Goliath’s Shield Man – I Samuel 17:1-11

I have read, studied and preached from this chapter many times. But it occurred to me the other day that there has been something I’ve skipped over – over and over again. As Goliath came out to challenge Israel, there was a man who came out ahead of him. Verse 7 – “And the staff of (Goliath’s) spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him.” This evening, I’d like to revue the Battle of Shochoh, but this time considering also this shield bearer.

I confess there are things about the early life of David, which I don’t understand. They are mysterious, just like that of David’s greatest heir – the Lord Jesus Christ. For me, there are problems rectifying David’s position in chapter 16 with what we find in I Samuel 17. It appears that David had already been a musician and an honorary armor-bearer in the court of King Saul. And yet, just before the battle with Goliath, “Saul said to him, Whose son art thou, thou young man? And David answered, I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.” Why didn’t the king know this already? We could attribute that to the king’s growing insanity. But that still doesn’t explain the ignorance – or the duplicity – of his counselors.

I Samuel 17:15 tells us that after some time with Saul, David returned home to his father and the family sheep. It sounds as though this decision to leave was David’s. He wasn’t fired or ordered to go home. “But David went and returned from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.” Assuming that he had already been anointed to be king (chapter 16), you’d think that at the very least he would want to hang around his future throne. Maybe in the next day or next week, the Lord would remove the old ruler and establish the new. But David, like Christ Jesus, was not seeking his own glory. The palace, as such, held no attraction for him, unless the Lord put him here. It is kind of like Zionism – Israel’s return to the land means nothing until the Messiah comes and calls them out of all the nations of the earth. Modern Zionism is of unbelieving Israelite flesh and has little to do with the promise of God to David.

During these middle chapters in I Samuel the Philistines were exceedingly troublesome. I wonder if they had heard of Saul’s growing emotional problems and chose to exploit them. They might have thought that a weak king means a vulnerable nation. Certainly, without the Lord, Israel was vulnerable, but the Philistines knew nothing about that.

With these things in mind, let’s think about Goliath.

In this man, we have a piece of evidence to the veracity of the Bible – the truthfulness of the Word of God. Turn to Numbers 13 where we read the history of the twelve spies who reconnoitered the land. Notice verse 22 – “And they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron; where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were.” Where is Hebron? South and east of Jerusalem towards the Dead Sea. Now look at verse 33 – “And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” Let’s move forward to Joshua 11:21-22 – “And at that time came Joshua, and cut off the Anakims from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel: Joshua destroyed them utterly with their cities. There was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained.” Goliath was a giant just like the former Anakims – most likely he was an Anakim descendant, although he called himself a Philistine. And where did Goliath live? Gath.

I Samuel 17:4 – “And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.” Goliath is a picture of our enemy – the Lord’s enemy. His strength is of the world, or perhaps we should say that it is of the god of this world. In some ways Goliath represents Satan – the Devil. In some ways he is a type of the Antichrist who is yet to come. He is definitely Satanic.

And as such, he is greater than anything which naturally occurs in us – the children of God. He is tall – he is huge. Generally speaking, a cubit is considered to be 1½ feet, and this man is more than 6 cubits in height. So he is at least 9 feet tall, but some say that he was as much as 11 feet (A.W. Pink, for example). I believe that only a fool would say that a 9 foot man would be impossible. There are lots of people alive today who are well over 7′ and some are even 8′ tall. According to Guinness’s book of records, the tallest man alive today is Sultan Kösen. Sultan is a 39 year old Turkish man who is 8 foot 3 inches tall. Who is to say that a baby born yesterday, eating genetically modified food all his life, will not be over 9 feet tall when he grows up? I don’t have a problem with the size of this man, and you shouldn’t either. In this case, with Goliath’s size came his impression of invincibility – he could not be defeated.

Similarly, the god whom Goliath represented is big – he is huge – the Devil is who he is. You and I are never going to be strong enough in ourselves to defeat Satan – He’s just too much for us. Look at Goliath, his representative, going out on to the hillside calling across the valley at the Israelites. “Who will face me? Who will risk his life in battle against me?” You might say that he was going about “seeking someone to devour.” He called the army of Israel “the servants of Saul.” They certainly weren’t the servants of God at that point.

For forty days Goliath challenged Israel. Saul, who was once one of the most courageous men in Israel, was now as timid as a mouse. The blessing of the Lord had left him, leaving him as weak as water. Under the protracted terror of Goliath, there was not a man in Israel’s army who was not afraid. Certain emotions – like fear – are contagious and spread very easily. When Saul became afraid and remained that way for weeks, soon everyone around him became afraid. Jonathan, Saul’s son, had earlier shown great courage, but not any longer. Abner the great general of the army of Israel was afraid to face Goliath. Without the blessing of the Lord there was no heart in Israel to fight against the Philistines – this Philistine. The very best of men are nothing without the Lord.

And that brings me to Goliath’s shield man – a man I’ve never considered before.

