THE CHAMPION OF ISRAEL
All Israel was paralyzed with fear. The Philistines were on the war-path. Leading them was a nine-foot-tall
champion named Goliath wearing a coat of mail that weighed 125 pounds over which he brandished a long, menacing spear.
Every day Goliath sauntered out to the valley between the Philistine and Israeli encampments with the challenge:
“Choose a man to come and fight with me. If he kills me, we will all serve you. But if I kill him, you will become our
slaves! I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man that we may fight together!” The armies of Israel quailed.
A shepherd boy named David heard the challenge. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he
should defy the armies of the living God?” he queried. “I will go and fight with this Philistine!” David
had already rescued his sheep from lions and bears. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from
the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine,” he asserted.
Clad in sandals and tunic, and armed only with a sling and five smooth stones from the brook, he strode
forward to meet the giant. As the Philistine raised his helmet for a look at his foe, he was incensed. “Am I a dog, that
you come to me with sticks?” he cried. Cursing David by his gods, he said, “Come to me, and I will give
your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”
David replied, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to
you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver
you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the
Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in
Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s,
and he will give you into our hand.”
David rushed to meet the Philistine, taking a stone and slinging it with all his might. It hit the giant in the
forehead, toppling him to the ground. As David cut off his head, the armies of Israel found their legs and pursued the
Philistines, winning a great victory. One man’s victory led to victory for the nation. (See 1 Samuel 17.)
In Israel’s history the majority often disobeyed God and suffered defeat. Then God would send a
champion to deliver them. A David would come along, topple the foe, and lead the hosts to victory. Here is a theme found in
Scripture -- the “one” gains victory for the “many.” Through what “one”
does, “many” achieve success.
God represents His people with various symbols such as son of man, seed, and
servant -- all singular nouns embracing a whole people. He had extravagant plans to bless them but because of human
weakness they were rarely fulfilled. But God had a larger plan -- a Champion Son of Man, a Champion Seed, a Champion
Servant, through whom His plan could find glorious fulfillment. This single Person, because He was divine as well as human,
Creator as well as creature, had the power to incorporate all Israel -- even all humanity -- into Himself. By succeeding where
they failed, He became their Savior.
The Son of Man
King David once expressed amazement at two facts -- the overwhelming greatness of the heavens and the
smallness of “man.”
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
Yet in a sudden reversal, he is amazed at how great “man” is.
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet (Psalm 8:3-6, NIV).
God created human beings in His image, to have dominion as He has dominion (Genesis 1:26). They were
to rule over all the inhabitants of earth, sea, and sky. They were “crowned with glory and honor.” Then
through disobedience they lost the glory and the dominion.
But the prophet Daniel had a remarkable vision in which he saw another Son of man who would restore
the glory and dominion that humanity had lost. In his vision Daniel saw a series of ferocious beasts representing evil nations
who would usurp dominion and oppress humanity through the centuries. But in the vision the Ancient of Days [God] takes
His seat, convenes the heavenly court, and judges the evil powers, taking away their dominion and destroying them with fire
(Daniel 7:1-11). Then a mysterious figure, “one like a son of man,” comes before the Ancient of
Days and receives back the “dominion, glory, and kingdom” lost to humanity through the centuries (vv.
13-14). This “son of man” is given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and languages
worship him. “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never
be destroyed” (v.14). He wrests from the evil powers the dominion that Adam lost.
When Daniel interprets his dream, he broadens the meaning of “son of man” to embrace
the people of God. “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be
handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will
worship and obey him” (v. 27, NIV). The last sentence can also be translated: “their kingdom shall be an
everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them” (RSV).
The “son of man,” as Champion representative of the people of God, includes them in His
victory. Since they are incorporated into Him, His victory becomes their victory, His dominion their dominion.
Who is this “Son of man”? Jesus’ favorite name for Himself was “Son of
man.” Though He was God, He came from heaven to become Son of man by being born into the human race. His
mission was to undo the failure of Adam. As the second Adam He went over the same battleground where the first Adam
was defeated and gained the victory. The New Testament puts it this way:
Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all
men because all men sinned ... so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one
man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous
(Romans 5:12, 18-19).
The victory of “one” overcomes the failure of the “many.” As the first
Adam brought the whole race down with him to destruction, the second Adam, the Son of man, lifts up humanity to its
former place of glory.
Immediately after Adam and Eve fell into sin, God came down to curse the serpent who had deceived
them and to bring them hope. He made the promise of a “seed” of the woman who would defeat the
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel (Gen. 3:15, NKJV).
