The Gospel for the Philistines and Goliath

Whenever we start a story about the Gospel we always need to touch bases with the reality of the gospel story and that is Jesus. Jesus reports that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Jesus does not change in character. Jesus states that He is the great Shepherd John 10:1-14. In Matthew 18:12-14 the Bible says that Jesus goes out to look for the one lost sheep out of 100. These are all attributes of Jesus so Jesus has always been the Great Shepherd and He is always interested in any sheep that is lost. Jesus went to look for Adam, and He has gone to look for each and every sheep that has ever left the flock. We know this because in Galatians 3:8 and Hebrews 4:1-2 that the gospel has been present in the OT times and Jesus has always been focused on saving all the sheep of this world.

With the above constantly in mind let us start in our story about Goliath. Goliath was a man of the city of Gath in the country of the Philistines. So let’s look at the history of the Philistines. In Genesis 12:1-5 God asked Abram to leave the country of Mesopotamia and to go to the land of Canaan. In the land of Canaan Abram experienced many things including the plagues in Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20) the battle between the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah and the kings of Mesopotamia (Genesis 14); his name change to Abraham (Genesis 17:1-5); the promise of his son to be (Genesis 18:1-15); the mini-investigative judgment over Sodom (Genesis 18:16-33) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). After these events Abraham and Sarah continued traveling and ended up in Gerar where he met King Abimelech. King Abimelech, and Gerar were of the land of the Philistines (Genesis 21:32). King Abimelech saw Sarah and wanted her to be his wife. Abraham protested but said that Sarah was his sister and she ended up in the camp of King Abimelech. But before he could take Sarah to be his wife, King Abimelech was granted a gift from God and God talked to him through the spirit of prophecy and in a vision told King Abimelech about Sarah’s true relationship to Abraham. The king of the city of Gerar, of the land of the Philistines protested with God about his innocence and God told him to restore Sarah to Abraham and if he did not God would destroy him and all that belonged to him. King Abimelech repented and obeyed. He told all of his servants what God told him and he restore Sarah and gave Abraham gifts of many things. As a result of this interchange Abraham dwelt in the land of the Philistines for many days Genesis 21:22-34. During this time I believe that God impressed on the hearts of the Philistines that Abraham was a man of God and a prophet Genesis 20:7. This started the education of the Philistines about the men of God.

In the process of time Abraham had a son Isaac, and then grandsons in Jacob and Esau, and eventually there were twelve sons granted to Jacob who was to be called Israel after he wrestled with God. When Israel’s son Joseph became the co-ruler of Egypt God called Israel’s family into Egypt to protect them during the 7 year famine. Again the Philistines were educated about the descendents of God’s people and how they blessed the nations by providing them with food and awareness of the One true God.

After several hundreds of years in Egypt, God prepared to call out His people out of Egypt and to restore them to the land of Canaan, next to the land of the Philistines. God took Israel through many experiences as recorded in Exodus through Deuteronomy and revealed His power so that the nations of Canaan trembled and feared in their hearts about what God would do to them (Joshua 2:8-11) After crossing the Jordan river Israel settled into Canaan and dispossessed the Girgasites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites (Deuteronomy 7:1). Notice that in the list the Philistines were not specifically named thus indicating that their probation had not closed as it had for the Amorites and their friends (Genesis 15:13-21).

After Israel had “settled” Canaan they began to experience many ups and downs in their relationship with God. Eventually Israel had chosen to forsake God and began to worship the gods of the Syrians, the gods’ of the Sidonians, the gods of the Moabites, Ammonites, and the Philistines Judges 10:6. God determined to punish Israel and allowed Israel to be under the control of the Ammonites and the Philistines for 18 years Genesis 10:7-8. Eventually God chose Jephthah to be the Judge and deliverer for Israel. This set the stage for negative interactions between Israel and the Philistines for many years. These conflicts also brought Samson onto the scene of action and God displayed His mighty hand in delivering Israel through the miraculous displays of His power through Samson as seen in Judges 14-16.

In the process of time of Samuel this conflict between Israel and the Philistines grew into heated and protracted battles.  In one battle the nation of Israel was defeated and the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant and kept it in the nation of the Philistines for 7 months (I Samuel 6:1). God allowed the Ark to go from city to city and in each city the populace broke out with tumors, and various diseases, as well as plagues of mice to eat up their harvest. It came to the point that when the Ark came to the city of Ekron, the people thought that a death sentence had been sent upon them. I Samuel 5:9-12. The Philistines has suffered so much that they were starting to think that it is possible that the God of Israel was stronger than the gods of the Philistines. This, of course, was God’s plan for all of His plans are for mercy and grace. God did not want to harm the Philistines but wanted to give them the same opportunity that He gave to the 7 tribes of Canaan. He offered them salvation by faith in the God of Israel, just as the Gibeonites took advantage of in Joshua 9.