He was one of the Philistines. Have you ever heard or read of someone calling another person a “philisteen” or “philistine?” I’m sure that it is no longer PC. What does that mean? By general definition it means: someone uncultured, barbaric, boorish.

In the context of I Samuel 17 there was an army of Philistine idolaters standing behind Goliath. They were brutal men, who hated Jehovah and the people of God. Many of them had the blood of Israelites on their hands. I am pretty confident that there was not a single saint of God among the Philistine hoard. The Philistines, like the Egyptians, represent the unsaved, unbelieving world, but with these people there was the added aspect of a love for blood. These Philistines were vicious people – constantly at war. Saul of Tarsus, in this sense, was a Philistine before he was carried, by the grace of God, across the valley into the camp of the righteous.

What about the man who carried the shield of the champion of the Philistines and of Satan? He too was an unbeliever – a Philistine. He walked out ahead of Goliath with a smirk on his face, revealing his treasury of borrowed arrogance. He probably wouldn’t have been out there at all, if he didn’t know that Goliath had his back.

As David, our Christ, walked down his side of the valley and picked up those five stones from the brook which separated the two rows of hills, his battle at that point was with Goliath – not the Philistines or the shield man. Clearly, at times, David is a picture of God’s saint – you and me. But at this point he is a type of our Saviour, and he is setting the table for Satan and his temptation in the wilderness which is yet to come. Our Christ is the aggressor. He will leave the army of the Philistines to the army of Saul, just as the Lord has left the evangelization of today’s Philistines to us. In this battle David and Christ have only one object – Goliath.

But who stands out there in front of him? The guy with the shield. Can you imagine the size and weight of that shield? It might have been 10 feet high and 4 feet wide. It might have been designed so that Goliath could stand behind it, if Israel began to send down a few hundred arrows from their side of the valley. This shield-bearer must have spent a lot of time in the gym; he must have been a monster himself. What did that shield weigh? What strength did it take to carry it? What did it represent? It didn’t matter, because David had no interest in him, and we never hear of him again. He probably died in the subsequent slaughter of the Philistines.

If I was going to spiritualize and allegorize this battle, I would give to this shield man a great deal of responsibility. His job was to protect the champion of the Godless people. Up to now, Goliath has been the aggressor; the point man for the wicked people; their champion. And who would the shield man be in my allegory? Who is this man who is out in front “protecting” the ungodly?

Might not this shield man represent atheistic science? Why is there a probe on Mars right now? Is it looking for gold, silver or some new mineral to create more earthly wealth? No, it is looking for something far more valuable to the wicked – the unbeliever. It is looking for something to throw into the face of God. Today’s Philistines have hundreds of scientists probing the universe looking for the evidence of life, which they might use to try to defeat the Word of God and the gospel of Christ. They have their front men peddling ridiculous theories about the creation of life apart from divine life. On the other hand, other so-called scientists are trying to deny life in the womb. It is fine in the test tube, but not where the Lord has designed to share life from life. They will go to any length to attack the fundamentals of Bible Christianity – because they are Philistines.

This shield man could be used to represent modern politics. Various nations and cultures throughout the last two millennia have tried to make Christ into a criminal. There are nations in the world today where faith in Christ and evangelism in His name are illegal. Politics can be a problem in the service of the Lord, but David didn’t go after the politics, he went for Goliath. That shield man might represent modern education and the entertainment industry attempting to turn children into sheep, and putting souls to sleep.
Or this armor-bearer could have been a Philistine priest fomenting religious and theological confusion. On his shield there were probably symbols suggesting the supremacy of Dagon. This man’s motto might have been that his god is just as good as Israel’s Jehovah. He might have taught that Dagon is just another name for Son of God. Or instead of pretending to unite the world into one religion, his goal might have been to stir the pot in an attempt to make everyone continue their mutual hatred of one another.

But ultimately this shield man was just for show. And when David went into battle, he didn’t drop a single stone onto the head of the shield man. Apparently, he didn’t even glance in his direction. That man may have had a sword hanging at his side, but no spear or javelin. He wasn’t a threat to the young Israelite. David had nothing to fear in this man with all his false bravado and his showy lies. David, our Christ, was concerned only with Goliath – the champion of the Philistines.

Consider David’s attack.

For nearly a month and a half Israel had been humiliated by this one giant of a man. “Someone should do something, because it’s not just Israel. The name of the Lord being abused.”

There is a very interesting statement to be found in Isaiah 30:18 – “And therefore will the LORD WAIT, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the LORD is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.” There are occasions when the Lord’s grace is restrained in order to enhance its graciousness. And since it IS grace, the Lord is under no obligation to share it. Therefore He can take as much time as He wants.

When the Lord did take action, it wasn’t by way of any of the great men of Israel, but rather with the least. God sometimes chooses the smallest creature to do His work. The reason is so that no flesh should glory in itself, but rather, in the Lord.

For a time, David had returned to the school of faith and piety – the backside of the pasture. He was learning more about the Lord, worshiping and composing his songs of testimony and praise. He was learning how to trust the Lord to take him through troublesome trials. He was learning patience and some of the other things that would be necessary as God’s king of Israel. But he was also facing his own demons – bears and lions. And he was still a very young man.

