As David penned the words to Psalm 23, I have no doubt he was thinking of those tense moments in the Valley of Elah. His encounter with Goliath is one that has stood the test of time. His bravery was remarkable. The circumstances were extraordinary. The outcome was unexpected, at least, to every one but God. As we remind ourselves of that seminal Psalm, place yourselves in David’s shoes and try to remember the battle against Goliath.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I’m convinced the words of verse four are poignant when we remind ourselves of his escapade that day.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
We should be reminded that the battlefield itself was a valley (1 Samuel 17:3) and that David ran into that valley without fear or hesitation (1 Samuel 17:48). We should remember that Goliath stood for everything that was evil in his defiance of God’s people and their Creator (1 Samuel 17:10). We should remember that David was quick to defend God against this “uncircumcised Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:46); and we should remember that David gave God credit for the victory before he even threw the first stone (1 Samuel 17:47).
David knew a thing or two about being a shepherd (see 1 Samuel 17:34-37). He knew the bravery needed to protect those helpless animals. He knew the care needed to keep them safe from even themselves. He knew the wisdom needed to lead them correctly. He knew the love needed to sacrifice for them. He knew what it meant to be a shepherd because he was one. That is why he could say, “The Lord is my shepherd.” David knew human beings were dumb animals unable to protect themselves but capable of finding themselves in trouble without much difficulty. He saw the sheep of Israel running from the wolf of Philistia. He saw Goliath’s strength and might but was unmoved when he compared it to God’s power and ability.
We must be willing to admit that David was afraid that day. However, it’s not that he was afraid, instead, it’s who he was afraid of that matters so much. He was more afraid of God than he was Goliath. When we become more afraid (in a healthy way) of what God can do instead of what man can do, we have learned a valuable lesson. We’ve learned what it takes to defeat the giants in our lives. We’ve learned what it means to “fear God and keep His commandments” (i.e. Ecclesiastes 12:13). We’ve learned to fear the One who deserves it, not the one(s) who mocks our Creator.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
In the end, marvel at David’s understanding. It’s all the more praiseworthy when you consider his young age. Truly the fear of God on that day in the Valley of Elah was lost on everyone but David. They were overcome by their fear of Goliath, he was overcome by his fear of God. Those feelings, represented in the beauty of this verse he wrote many years later, still hold true to this day:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever.
The final few verses of 1 Samuel 17 give such a stark contrast from the beginning of the chapter that it may be difficult to assume this was anything other than paradigm shifting for the Israelites. Consider all they had seen: (1) a king unwilling to fight, (2) a people demoralized, (3) a Gentile blasphemous without repercussion, and (4) a boy victorious against an unimaginable foe. If the Army of Israel was as gullible as the story presents them, I’m curious how many were interested in putting David on the throne that very day?
It seems likely that the scene where David killed Goliath was etched into their memories for years. You can see the endless opportunities it gave those eyewitnesses to pass along its reality or notoriety. You can almost hear the fathers and grandfathers tell the story of the boy killing the giant at the dinner table or at family gatherings. You can almost feel the folksy charm and legend it would have garnered in the outposts and villages. After all, thousands were there to witness the event. I’m particularly partial to the scene in 1 Samuel 17:51 which says:
And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.
Surely, that moment followed by the subsequent victory over the army gave everyone in Israel something to talk about in the city squares for weeks. However, the following moment in the privacy of the king’s quarters is more telling to David’s worth. When asked by the king, who are you? David responds in 1 Samuel 17:58 (ironically, while still holding the giant’s head in his hand).
I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.
Many people would have been compelled in that moment to answer with unheard of pride or arrogance, but not David. I heard someone say one time their response would have been, “I’m no one’s son, I’m your Daddy! (as they plop the head of the giant on the table and sit back in Saul’s throne).” While that would have been funny at the moment, it’s utter disrespect would have undone the entire country. David’s willingness to know his place, defend his God, and even honor his king is truly worthy of praise. It’s obvious that as a young man he has already earned the praise of being “a man after God’s own heart” (i.e. 1 Samuel 13:14).
God knew who David was and David knew who God was – the were both shepherds defending their sheep. Remember the valuable lesson this story so clearly illustrates, never send a soldier to do a shepherd’s job.
Scripture taken from New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Originally published on May 1, 2017. Written by Neal Mathis.