I love serving at Bethlehem College & Seminary for many reasons – among them is that I am always learning from my students. Let me share with you some their insights (and a few of mine) from the story of David and Goliath. Perhaps their insights will help you think again about this well-known story, and also, give you some insight into what an outstanding group of students we have at Bethlehem.
This epic battle between the Philistines and Israel did not begin the Valley of Elah, but in the Garden of Eden. It was there that Eve was approached by a serpent, a rather crafty-devil it was. Covered with scales, it was a slanderer who came to disturb the peace of the Garden shalom. Eve and Adam ate the deadly fruit, and then under God’s curse it slithered away; it “ate dust.” And over this cursed serpent, God declared his promise: from Eve will come a Seed who will crush the head of the serpent–though the serpent shall bruise his heel.
“How long, O LORD!? When will you send the Seed?” That is the question on the minds of the readers of the Book of Samuel. In tearful disappointment, Samuel realized (and we with him) that their first king, Saul, was not that Seed. He had failed to obey God. And now, when Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, taunts Israel, Saul stayed behind the lines. This mocking warrior had a helmet of bronze and a coat of mail (1 Samuel 17:5). This might make a bell ring in our heads (or maybe not), but it likely did for the original readers. You see, the word for bronze, nehoshet, sounds like the word for serpent, nehesh. Earlier, God made the connection deeply and forever in the minds of his people when he told Moses to create the Bronze Serpent; in Hebrew, the nehesh nehoshet. When they entered the Promised Land, they kept that Bronze Serpent, a reminder of the power of God over the Serpent, but then also as an idol (2 Kings 18:4, Nehustan). But now, on this day, the bronze of the helmet of Goliath makes us wonder if that metal is merely the craftsman’s material, or if it also shows his true colors! And then, there is the “coat of mail.” Antecedent to this use of “mail” in Samuel, all uses of this word in the Books of Moses refer to “scales” like those of fish … and so also to those of serpents. Standing before the armies of YHWH, we have Goliath, of the nahoshet team, playing for the nehesh. Here, the Bronze Serpent defies the armies of YHWH, just as he attacked Eve and Adam, with lies and threats. Where is the Seed to destroy him? How Long, O LORD!?
Just then, David is introduced into the battle. We wonder, is David the Seed? In the previous chapter Samuel (somewhat secretly) anointed him as King. Now, he comes to offer battle to the Serpent. But King Saul does not understand what we, the readers, understand. Foolishly, Saul tries to dress David as a Snake (in his own armor)! You see, Saul’s armor was identical to Goliath’s: a helmet of snake-color and a coat of scales (1 Samuel 17:38). The text tells us it did not fit David – indeed it was not fitting! David is not on that team. As the two engage the battle, the Serpent-warrior cursed David by his gods. In a reversal of the blessing of the garden, he declared that he would feed David’s body to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field (verse 43). This battle was not merely about Philistines and Israelites; it was about who rules over heaven and earth: the Serpent or YHWH! And now comes David, not with Serpent armor or weapons, but with powerful declarations: “this day YHWH will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head” (1 Samuel 17:46). That should ring a bell for us! Indeed, David proceeds to bruise Goliath on the head with a stone. The Serpent-warrior fell on his face and ate dust. And then, David removed Goliath’s head with his enemy’s own sword. In this battle against the Serpent, the seed won! But as we will learn later in this book, David is not the Seed. Alas, the Seed, who will conquer, is yet to come.
Today, we know Seed has conquered by the Cross! What a strange way to win a battle: he conquered by becoming the Bronze Serpent on the pole (John 3:14). He became sin and was put to death on Golgotha. Why there? After David’s victory over Goliath, David took the severed skull to Jerusalem (1 Samuel 17:54). Odd, because Jerusalem was not David’s capital, but a city of God’s enemies. What did he do with the giant-head, the head of the Bronze Serpent? Perhaps, he impaled it on a hill outside of the city, visible to all. Hundreds of years later, Jesus was crucified at the “place of the skull” outside of Jerusalem. But why was that place called Golgotha in Jesus day? The Text does not tell us, but it is intriguing that this place name sounds very much like, Gol(iath of)Gath. Whether or not Goliath of Gath is the correct etymology of Golgotha, it was in this very city to which the head of Goliath was taken. It was on this very hill where Jesus’ feet were pierced by the nails. It was in this very place that he crushed the head of the Serpent. And, it was here that our Jesus became the nahesh nahoshet (the bronze serpent of John 3). And in doing so, he defeated the Serpent.
I am encouraged by these insights from our students into the Old, Old Story, just one of many examples of how God is at work among us. Here at Bethlehem College & Seminary, God is equipping many for the battle; here we are learning to stand together on the front-lines with Jesus, ready to do battle against the Serpent.
Director of Non-Traditional Programs & Assistant Professor of Theology
- Pray that as professors we will never fail to be eager to learn from God through our students.
- Pray that our students will be thoroughly prepared by the Word and in the Spirit for the front–the one who slays the Serpent and calls us to the battle with him.
- Pray that God will allow Bethlehem the ongoing privilege of preparing such excellent students for that battle.
- Pray that God will bring in the needed funds to support our students with the Serious Joy Scholarship.