Have you ever thought about this: Jesse had eight sons, and three of them were in the army. We don’t know if they had been drafted, or it they were volunteers, but there were only three. When Jesse wanted to know how they were doing and to send a little support, whom did he send? There were still five sons at home who could have taken this care package to Shochoh. What if he had sent one of the four older brothers – instead of David? If he had, then David would have missed his opportunity with Goliath, and he would not have been ordered to remain with Saul. Why was David sent? Because that was the will of the Lord. Jehovah is in absolute control when it comes to the fulfilment of His promises and His will.

So you could say that David went into the camp and went into battle – at the command of God. And the command of God went through his father; just as it was with the Son of God. Paul tells us that the Lord Jesus once said, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.“ And David went to the aid of His brethren, just as Christ Jesus has done for us.

Verse 21 might suggest that this was the final day of these challenges. “For Israel and the Philistines had put the battle in array, army against army.” It might be argued that the two opposing armies prepared for battle every day, just in case. But some commentaries think that this was the last day for a one-on-one winner-take-all opportunity. And the Lord sent David at the last possible moment. That is exactly what is said of the timing of Christ’s incarnation. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son.“

By the way, Saul had made all kinds of promises to the man would kill the giant, but no one had taken them. It’s like all the promises that the flesh gives to its children – wealth, power, pleasure. And yet when it comes down to the likelihood of death, these things mean nothing. David, the type of Christ, was the only person willing to take on the wicked one through the sacrifice of himself. His brothers were annoyed at David; they mocked his enthusiasm; but he was not deterred. “What have I now done? Is there not a cause?” Yes, there is a very great need for your ministry David.

Of course, Saul offered to loan David the royal armor, but the young man refused. The world’s wisdom and strength are unnecessary – they are useless in these spiritual battles. It is only through the Lord that we can do all things.

And this brings us to the well-known confrontation.

David left the tents of Saul and walked down into the valley of the shadow of death. As he crossed the little streambed, he picked up 5 round, polished stones. When the Philistine saw him, he mocked and disdained him, because he was so young and so small. And of course, he cursed the true God of Heaven and earth, in the name of his own imitation gods.

David merely replied that he came in the Name and strength of the LORD of hosts. Proverbs 18:10 makes a significant comment about this: “The NAME of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” That is exactly what David did that day – and he was perfectly safe. He intended to defeat Goliath – primarily because that man was a blasphemer. He was also the key to the rest of the Philistines – As Satan goes, so go his minions. David took one of the five stones out of his purse and placed it in his sling. Then with the power and accuracy of God, that stone was driven into the forehead of the giant. The big man tottered a little, then fell forward, and David used the giant’s own sword to cut off his head.

Now consider this: verse 5 says that Goliath had a helmet of brass upon his head. What was the shape and form of that helmet? Was it like a baseball cap designed mere to keep the sun out of his eyes – or off the back of his neck? Was it a little beanie covering the bald spot on the top of his head? Or did it extend from just above his eyebrows, up over his head and back to his shoulders? Some commentators think that David’s rock went into one of the giant’s exposed eyes and into his brain. But that is not what we are told. That stone entered his forehead. Could it be that the Lord directed it up and under the helmet into the head? Goliath might have leaned back, roaring with laughter at the approaching youth, exposing a tiny weakness in his defenses. Or the Lord might have so empowered David’s rock that it went through the brass and into the forehead. The giant probably rocked back and forth, then he fell forward onto his face. Could this mean that he was merely knocked out by the blow? I am not sure if the stone killed Goliath or if it was his own sword? There seems to be some confusion. “Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him.” I suppose that it doesn’t really matter – essentially, the Lord killed the world’s undefeated champion.

You have probably heard this before, but it’s fun to consider it again. David picked up five stones with which to go into battle against Goliath, but it took only one to bring him down. Then we fast forward a few years to I Samuel 21:18 – “And it came to pass after this, that there was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob: then Sibbechai the Hushathite slew Saph, which was of the sons of the giant. And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. And there was yet a battle in Gath, where was a man of great stature, that had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number; and he also was born to the giant. And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea the brother of David slew him. These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.” There is no proof of this but those four extra stones may have been meant for the last four of the Anakims – Goliath’s brothers. David and his men destroyed that race entirely.

Don’t we have in this history a wonderful picture of some of the work of our Saviour on our behalf? Don’t we also have some lessons to apply to ourselves and our battles with the world? “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds.” Christians today can get out of sorts with the shield men of the devil. We certainly need to be aware of the general wickedness of society and the unheavenly god behind it. But our primary focus needs to be on the individual Philistine – the eternal soul of that lost man. We should let the Lord deal with the Goliaths among God’s enemies while we evangelize the average, everyday Philistine unbeliever. When Goliath goes down and the Philistines are converted the shield men will become redundant. Let’s maintain our focus on the lost souls around us.