Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
24 All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid. 25 The Israelites said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. The king will greatly enrich the man who kills him, and will give him his daughter and make his family free in Israel.” 26 David said to the men who stood by him, “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?” 27 The people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done for the man who kills him”…
31 When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him. 32 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36 Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” (I Samuel 17:24-27,31-37)
If you were an Israelite living about 1,000 years before Christ you had some enemies. At the top of your list would have been the Philistines. These pagan, warlike people were absolutely despised by the Israelites. And the feeling was mutual.
For years the Israelites and the Philistines battled one another. One of their most famous battles took place when the kingdom of Israel was still in its infancy. The two armies had gathered on either side of a valley called Elah, the Philistines perched on the mountains on one side and the Israelites, under the leadership of King Saul, perched on the mountains of the other side. This created an impasse because neither side wanted to leave the safety of the higher ground and enter the valley where they would be vulnerable to attack from above. So like two boxers, neither willing to expose himself, the Philistines and the Israelites circled the ring waiting and watching for the other to take the first swing.
It was Goliath who finally made a move. A Philistine giant from Gath, this monster of a warrior steps out into the valley and challenges the Israelites to send out their mightiest warrior so that the two of them can fight to the death. If Goliath wins, the Israelites become the slaves of the Philistines. If the Israelite warrior wins, the Philistines will become the slaves of Israel. In ancient times this was called single combat and was a common way of setting disputes without incurring the bloodshed of a major battle. Think how different things might go today in our world if instead of sending troops to war to settle disputes nations instead threw their leaders in a ring to settle things man to man.
The only problem with this challenge was that Goliath was nearly nine feet tall, was clad in a 125 pound coat of bronze armor, and carried a spear with an iron point that alone weighed 15 pounds. Had there been performance enhancing drugs back in those days, Goliath most definitely would have been a candidate for testing. On top of it all, Goliath is a bully with an attitude. There’s no class to this giant. He mocks the Israelites with brazen arrogance. He knows that there is not a single man standing on that opposing ridge who would stand a chance against him in hand to hand combat. The Jew that volunteered to face him volunteered for a death wish.
So the impasse continues. For 40 days it continues. Each morning the giant marches down into the valley and reasserts his challenge, defying the Israelites and their God to face him. And each morning nobody steps forward to take up the challenge. Even when King Saul offers a great reward, the hand of his own daughter and lifelong freedom in Israel, nobody steps forward. And as the giant continues his rant day after day after day the Israelite army becomes increasingly demoralized and paralyzed by fear and futility. Their enemy is too great. There is no way that they can stand against him.
Now I don’t know what form he takes, but I would not be surprised to know that there is a Goliath or two in your life, some enemy or obstacle which over time has beaten you down and left you also demoralized and paralyzed by fear. Perhaps your Goliath is some failure in the past, some shame or disappointment in your life you cannot shake. Or maybe your Goliath is some habit or addictive behavior, some sinful pattern that you can never seem to overcome. Every morning you wake up and the voices in your head taunt you and defy you to just try to overcome. Every evening you lie down even more convinced that you never will overcome.
Let me just tell you now that this story is less about a Philistine giant that opposed God’s people 3,000 years ago and is actually more about some equally impressive giants that oppose God’s people even today.
Into the midst of this impasse walks the shepherd boy, David. As the king’s armor bearer he has responsibilities at the front lines. As the runt of his family, however, he also has responsibilities back home feeding the sheep. So back and forth he runs, sometimes carrying snacks to his older brothers who are warriors in the royal army. On one such errand David shows up at the front line just as Goliath launches into his daily taunt. David is stunned. He can’t believe what he’s hearing, can’t believe that this entire army would stand there and let this brute demean them and their God. Instinctively, he turns to those standing nearby and asks, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
Do you hear what David is saying? For him, this is not so much a challenge to the honor of his people as it is a challenge to the faith of his people. If a bully dishonors you and your family and standing up to that bully means you’ll probably get the tar kicked out of you, you still might stand up to him for the sake of honor. But if a bully dishonors you and your family and your brother standing beside you is twice the size of the bully, you’re a fool if you don’t simply stand aside and let your brother take care of business. That is David’s point.
