins the day!
The common application of the story goes something like this:
The Goliath is the giant, and he represents the many obstacles that stand in the way of your victory and your success. David is you. You’re the underdog, trusting only in God to win the day. With God on your side you defeat the giant and claim the victory! Repeat the scenario for all the giants you’ll ever face in your life, and the outcome will always be the same for you: victory and success.
If nothing seems wrong about the previous two paragraphs, it’s because we’ve been conditioned to read the story of David and Goliath found in I Samuel 17 as an allegory and a morality play. It’s an allegory for how to live the so-called victorious Christian life. It’s encouragement and strength to beat all the foes – all the giants – you face in life: be it sin, a bully, debt, alcoholism, or poverty.
The narrative of David and Goliath is important to us as Christians, but not because of it’s allegorical or moral value. Here’s several reasons why:
It’s important because its literal. The story of David and Goliath literally happened. David was a real person. Goliath was a real person – all nine feet of him. The Israelites and Philistines literally fought a battle in the Valley of Elah. David was a literal shepherd who was skilled and fearless enough to fight a much larger foe. And God, of course, is real and he worked through David to defeat Goliath and send the Israelites to victory against their hated enemies the Philistines.
It also sets up the tension between David and Saul, Israel’s king at the time. it foreshadows Saul’s paranoia and his eventual descent into madness. The story brings David onto the scene, and sets up the narrative of the shepherd boy who would be king. After Saul, David became king of Israel and is regarded as the nation’s greatest monarch.
When we allegorize this scenario we get into trouble. We know from life that God doesn’t always give us the “stones” to conquer debt, poverty, and other hardships in life. To teach otherwise is to deny experience, more importantly it denies scripture. You won’t find a single verse in the Bible that promises us temporal success in every circumstance. Life isn’t about a series of “giants” that we come against in God’s name and defeat each time. As Matt Chandler said, “What happens when the stones miss?”
It’s important because it portrays God’s use of the improbable. David was small and untrained in the art of war. He is an unlikely hero. Yet God used him to defeat a foe that had Saul and his armies cowering. But, isn’t that just like God? He uses every day people – people who sin, people who are afraid, people who are weak – to accomplish great things on his behalf and for his glory (1 Corinthians 1:27). Think of Abraham. Think of Jacob. Think of Moses. Think of Joshua. Think of Moses. Think of the Manger.
God rarely works according to our expectations. He doesn’t follow our script. He often uses the improbable and mundane to accomplish his will. A survey of redemptive history is a who’s who of scoundrels, failures, murderers, adulterers, lairs, thieves, frauds, and scandal.
It’s important because it shows God as the Ultimate Victor. “For the battle is the Lord’s” (17:47) is a common theme throughout the entire Bible. As it is today, many gods and worldviews existed in the ancient Middle East. Time and time again, God delights in proving himself to be the One True God, and the victor and protector of his people (1 Kings 18:36-40; Psalm 18:2; Psalm 23). It was important that the Philistines knew that victory came not from military might, but from God. This idea is repeated throughout the passage and throughout the Bible (Psalm 20:7).
It’s important because it is a picture of Jesus. David and Goliath is a foreshadowing of how Jesus comes to our rescue and defeats sin and death on our behalf so that we might share in the rewards of his victory:
“But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:57)!
If David and Goliath is an allegory at all, it is that it looks forward to the time when Jesus would come purchase the complete redemption and salvation of his people, not with slings and stones – but with a cross.