1 Samuel 17:1-11
Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and were gathered together at Shochoh, which belongs to Judah…
They were dismayed, and greatly afraid (ver. 11).
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and were gathered together at Shochoh, which belongeth to Judah, and pitched between Shochoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim.