Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war at Socoh in Judah, and they camped between Socoh and Azekah in Ephes-dammim.
1 Samuel 17:1-11. (THE VALLEY OF ELAH.)
1. The renewed attempt of the Philistines to subjugate Israel shows, in comparison with their former invasion, a decrease of power. They did not penetrate into the heart of the land (1 Samuel 13:5), but advanced only a short distance from their own border, and "pitched between Shochoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim," a dozen miles southwest of Bethlehem. They had been driven back and held in check.
2. It could hardly have been possible, but for the rashness of Saul in "the war of Michmash," by which the opportunity of inflicting a fatal blow was lost. Hearing, perhaps, of his condition, and perceiving signs of the laxity of his rule, they sought to repair their defeat.
3. It found the people of Israel, notwithstanding their previous success, ill-prepared to repel the aggression. Although they went to meet the enemy, and encamped opposite to them, they did nothing more. In the spirit of a better time they would have immediately fallen upon them in reliance upon "the Lord of hosts" (Deuteronomy 32:30); but now they were paralysed with fear, especially at the appearance of the gigantic champion who came out against them. The Philistines desired to make the issue depend on a single combat between this man and any Israelitish warrior who might be appointed to meet him; and he "drew near morning and evening, and presented himself forty days" (ver. 16). A similar fear has sometimes pervaded the Christian community in the presence of the enemy.
I. IT IS INSPIRED BY FORMIDABLE OPPONENTS.
1. Their number is great. They consist not merely of one or two, 'but of a host of giants.
(1) Within: carnal affections, corrupt tendencies, proud thoughts, evil imaginations, and wrathful passions.
(2) Without: ignorance, error, unbelief, superstition, intemperance, licentiousness, worldliness, and "all ungodliness."
(3) In the background of all "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2).
2. Their appearance is imposing. They seem to be possessed of extraordinary might, and arrayed in terrible armour, and are of great renown. "Am I not that Philistine" (ver. 8), who has exhibited such prowess and slain so many foes? "He arose, and came, and drew nigh, like a stalking mountain, overlaid with brass and iron" (M. Henry).
3. Their attitude is proud, boastful, defiant, contemptuous, and increasingly confident of victory as day after day the challenge is renewed, and no one dares to answer it. "The first challenge to a duel that we ever find came out of the mouth of an uncircumcised Philistine" (Hall). How often has the contemplation of such adversaries filled even good men with dismay! While we measure our natural strength against the forces of evil our case is hopeless. "Who is sufficient for these things?"
II. IT RESULTS PROM PREVIOUS UNFAITHFULNESS.
1. Distrust of God and alienation from him. Faith prevents fear. It looks to God, judges of the power of the enemy in the light of his omnipotence, unites to him, and inspires with unbounded courage (1 Samuel 14:6; ver. 47); but unbelief is blind and weak and fearful (Matthew 8:26). And dismay in great emergencies reveals the absence or feebleness of faith in the preceding and ordinary course of life.
2. Outward acts of disobedience to the Divine will diminishing moral power, and producing inward distraction and dread.
3. Sympathy with a faithless leader, and participation in the "spirit of fear" (2 Timothy 1:7) which he possesses. Saul had forsaken the Lord. He had not the presence of Samuel with him; nor, apparently, that of the high priest; nor did he seek the Divine counsel as aforetime. He ruled independently of Jehovah; and the people loved too much "to have it so," sharing in his faithlessness and fear. A faithless and fearful leader cannot have faithful and fearless followers.
III. IT INCURS DESERVED REPROACH (vers. 8, 26) - uttered by the enemy, and echoed in the conscience of the people, on account of -
1. The cowardice of their conduct.
2. The inconsistency of their position, as professed servants of the living God: unfaithful to their calling, trembling before the votaries of "gods that were no gods" (ver. 44), and bringing dishonour upon the name of Jehovah. "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you" (Romans 2:24; Proverbs 25:26).
3. The likelihood of their defeat, of which it is a virtual acknowledgment, and to which it must infallibly conduct, unless a better spirit be infused into them. "How is it that ye have not faith?" (Mark 4:40). Learn that -
1. The spirit of fear can be expelled only by the spirit of faith.
2. Fearfulness in conflict, difficulty, and danger indicates a lack of faith, and should constrain to renewed trust in God.
3. In their greatest extremity God does not abandon his people to despair, but provides for them "a way of escape." - D.
Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle.gal or valley referred be in verse third. It is about ten feet deep, and twenty to thirty feet wide, and abounds in water-rounded pebbles. Major Conder declares it to be impassable, except at certain places, thus explaining why the two armies faced one another for forty days without coming into actual conflict. Either party was afraid to cross the defile, thereby exposing itself to serious disadvantage; and so they confined themselves to warlike demonstrations. The abject terror of Saul and his mighty men excites within us little or no surprise; but it is otherwise with regard to the brave and lionhearted Jonathan. To encounter Goliath in single combat, was not a more dangerous or formidable undertaking than that which he had once before successfully attempted at Michmash, when he and his armour bearer boldly stormed the garrison of the Philistines, which was but the outpost of an immense army. Why did he not come to the front on this occasion? It might be said that his father would not allow him. And if Jonathan had offered himself as the champion of Israel there can be little doubt that Saul would have been most unwilling to accept him; but there is nothing in the narrative to suggest that Jonathan made such a proposal. The impression made by the narrative is that abject terror reigned throughout the entire army. Neither was it due to any decline in Jonathan's piety and faith. It is gratuitous to suppose that he had become contaminated and lowered in moral tone, by the unbelieving and disobedient spirit of his father. I am inclined to think, from the noble spirit subsequently displayed by Jonathan, that as an individual he was now fitter in every respect, physically, intellectually, morally, and spiritually, for fighting the battles of the Lord, than he was when he wrought his great exploit at Michmash. He still believed, probably with a stronger faith than ever, that the Lord was able to save by many or by few; but he lacked the assurance, which he then had, viz., that the Lord was willing to save through him. Without that conviction he never would have attempted What he did at Michmash. It was only after God had fulfilled the proposed sign that Jonathan said to his armour bearer: "Come up after me, for the Lord hath delivered them into the hand of Israel." But he had not that assurance now. The dark cloud of the Divine rejection, which had fallen upon his father at Gilgal, had encompassed him also, and darkened his spirit with its baleful shadow. It deprived him not, only of the heirship to the kingdom, but also of the golden opportunity of fighting in the name of the Lord of hosts, with the proud giant of Gath. The period during which Goliath was permitted to defy the hosts of Israel was forty days. The frequency with which this period occurs in connection with special incidents in sacred history is remarkable and suggestive. It rained, e.g., forty days at the deluge (Genesis 7:4, 12). Moses on two occasions was forty days with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34:28). The intercession of Moses on behalf of the people to avert from them the Divine wrath, on account of their sin in worshipping the golden calf, lasted forty days (Deuteronomy 9:25). The twelve spies were absent forty days during their inspection of the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:25); and because of the rebellion, caused by their evil report, the children of Israel were doomed to wander in the wilderness forty years, corresponding to the forty days spent in the work of inspection (Numbers 14:34). Elijah went, in the strength of the food which he received from the angel in the wilderness of Beersheba, forty days unto Horeb, the mount of God (1 Kings 19:8). The period of respite which was assigned to Nineveh was forty days, as Jonah was commissioned to preach in its streets: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed" (John 3:4). The temptation of our Lord in the wilderness lasted forty days (Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2). And the fact that Saul and his army were subjected to the challenge of Goliath for forty days, seems to show that there was a Divine purpose in permitting it to last so long. The forty days seem to suggest the thoroughness or completeness of the trial. The impotence of Saul and his army without God was thereby clearly and conclusively demonstrated. It was only after this humiliating demonstration that the Lord brought into the field His own champion. "Man's extremity is God's opportunity."
(W. J. Knox Little, M. A.)
PeopleAbinadab, Abner, David, Elah, Eliab, Ephah, Goliath, Israelites, Jesse, Saul, Shammah
PlacesAzekah, Bethlehem, Ekron, Ephes-dammim, Gath, Jerusalem, Shaaraim, Socoh, Valley of Elah
TopicsArmies, Assembled, Azekah, Aze'kah, Battle, Belongeth, Belongs, Camp, Camped, Camps, Collected, Dammim, Encamp, Encamped, Ephes, Ephesdammim, Ephes-dammim, E'phes-dam'mim, Forces, Gather, Gathered, Got, Judah, Philistines, Pitched, Position, Shochoh, Sochoh, Socoh, War
Outline1. The armies of the Israelites and Philistines being ready to battle
4. Goliath challenges a combat
12. David, sent by his father to visit his brothers, takes the challenge
28. Eliab chides him
30. He is brought to Saul
32. shows the reason of his confidence
38. and slays the giant
55. Saul takes notice of David
Dictionary of Bible Themes1 Samuel 17:1
4207 land, divine gift
LibraryThe victory of Unarmed Faith
'And David said to Saul, Let no man's heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine. 33. And Saul said to David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth. 34. And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock; 35. And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture
April the Thirtieth the Test of victory
April the Twenty-Ninth the Mood of Triumph
The Call of David.
How David Prevailed.
Knox -- the First Temptation of Christ
Hwochow Women's Bible Training School
He Does Battle for the Faith; He Restores Peace among those who were at Variance; He Takes in Hand to Build a Stone Church.
The Quotation in Matt. Ii. 6.
The Blessing of Jacob Upon Judah. (Gen. Xlix. 8-10. )
Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners:
Man's Chief End
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