1 Samuel 17:26-49 1-3 The Philistines drew up their troops for battle... Saul and the Israelites came together, camped at Oak Valley, and spread out their troops in battle readiness for the Philistines. The Philistines were on one hill, the Israelites on the opposing hill, with the valley between them. 4-7 A giant nearly ten feet tall stepped out from the Philistine line into the open, Goliath from Gath. He had a bronze helmet on his head and was dressed in armor—126 pounds of it! He wore bronze shin guards and carried a bronze sword. His spear was like a fence rail—the spear tip alone weighed over fifteen pounds. His shield bearer walked ahead of him. 8-10 Goliath stood there and called out to the Israelite troops, “... pick your best fighter and pit him against me. If he gets the upper hand and kills me, the Philistines will all become your slaves. But if I get the upper hand and kill him, you’ll all become our slaves and serve us. I challenge the troops of Israel this day. Give me a man. Let us fight it out together!” 11 When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine’s challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope. 12-15 Enter David... son of Jesse... While his three oldest brothers went to war with Saul, David went back and forth from attending to Saul to tending his father’s sheep in Bethlehem. 16 Each morning and evening for forty days, Goliath took his stand and made his speech. 17-19 One day, Jesse told David his son, “Take this sack of cracked wheat and these ten loaves of bread and run them down to your brothers in the camp. And take these ten wedges of cheese to the captain of their division. Check in on your brothers to see whether they are getting along all right, and let me know how they’re doing—Saul and your brothers, and all the Israelites in their war with the Philistines in the Oak Valley.” 20-23 David was up at the crack of dawn and, having arranged for someone to tend his flock, took the food and was on his way just as Jesse had directed him. He arrived at the camp just as the army was moving into battle formation, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines moved into position, facing each other, battle-ready. David left his bundles of food in the care of a sentry, ran to the troops who were deployed, and greeted his brothers. While they were talking together, the Philistine champion, Goliath of Gath, stepped out from the front lines of the Philistines, and gave his usual challenge. David heard him. David goes to Saul... 32 “Master,” said David, “don’t give up hope. I’m ready to go and fight this Philistine.” 33 Saul answered David, “You can’t go and fight this Philistine. You’re too young and inexperienced—and he’s been at this fighting business since before you were born.” 34-37 David said, “I’ve been a shepherd, tending sheep for my father. Whenever a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I’d go after it, knock it down, and rescue the lamb. If it turned on me, I’d grab it by the throat, wring its neck, and kill it. Lion or bear, it made no difference—I killed it. And I’ll do the same to this Philistine pig who is taunting the troops of God-Alive. God, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine.” Saul said, “Go. And God help you!” 38-39 Then Saul outfitted David as a soldier in armor. He put his bronze helmet on his head and belted his sword on him over the armor. David tried to walk but he could hardly budge. David told Saul, “I can’t even move with all this stuff on me. I’m not used to this.” And he took it all off. 40 Then David took his shepherd’s staff, selected five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the pocket of his shepherd’s pack, and with his sling in his hand approached Goliath. 41-42 As the Philistine paced back and forth, his shield bearer in front of him, he noticed David. He took one look down on him and sneered—a mere youngster, apple-cheeked and peach-fuzzed. 43 The Philistine ridiculed David. “Am I a dog that you come after me with a stick?” And he cursed him by his gods. 44 “Come on,” said the Philistine. “I’ll make roadkill of you for the buzzards. I’ll turn you into a tasty morsel for the field mice.” 45-47 David answered, “You come at me with sword and spear and battle-ax. I come at you in the name of God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel’s troops, whom you curse and mock. This very day God is handing you over to me. I’m about to kill you, cut off your head, and serve up your body and the bodies of your Philistine buddies to the crows and coyotes. The whole earth will know that there’s an extraordinary God in Israel. And everyone gathered here will learn that Goddoesn’t save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to God—he’s handing you to us on a platter!” 48-49 That roused the Philistine, and he started toward David. David took off from the front line, running toward the Philistine. David reached into his pocket for a stone, slung it, and hit the Philistine hard in the forehead, embedding the stone deeply. The Philistine crashed, face down in the dirt.
What a great underdog story- it's Rocky Balboa vs Apollo Creed, Eagles vs. Patriots
And we identify with David, don't we? We root for him! We love the underdog because feel so much like the underdog in life. it's difficult! "Life, is a series of challenges," says Scott Peck. There is always something in front of you that you need to face- some giant- a situation that seems as overwhelming as Goliath. And many times, more often than not actually, we feel ill equipped, or beaten down. Worse, we are intentionally kept in a state of fear by our government, our advertisers tell us there is something drastically wrong with us, the health care system profits from our being afraid of our own mortality, fitness industry is booming yet we are as a nation growing more obese, our schools are failing, racism is on the rise, queer discrimination has been legitimized- and if that's not enough, we face the giants of illness, unemployment, food insecurity, poverty, financial stress, broken relationships... what are we to do David? How do we stand firm against the Goliaths of our lives?
