1 Samuel 17:40
And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had…
There is much in these particulars to furnish matter for profitable meditation. Let us take them as our subject of discourse. In the first place we will consider how David reasoned from past mercies, and grounded upon them the expectation of future aid from above. We will then consider his readiness to make use of means notwithstanding his full confidence in the succour and protection of God. He tried the armour which Saul proposed, though he felt the assurance expressed in the words — "The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine."
1. Now though David was yet but a stripling, he was evidently acting on the principle which he afterwards expressed in one of his Psalms. "Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will! rejoice." He was already using past, mercies as a pledge or promise of future; and encouraging himself by what God had done, in expecting Him to do yet more in his behalf. There is something singularly emphatic in those words of St. Paul to Timothy, "I know whom I have believed." They are the words of a man who was his own storehouse of evidence, who had gathered into himself so much of testimony to the origin of Christianity and the faithfulness, of God, that he had no need in any moment of difficulty or trial, to have recourse to books or external witness in order to be assured that he trod a safe path. "I know whom I have believed;" there may have been a time when I required the evidence of miracle and prophecy in order to be convinced that I followed "no cunningly devised fable" — when I had to turn to the registered histories of the saints of other days to satisfy myself that I served a God who would never fall His people; but now my own experience has come into the place of external testimony and Christian biography; I have but to descend into myself, end there do I find graven on the tablets of memory such records of fulfilled promises and gracious interpositions as leave me nothing to seek from the archives of creation, or the volumes of history. And there can be given no reason why this should have been the ease with St. Paul or David rather than with any amongst ourselves. We would, therefore, call on you all, to turn your own experience to account, and to go on, adding page after page to the volume whose want is not to be supplied by whole libraries of the narratives of others: for there is a warrant in the recorded account, of favours shown to ourselves which is incomparably beyond that of much greater favours shown to another. And will you tell me that nothing has happened to yourselves, of which you might make the use which David made of a former great deliverance? Aye, if this be your assertion it can only be because you receive mercies only to forget them. And we speak now to those who profess some attention to religion. Can you deny that God takes care of you in the midst of your sorrows — either wholly delivering you from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, or administering such supports as enable you to feel the tribulation to be good? We are persuaded that this has been your experience, though you may have given but little heed to the storing the mind with mementoes of Divine love. You should keep the past before you if you would look the future calmly in the face. Every obstacle surmounted, every sorrow soothed, every want supplied, every fear dissipated, every tear dried, should be in reserve, ready to give evidence, on any new trial, as to the goodness and watchfulness of your Father in heaven. Shame on you if you cannot say, "I know whom I have believed." It is likely that the older you grow, the sterner will be the forms of trouble which you will have to encounter, and you will encounter them confidently in proportion as you bear well in mind how the milder forms were vanquished.
2. We have shown you how strong was the faith of David. It is true. that finally he went with no weapons but a stone and a sling: he went, that is, with none of those appliances which seem required, whether for his own defence or for the defeat of Goliath. But, then it is just as true, that he did not determine to go thus unequipped to the field until he had done his best to ascertain that it was not God's will that he should wear a warrior's arms. There seems no reason to suppose that David tried on Saul's armour merely out of compliance with Saul's wish: on the contrary, it appears to have been his intention to have used his armour, and the intention was only given up because, on trial, the armour proved an encumbrance. If ever man might have ventured to say means might be neglected, the result is ordained, and will be brought round without any of the common instrumentality, David might have been warranted in refusing the armour without trying it on. But this is just what David did not do: he proceeded on the principle that no expectation of a miracle should make us slack in the employment of means; but that so long as means are within reach, we are bound to employ them, though it may not be through their use that God will finally work, And can you fail to see how David thus became a great example to ourselves? I know not in what precise way God may design to effect the conversion of anyone in this assembly, or to give anyone victory over some great spiritual adversary; but I know thoroughly what is the business of every one of you, if you look to be converted, or hope to be made victor. There are appointed means through which God is ordinarily pleased to bring round such results: and the readiest mode of frustrating the results is, to take for granted, that means may be neglected. These means are prayer, the study of the Bible, and the ordinances of public worship. That you can show me that the Goliath is often finally slain by stones taken out of the brook, and not by any of the more massive weapons is nothing against our argument; for our argument is, that, though slain at last by the pebble, the slayer has commonly first put on the armour; in short, that no man has a right to have recourse to the stone and the sling until he have first made trial of the coat of mail and the sword. We are quite prepared, we say, for occasionally finding, that a casual remark in conversation, a text quoted, or a passing observation while engaged in his ordinary occupation, will effect what the public ministrations have failed to effect, — penetrate the heart, and overthrow the strongholds of pride and unbelief: and here Goliath falls before the pebble, and not before the armour of the thoroughly equipped warrior. But, nevertheless, the man of whom we speak, had recourse to the armoury before he had recourse to the brook; and, probably, had he refused to appeal to the armoury, that penetrating stone would never have been drawn from the brook; at all events, no man can have a right to be looking for miracle who is not diligent in the employment of means: man is to be trying on the armour, though God may at last use the pebble. And there is one particular case to which we would apply these more general remarks. I know not a more difficult or delicate undertaking, than that of defending the cause of God and of truth against some champion of infidelity and error. It is probably better to keep silence than to throw one's self into discussion, and have the worst of the argument. And you are not to feel sure, that because you have undoubted truth on your side, you will conquer in the struggle: the proof by which truth may be substantiated is quite different from the truth itself; just as is the guilt of a prisoner from the evidence which will make a jury determine on his conviction. Goliath is not always to be slain with a pebble, though he defy the armies of the living God to which his opponent belongs. And the question is, whether the man who has really nothing but the sling and the pebble should be forward in every company where a Philistine may be, in accepting his challenge. There are cases indeed in which the unlettered believer is distinctly called on to engage with the giant, and whenever such case arises, we have no fear but that God will strengthen him for the fight. If called like David, like David he will be protected. But the evil generally is, that our youthful champions, eager, however unprepared, to throw themselves into argument, fancy themselves imitating David, because he went forth with nothing but a sling and a stone; but they forget that he first tried to put on the armour of Saul. We want them to imitate David in each successive particular. To complete the destruction of Goliath, David ran and seized the giant's sword, and with that sword he cut off his head. And how was Satan finally vanquished, and, as it were, decapitated by Christ, if not with his own sword? Was not, death emphatically the sword of the devil, seeing that he is expressly said to have had "the power of death," and that it was through death that he had laid waste successive generations, and swept them into his own place of torment? And, remember ye not how it is declared that Christ died "that through death he might destroy him that had the power over death, that is, the devil?" It was by dying that he slew the devil; he vanquished him by taking death for his weapon: And what was this but David using Goliath's sword to cut off Goliath's head? It may therefore well be called a parable of redemption, which is written in the incidents of the chapter before us. These incidents may have furnished a significative lesson to David, just as did those of the offering up of Isaac to Abraham. And thus do we draw from our subject a lesson for the nation. But let us not overlook that which belongs to the individual. The paw of the lion, the paw of the bear, the uncircumcised Philistine, in every case, needs strength God alone can give the strength — God alone can give victory in every struggle with corruption, and in the final struggle with death. But if you will fight as followers of Christ, regarding him as the Captain of your salvation, and depending simply on the aids of His Spirit, you shall be made more than conquerors; the giants one after the other shall fall before you, and the last enemy shall do the work of a friend in consigning you to glory and honour and immortality.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.
WEB: He took his staff in his hand, and chose for himself five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in the shepherd's bag which he had, even in his wallet. His sling was in his hand; and he drew near to the Philistine.