The Lion and The Bear

The Philistines had come to fight, or did they? They had invaded Israel. Their armies were gathered at Sochoh, which belonged to Judah. They then encamped between Sochoh and Azekah, in Ephes Dammim. (1 Samuel 17:1)

King Saul and the men of Israel gathered and prepared to do battle. Instead of charging into battle, the two armies faced each other on opposing mountains with the valley of Elah between them.

It was then that the Philistines presented their champion, Goliath the giant, a warrior from his youth, who announced this challenge.

"'Why have you come out to line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us. And the Philistine said, 'I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.'" (1 Samuel 17:8-10)

According to the challenge, there would be no battle between the armies. Instead, only one warrior from each side would fight until the death, and the winner's side takes all. The two armies were simply an audience for the contest between the two combatants. Of course, the Philistines were gloating. They knew Israel did not have anyone like their giant warrior.

Admittedly, King Saul was a tall man, head and shoulders above his colleagues, as was revealed on the day it was announced that he would be king. "So they ran and brought him from there; and when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. And Samuel said to all the people, 'Do you see him whom the LORD has chosen, that there is no one like him among all the people?' So all the people shouted and said, 'Long live the king!'" (1 Samuel 10:23-24)

And yes, King Saul was anointed to defeat Israel's enemies, and in particular, the Philistines. The LORD told Samuel that Saul was to be " . . . commander over my people Israel, that he may save my people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have looked upon my people, because their cry has come to me.'" (1 Samuel 9:16)

Who better to fight the Philistine giant than he who was the tallest among his brethren, and who better to fight the giant Philistine, than he whom God specifically appointed to deliver Israel from the Philistines?! But there was no spirit in Saul to fight. "When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid." (1 Samuel 17:11)

Saul was ready to reward whoever was willing to face the giant. " . . . the man who kills him the king will enrich with great riches, will give him his daughter, and give his father's house exemption from taxes in Israel." (1 Samuel 17:25) But none were willing. Who could he send against the giant? King Saul seemed powerless.

For forty days, Saul was unable to lead his army into battle, and was reluctant to choose a man to fight the giant. Clearly, this was not Saul's battle.

The number forty is significant for the people of Israel, symbolic of a period of testing, and associated with a time of preparation. The children of Israel wandered the wilderness, forty years, being tested by the Lord, and in preparation before entering the Promised Land.

"And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not." (Deuteronomy 8:2)

The people of Israel were being tested and prepared for another memorable event. King Saul was appointed to the defeat the Philistines but failed to join the battle. Neither did he rise up when the Philistine giant taunted Israel. The taunting tested Israel while the delay prepared them for the arrival of God's anointed. He was a young shepherd from Bethlehem, the son of Jesse, whose name was David.

David was sent by his father with provisions for his three older brothers who were with the men of Israel in Saul's army.

It was here that David first heard the Philistine giant, and saw how the men of Israel had fled in fear. "Then David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, 'What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?'" (1 Samuel 17:25-26)

When King Saul was informed of what David had said, he sent for him.

When David announced to Saul that he would fight the giant, the king rightly objected. "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth." (1 Samuel 17:33) The match-up was decidedly one-sided. It was out of the question, not to be considered. Obviously, David would not stand a chance. David was a shepherd, still in his youth, while Goliath was a seasoned champion, and a warrior since his youth. David would be like a lamb sent to the slaughter.

Yet it is this imagery, that David uses as confirmation that he is the one whom God has chosen. He will not only fight the giant, but he will win.

"But David said to Saul, 'Your servant used to keep his father's sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it.

'Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.'

"Moreover David said, 'The LORD, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, he will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine. And Saul said to David, 'Go, and the LORD be with you!'" (1 Samuel 17:34-37)

The young shepherd from Bethlehem had survived an attack from a lion and a bear. He had delivered the lamb from the jaws of certain death. David could not have done it without the enabling of the Lord, the God of Israel. David experienced courage and strength beyond a natural man. David's experiences confirmed that he would be directly involved in the deliverance of the people of Israel.

The parallels between God and His servant are unmistakable.

Just as God keeps watch over His people, to deliver them from preying nations, so too, David kept watch over his father's sheep.

In the same way, that God pursues the enemies of Israel, so too, David went out after the lion and the bear. David testified that God was with him, when he pursued the lion and the bear, and that he could not have done it without Him.

Just as God would strike the enemies of Israel, so too, David struck the wild animals. And David delivered the lamb, on both occasions, just as God repeatedly delivers Israel from the devourer.

