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Life of David

Spiritual Warfare - Five Smooth Stones

1 Samuel 17

No other episode in the life of David gets the attention of his battle with Goliath. A little background might make the story a bit clearer for those of us living three thousand years later.


It helps to know who lives where:

Local geography

As you can see, the Philistines live in the plains by the Mediterranean Sea. The Israelites live in the hills. That has important consequences.

  • The Philistines therefore control the trade by sea - which is quite important in that tin, a vital ingredient in bronze, is a trade good.
  • Evidently it also assisted the Philistines with their technology - for they know how to work iron, and the Israelites do not.

The site of the battle is interesting too - it's one of those long valleys leading up into the hills. The Israelites are on one side, the Philistines the other. So let's read the story; it's a familiar one.

(1 Sam 17 NIV) Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Socoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Socoh and Azekah. {2} Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. {3} The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them. {4} A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. He was over nine feet tall. {5} He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels ; {6} on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. {7} His spear shaft was like a weaver's rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him. {8} Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, "Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. {9} If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us." {10} Then the Philistine said, "This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other." {11} On hearing the Philistine's words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified. {12} Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul's time he was old and well advanced in years. {13} Jesse's three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. {14} David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, {15} but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father's sheep at Bethlehem. {16} For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand. {17} Now Jesse said to his son David, "Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. {18} Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. {19} They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines." {20} Early in the morning David left the flock with a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. {21} Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. {22} David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and greeted his brothers. {23} As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. {24} When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear. {25} Now the Israelites had been saying, "Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his father's family from taxes in Israel." {26} David asked the men standing near him, "What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" {27} They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, "This is what will be done for the man who kills him." {28} When Eliab, David's oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, 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." {29} "Now what have I done?" said David. "Can't I even speak?" {30} He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. {31} What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him. {32} David said to Saul, "Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him." {33} 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." {34} But David said to Saul, "Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, {35} 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. {36} 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. {37} 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." Saul said to David, "Go, and the LORD be with you." {38} Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. {39} David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. "I cannot go in these," he said to Saul, "because I am not used to them." So he took them off. {40} Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine. {41} Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. {42} He looked David over and saw that he was only a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him. {43} He said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. {44} "Come here," he said, "and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!" {45} 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. {46} 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. {47} 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." {48} As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. {49} Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. {50} So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. {51} David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine's sword and drew it from the scabbard. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. {52} Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. {53} When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp. {54} David took the Philistine's head and brought it to Jerusalem, and he put the Philistine's weapons in his own tent. {55} As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, "Abner, whose son is that young man?" Abner replied, "As surely as you live, O king, I don't know." {56} The king said, "Find out whose son this young man is." {57} As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine's head. {58} "Whose son are you, young man?" Saul asked him. David said, "I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem."

You know what the problem is with this passage? There are just too many good ideas in here. I've selected one: this is a model for spiritual warfare. Let's take a look at our own spiritual struggles using this story as a model.

Trouble, Trouble

Whenever you talk about spiritual warfare, it brings up visions to some of chanting, anointing things with holy oil and such. That's not what we're going to be studying here. We are interested in the principles behind the warfare.

The size of our problems

One thing is certain. Our problems always look BIG to us. Certainly Goliath did so to the Israelites. But what else should we expect from warfare with Satan?

  • We should expect it on a daily basis - Satan is certainly persistent. And it will go on as long as we will let it.
  • Taunting. This is one of Satan's chief tactics - telling us each day how weak we are, that we dare not face him.
  • Demoralization - the feeling that no matter what we do, it just won't be good enough. This is a struggle of the will.
The enemy is prepared

Goliath was a warrior from his youth. We should expect our enemy Satan to be prepared, and we should be also. But note his preparations:

  • He is prepared with the weapons of this world. Goliath has the best the technology of the day can provide. He was expecting to meet the same weapons in combat. David defeated him by using God's weapons. We should do likewise.
  • Goliath has help. He has a "shield bearer" - a guy to carry the heavy stuff out onto the battlefield. So often we see that Satan's forces are numerous and we look to be alone. That's usually the time we need to ask God to open our eyes so that we can see. Remember Elisha?
Our fears

We will certainly have no lack of fears - or sources to obtain them.

  • Our friends and family will be sure to tell us how weak we truly are. David's brothers here are sure he's just come down to watch. Do our friends and families magnify our fears? Should we listen?
  • The enemy too will add to those fears - usually by telling us just how insignificant we are.
  • But consider God's paradox: he chooses the weak of this world so that the world might see his strength. When friends, family and enemies tell you that "You can't," remind them all that "God can."
Settling for a tie

Most of us react to such situations by hoping that nothing gets worse. Indeed, it is interesting that both armies stand still for forty days. No doubt the Philistines were confident of their technology - but, after all, why not let Goliath do it? The Israelites may have felt comfortable holding high ground - but not advancing into the plain below.