“You are the covenant people of the living God of creation, the God against whom nobody can stand! How can this be happening? Who does this giant think he is? And why are you not letting the Lord put him in his place?”
Like you, I have had times in my life, many times, when I have felt discouraged and beaten down because some obstacle or opposition has weakened my will and destroyed my determination. But let me say that it has been a priceless gift to me in those times when a brother or sister in Christ has come alongside me and asked me the question David asks here. “Jeff, do you serve a living God or not? And the living God that you serve, is he truly the Creator of all that is, unopposed in all that he does, faithful in all that he says? You believe that he is, right? So how is it that you have now allowed this person, or this circumstance, or this failure, or this lack of resources to leave you so defeated? Do you serve the living God in your midst or not?” It’s the question I want to ask you this morning. I don’t know what Goliath you face today but whatever it is, let me be David to you and ask you, do you serve the living God in your midst or not?
Well, word reaches King Saul that there is a young errand boy among the troops asking this question, aghast that nobody has taken up the challenge issued by the giant. Saul is intrigued and sends for David who comes and says to the king, “Do not be afraid, for I will go and fight the giant.”
“You?” the king says. “You’re a child and this giant has been a warrior his whole life. No, it would be a suicide mission. You cannot go and fight.” And the king, of course, is right. Give David the sharpest sword and the strongest armor and still the fight would be over before it started. But the thing is, David has no intention of going at the enemy with armor and swords. For David, victory will come in a very different way.
At this point in the sermon the following video clip was shown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_D4QN6y2Q0
The case has been made over the years that in this battle between David and Goliath it was actually Goliath who was the underdog because of David’s superior skill in battle. He had, as the Wilson Sporting Goods company suggests that we all should have, the “right equipment”. Yes, Goliath was a monster against whom no man stood a chance in hand to hand combat. But David has no intention of hand to hand combat. When King Saul tries to outfit him in his armor he sets it aside and, instead, bends to pick up five smooth stones and drops them in his shepherd’s bag. Instead of a sword, he approaches the giant with a sling in his hand.
Now, granted, this sling was no child’s toy. In those days a sling was a pouch with two long leather cords attached to it. The slinger would then put a projectile in the pouch, either a rock or a lead ball, and then whirl the pouch around and around, finally letting go of one of the cords so that the projective would shoot forward at speeds faster than the best fastball you’ll ever see thrown in the major leagues. Historical records tell us that slingers who mastered this skill became so accurate that they could hit a target from 100 meters away and even kill birds in midflight. David, remember, was a shepherd who spent his days out in the fields with nothing but time on his hands and nothing but rocks all around and nothing to worry about but predators who wanted to come and steal his sheep. In other words, David had plenty of opportunity to practice and refine this skill. The sling that David carried into the valley that day was an incredibly devastating weapon against which, some would argue, Goliath had no chance.
The thing is, it was not ability with a sling upon which David relies. Yes, he makes a case before Saul that he knows how to use his weapon and has demonstrated as much against lions and bears. However, he also makes clear to Saul that in the end it was “the Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear and who will also save me from the hand of this Philistine.” From David’s view, victory would not come from the sling, but from the Lord. For some reason, Saul consents and gives David permission to go and face the giant.
Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there when after 40 days of taunting it was finally a shepherd boy who emerged from the Israelite ranks and stepped onto the valley floor to meet the giant? I can’t help but wonder what the rest of the Israelites must have been thinking at that point. Remember, their freedom depended on the victory of their best warrior against Goliath. He loses and they become slaves! “This is our best warrior? Our freedom rests on this shepherd boy emerging victorious against the monster?” I can’t imagine that in that moment a single Israelite soldier liked his odds of ever seeing his home and his family again.