In this cryptic statement is a promise that a descendant of the woman would ultimately slay the serpent
though he would suffer in the process. (Here is the seed plot for all the legends about a hero slaying a dragon to rescue a
Let’s unpack this statement further. It is clear that the serpent and the woman were both to have
“seed” or descendants. These are the two kinds of people, the righteous and the wicked, who have
coexisted throughout history. God promised to put hostility between the serpent and the woman (both singular) and between
the seed or descendants of each (collective). There would be hostility between the followers of God and the followers of the
serpent. This hostility is an aversion to goodness on the part of evil people and a corresponding aversion to sin on the part of
Then the verse takes a strange turn. It reverts to the singular, “He shall bruise your head.”
The he here is the seed of the woman, singular. The Hebrew word seed is feminine, and should be followed
by a feminine pronoun, which would normally be translated it. But the specific use of the masculine pronoun
he indicates that it refers to a specific Seed, a special individual, a male.
Interestingly, this Seed is the seed of the woman. It was the woman who invited sin into the world,
and God chose to provide the remedy from sin through the woman. Hebrew genealogies always reckon seed or descendants
through the line of males (as in Gen. 5 and 10). But there was one of Eve’s descendants who was born only of a
woman with no male father (Matthew 1:21). His only Father was God (Luke 1:35).
This Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. The only way to kill a snake is to crush its
head. The serpent in the Hebrew Scriptures (also a many-headed monster called leviathan) is the embodiment of evil (Isa.
27:1; Ps.74:13-14). In the New Testament he is pictured as a seven-headed dragon representing the devil or Satan
[Revelation 12:9]. According to Psalm 74, it is God who crushes the heads of the monster leviathan. The Seed of the
woman, then, must be not only a human being born of a woman, but also God.
The prophecy concludes with the statement, “You [the serpent] will strike his heel” (Gen.
3:15). The picture here is of this treacherous serpent biting the heel of the divine-human Champion who comes to crush its
head. Notice that the Champion crushes the serpent’s head with His bare heel! The bare heel indicates vulnerability
-- no protection from the venomous bite of the snake. The God/man who would deliver the seed of the woman by crushing
the serpent’s head would Himself be fatally wounded. But His death would be the means of crushing the serpent.
Here is a picture of Jesus, Son of the woman Eve and the woman Mary, who came from heaven to battle Satan, was killed
by him, but rose victor over him.
The promise of a special seed was repeated again and again through the history of the people of God,
sometimes becoming narrower and more focused. Eve was given a special seed, Seth (Gen. 4:25) who became the
progenitor of the people of God. From his seed God chose Noah and made a covenant with him and his seed (9:9). From
Noah’s descendants God chose Abraham to whom He promised seed as numerous as the dust of the earth (13:16)
and the stars of the sky (15:5). But the promise to Abraham was not just about numerous seed -- it also focused on an
In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the
sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the
nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:17-18).
This one Seed would bless the whole world. Here is a promise shaped like an hour-glass: narrow at the
top -- Abraham -- but bulging to encompass his seed multiplied as the stars. From the wide bulge it narrows down again to
one person, the special Seed of Abraham. Then another bulge develops -- through that One all nations of earth are blessed.
The New Testament applies the Seed promise as follows:
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to
seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ
This use of the Hebrew Scriptures has been frequently criticized, since seed obviously can have a
collective meaning. But as we showed in Gen. 22:18 above, the word his shows that the author has a singular individual in
The promise of Abraham’s seed was narrowed down further to Isaac (Gen. 21:12) and to Jacob
(28:13-14) and to the seed of David (Ps. 89:27-29, 36).
Jesus Christ fulfilled these specifications, as shown in His genealogy (Matthew, chapter one) which traces
His lineage through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the royal line of David. He carried out the mission of the Seed which was to
crush the serpent’s head. His crucifixion was a decisive battle in which He was killed by the venomous bite of the
serpent, but He rose victorious to continue the warfare. At the cross He won a decisive victory that will eventually result in
the destruction of evil and the restoration of humanity’s lost dominion. Through this one Seed of Abraham all nations
of the earth are blessed. The offer of salvation is extended to all.
Look to Me and be saved,
all you ends of the earth! (Isa. 45:22).
The Seed of David: God’s Anointed “Messiah”
When God established Israel as His people, He selected David to reign as His vassal and set him apart by
a special ceremony of anointing -- pouring oil on his head to indicate a special endowment of the Spirit of the Lord (1 Sam.
16:12-13). From the verb anoint the noun Messiah (anointed one) is derived. David became Israel’s
God made great promises to him. David wanted to build a house for the Lord but the Lord instead
promised to build a “house” for David -- a line of descendants who would rule over His people for ever.
“Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for
ever” (2 Sam. 7:16).
Filled with awe, David went and “sat before the Lord” and marveled that God would
build a house for him for all future generations (v. 19). He concluded with the fervent prayer, “And now, O Lord
God....may it please thee to bless the house of thy servant, that it may continue for ever before thee; for thou, O Lord God,
hast spoken, and with thy blessing shall the house of thy servant be blessed forever” (vv. 28-29). In Psalm 89 the
promises to David’s “seed” transcend the ordinary.