We love David because he was facing this giant that no one else had figured out how to conquer. He's a hero! But the thing is, he bested Goliath armed only with 2 things- the knowledge that God was with him, and by using his own specific gifts. If you noticed, when David found out about Goliath, he wasn't flustered by Goliath's size or that he was a champion. David knew that God had given him an anointing- he knew he was loved, chosen, and to be used for God's purposes. David knew that no matter what, God had a plan. Whether David was to beat Goliath or to die trying, David knew that God would be with him, and had given him this opportunity to serve the people of God- and he stepped up.
And listen, here's where we get all flustered and think- how could he have that kind of faith! He was so young- so inexperienced? And yes, God had chosen David to be the next King. But that didn't mean David just woke up the next day and started ordering people around and directing people. He had to learn what it would mean to be a King- to train, to explore and practice what it would take to be a ruler- and part of that was learning the art of war And yes, Saul's armor was too heavy and all of that stuff so we get the impression that David wasn't used to combat-but David was not as ill equipped as you may have been led to believe:
- Malcom Gladwell, gave a wonderful Ted Talk a few years back, and said, "In ancient warfare, there are three kinds of warriors. There's cavalry, men on horseback and with chariots. There's heavy infantry, which are... armed foot soldiers with swords and shields and some kind of armor. And there's artillery, and artillery are archers, but, more importantly, slingers. And a slinger is someone who has a leather pouch with two long cords attached to it, and they put a projectile, either a rock or a lead ball, inside the pouch, and they whirl it around like this and they let one of the cords go, and the effect is to send the projectile forward towards its target. That's what David has, and it's important to understand that that sling is not a slingshot.... It's not a child's toy. It's in fact an incredibly devastating weapon. When David rolls it around like this, he's turning the sling around probably at six or seven revolutions per second, and that means that when the rock is released, it's going forward really fast, probably 35 meters per second. That's substantially faster than a baseball thrown by even the finest of baseball pitchers. More than that, the stones in the Valley of Elah were not normal rocks. They were barium sulphate,which are rocks twice the density of normal stones. If you do the calculations on the ballistics, on the stopping power of the rock fired from David's sling, it's roughly equal to the stopping power of a [.45 caliber] handgun.This is an incredibly devastating weapon. Accuracy, we know from historical records that slingers -- experienced slingers could hit and maim or even kill a target at distances of up to 200 yards. From medieval tapestries, we know that slingers were capable of hitting birds in flight. They were incredibly accurate. When David lines up -- and he's not 200 yards away from Goliath, he's quite close to Goliath -- when he lines up and fires that thing at Goliath, he has every intention and every expectation of being able to hit Goliath at his most vulnerable spot between his eyes. If you go back over the history of ancient warfare, you will find time and time again that slingers were the decisive factor against infantry in one kind of battle or another."(1)
And I love this. Because as much as we may like thinking that David just took his best shot knowing that God was with him, (and that is true) David also had been working and training for his future call. It wasn't as much a a fluke as we think. Everything part of David's day was spent in preparation for what God was calling him to. He wasn't sitting idly by and saying "God has anointed me, now I'll just wait for King Saul to die and then take over. He took on the responsibility of knowing everything he would need to know about being King, he trained, he studied, honed his skills- all the while- being faithful to the tasks at hand. This is important. If you notice, before David ever goes into battle, the text tells us he was going back and forth between King Saul and tending sheep. He didn't give up his day job. And I don't think it's unintentional that David's day job was being a shepherd; one of the lowliest most undesirable and disrespected professions in the ancient world. Yet David was obedient to where God was calling - from the sheep field, to the battle field.
Now that being said, when David felt the call to step out and fight Goliath, King Saul thought he was crazy-even though he must have known how skilled David was, he still said, "You're not ready! You're too young- too inexperienced." And perhaps that was true- but David, ready or not- knew that God was calling him to fight, ready or not. And though the odds may have been stacked against him, David relied on God's power, and that God had equipped him with the gifts and skills to do the job and he stood in that faith and faced a giant. (Can you hear the Rocky music? Fly Eagles Fly!)