In I Samuel 6:1-2 the Philistines had suffered enough under the judgments of God that they were willing to humble themselves enough to send their “prize” back to Israel. So they called the priests to ask how to do it. The priests reminded the lords of the Philistines to not forget what happened to the Egyptians (I Samuel 6:6) and to learn from the lessons that the Egyptians went through lest it become harder on them than it was so far. So they counseled them to send the Ark back with gifts of gold in the shape of the tumors and the mice that they had suffered under and perhaps God will ease His hand off of the land and off their Gods. The priests also suggested that the lords of the Philistines give glory to the God of Israel, a terrible suggestion for the pride of the Philistines, but necessary for their deliverance. The lords of the Philistines were willing to submit on these points in order to secure safety lest they all die.

But even with all of these agreements the priests offered one last face saving device to the lords of the Philistines. The priests suggested that they send the Ark back to Israel on a cart, with all of the trespass offerings described above. They then would attach the Ark to two mother cows who were feeding their calves. If the cows went straight to Israel they would know that it was God who was doing this and it was not just an accident (I Samuel 6:7-12). The Philistine Lords agreed to the test and did as instructed by the priest. When they had finished their preparations they turned the cart loose and the cows, calling to their calves, walked directly back to Israel. The Philistines sent spies to observe what would happen and the cows took the cart to the city of Bethshemesh. The Philistines were convinced that it was the God of Israel who had plagued them just like Egypt but they had been willing to submit to God’s judgments and were spared final judgment.

It is the purpose of this article to share the facts of history to show that God is interested in saving all the people of the earth. He did not create nations to destroy them but to give each and every nation on earth, and every single person in all of those nations, the opportunity to be saved by faith in the God of Israel. The nation of Israel had been raised up as the nation of priests (Exodus 19:1-6) to minister to all of the nations of the world, and to tell them about the everlasting power of the God of the universe, and to display His wisdom in all of the details of life when arriving at Canaan. If Israel had been faithful the gospel would have gone to the world and all would have had the opportunity to join with Israel until the whole world would have come under the banner of God, and the capital city of the earth would have been Jerusalem. (Prophets and Kings Pg 19; Desire of Ages pg 577; Great Controversy pg 19). In God’s providential manner the Ark of the Covenant was allowed to be taken into the land of the Philistines to speak to the power of the God of Israel. For 7 months God’s power was on display to the Philistines and they submitted begrudgingly. This testimony was for all of the Philistines and for all of the world who heard of it as well.

Sadly when the Ark of the Covenant came to Bethshemesh, the people offered sacrifices for the blessing that God had sent the Ark to their city. But then they grew curious and they chose to look into the Ark, something that the pagans of the Philistines did not do. Of the people of Bethshemesh 50,370 men were destroyed for their presumption and pride. Imagine what the Philistines thought when they heard that story. But the people of Kirjathjearim were willing to take on the risk of accepting the Ark and learned the lesson from the people of Bethshemesh – do not act presumptuously around God or His Ark. But Israel did not accept the gift of the Ark of the Covenant and left it in Kirjathjerim for 20 years until finally God moved on Samuel to judge Israel and Israel was willing to accept him as their judge and listen to him. During this time the people of the Philistines were losing their respect for Israel again and when the people had gathered to hear Samuel at Mizpeh, they decided to attack Israel. Again God displayed His power in behalf of the people and granted them a great deliverance by sending a fierce storm to strike the Philistines. When Israel saw that the Philistines were discomforted then they joined in to the battle and chased the Philistines to Bethcar.

As a result of accepting Samuel as their Judge they had relative peace with the Philistines for many years. As Samuel began to decline in strength he appointed his sons to assist him and Samuel’s sons did not have his integrity and the people used the defects of Samuel’s sons to ask for a king. This is the starting point of the monarchs of Israel when God allowed them to have Saul of Benjamin as their king. It is an odd set of circumstances that Israel chose to come down to the level of the Philistines and have a Monarch form of leadership rather than the form of leadership that God Himself had designed for Israel.

During the time of the reign of King Saul there were many more negative interactions with the Philistines and it was during this time that Goliath began to develop as a man. Goliath grew up around the city of Gath (I Samuel 17:4), one of the five cities of the Philistines (Joshua 13:3) where some of the descendents of the Anikim lived (Joshua 11:21-22). I believe that Goliath heard many of the stories related in this article and he had the opportunity to decide whether he would follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit by faith like Rahab in Jericho (Joshua 2:9-11) whose heart was melted by the revelations of the power of God, or he could respond to the testimony of others like Pharaoh (Exodus 9:34-35) who hardened his heart against the revealed will of God, as given through the prophet Moses, and what he learned directly by his own experiences with the signs and wonders of the great I AM.

By the time that Goliath came on the scene of Bible events he was the Philistines champion and he was willing to defy the armies of the Living God of Israel in I Samuel 17. He came out to challenge the champion of Israel and he challenged Israel at the time of the morning and evening sacrifice for 40 days (I Samuel 17:16), thus this was a sanctuary issue for Israel and Goliath was acting like the representative of the synagogue/sanctuary of Satan (Revelation 3:9).