Also I will make him [David] my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for him
for evermore and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the
days of heaven (vv. 27-29; see also v. 36).
Here the “seed” imagery merges with the Anointed Messiah.
But the Davidic monarchy had problems from its inception. David had a moral lapse that brought war to
his kingdom (2 Sam. 11-12; see 12:10). The rule of his son Solomon was so oppressive that ten of the twelve tribes revolted
soon after his death forming the northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12). None of the kings of Israel were descendants of
David. David’s successors ruled in the southern kingdom of Judah for about 400 years. Most were evil; eight were
good for at least part of the time. As each king fell deeper into apostasy, the Messianic hope for a righteous king faltered. The
dynasty ended when Zedekiah was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, in 586 BCE (Jeremiah 39:3-7).
Through persistent apostasy David’s “house” came crashing down at the time of the Babylonian
exile. From then on there never was a Davidic king in Judea. The hope of a Messiah on David’s throne waxed dim. And yet
shortly before Zedekiah’s capture the Lord had sworn “If you can break my covenant with the day and my
covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my
servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne” (Jer. 33:20-21).
Interestingly, a century and a half before Zedekiah’s fall Isaiah predicted the fall of
David’s dynasty -- that it would be cut off, leaving only a stump in the ground. How then were the promises to
David to be fulfilled? Isaiah looked further into the future and saw good news. In “the latter time” God would
do great things for the northern kingdom: He would flood with light “Galilee of the nations” that had been in
darkness (9:1-2), and break the yoke of the oppressor (vv. 2-4). More than that, a Child would be born to rule on
David’s throne forever.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom,
to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousnesss
from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this (Isa. 9:6-7).
Here is a promise that in the latter days a Child would be born who would save the Davidic dynasty. He
would take the government upon His shoulders and reign with justice and righteousness for ever!
This hope for David was further described in Isa. 11:1-5.
There shall come a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. ...
With righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist,
and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.
Jesse’s tree would be cut down, but a shoot would come from his stump. (Jesse was the father of
David and is used synonymously with David.) This one would be anointed with the Spirit and would fulfill the Davidic mission
to reign righteously.
Nearly a century after Isaiah’s vision, Jeremiah confirmed the words of Isaiah.
Behold the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he
shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and
Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness’
One figure, the Messiah, the Seed of David, rescues the monarchy by taking the throne and establishing an
everlasting reign of justice and peace. Out of the ashes of a failed dynasty springs forth a renewed Messianic hope.
The New Testament explains how Someone came from David’s line to rescue the dynasty -- a
Champion who would succeed where David’s successors failed. That Champion was Jesus. The New Testament
describes Him as Jesus Christ, “made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of
God with power according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4). In Him the
prophecies to David are being fulfilled. He came to rule with righteousness and justice. He establishes the throne of David.
Today He rules over a spiritual kingdom; one day He will destroy sin and sinners and introduce the reign of righteousness.
His throne will endure forever.
Another way God depicted His people Israel was as a beloved servant.
But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,...
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
fear not, for I am with you,
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand (Isa. 41:8-10; see also 44:1ff).
But in spite of all God’s love and care, this servant was a great disappointment to Him. This
“servant of the Lord” was blind and deaf to God’s commands (42:18-20), he sinned and refused to
obey God’s law (v. 24), and so God in anger gave him over to his enemies to be captured and plundered (vv. 22,
25) -- a reference to the exile into Assyria and Babylon. In grief the Lord cried out, “O that you had hearkened to
my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the
How did God rescue this sinful servant? Isaiah introduces the Champion Servant -- a perfect Servant who
comes to redeem Israel’s failures. He comes to the rescue of captive Israel who is imprisoned in darkness
because of his sins.
Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him,
he will bring forth justice to the nations. ...
He will not fail or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth....
[The Lord says of him]
“I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isa. 42:1-7).
As we read this passage we make an exciting discovery: this “Champion Servant” is none
other than the Messianic son of David described in Isaiah 11. Just as the “shoot from the stump of Jesse”
was to have the Spirit upon him, to judge the poor with righteousness (vv.1-4), so the Servant would have the Spirit and
judge righteously. This same Person is described again by Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound (Isa. 61:1).
So the humble Servant is the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah of the line of David!
The mission of this perfect Servant is described further in Isaiah 49: “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (v. 3). He is Israel par excellence -- the servant in whom God will
be glorified rather than shamed. His mission is to bring Jacob back to God “that Israel might be gathered to
Him” (v. 5). So He is Israel (singular) with a mission to Israel (plural). But His mission is even larger:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the preserved of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (v. 6).
