1 Samuel 17

1 Samuel 17

SERIES: Leadership in Hard Times

The Difference Stature Makes

SPEAKER: Michael P. Andrus  

Introduction:  Last week I saw a major news article on television on the startling increase in the use of growth hormones by ordinary Americans.  Previously extremely expensive, and used only for children with pituitary deficiency, growth hormones are now made synthetically, are available cheaply, and are being used by perfectly healthy adults who want to have bigger and better bodies.  

Even some parents of normal-size children are giving growth hormones to those children to give them an edge in a society where a few extra inches can make a difference in a professional football or basketball contract, or in achieving an Olympic Gold Medal, or even in becoming CEO in a major corporation.  Studies have shown that Americans are so size-conscious that a man who is 6′ 4″ often has a distinct advantage in business over a man who is 5′ 10″, assuming they have the exact same ability and education.  

Brad was telling me about a song that was popular during the early 70’s.  I don’t recall having heard it, and I guess I’m not sorry, for the title was “Short People Got No Reason to Live.”  Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell Napoleon, King Hussein, Senator John Tower, Spud Webb, Willie Shoemaker, and Danny DeVito, among many others, that their stature was not a handicap.  And whoever wrote that song surely didn’t pay much attention to the Scriptures!  Frankly, we’re the ones who ought to be telling our society that size is not one of the prerequisites for being used by God.

Stature works both ways, of course, and just as many Americans desperately want to get bigger or taller, so also there are probably an equal number who want to get smaller, and there’s a multi-billion-dollar weight reduction industry which plays on the American obsession to be thin.  And that’s exactly what it is, for many—an obsession.  Certainly, there’s a health factor to weight-consciousness, and I’m not ignoring that, but you know as well as I do that for every American who want to lose weight for health reasons there are ten who simply want to have a better-looking body.  

The fact is, millions in our country are suffering clinical depression or severe lack of self-esteem because of being too short or too tall, too fat or too skinny, or because the bulges aren’t in the right places.  And surprisingly, the more beautiful a women is, the more likely it is that she will be suffering low self-esteem because of some perceived imperfection.  Friends, I believe that we have gone completely nuts and we desperately need to get our eyes off size and shape and start concentrating on issues of character.

Now what does all this have to do with I Samuel 17?  I faced a dilemma when I came to this chapter in our journey through this OT historical book.  Up to this point most of us have been relatively unfamiliar with the passages we have been studying, but this chapter is one of the most familiar in all the Bible.  Every child who has ever been to Sunday school knows the story of David and Goliath, and many could tell it better than I.  What can I say that would be of practical value from such a familiar setting? 

Well, I considered speaking about the giants that we all face in life.  I even had a good sermon title which I think originated with Andy Jumper:  “When Your Giants Aren’t Jolly and Green.”  I like even better the title Charles Swindoll used: “David and the Dwarf.”  He was thinking of Goliath’s spiritual stature, of course.  Then I considered preaching on the whole armor of God, picking up on the fact that just as David ignored the usual weapons of war and relied upon a simple sling, so the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual.  I even gave some thought to presenting the parallels between David, the shepherd boy, and the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ, who as our representative went to battle against the Great Slanderer and achieved a victory for us.

But I have decided upon an approach which may be unique—at least I’ve never heard anyone preach this subject from I Samuel 17—the difference stature makes in leadership among God’s people.  And lest you wonder about what conclusion I will come to, let me state in advance that one’s size doesn’t make any difference.

There are three main characters in 1 Samuel 17:  Saul, Goliath, and David.  The Scriptures make quite a point about the size of two of these men and are silent about the third.  Saul stood head and shoulders above his fellow man; Goliath stood head and shoulders above Saul; David, on the other hand, was apparently quite average in size.  In the world’s eyes Saul and Goliath had some distinct advantages; spiritually they were both bankrupt.  David had little going for him in terms of size; but he had a heart for God and a faith in God that were enormous. 

Saul, formidable in size, dismayed and terrified in spirit.  

         Imposing in appearance (9:2). Turn back with me to chapter 9, verse 2.  There we are told that Saul was “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others.”  And from the beginning Saul used his imposing appearance to good advantage, leading his troops into battle and giving decisive leadership to the nation.  But then, as you know if you’ve been with us for the past two months, Saul started down the slippery slope of apostasy as he bent the rules, made rash vows, and became guilty of partial obedience, which is really no obedience at all.  

