In each of our lives, there comes a situation in which God our Father expects us to conquer a problem that is clearly far beyond our ability. But if we make the attempt, we find that He will step in at the crucial moment and bring us off conquerors through His grace. The classic example of this principle is the story of David and Goliath.
It's helpful when reading the story of David and Goliath, to know that it is a composite of two different accounts, and is therefore not told in a perfectly chronological order (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 443). For example, 1 Sam. 17:1-11 comes from one account, and verse 12 to the end of the chapter comes from the other.
The location of the battle in chapter 17 was between a small town (Shochoh) in the hills 14 miles west of Bethlehem, and a fortress (Azekah) a few miles northwest of that town (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 443). The Philistines were challenging the Israelites, but not in the way the Israelites were used to. The Philistines used champion fighting frequently and employed that tactic here. Rather than a classic battle wherein all the soldiers on both sides fought each other, the greatest soldier, or champion, from one side would fight the champion from the other side to the death, and the outcome of that single fight would determine the outcome of the war. It was therefore quite a gamble, but if one side had a particularly amazing soldier, it was a pretty good bet for them. Such was the case with "the champion of Gath," Goliath. Champion fighting not being the tradition of the Israelites, they did not have a ready contender, and were looking, unsuccessfully, for a volunteer when David arrived on the scene.
The Bible tells us that Goliath's height was six cubits and a span. This translates to be nine feet nine inches tall (Institute Manual, p. 278). The Septuagint (or original Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and the Dead Sea Scrolls both report that Goliath was four cubits and a span, which would make him a more reasonable size of six feet nine inches tall. Either way, he was a pretty big guy.
Goliath's coat of armour weighed the equivalent of 5,000 shekels of brass, estimated to be 150 pounds (Institute Manual, p. 278). He had a helmet of brass, brass shinguards, and a brass neckguard (footnotes to 1 Sam. 17:6). By all of this information, we then can see that Goliath's only vital exposed spot would have been his face.
Goliath's weaponry was state-of-the-art. The spearhead alone of his javelin weighed either 12 or 26 pounds, depending on which Bible scholar you read. "The staff of his spear was like a weaver's beam" (1 Sam. 17:7), which "probably means that the spear had a thong attached to a ring, similar to the rod and ring of a weaver's heddle rod, by which the spear could be slung in battle. The spearhead is iron, a metal harder than bronze that was available because of new metalworking techniques being introduced in the region at the time; according to biblical tradition, the Philistines carefully controlled the new technology" (Harper-Collins, p. 444). In addition to his armour and his weapon, he had a shield-bearer in front of him.
Goliath was a truly formidable foe.
David, as we all know, was an accidental soldier. He was actually a shepherd and a musician, a younger brother of three of the soldiers, and was at the battle only as an errand boy, although it is mentioned in the scriptures that he was a shield-bearer for Saul. (This is another good time to remember that the story might be slightly chronologically confused.)
"All the men of Israel, when they saw [Goliath], fled from him and were sore afraid" (1 Sam. 17:24). David, disgusted with the lack of faith in Saul's army, volunteered to be the Israelite champion, saying, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? (1 Sam. 17:26). He tried wearing King Saul's armour, but was unaccustomed to it (1 Sam. 17:38-39). So he worked with what he had. He used the skills he had gained as a shepherd and the weapons he used against wild animals who attacked his sheep (1 Sam. 17:34-36). He used the faith he had gained when the Lord spared him from the bear and the lion in those incidents to assure himself that the Lord would save him again (1 Sam. 17:37). Like Hannah, in the previous lesson, David had an eye of faith.
His weapon was a shepherd's sling which consisted of a small piece of leather to house a stone, with long strings on either side, which the person would grasp, one string between his fingers, and the other between his index finger and thumb, whirl around his head, and then release his thumb, thus flinging the stone. "A greater distance from the axis of rotation creates more velocity, enabling the slinger to hurl a projectile with violently destructive force. However before this can become a weapon the slinger must achieve a proper marriage of power and accuracy. This requires an abundance of practice and patience, unlike most point & shoot weapons of today." (Quote from hubpages.com. This link also has instructions for making your own shepherd's sling--cool!)
David used his own specific talents and resources, but most of all, he relied on God. "Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; 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 Sam., 17:45-47).
Following this courageous and faith-filled statement, David ran toward Goliath, slung his stone, and downed the gigantic Philistine with his first shot, accurately striking his one vulnerable spot: the forehead between his eyes. David, who didn't have a sword of his own, cut off Goliath's head with his own sword.
There is a beautiful symbolism in the defeating of Goliath with a rock. Jehovah was the rock in whom David trusted. As Hannah sang, "There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God" (1 Sam. 2:2). Christ said of himself, "Wherefore I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall" (D&C 50:44).
In our society, in our families, and in our personal lives, what are the battles we face against overwhelming odds? Do we have specific Goliaths, problems that seem impossible to conquer? As we do our best to trust in the Lord, and as we call upon the resources that are available to us, and use the unique skills we have acquired in our lives, the odds will be irrelevant. "Victory will be yours...You have His power within you to sustain you. You have the right to ministering angels about you to protect you. Do not let Goliath frighten you. Stand your ground and hold your place, and you will be triumphant" (President Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, May 1983)
President Ezra Taft Benson kept this verse in his wallet: "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall revile against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord" (Isaiah 54: 17; 3 Ne. 22:17; see also D&C 71:19).
The Old Testament Video Presentations has a good 4-minute segment on David and Goliath.
For another blog on David and Goliath, with great illustrations and interesting research into the weaponry and armour of Goliath, check out The Bible Illustration Blog.
Just for fun, here is a video of the delightful Christian a capella group, Take 6, performing "David and Goliath". See the lyrics here. (Notice they bring out the fact that David, the musician, trusted in the "Rock of Ages.")