Goliath, on the other hand, liked his odds. By his reaction he almost seems insulted. “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?” He belches curses at David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” David is not intimidated. Again, not because he has such confidence in his sling; he makes no mention of that. His confidence, rather, is in the Lord. “The Lord does not save by the sword and spear,” he boasts, “for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.” David boasts, but he boasts in the Lord alone.
So let me ask you, when you face a formidable and daunting obstacle in your life, someone or something which stands against you, what’s your first instinct? Is your first instinct to assume defeat? It is for some people who have resigned themselves to never experiencing lasting victory in life. Is your first instinct effort? Maybe you’re the person who always imagines that with a little more determination, a little smarter thinking, a little different angle, a little more time, any obstacle can be overcome by the person who refuses to give up.
Notice that David’s first instinct is neither defeat nor effort. His first instinct is faith. He doesn’t assume defeat but neither does he assume that he himself has what it takes to overcome. His confidence is in the Lord and in the Lord alone. The battle belongs to the Lord. The Lord will win the victory.
And he does. The giant comes towards David. David rushes to meet him, puts his hand in his bag, pulls out a stone, swings it around and around, lets it fly, and the stone sinks into the giant’s forehead, knocking him face first to the dust either dead or unconscious. As the armies on both sides stood in disbelief, David then rushes to the fallen giant, takes the sword out of his sheath, and brings it down upon his neck. The Philistines, seeing their great giant beheaded, immediately turn and flee as the Israelites, rising up with a shout, pursue them in victory.
As we picture David there standing over the dead body of Goliath the lesson for us seems so obvious. Even a child can understand it, right? No matter what great enemy or obstacle threatens you in life, trust in the Lord and step up in faith to face that enemy or obstacle and the Lord will use you to overcome even against the greatest of odds. Place you faith in the Lord and no matter what, victory will be yours in the end.
That is the obvious lesson, and it’s a good lesson. It’s just not the only lesson, or even the best lesson.
The other day I overheard somebody mention that they have enjoyed spending some time in the Old Testament this year on Sunday mornings but that after six months they’re getting a bit weary of the journey and are quite ready to get back to the New Testament where the real action is. I understand that many Christians, and probably some of you, think this way. Frankly, that’s exactly why we’re spending an entire year in the Old Testament.
Maybe it’s true, maybe the real action is in the New Testament. Even so, I have become convinced that we cannot ever fully understand the New Testament apart from first understanding the Old Testament. As somebody once said, trying to understand Jesus without first understanding the story of Israel is bit like trying to understand why somebody is hitting a ball with a stick without first knowing what baseball is all about.
Like every other part of the Old Testament, this part, this story of the shepherd boy’s victory over the great giant, points us forward. Yes, David won a stunning victory that day in the valley. It was only a prelude, however, to a much greater victory that would one day be won not only to save a nation but to save the whole world.
You see, generations later a long-awaited descendant of David would come to face an enemy far greater than the giant Goliath. The world, and everything in it, had been utterly corrupted by human rebellion. No matter how hard they tried, people, even the best people, could not live and love the way God wanted us to live and love. No matter how many times God demonstrated his faithfulness, people would never give faithfulness in return. The world was full of sin, sin which always led to death. These were the two giant enemies of the world, sin and death, enemies against which no person stood a chance for victory.
In the fullness of time, however, a child was born. In those days the people of God were once again looking for a king, a warrior who could lead them against their enemies. The last person they ever expected God to anoint for the job, however, was a carpenter’s son from Nazareth.
When David went down into the valley of Elah that day to face the enemy Goliath, the fate of the entire nation of Israel hung in the balance. Had David been defeated, slavery was their destiny. David put his life on the line for the freedom of an entire nation. And yet this shepherd’s sacrifice was only a shadow of an infinitely greater sacrifice which happened years later when the Great Shepherd, the carpenter’s son who was also the eternal Son of God, went up one day onto the hill of Calvary to face an even greater enemy. His name, of course, was Jesus and when he went to the cross the fate of all of creation hung in the balance. Had he been defeated, eternal slavery to sin and death was our destiny. Christ put his life on the line for the freedom of the whole world, for the salvation and redemption of all creation.