Also, in the same way that God shows mercy to the enemies of Israel, so too, David demonstrated mercy toward the lion and the bear. David did not kill the wild animals immediately. He simply struck it in order to deliver the lamb, but "when it arose against me, I caught it by the beard, and struck and killed it." (1 Samuel 17:35) Whilst God can destroy Israel's enemies outright, He chooses to show them mercy. Thus the enemies of Israel are allowed time to recover, given an opportunity to reflect on their actions, and to take stock of what has happened, and to consider the consequences whether they should continue in this present path. "Is it really worth it?" "Remember what happened to Pharaoh!"

King Saul must have been in awe, speechless. It was as if he had been saved, somehow prevented from entering the battle because it was not his to win, but David would deliver Israel on this occasion. Just as the Lord empowered David to deliver the lamb, so too, the Lord would deliver the people of Israel from the paw of the Philistines.

The picture has often been repeated throughout history. A powerful nation or leader defying the armies of the Lord, standing over the people of Israel attempting to determine or influence their future. Israel like a defenceless lamb is at the mercy of a rogue nation or menacing tyrant, yet Israel miraculously survives, and is delivered from the jaws of death. The nation of Israel is like a lamb among the hungry Gentile nations, who are all too ready to devour the prey. But God, as the Great Shepherd, continues to deliver His people.

As the Psalmist declared: "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock . . . Restore us, O God; cause your face to shine, and we shall be saved!" (Psalm 80:1)

As David declared: "'If it had not been the LORD who was on our side'–let Israel now say–'If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose against us, then they would have swallowed us alive, when their wrath was kindled against us; then the waters would have overwhelmed us, the stream would have gone over our soul; then the swollen waters over our soul.' Blessed be the LORD who has not given us as prey to their teeth." (Psalm 124:1-6)

Interestingly, centuries later the lion and the bear would feature in a revelation to the prophet, Daniel. The lion and bear are mentioned specifically as the first two Gentile empires who will impose their rule over Israel, while they are in exile. Israel's exile began when Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, destroyed Jerusalem and took captives to Babylon, in 586 BCE. The Babylonian empire was portrayed by the lion: "the first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man's heart was given to it." (Daniel 7:4) After the fall of the Babylonian empire came the Medo-Persian regime, which was depicted by a bear. "And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: 'Arise, devour much flesh!'" (Daniel 7:5)

These Gentile regimes are characterized as wild animals ravaging the people of Israel. But praise the Lord, both these regimes have come and gone, and the people of Israel live!

It was under "the bear" (Medo-Persian) regime that the famous Esther and Mordechai had lived (see the Book of Esther) and through whom the Lord brought about a miraculous deliverance of the people of Israel from the wicked paw of Haman.

The Sages tell the story of how God came to choose Moses to be the deliverer of His people. When Moses was shepherding his father-in-law's sheep, a lamb had wandered from the flock. Moses went out looking for the lamb and found it. He picked it up, placed it on his shoulders and carried it back to the flock. It was because Moses had demonstrated such compassion for the one, lost sheep that God decided Moses would shepherd His people–for he would show compassion toward My people.

David showed the same leadership traits. David demonstrated compassion toward the lamb, and more, he went out after the bear and the lion to deliver the lamb. In this way, David is a forerunner to Yeshua the Messiah, who is Israel's Great Deliverer.

Appointed by God, Yeshua the Messiah will return as King to deliver the people of Israel from all their enemies. The Messiah King will gather the nations and judge between them. His judgement will be righteous and true. "When the son of man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right hand, 'Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world . . . " (Matthew 25:31-34)

The Messiah King will restore His people Israel to their Land. He will reign over them, and they will live in peace. During His days the nations will bless the people of Israel. The nations will submit to the righteous rule of the KING of kings and the LORD of lords. They will come up to Jerusalem, the city of peace and "the joy of the whole earth . . . " (Psalm 48:2), and they will bless the Lord, and give Him praise, and will learn of His ways.

The Philistines invaded Israel looking for a fight but got more than what they bargained for. Both Israel and the Philistines witnessed the rise to prominence of David, the youngest son of Jesse, whose exploits have become world-renown, and are even spoken of today. The shepherd boy from Bethlehem fought the lion-bear giant, and won. Against all odds, David the servant of the LORD, slew the giant Philistine, and delivered the people of Israel. All generations, since then, have revelled in the marvellous account of David and Goliath, and have praised the God of Israel who has done great things for His people, Israel. So too, in the days of the Messiah, all nations, from that time forward, will recount and marvel in the great things He has done, and will yet do, for Israel.