In God’s timing He sent David to the battle front to check on his brothers, at the request of his father Jesse. He arrived just in time to hear the challenge of Goliath and he heard the promises of reward for anyone who slew Goliath. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit David went to Saul and told Saul that he could be at peace for he/David was willing to go and fight with Goliath. Saul tried to dissuade David from this task because as far as Saul could see David was but a youth but Goliath was a man of war, and of experience. David then shares his experiences under the blessing of the Holy Spirit and that he had been able to kill a lion and a bear, and he would kill this uncircumcised Philistine.

When David came close to Goliath, Goliath was insulted by Israel sending a “child” to do a man’s work. What Goliath wanted was an ordinary champion so that when he was victorious he could receive the honor of man. But in God’s plan He sent His champion, His king of Israel to fight this battle and David, as God’s representative would receive honor as the man who defeated the Philistine’s champion, and all of Israel would recognize that it was God who delivered the giant, and it was God who had found a king worthy of Israel.

When Goliath and David met in the battle field they exchanged the normal challenges of those times. Goliath cursed David by the gods of the Philistines, and David told Goliath that he had challenged the God of Israel, and His armies, and that when he/Goliath died all of the world would know that there is a God in Israel (I Samuel 17:46-47). When they approached each other Goliath was so angry that he hit his own visor, opening it up just enough for a skilled slinger to hit him in the head with a rock (Patriarchs and Prophets Pg 648). When David saw this movement he recognized the hand of God and he took full advantage of this opportunity, cast his stone, and when the giant fell to the earth David sprang forward took Goliath’s own sword and cut off Goliath’s head.

Both armies saw David’s victory over Goliath they were all stunned, for all were sure that David would die that day. But the armies of Israel sprang into action and they chased the Philistines all the way back to the gates of Ekron. This victory was shared with all, both friend and foe, and God’s promise was fulfilled for all of the earth knew that the God of Israel was actively protecting Israel.

We know that there were more battles between Israel and the Philistines for many more years and it was the Philistines who killed off Saul and his sons in I Samuel 31. We also know that just prior to this battle that killed King Saul; David had taken shelter with the Philistines to be protected from Saul. We do not know all of the people with whom David came into specific contact with while with the Philistines. But when David was finally made king he aggressively took up the war against the Philistines and finally subdued them in II Samuel 8:1. After this subduing by David we read of scattered interactions between Israel and the Philistines. But one last story is important for God and His people.

In II Samuel 16:6 David’s son Absalom has stolen the hearts of all of Israel and has decided that he has sufficient power to take the throne his father David and take control of the kingdom of Israel. As Absalom’s army approached Jerusalem, David decides that it is best to leave Jerusalem to consolidate his army before tackling the problem of what to do with Absalom. As David is leaving Jerusalem a fabulous miracle occurs. A man by the name of Ittai had come to join David’s fighting men and he had brought 600 fellow soldiers with their families to Israel just the day before David was going to leave Jerusalem. In II Samuel 15:18-22 David discusses these issues with Ittai and encourages him to go back to the land of the Philistines for he was but a stranger to Israel and had no issue in this battle with Absalom. But Ittai protested against going back to Gath of the Philistines because his heart had united with that of David and Ittai testified just as Ruth had testified when Naomi had encouraged her to go back to Moab in Ruth 1:8-18. Ruth refused to leave the side of Naomi, and Ittai the Philistine of Gath refused to go back to his homeland for he had united his heart to the King of Israel David and had followed the promptings of God to come to Israel. Finally David recognized this loyalty and allowed Ittai, and his 600 warrior friends, and their families to follow David wherever God would lead them for Ittai and his men were converts to the God of Israel.

This final story of Ittai and his men tells of all of the hard work of Christ over the many years of interaction with the Philistine people. God states that no matter how difficult it may be, He is willing to save any man, woman, child, or nation who potentially open to hearing the gospel. The Lord worked long and hard to save the Philistines as well as the Israelites. He was rewarded for his work with 601 men, 601 wives, and many children. We will never know the impact of the decision of Ittai and His men until we meet in heaven with Jesus. But we do know that when Jesus looks on His children that He personally will be well satisfied. Isaiah 53:11. God is the faithful Shepherd and He looks for His sheep in any and all places. He sends us as His servants to look for these sheep and He expects us to view them as He does, as precious souls to save. May God bless us with His mind (Philippians 2:5) and with His energy, and with His perceptions of love and justice in the saving of many souls. Let us go forth as ambassadors of Christ (II Corinthians 5:20) to fulfill the gospel commission to go into all of the world to find His sheep. Matthew 28:18-20. I pray that this story of Jesus and the Philistines will be a blessing and an encouragement to all of God’s people.