As he did, however, there wasn’t a person watching who liked our odds. All who had once hoped Jesus might be the one to bring victory abandoned hope when he refused to take up the sword and, instead, went seemingly helpless to the cross to face death armed with weapons nobody imagined would ever be powerful enough to fell so great a giant. Even the enemy mocked him as he went. “Look at the great Messiah now,” they taunted. “He saved others, let’s see him save himself!” They were just like Goliath when they mocked him. Also just like Goliath, they had no idea what was about to happen.
If the story of David and Goliath is basically a story about how a person with great resourcefulness, or great determination, or great courage, or even great faith can defeat a great enemy then the story of David and Goliath is basically about us. If you have great resourcefulness, if you have great determination, if you have great courage, if you have great faith then you too can defeat the great enemies in your life.
It’s David himself who tells us that’s not what the story is about. The Lord does not save by sword or spear, or by resourcefulness, or determination, or courage, or even faith. The battle is not ours, the battle is Lord’s! The story is not about us or about what we can do or should do. The story is about God and about what it is that God has already done.
You see, whether or not you recognize it, there are two great enemies you face in life against whom you, on your own, are forever powerless. Sin is your enemy you can never overcome. Try as hard as you might, you cannot, on your own power, live and love the way God wants you to live and love. Some people spend their lives trying and every time it leaves them either disheartened as they realize their failure or self-righteous as they ignore their failure. In the same way, then, just as you were powerless against sin you will also be powerless against death which is the fruit of sin. Everybody wishes they could cheat death; nobody does. Sin and death, these are the great and powerful enemies of us all.
This is why I have said to you a hundred times before from this pulpit that the Christian Gospel, the good news that we have to proclaim in the church, has little to do with what we ought to do. After all, what can we do? The enemy is too great. No, the Gospel is not about what we ought to do but is about what God has already done. The good news is that Jesus Christ, the Son of David, has already gone on behalf of us all to face enemies against whom we never stood a chance and has defeated them eternally, once and for all. As Paul puts it in Colossians 2, “Having disarmed the powers and authorities [of our enemies], Christ made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
And so I ask you, what enemy do you face in your life today? How are you feeling overwhelmed and defeated? What has caused you to lose hope that things could ever end well? In what ways do you imagine yourself forever unable to change? How are you overcome this morning by fear, or discouragement, or shame, or guilt, or disappointment? How have sin and death resigned you to defeat?
As you face Goliath in your life, in whatever form he takes, this is all I want to ask you, do you serve the living God in your midst, or not? Do you?
The victory is the Lord’s. In Jesus Christ, the victory already belongs to the Lord.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
1. Re-read I Samuel 17. This is a familiar story. Anything new you notice here this time through? What stands out to you?
2. What do you think ultimately motivated David to step out into the valley and fight Goliath?
3. Why in the world would Saul let David fight Goliath in the first place? The whole nation depended on the success of a shepherd boy against a giant! Was this a prudent move for the king to make?
4. What “giants” do you currently face in life? Are there people or circumstances which stand against you over which there seems to be little hope of victory?
5. When you face challenges in life, are you constantly keeping in mind that the battle is the Lord’s or do you tend to take the battle into your own hands?
6. David had a sling to face his enemy. What “weapons” do you think God has given us as we face opposition in this world?
7. How is the figure of David in this story pointing us to the figure of Christ? Has Jesus done for us something like what David did for the Israelites? How so?
8. Do you feel as if Christ has won the victory over everything that opposes you in this life or do you still feel as if there are “Goliaths” out there taunting you?
 For more historical information on slings and other aspects of this battle, see Malcom Gladwell’s TED talk entitled “The unheard story of David and Goliath” at http://www.ted.com/talks/malcolm_gladwell_the_unheard_story_of_david_and_goliath?utm_source=email&source=email&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=ios-share#t-520742
 N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, (San Francisco: Harper, 2006), 71.
 Colossians 2:15 (NIV).