Abandoned by God (15:23, 16:14). Here are the words of the prophet Samuel, as recorded in 15:23: “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”  Then in 16:14 we are told that “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul.”  Now it’s important to note that this is an OT phenomenon.  The Holy Spirit does not leave those whom he has indwelt today, for one of the greatest of NT truths is that the Holy Spirit comes to permanently indwell those who are born again by faith in Jesus Christ.  But in the OT the Holy Spirit’s ministry was less clearly defined.  He did come upon individuals for special ministries and at special times, and he did come upon a few individuals on a permanent basis, but there was no guarantee of His presence with every believer. Even King David, following his sin with Bathsheba, prayed, “Do not take thy Holy Spirit from me”(Psalm 51:11).  We need not pray such a prayer today, though certainly sin can interrupt our fellowship with God, and we should probably be equally concerned about that. 

Tormented by an evil spirit (16:14). The same verse we just read goes on to say that “and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.”  As discipline for his rebelliousness, God apparently allowed a demon to oppress Saul.  I know there are those who scoff at demonic activity today, and that’s exactly what Satan would like for us to do.  But mark my word, Satan and Satanism are alive and well in our day, and even in our sophisticated society we had better be alert to his schemes.  

Bankrupt in courage (17:11).  By all rights Saul should have been the one to challenge the Philistine giant; after all, he was the only one even approaching his size, and he was the leader of the Israelites.  Furthermore, he had proved himself previously as a valiant warrior in the face of great odds.  But in what state do we find the king now?  Verse 11 of chapter 17 says, “Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.”  

Hindered by human perspective (17:33). When Saul heard the report that the little shepherd boy was in the camp, wondering aloud why no one would fight Goliath, he sent for David, who said to him, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”  And Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.” 

In fairness to Saul, we must admit that he is probably trying to be solicitous of the young man’s welfare.  Saul was a wicked man in many ways, but at least he didn’t believe in child sacrifice, and in his view sending David out into this battle would be tantamount to a sacrifice.  But the problem was in his perspective.  He saw only the size factor and the age factor and refused to take into consideration the divine factor, namely the power of God in a committed vessel.  I am reminded of the ten spies who went into the land of Canaan from Kadesh Barnea.  They saw the exact same thing that Joshua and Caleb saw, but their perspective focused on the giants, compared to whom they saw themselves as grasshoppers, while Caleb and Joshua saw God.  To them the giants were the one who appeared as grasshoppers.

Saul by this time in his life had completely lost spiritual perspective and could see only from the human perspective.  So much for the first character in our chapter–Saul.  

Goliath, gigantic in size, defiant and blasphemous in spirit.  

Dreadful in appearance (17:4-7) Goliath was probably the tallest man who ever lived.  The tallest in modern times was the gentle giant from Alton, Illinois, Mr. Robert Wadlow.  He stood 8′ 8″ tall and weighed about 450 pounds.  But Goliath would have towered over him.  The best translation we can make of the Hebrew measurements indicates that he was about 9′ 9″ tall.  

Goliath was not only tall but strong.  His armor weighed 125 pounds and the spearhead he used was as heavy as a large bowling ball.  And besides all that, he had a shield bearer who went ahead of him.  This man Goliath would literally make Hulk Hogan look like a 97-pound weakling.  

Belligerent toward God’s people (17:10).  Goliath would have made a great professional wrestler, not just because of his size, but also because of his personality.  It seems that one of the requirements for getting involved in that “sport” is the ability to be totally obnoxious in public.  Listen to Goliath in verse 10:  “This day I defy the ranks of Israel!  Give me a man and let us fight each other.”  His proposal was not unusual for those days.  Whenever two tribes fought, it was inevitable that there would be significant casualties on both sides.  So sometimes representatives were chosen by each side to fight a proxy battle.  Whichever side won the two-man fight was presumed to have won the larger battle.  Possibly Israel had agreed to such a proposal before they knew who the representative for the Philistines would be.  If so, they must have reneged on the agreement.

And now for 40 days, morning and evening, Goliath had laid down the gauntlet and demanded that Israel send someone out to fight him.  His constant taunts burned deep into the collective psyche of the Israelite army.  It produced a virtual case of mass hysteria.