We're like that at times. Spiritual warfare is for experts, we say. What do I know about it anyway? And besides, I think I'm in such a tight corner that even Satan can't dig me out. Perhaps he can't; perhaps that's where he wants you. Bottled up and ineffective, he can ignore you.

David's Preparation

It's interesting to see how David has prepared - and been prepared - for this moment. It is his moment of opening fame, the stepping stone to rule. We have already commented upon his choice of weapons. How else did he prepare?

Submission and obedience

Despite having been anointed by Samuel as king, there is no trace of arrogance to the man. In fact,

  • He is obedient to his father, taking food to his brothers. It is in the course of this obedience that his opportunity comes - and this is no accident. Victory in Christ comes to those who are obedient.
  • He is even obedient to Saul - despite knowing that God has chosen him to succeed Saul. That submission, as we will see later, is based upon the fact that Saul is the Lord's anointed. David does not presume upon God.

It sounds almost trite to state the obvious: faith is essential to spiritual warfare. But faith here is held up by two other things:

  • David's experience - his past victories over the bear and lion - are recalled. Likewise, we can recall that we too have been victorious. Most of us learn from our mistakes. In spiritual warfare, you must also learn from your successes.
  • There is also the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, the Spirit came upon whom he pleased. Now, all Christians have the Spirit - and we forget sometimes that greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world.
Principles of Preparation

David shows us here some principles of preparation in spiritual warfare:

  • Don’t presume upon God. You must do your part as well. David came with five stones; God granted victory with the first. Had David come with one, he would have been trying to put God in a corner. I suspect he would have missed. "Excuse me, Mr. Goliath, I'll be right back?" Let God know that you're ready to do whatever he commands you to do.
  • Remember that the courage of one person can inspire many. Most people are hanging back looking at Goliath and wondering when David will show up. Courage is required. Resist the devil; he will flee.
  • The battle is the Lord's. he grants victory. Just make sure it's his battle you're fighting. Spiritual warfare results in failure when you're in it for your own greed.

Our Spiritual Warfare


Most of us, when we hear the phrase "spiritual warfare," think this is something that someone else does. So why should I do it?

  • Zeal. As you grow in Christ, there will come a time when his name becomes so important to you that you must engage in combat. If you don't care that much about God, what kind of warrior would you make? Beware of being lukewarm.
  • Reward. God promises reward - just as Saul promised great reward for anyone who would stand up to Goliath.
  • Obedience. Sometimes God puts you in a situation in which there is no other choice but to conduct spiritual warfare, or disobey his commands. Remember that David was obedient - and was rewarded for it.
  • Calling. For a select few, spiritual warfare is a calling. Sometimes these are those who are physically infirm; sometimes it's just the call of God. But however he arranges it, do not reject his call.
Five Smooth Stones

In searching through Nave's Topical Bible under the heading of Spiritual Warfare, I found these five references in the Psalms of David. I call these the "five smooth stones" of spiritual warfare. From the heart of the poet who was a man after God's own heart, we have these:

  • Seek his face.[1] So often when confronted with spiritual warfare we remember our sins and try to hide from God. We retreat into the mountains to defend ourselves, instead of going boldly. First go to God in prayer, laying your combat before him, confessing your sins.
  • Wait for the Lord.[2] Often, in our impatience, we do not allow the Lord the time to say, "Stand still, and know that I am God." Pray fervently, pray consistently - and wait.
  • When afraid, trust in God.[3] What do we usually do? We count our own strength - and watch it diminish in fear. Remember that God has chosen the weak things of this world to show his strength. We are those weak things. When the warfare is overwhelming, abandon trust in yourself. Trust only in Him.
  • Call God to your aid.[4] How often we forget this! We will pour out our troubles to God and end the prayer with, "I don't know how I'm going to handle this." We tell him our problems but don't ask for his help! Confess your weakness, and call on God to help you.
  • Praise Him in victory.[5] How soon after the victory do we forget to whom it was due. When you triumph in spiritual warfare, do not fail to praise the God who has given you the victory. After all, you might need to ask him for help again someday.
New Testament thoughts

I cannot forbear to add one thought on spiritual warfare from the New Testament. It is Paul's thorn in the flesh.[6] Often God will give you some disability to keep you humble before Him - so that his power may be shown in your weakness. Remember His grace is sufficient for you, too.

Remember too the words of Christ in Revelation: to him who overcomes, I will give - the right to eat from the tree of life, not to be harmed by the second death, hidden manna, the white stone with a new name on it, authority over the nations, acknowledgement before the Father, the right to be a pillar in the Temple of God and to sit on his throne with Him.

There's a war going on out there. The victory is sure. Don't hang back in the hills, but pick up a few stones - and follow Him.

[1] Psalm 27:8

[2] Psalm 27:14

[3] Psalm 56:2-4

[4] Psalm 35:1

[5] Psalm 35:18

[6] 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

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