1 Samuel 17
Before his untimely death in 1955 at the age of 24, the American actor James Dean starred in his second film Rebel without a Cause, in which he played a moody, troubled son of a middle-class family. In more recent years Franklin Graham, the son of the internationally known evangelist Billy Graham, penned an account of his testimony and, apparently playing on the title of that film, entitled his autobiography, Rebel with a Cause. Long before Franklin Graham had a cause and before James Dean didn’t, a young Israelite who had never known what it was to be a rebel, stood on a Judean hillside with boldness and faith working in his heart, and said about going out to kill a giant, Is there not a cause? (1 Samuel 17:29).
Upon hearing of the challenge of the Philistine and the rewards that would be given to the man who defeated this giant, David expressed interest. However, Eliab, David’s eldest brother, became angry and questioned David’s presence and motive as he said, Why camest thou down hither? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle (1 Samuel 17:28). Different scholars have perceived David’s response in 1 Samuel 17:29 differently, but essentially he was saying that there was a reason to express interest and even accept the challenge. “There is a cause!”
1. Because of the Opportunity, There is a Cause
The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament reminds us “a war between the Philistines and the Israelites furnished David with the opportunity of displaying before Saul and all Israel . . . that heroic power which was firmly based upon his bold and pious trust in the omnipotence of the faithful covenant God.” In the political spheres and even in the religious arenas, those who are cause-oriented will often create an agenda just to generate excitement, but David’s cause was not a manufactured cause. This was not a scenario fabricated by David for the purpose of self-exaltation. David was not an opportunist, but he was presented with some opportunities.
A. The Opportunity To Serve. The father sent David on a mission of mercy and an errand of help. He traveled approximately 15 miles from Bethlehem to the valley of Elah to minister to his brethren that went to the battle . . . Eliab the firstborn, and next unto him Abinadab, and the third Shammah (1 Samuel 17:13). Jesse directed David to give assistance to his brethren by bringing the parched corn and loaves (1 Samuel 17:17). He also designed that David get an assessment of the condition of his brethren, for the father said look how thy brethren fare (1 Samuel 17:18). As the Heavenly Father instructs us to reach out to our brethren who have been on the frontlines of battle for many days, may we deliver bread from the Father’s house, and may we encourage our brethren.
B. The Opportunity To Succeed. While everyone else saw this monstrous champion as too big to kill, David saw him as too big to miss. David’s interest was initially ignited by the possibility of obtaining the rewards of victory and the wealth of success. The prospect of procuring great riches, the king’s daughter as a wife, and tax-free status in Israel appealed to David (1 Samuel 17:25). How wonderful it would be to go back home with more than just an empty carriage. David further reasoned that vindication was needed, considering that Goliath had defied the armies of the living God (1 Samuel 17:36). The weight of success was great, for as Richard Baxter propounds, “the welfare of a kingdom depended” upon the determination in this conflict.
Alan Redpath wisely wrote, “The only thing that gives a fellow or a girl courage to stand in their immediate circumstances (if they are in God’s will) with all the pressures around them, is the knowledge that God has sent them there.” Because it is God that has opened the doors of opportunity to serve Him and fight for Him, and because the Father sends us to the battlefield, Is there not a cause?
2. Because of the Opposition, There is a Cause
J. Sidlow Baxter said, “There is no opportunity without opposition.” Every time God’s people have taken steps in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Psalms 23:3), inevitably the enemy has taken steps of resistance. Paul confirmed the reality of oppression to Timothy when he said, Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). But we learn in our spiritual sojourn that the path that leads to growth and maturity is not always the path of least resistance. David would be no stranger to strife in his trek to triumph.
