The story of David’s victory over the Philistine giant Goliath was real, of course, but it is also an acted-out parable of the promise of Genesis 3:15. It symbolizes the work of Christ in two different, though related, aspects:
Christ’s moral victory over the power of sin in its personal form, in himself and for us, through his life, death and resurrection; and
Christ’s coming military victory over sin in its governmental forms, when he returns to set up God’s Kingdom.
It was necessary that Christ first conquer the “world” in himself, by subduing the desires of the flesh, so that he might be qualified to conquer the nations and rule over them. Both these victories — one now past, the other still future — are beautifully outlined in the stirring drama of 1 Samuel 17. In this epic encounter between faith and force, spirit and flesh, the godly and the earthly, we see all the redemptive purpose of God, unfolding from Eden onward.
“The Philistines gathered their forces for war” (1Sam 17:1). The name “Philistine” has found a place in the English language as a common noun, describing those who are ignorant and uncultured, those who are “of the earth, earthy” (1Cor 15:47), without any aspirations toward higher things.
The Philistines pitched their tents in “Ephes Dammim,” which signifies “the border of blood.” This site was a little south of Jerusalem and halfway over toward the Mediterranean Sea, at the border between the Israelite hills and the Philistine plain. In this vicinity, in and around Jerusalem, the City of the great King, Christ and the saints will fight the last battles to establish the Kingdom of God.
The “border of blood” marked the crest, or high point, of human power — the point where it was broken and turned back. It symbolizes both Golgotha in the past, and Armageddon in the future. “Ephes Dammim” is closely related in meaning to Acel-dama (“the field of blood”), where the traitor Judas met his fate (Acts 1:19).
“The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them” (1Sam 17:3). Mountains in Scripture often represent military powers (Zech 6:1), while valleys are places of sorrow, humiliation, and trial — and sometimes of destruction. The prophet Joel says the serpent-power of the Gentiles will be broken in the valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:12). Like David, Jesus had to go into “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psa 23:4) to conquer the “giant” of sin.
“Goliath” (v. 4) means “exile”; “Gath” means “winepress” — a place where grapes are trodden underfoot. The Philistine giant was, like Cain (Gen 4:14, 16), an exile from God because of sin. He was trampled down by David, even as all human power and pride will be trodden down by Christ in the great winepress of the wrath of God (Rev 14:19). Goliath’s height was six cubits (the number of man (cp. the number “666” in Revelation 13:18) and a short span. Perhaps this “span” represents the brief transition period between the long years of human rule and the Kingdom.
Goliath was covered with brass, the symbol of flesh. He was the human equivalent of the brass, or brazen, serpent of Numbers 21 — the power of sin destroyed by Christ on the cross. He was arrayed in armor and weapons of the flesh, in contrast to the spiritual arsenal of Ephesians 6:13-17, in which David trusted (1Sam 17:45), as did Jesus.
This mighty champion of the flesh came out into the valley between the two armies, every day for forty days, to defy the God of Israel. It was a sad, shameful spectacle; not a man of Israel, not even Saul, himself a giant (1Sam 10:23), had the faith and courage to confront this blasphemer (1Sam 17:11).
Now comes a sudden break in the narrative (v. 12), introducing the second principal warrior in this great struggle. David was a young man, a shepherd of Bethlehem (v. 15), who had been sent by his father to take provisions to his three older brothers serving in Saul’s army (vv. 17-19).
When he came to his brethren, David was met with scorn and derision (v. 28). Likewise Jesus, when he came to save his brethren from the “giant” of sin, met the same ridicule. How much natural man needs salvation; yet how little he realizes it!
The young man David could not understand the inaction of Saul’s men:
“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (v. 26).
The words of this young shepherd came to the ears of the distressed king, who was so desperate that he sent for him. And the poor shepherd said to the mighty king:
“Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him” (v. 32).
Saul reasons according to the flesh, which is fatally obsessed with size and natural advantage: “You are not able…” (v. 33).
But why not, if God is with him? How often do we forget the strength of faith, and make the same mistake — being tentative, timid, and even fearful? How often we forget that, if God is for us, no man or nothing can stand in our way!
David wisely refused Saul’s offer of armor. The children of the Spirit are no match for the children of the flesh if they attempt to meet them on their own ground and do battle with their own weapons. The “seed of the woman” will always be outclassed by the “seed of the serpent” — whether it be in numbers, experience, prestige, or education. Their defense and offence must be in the “shield” of faith and the “sword” of the Spirit (Eph 6:16-17)!
For his weapon, David took his sling and then chose five smooth stones out of the brook. (Why five? Was it because Goliath had four brothers, also giants?) The sling, made of animal skin, would require a death for its preparation. Like the garments that God prepared to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness after their sin, the sling also pointed to a sacrificial death.
This sling (symbolizing a sacrificial death) gave all the power to the stone which David hurled against the giant. The stone which brought down Goliath symbolizes Christ: He is the stone rejected by the builders, but later made the cornerstone of God’s building (Psa 118:22). He is also the stone cut out of the mountain of human flesh without hands (i.e., born of a woman, but without a human father: Genesis 3:15), which struck and destroyed Nebuchadnezzar’s image (Dan 2:34), and then filled the whole earth.
The smiting of the “dream” image in Daniel 2 is parallel to David’s smiting of Goliath, with one significant difference: One stone struck Goliath in the head (cp. Gen 3:15), which symbolizes the center of life, and thought. The other struck the image on the feet, which (as the image is constructed) symbolizes the time when its destruction is accomplished. But the end result is the same: the image is destroyed, and Israel is saved.
The Nebuchadnezzar image represents the accumulated history of the four great empires that collectively make up the “serpent-power” of the Kingdom of Men, which oppressed God’s kingdom of Israel. David’s selection of five stones relates his victory to the fifth great kingdom, the Kingdom of God that will finally conquer all and fill the earth with His glory.
“The stone sank into Goliath’s forehead” (1Sam 17:49). This is a pattern of the fulfillment of God’s promise in the Garden of Eden, that the woman’s seed should bruise the serpent’s head. The complete fulfillment of this picture stretches from the cross to the military destruction of the last pieces of human rule and oppression, when Christ returns.
So “David ran… and drew out Goliath’s sword… and cut off his head” (v. 51). And he brought the head to Jerusalem (v. 54). David’s act symbolized the destruction of the head of sin, accomplished by Jesus in his own body, and finalized at Golgotha (the place of the skull!) just outside the walls of Jerusalem. (Hebrew tradition suggests that Golgotha was so named because it was the burial place of Goliath’s head.)
David’s act also pointed forward to the cutting off of all mortal ruling power, and the transferring of all the world’s power to Jerusalem, “the city of the great king” (Matt 5:35).
David’s wonderful victory revitalized the army of Israel, which then went on to totally defeat the Philistines. Those who were powerless and afraid to face Goliath received new strength and courage from David’s victory. Like David, Jesus was the only one capable of winning the special victory over the “serpent.” And his victory over the “devil,” like David’s over Goliath, delivered his brethren who “through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb 2:15).
“O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?… But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Cor 15:55, 57).
It is this victory, which Christ won for us, that we remember as we take the bread and the wine.
And it is the final portion of this victory, to which we look forward, when we pray, “May your Kingdom come!” “For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.”
George Booker (Austin Leander, TX)