By Nathan Peterson

David and Goliath & the Trial That Wasn't Really a Trial

David and Goliath. By far, it’s one of the most popular Bible stories of all time. It evokes all kinds of imagery from CG veggies clashing over the kitchen to every underdog sports movie you can think of.

The main message I’ve always associated with it is face your fears, take on the impossible, and you can actually win. And yes, while David’s victory over Goliath is truly inspiring and a testament to us about overcoming the insurmountable–with God’s help–I believe there’s another lesson we’re overlooking here.

Not Afraid

When you look at 1 Samuel 17, David doesn’t seem scared. At all. The rest of the army, including David’s brothers and King Saul? Yes, they’re absolutely petrified. But David’s ready to throw down as soon as Goliath opens his mouth, no matter how big he is.

“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” David asks in verse 26. And again in verse 32, he straight up tells King Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

While the jury’s still out on how old David was at this point, we know he was young, likely still a teenager. His older brother, King Saul, and Goliath himself all make it clear that if there was a giant-killer to be found in Israel, David wasn’t the guy.

None of this fazed David in the slightest. As you keep reading, the most resistance and challenge he faces is trying to walk around in King Saul’s armor. The “battle” itself feels like it’s over before it even begins. David came, he saw, he conquered. Period.

The Trials We Didn’t See

So … how did David, little more than a kid, become so confident, so assured that he could overcome Goliath?

The biggest clue comes in verses 34-37:

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

If you’ve heard this passage before, it may sound a little cliche. But take a second to let this sink in. According to the Cleveland Zoo, a lion’s roar alone can be heard from five miles away. Imagine the kind of power and strength that thing has when it’s right in front of you. And now imagine David, as a teen, chasing one of these lions down, grabbing a big ol’ fistful of hair, and killing it?!

If I managed to do this–and live–I don’t think there’d be a lot that could rattle me. But note where David’s confidence comes from. Not from boasting about himself or his great strength. It comes from God.

The testing and trials David went through when no one else was around were what shaped him the most. They grew him and enabled him to confidently step into the spotlight. That’s why the nine-foot-tall, monstrous Philistine trial that everyone else was freaking about didn’t shake David. To David, Goliath was just another opportunity for God to show up, just another lion with a big mouth.

What This Means for Us

I know the likelihood that you or I will ever square off against a full-size lion, let alone a literal giant, are slim to none.

But that doesn’t mean we won’t face challenges that truly test us and push us past what we think we can handle, whether it’s just making it through the semester’s coursework or battling daily with depression and anxiety. For that reason, David’s story can teach us several things:

1. The Importance of Perspective

In 1 Samuel 16, right before this story, David is actually anointed as the next king of Israel. Samuel the prophet is shocked because this kid is the youngest and smallest of seven older brothers. But God reminds Samuel: “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). David’s heart was aligned with God’s. He was able to see the trials and challenges in life for what they really were. Goliath wasn’t just some big, scary bully. He was defying the God of heaven and earth, and David couldn’t just stand by and let that happen.

Too often when I face a challenge, I go immediately from observation to action, trying to outthink, outwrestle my way from the problem. But it’s so important to pause, to reflect, to pray for heaven’s perspective on things before we act. It will help us see what’s truly at stake and how best to move forward, not in a mad scramble to fix our problems but in confidence and peace. Often the best thing we can do when we’re tempted to scramble is just to be still.

2. The Mundane Matters

Sitting outside day and night with a bunch of less-than-clever animals in constant need of protection and supervision–being a shepherd was not a glamorous job. And yet it was here that David grew in his confidence and ability to do amazing things with God’s help.

Whatever boring things we might be stuck doing right now (and this comes from a guy who had to count worms for bait shops one summer during college), we need to trust that Jesus  is using this to equip us and grow us. We need to be patient. Who knows how he might use today’s tedium to prepare us for tomorrow’s opportunities?

3. Relationship First

Before David became a king, before he became a giant-killer, before he became an author of Scripture, he was first and foremost a child of God. Just like us. No matter what we accomplish, we are valuable primarily because of who we are in God’s sight. As we read through the Psalms, we see David sharing an incredible intimacy with God. It was out of this rich relationship that David was able to face life’s challenges with such success and poise.

More than likely, David was alone out there in the wilderness when he had to fight off the lions and bears that were trying to attack his sheep. No one else may have known all the intense things he had to go through. It’s the same with us. You and I may go through hardships and trials no one else may ever know about.

But Jesus is there. He weeps right alongside us. He mourns when we mourn and grieves when we grieve. If we nurture that relationship, that will build a rich intimacy with him that ultimately enables us to trust him more than anyone else. It will empower us, like David, to grow and eventually reach the point where we can face trials of immense intensity and not even see them as trials but rather a fresh opportunity to see God’s incredible power and love on display.

If we’re willing to pause and let the truths of Scripture sink into our hearts and actually change us, I believe that we can experience the kind of transformation that David did. He was a human just like us. And God used him to do incredible things! May we all be so bold and audacious to take this story to heart and allow it to inspire us in the trials we’re facing now and in days to come!


Nathan served as a writer for InterVarsity for five and a half years. He currently works for a ministry serving adults with disabilities. He enjoys writing and drawing and staying in shape.