A. The Colossal Opposition. The scriptures paint an intriguing picture of the champion of Gath. In 1 Samuel 17:5-7 of the chapter, we learn about his ample armor and arsenal of weaponry, but in 2 Timothy 3:4 we discover the dimensions and proportions of the giant. It is difficult to ascertain the exact height, or perhaps we should say altitude, of Goliath because of uncertainty regarding the modern equivalents of the ancient cubit and span. F.B. Meyer said Goliath was 9’6″, while the noted Bishop Cumberland’s measurements would make Goliath more than 11’10”. By any account, he was immense, but he was equally intimidating. David had fought one lion (1 Samuel 17:34-36), but now he faced one like our adversary the devil, who as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). The ancient Chaldean paraphrase, known as the Targum, has Goliath boasting in 1 Samuel 17:8 that he was the man that killed Hophni and Phinehas and took away the Ark of the Covenant, placing it in the temple of Dagon. We cannot affirm the veracity of these actions, but we cannot deny the destructive and powerful nature of the enemy.
B. The Close Opposition. We come to expect resistance from the opposite side of the valley, but David encountered hostility from, what was doubtless, an unanticipated source. His own oldest brother, Eliab, heard when he spake unto the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David (1 Samuel 17:28). Presumably, the passion that was provoked in the heart of Eliab was an envious anger. Had Samuel not looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him (1 Samuel 16:6)? But then, did not Samuel take the horn of oil, and anoint David in the midst of his brethren (1 Samuel 16:13)? Eliab must have been very jealous as he bombarded David with those explosive accusations. Matthew Henry said that Eliab “knew what honour David had already had in the court, and, if he should now get honour in the camp, the glory of his elder brethren would be eclipsed and stained.”
There is within every living thing the instinctual reaction to either fight or flee in response to danger. On that pivotal day in David’s life, he would fight the battle with Goliath, but in a sense, he would flee from his brother as he turned from him toward another (1 Samuel 17:30). However, in both conflicts, David would be successful, for even as we recognize the death of Goliath, we realize the disappearance of Eliab who is never mentioned again in the scriptures beyond brief revelations concerning his children.
3. Because of the Outcome, There is a Cause
Because of our thorough and lifelong familiarity with this story, we are prone to minimize and underestimate the tension and trepidation that must have descended upon the camp of Israel as a young, shepherd boy went out against an enormous enemy. The king and the captains, David’s brethren and their battalions must have watched and waited breathlessly as the fate of lives and nations hung in the balances. The odds were against David. But he wasn’t trusting in the odds; he was trusting in the omnipotence of God.
A. The Expected Outcome. David expected a particular outcome in this battle; he expected to win. But the basis of his expectation was not founded in his ability for he said The LORD … will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine (1 Samuel 17:37). Nor did Saul’s armor cultivate courage in David, for as one writer said, “Saul’s armor on David” was “more burden than benefit.” The source of David’s strength and confidence is discovered in the bravery of his exclamation. Facing Goliath, he said, This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand … that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD’s, and He will give you into our hands (1 Samuel 17:46-47).
B. The Exciting Outcome. Goliath probably laughed a little at this boastful upstart, but about the time the stone hit him in the head, he knew that there was a God in Israel. As Max Lucado expressed, “God made His point. Anyone who underestimates what God can do with the ordinary has rocks in his head.” What an exhilarating triumph as the Philistines fled and the Israelites followed! And David’s story didn’t end here. There would be an eventual throne in David’s experience. You and I may feel very defeated today as the giants have come to intimidate us and immobilize us and cultivate fear in our hearts, but I want to remind you that before our story is finished we shall reign on the earth with the Lord Jesus (Revelation 5:10). I say with Paul, thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57)!
The story is told of a one-legged schoolteacher from Scotland who came to J. Hudson Taylor to offer himself for service as a missionary in China. J. Hudson Taylor asked him, “With only one leg, why do you think of going as a missionary?” George Scott responded, “I do not see those with two legs going.” He saw a cause and a reason to go. God has positively given us avenues of service, and we certainly have adversaries to face, but just as certain is the assurance God will give us ultimate victory. In light of all of this, is there not a cause?
David Owen is pastor of Pine Grove Baptist Church in Archdale, NC.