Scornful of God’s representative (17:43-44).  When David finally stepped forward and offered to take Goliath on, the giant despised him and said, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?”  And he cursed David by the name of his gods.  “‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.'”  

I’m reminded of a lesson that would have stood Goliath in good stead and is valuable for anyone who is prone to boast about what he is going to do.  It comes from the days of Elijah and is found in 1 Kings 20.  Ben-hadad, the king of Syria had come to King Ahab of Israel and demanded tribute in the form of silver, gold, wives and children.  Ahab gave in because he was afraid.  A short time later Ben-hadad returned and announced that he was going to come and ransack the capital anyway.  This time Ahab refused to cooperate.  Picking up in verse 10 of 1 Kings 20 we read, “And Ben-hadad sent to him and said, ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if enough dust remains in Samaria (Ahab’s capital) to give each of my men a handful.’  The King of Israel answered, ‘Tell him:  “One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.”‘”

That’s pretty good advice.  The time to boast about what you’re going to do is after you’ve done it, because then there’s no danger of your becoming a laughingstock.  There is an exception to that principle, however, which we will see in a few moments.  When God has promised that something will be done, it’s alright to boast about it, because God’s promises are as good as accomplishments.

So much for the second character in our chapter—Goliath the Philistine.  

 David, ordinary in size, courageous and trusting in spirit. 

Whereas Saul was imposing in appearance and Goliath was dreadful in appearance, David was apparently quite average.  While it is true that in 16:12 we are told that he was “ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features,” there was apparently nothing about his size to draw any special attention.  But there was certainly something about him spiritually to draw attention.

Empowered by God’s Spirit (16:13). When Samuel was told to anoint David as the next king of Israel in 16:13, it says, “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.”  This appears to be a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit rather than the result of any effort on David’s part, but it was certainly consistent with the apparently godly life the young boy had been leading.  

         Trained in the desert (17:34ff). Between the time David was anointed king and the time he took on Goliath, he continued watching his father’s sheep.  From time to time, according to 17:15, he was brought to Jerusalem to play the harp as therapy for King Saul, but in between he was learning to be faithful in little things to the point that God could entrust him with greater things.  

Notice David’s own account of those days, beginning in verse 34: 

“Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep.   When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth.  When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.  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.  The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”  

The words here are somewhat like the boastful words of the Philistine, but the tone is far different.  David is not yelling his credits into the microphone; he is simply recalling his personal history for the sake of the king who must grant him permission to fight.  This giant is just the latest in a series of opportunities God has placed in his path, brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.  David is saying that since God was faithful in the case of the lion and the bear, He could also be trusted to be faithful with the giant.

By the way, have you ever thought about how many of God’s special servants were trained in the desert, away from the limelight, doing small, almost insignificant things faithfully, before God granted them a more important assignment?

But while David had the assets of being empowered by God’s Spirit and trained in the desert, he suffered the liability of being …

Underestimated by his peers (17:28, 33). The first evidence of this comes from his own brothers, a classic case of sibling rivalry.  You will recall, perhaps, that David’s father sent him to the front lines with food for his three brothers who were soldiers.  While there, David heard the challenge of Goliath firsthand, and he saw with his own eyes the morbid fear that struck the Israelite soldiers.  He began to inquire among the soldiers as to why they were allowing this “uncircumcised” Philistine to intimidate him.  And when Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, it says he “burned with anger at him and asked, ‘Why have you come down here?  And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert?  I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.'”

One can appreciate somewhat the frustrations of Eliab, for it’s not easy to be upstaged by a younger brother or sister.  But his lashing out at David was probably more a function of his own sense of terror and helplessness than anything David had said. 

David was also underestimated by Saul.  Remember the words, “You are only a boy!”  There will certainly be times when people will underestimate us.  I recall when I accepted my first pastorate in Wichita, Kansas.  I was just 30 years old and was following a gifted pastor in his 50’s.  There were those who wondered if the job didn’t demand someone with a little more maturity, and undoubtedly the first few years some things would have gone a little smoother for the church had they listened to the skeptics.  But we grew together and the risk they were willing to take proved to be one that God honored.  

Not all such stories have a happy ending.  Perhaps you have been underestimated and have been rejected because people were not willing to take that risk.  The important thing is to not allow their estimate of you to become your estimate of yourself.  Believe in yourself, as one created in the image of God and empowered by the Spirit of God.  Continue to seek opportunities to fulfill your calling.  The confidence you may have as you go out in the name of the Lord is that in the pages of your memory you can find days when you also faced an impossible situation, but the Lord stepped in and gave you victory.

Convinced of God’s power (17:45ff).  Don’t overlook the fact that David has a certain confidence in his own ability, but never in his own ability alone.  He doesn’t say, God slew the lion and the bear,” but rather, “I slew the lion and the bear.”  Of course, his ultimate confidence was in the Lord and the ultimate credit for what he accomplished went to the Lord.  Read with me beginning in verse 45, and please notice to whom David gives the ultimate credit, in advance, for the battle he is about to win:  

“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.  This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.  Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  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.” 

There’s an amazing contrast drawn here by David:  “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty.”  What a difference it can make at times when you can come in a great name.  

When I was in my early twenties I worked for five years as Administrative Assistant to the Chairman of the Board of the John E. Mitchell Co., a respected manufacturer in Dallas.  My boss, John E. Mitchell, Jr., had Parkinson’s disease, so I did a lot of his personal correspondence and made most of his phone calls.  Mr. Mitchell was on the Board of the Mercantile Bank, the Southland Corp., a member of the Petroleum Club, and one of the most respected businessmen in that great city, and I soon learned the value of a name.  I learned that I could pick up a phone and get Trammell Crow or Ross Perot or Clint Murchison on the other end of the line just by saying those magic words, “Mr. John E. Mitchell, Jr. is calling.”

The shepherd boy David had learned the value of a name—the name of the Lord Almighty.  He didn’t use it as a magical formula; rather he appealed to the power resident in the person behind the name.  

I think it is important for us to note also, as we examine David’s conviction concerning God’s power, that he refused to wear Saul’s armor into the battle.  It was not wrong for Saul to offer it and it wouldn’t have been wrong for David to use it.  There is certainly no sin in proceeding with due caution.  But when the armor didn’t fit and David took it off, God was able to show his power in a unique and unqualified way.  

The Philistines would learn that the Lord isn’t just more clever and more skilled than other gods; rather he operates in an entirely different sphere.  The odds don’t make any difference when the Lord goes into battle.  As 1 Sam. 14:6 says, “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”  Zechariah speaks similarly:  “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6).  Gideon proved those truths 200 years earlier when he tried to go into battle against the Midianites with 32,000 soldiers.  The Lord told him to cut his forces first to 10,000 and then to 300, saying, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.  In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, cut your forces.”  (Judges 7:2)

There is a constant danger that we take credit for those things we do well, failing to acknowledge that God is the giver of all gifts; so, from time-to-time God has to knock all the props out from under us and leave us standing helpless and calling out on him.  Otherwise, as Deuteronomy 8:17 puts it, “you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’  But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth.”  

Successful in conflict (17:48-54). The end of this story is well known.  David took one of the five smooth stones he had picked up from the stream, put it into his sling, and aimed at the Philistine’s forehead.  No matter how skillful a slingshot artist he was, God was the one who enabled the stone to find the one vulnerable spot in Goliath’s armor.  The giant fell dead, and David cut off his head with Goliath’s own sword.  

More important than David’s personal victory over Goliath was Israel’s resultant victory over the Philistines.  Because of one ordinary, average-size boy, courageous and committed, the course of history was changed for God’s people.

Conclusion:  What is the message God wants us to take from this passage today?  There are probably many, but certainly among them is this:  It is not the size of your bod but the size of your God that counts.  Or, for those whose problem may not be size-consciousness but money-consciousness, we can state the same truth a little differently:  it’s not the size of your horde, but the size of your Lord that counts.  

Friends, one of the greatest accomplishments of Satan is that he has convinced most of us that the critical life-and-death issues are the size of our bodies or the size of our bank accounts or the size of our houses or our cars, all the while we are ignoring the fact that it is only through the power of God that the real giants in our lives can be conquered and vanquished. 

What a tragic fact that there are many who cannot experience that power because they are not part of God’s family.  Do you know that joining God’s family is as simple as being born again?  Just as each of us was born physically into this world, so we must be born spiritually by faith in Jesus Christ.  He died for us; He paid the penalty for our sin and our self-centeredness; and He offers us the free gift of salvation.  The book of Isaiah reads, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the evil man his thoughts; let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7) Won’t you invite Him into your life right now? 

DATE:  March 20, 1988



Evil spirits



1 Samuel 18