June 24, 2018
1 Samuel 17 assorted verses
I'm doing things a little differently today. You may have noticed we saved the Old Testament reading for last, and that's because we are looking at it in close detail. And you may say, “Well, we all know the story of David and Goliath, we've heard it since we were children.” And that's true and that's good. But often in the “children's” version, we don't get all the details. And you know that old saying... “the devil is in the details.” But did you know that this phrase is an outgrowth of an even older phrase? The original phrase was “God is in the detail.” So we are going to try to find God in the details of the story, but more, we will try to find meaning for us beyond the boy vs giant story we all know.
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.
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.
Goliath stood there and called out to the Israelite troops, “Why bother using your whole army? Am I not Philistine enough for you? And you’re all committed to Saul, aren’t you? So 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!”
Each morning and evening for forty days, Goliath took his stand and made his speech. When Saul and his troops heard the Philistine’s challenge, they were terrified and lost all hope.
So Goliath was a giant from Gath. He wanted a one-on-one fight for all the marbles. Mano a mano against the champion of the Israelites. He was challenging the Israelites...and they were backing down...terrified and without hope of defeating him. It reminded me of the disciples in the gospel today, and the word Jesus gave them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And for the Israelites, the answer was no, at least not enough to face this giant.
Now I'm going to suggest that Goliath represents the giants that we face. And by giants I mean obstacles to the kind of life we'd like, a victorious life lived in joy and peace. For the Israelites, Goliath stood between them and a return to their homes and families; stood between them and peace, stood between them and the life they longed to live. What are some giants in your life keeping you from peace, from the life you long to live? I can think of many the members of the congregation face every day. The pain of arthritis is a giant many face. Every morning, that giant is there; taunting, challenging, threatening to take away your joy. Loneliness may be your giant; waking to an empty house and wondering how to fill the hours. This giant seeks to take away the promise of God's presence, the comfort of prayer, the thoughts of reaching out to others. Aging and the troubles that come along with old age. Disease, worry, money concerns, family breakups, physical aches and pains, recurring surgeries; all giants that can steal our joy and our peace with God. So let's return to the story. Listen with an ear to hear how Israel faced the giant and how David faced the giant. Remember, Goliath was taunting the Israelite army and they were cowering in fear.
Enter David. He was the son of Jesse. Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to war. David was the youngest son. 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.
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.” 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. The Philistine champion, Goliath of Gath gave his usual challenge. David heard him.
The Israelites, to a man, fell back the moment they saw the giant—totally frightened.
Saul sent for David. “Master,” said David, “don’t give up hope. I’m ready to go and fight this Philistine. 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. 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. God, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine.”
Let's stop again. David gives his reasoning to the king. He tells of defeating lions and bears. And he's going to do the same to the giant. But note to whom he gives the credit for his wilderness victories over wild animals and his confidence that he can defeat Goliath. “God delivered me; God will deliver me.” David, as we read in the New Testament, was a man after God's own heart. And the Psalms of David give us insight into the relationship they shared. His best known psalm is Psalm 23 where he compares the care of the Lord to the care a shepherd gives their sheep. The rod and staff are weapons the shepherd uses to guide and protect the sheep. David knew this and carried his staff into battle along with his sling which. Of course, the staff, stones and sling are not what the soldiers would use as we read.
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. And he took it all off.
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.
Imagine this, in the middle of two armies out to destroy each other, here was David looking for stones in the brook. As I considered that picture, I wondered just how old David was at this time. There are some clues in scripture. For one, Israelite law said you had to be at least twenty years old to go to war. So David had three brothers in the army who would have been over twenty. David was the youngest of eight sons, so realistically, 14 or 15, maybe 16 would have been his age. A real youth who knew just what his plan was and carefully selected five smooth stones from the brook. We can imagine that the brook was between the two armies lined up on opposite sides of the valley—where would a brook be other than in the valley between the hills?
What was Goliath thinking? He would have wondered what this child was doing gathering stones in the middle of a battlefield. H wouldn't have known that this boy was the fighter the Israelites would pit against him. From the story:
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. The Philistine ridiculed David. “Am I a dog that you come after me with a stick?” And he cursed him by his gods.
Obviously, Goliath had no respect for this mere lad coming after him without a real weapon. But once again, we discover what is at the heart of the battle for David.
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 God doesn’t save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to God—he’s handing you to us on a platter!”
40 days Goliath has been taunting the Israelites. Forty days they have had no answer for him. But David comes and does have an answer, and that answer is the Lord God, which should have been King Saul's first response.
If you recall, two weeks ago we read about the prophet Samuel selecting Saul as the King of Israel. Prior to Saul, they were a Theocracy, a nation ruled by God's judges and not kings or governing bodies. The people saw the rest of the world with kings and insisted on Saul, who looked like a king. But Saul turned from God, and Samuel, in last week's reading, anointed David as the next king of Israel. But he is not yet king, he is a mere boy compared to the rest of the army, yet here he is talking trash to the giant, Goliath. Well, not talking trash exactly, he is talking about the God who is still the Lord of Israel, who chose Israel as a chosen race. For forty days, God's chosen people had not called on the name of the Lord. But David comes in God's name, full of confidence in God's ability and God's will that they defeat the Philistines. “And everyone gathered here will learn that God doesn’t save by means of sword or spear. The battle belongs to God—he’s handing you to us on a platter!” That get Goliath's attention! We continue the account from scripture:
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, facedown in the dirt.
Kind of anticlimactic after this big buildup. Three lines tell the story of young David running towards the giant, grabbing a single stone and felling the giant with a bulls-eye in his forehead. Down he goes, and then we get the rest of the story, that is usually edited from the children's version:
Then David ran up to the Philistine and stood over him, pulled the giant’s sword from its sheath, and finished the job by cutting off his head. When the Philistines saw that their great champion was dead, they scattered, running for their lives. David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem.
So what do we learn about facing our own giants in this story? We do need to face them, whatever they may be. One thing I see is that David ran at his giant. He didn't stand back and wait to see what Goliath was going to do. He not only faced him, he ran toward him. So when you decide to face your Giant, don't do it halfheartedly. Run full force into battle. But...but you don't go into battle alone. David didn't, “I come at you in the name of God-of-the-Angel-Armies”, is what he told his giant. When you get God in your corner, it is not only God but God's army of angels that is on your side. Don't forget that.
On Facebook this week, I saw several people share the same post, including Julie. I don't really watch many shared videos, but thought I'd better check it out. And it fit with what we are talking about. It was a speech given by an actor at an award ceremony. He is Chris Pratt...born in Virginia, Mn and when I looked him up discovered he is starring in the new Jurassic Park movie. It is odd to hear real God talk from an actor, but listen to what he said, “God is real. God loves you. God wants the best for you. Believe that. I do. Nobody is perfect. People are gonna tell you you’re perfect just the way you are. You’re not. You are imperfect. You always will be, but there is a powerful force that designed you that way, and if you’re willing to accept that, you will have grace. And grace is a gift, and like the freedom we enjoy in this country, that grace was paid for with somebody else’s blood. Do not forget it. Don’t take it for granted.”
David was not perfect, in fact he had more faults than many of us. He needed the grace Pratt speaks of. The grace that was ultimately paid for by the blood of Christ. None of us is perfect. We all face giants of self doubt and anxiety and doubts. But we learn from Jesus, and the story of David, that we can know the love of God. God walked with David, God had his back. And it is the same for you. As David faced his, you can face your giants, not on your own but with your God, whose been our help in the past and will be our help and hope for years to come. Amen
Hymn: Our God, Our Help in Ages Past 210 PH