But here's where we need to ask ourselves a question. We love David in this story, right? As we said, we love the underdog- we relate to the underdog- we root for the underdog! We read stories about them and watch movies about them and they become our sports and political heros! But I wonder sometimes, why? Because as much as we idolize David, many of us 'spend our lives trying desperately hard to be Goliath." In the words of Sam Wells: "We think it’s quaint and clever that David got by with five smooth stones and a sling, but we spend our own energies stockpiling swords and spears and javelins. We admire the fact that David forswore Saul’s armor and gadgetry, but just look at our car, just look at our house, just look at our country: we’ve beefed them up to look like Goliath, with so many safety and security features we can hardly move around in them."(2)
We want the power of the big strong invulnerable impenetrable giant- so no one can hurt us, and we can feel invincible, so there are no more threats- no more fear for our children- and while you might quickly say "yes, but we need that power to enact justice- to do what God would have us do- to right the wrongs of the world and participate in God's shalom making activity'- history has shown us, in fact, the life of David has shown us, that this isn't what generally happens to the Goliaths of the world. That's evident even in our own country's treatment of the other... David- after this battle, became 'Goliath.' He became the one with the power, the muscle, the security team- and he misused it, abused people, ruined his family, and acted in ways that would mimic the world leaders we have despised the most.
David would begin listening the the desires of his own heart, and go after the things he wanted, or lusted after, he would get distracted by the things of the world and ignore the warnings sent by God- and in each case, tragedy would follow. Each time, God would have to bring him back, and humble him, again and again.
Yet, my friends, before we start judging David, think about the way we live- the things we go after that seem all too attractive, the way we spend our money, the way we spend our time... I'm not beating anyone up here, just calling us to look at ourselves. I'm saying, we need to be careful, David... we have much power that we may or may not recognize, individually and as a nation... we are the Goliath's of the world. So how do we handle it?
With two things as far as I can see... first the knowledge that God will never leave us or forsake us and will love us, no matter what- and second with courage.
The first one- we talk about every week. Nothing we can do, think or imagine can separate us from the love of God through Christ.
But... Courage? For sure! Courage to stand not just as an underdog and face the giants of life, but courage to live life out as a victor. (That doesnt mean flaunting our stuff! It means having the Courage to act and think and live differently than the rest of the world. Courage to live as a disciple of the risen lord. Courage to face our own vulnerability and to embrace it- but then to stand up in the midst of the storm and claim the power of God- Peace- be still! Courage to get out of our own heads and adopt instead the mind of Christ! You are God's beloved!
And yes, there are times when we feel like we have no armor at all, and we are completely exposed- that's ok- God is with us. And there are times when we feel a lot like Goliath- that we know we have it all going on, but somewhere deep inside, we know that if someone hits us in just the right spot, we'll come crashing down and our whole life will fall apart. Courage is to realize that the power we think we have is not in armor, or shields, or money, or cars, or job security, or even in good health. Courage means that we acknowledge that our 'power,' and everything we've been given, is a gift from God, and we have a responsibility to use that power to Gods Glory.
And make no mistake, God has equipped you (each of us) with everything we need to face every giant we encounter- and God has given us the gift to come back on our knees every time we catch ourselves acting like Goliath. Courage is deciding to use those gifts- to train, and study, and practice- to be faithful to the tasks that have been put in front of you, no matter how low or insignifigant you think they are. Courage to be obedient to whatever God is calling you to- and to show up whe you'd rather stay at hoe hanging out with the sheep.
We act with courage, because anything less is acting in slavery- (we talked about this just 2 weeks ago) when we dont act as servants of God we become slaves to the culture, a slaves to the powers of this world- Slaves to our own ego- our own mortality- slaves to fear..... and my friends- God didn't give us a spirit of slavery so we could fall back into fear- no- god has given us a spirit of adoption- we are God's children- we need not be afraid- the PSirit helps us in our weakness- in all things more than conquerers- conquerers even of our own fears.
There is a wonderful song from the musical Les Mis: It seaks of the courage of the people of God, and is pulled from parts of Isaiah- goes like this
Do you hear the people sing Lost in the valley of the night? It is the music of a people Who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth There is a flame that never dies. Even the darkest night will end And the sun will rise.
They will live again in freedom In the garden of the Lord. They will walk behind the plough-share, They will put away the sword. The chain will be broken And all men will have their reward.
Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me? Somewhere beyond the barricade Is there a world you long to see? Do you hear the people sing? Say, do you hear the distant drums? It is the future that they bring When tomorrow comes!
(1) https://www.ted.com/talks/malcolm_gladwell_the_unheard_story_of_david_and_goliath (2) Samuel Wells-https://www.faithandleadership.com/five-smooth-stones