The work of salvation is described in detail in chapters 52 and 53. God said that Israel had been sold to
her enemies for nothing, and He would redeem her without money (52:3). The Lord would bare His holy arm and reveal His
salvation which will encompass the whole world (v. 10; cf. 49:6).
How does the Champion Servant redeem them “without money and without price”? Isaiah
53 is the answer. The “arm of the Lord” which brings salvation (51:9; 52:10) turns out to be the humble
Servant Himself, growing up like a tender plant in an unreceptive environment (53:1-2). In His work of salvation His appearance becomes “marred beyond
human semblance” (52:14), causing men to despise and reject Him (53:3). His method of redeeming Israel and the
world is to bear the whole burden of the world’s griefs, sorrows, and sins and die for them (vv. 4, 5, 8). The Lord
laid on Him the iniquity of all (v. 6), making Him a sacrifice for sin (v. 10). Unjustly condemned (v. 8), wounded, bruised, and
beaten (v. 5), He was lifted up on high (52:13) in mock exaltation -- but this lifting up brought about the salvation of the
world. He was counted as a criminal (53:12), dying with the wicked and buried in a rich man’s grave (9).
But the results of the sacrificial death of the Champion Servant were phenomenal. He comes to life again
and sees the results of His death -- numerous “seed” saved by His death (v. 10). (Through Him the promise
to Abraham of numerous seed is ultimately fulfilled.) He “prospers” or succeeds in His mission to bring
salvation to the ends of the earth (v. 10; 52:10, 13). By dying for the sins of humanity He makes it possible for those who
accept Him to be healed and made whole (53:5). By the righteousness of the “one,” the
“many” are accounted righteous.
By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant
make many to be accounted righteous (v. 11).
By being numbered with the transgressors and bearing their sins, He earns the right to intercede in their
behalf (v. 12). He can claim that their sins have been atoned for because He died for them!
The result of this great salvation is celebrated in chapter 54. God promises a glorious future of
righteousness, prosperity, and victory for His people (11-16) and concludes by declaring: “This is the heritage of
the servants of the Lord, and their vindication from me, says the LORD” (v. 17). Through the amazing
success of the Champion Servant, all the servants of the Lord triumph!
One of the great achievements of the Champion is to keep the covenant perfectly. In all of God’s
covenants with His people, whether with Abraham, Israel, or David, not one individual or nation, not one king or kingdom,
succeeded perfectly in keeping the covenant.
The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was
appalled that there was no one to intercede; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained
him (Isa. 59:15-17).
Confronted with human failure, He himself undertook to keep the covenant. God says to Him:
I the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will
make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from
prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness (Isa. 42:6-7).
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to
reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness,
‘Be free!’ (Isa. 49:8-9).
What does it mean that the Servant became “a covenant for the people”? As the
God/Man, the Servant represented the two parties to the covenant: God and Israel. In this capacity He kept the covenant
perfectly in behalf of Israel. As Israel’s representative He took the covenant curses upon Himself and suffered for
their guilt, making it possible for them to receive the covenant blessings (Isa. 53:4-5).
The victory of the Champion is incalculable. Where Adam sinned, He obeyed. Where Israel broke the
covenant, He kept it. Where David’s throne collapsed, He reinstated it. As Mr. Son of man, Mr. Seed, Mr.
Messiah, Mr. Servant, Mr. Israel, He does for His people what they cannot do for themselves. By enlisting under His
banner, by joining His side, by uniting with Him, His followers triumph.
1 Either translation is correct because the pronoun “he” can
refer to God or to the collective noun “people.”
2 Jesus explained the meaning of the two kinds of seed in the parable of the
wheat and the weeds. After a farmer had sowed good seed in his field, his enemy came and sowed weeds. Jesus said the
good seed were the children of the kingdom and the bad seed was the sons of the evil one (Matt. 13:24-30; 38).
3 Eve thought her first son was this special divine/human deliverer. Her first
words when Cain was born were, “I have gotten a man, the LORD” (Gen. 4:1, literal translation). Her
statement indicates that she expected her “seed” to be the LORD himself. But it was only until many
generations later that the promised Seed was born of a woman.
4 Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, governed after the return from exile but
was not called a king. Some Jewish high priests and kings called Hasmoneans ruled until shortly before Jesus was born, but
they were descended from Mattathias, of the priestly line (1 Maccabees 2:1; 1 Chron. 24:7; IDB s.v.
“Mattathias” and “Hasmoneans”) and hence were not of the line of David. Essentially the
Davidic monarchy ended at the Babylonian captivity.
5 For evidence that there are two contrasting servants in Isaiah, see my article,
“The Two Servants of Isaiah.”
6 For a more detailed description of the salvation wrought by the suffering
servant, see my article, “Who is the Servant of Isaiah
53?” pp. 6-8.
7 This “tender plant” and “root out of a dry
ground” is similar to the shoot from Jesse’s stump. Another evidence that the humble Servant is the