Sometimes, we want to simplify everything and make things black and white, Hoos or Hokies, Trump or Clinton. But the truth about life is that things are rarely either/or. Often, they are the results of decisions made over a lifetime, or at the very least, they are result of a series of events.
The story of David and Goliath boils down to one young man and one tyrannical giant. But lost in the final battle are a series of people and situations who more often resemble our lives than the final two gladiators. To recognize the choices we all face, today we’re going to look at the background to one of the Bible’s most famous showdowns.
In I Samuel 17, it says that the Philistines had gathered their forces of war and were marching in Judah. The ‘bad guys’, no, the baddest guys in the known world had already crossed the Israelite border – think Patrick Swayze’s Red Dawn or some Roland Emmerich movie where the White House gets blown up. The villains are not out there but they are right here.
On one side of the valley are the Philistines; on the other are the Israelites. And every morning and every evening, the Philistines’ champion, a gigantic beast of a man would stand out in the valley and taunt the Israelites. This was the equivalent of Shaquille O’Neal, John Cena, and the Rock – only rather than play fighting, this guy had made a habit of coming out of every battle victorious.
And to the Israelite encampment, Goliath directed this dare: “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us. This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.”
Now, a few things here. First, the Philistine is challenging King Saul himself. If Goliath was the champion for the Philistines, Saul should have been the Israelites’ champion. He was the king chosen by God – he was the one convinced that he was chosen to be God’s leader. And Saul is afraid. Saul believes the threat of Goliath is greater than the power of God.
But before we’re too hard on Saul, let us consider that ‘all of the Israelites’ are both dismayed and terrified. Generally speaking, a group of people tend to exhibit the characteristics of their leader, just like over time, they say an owner and their dog begin to look alike.
And then we meet David, the youngest son of Jesse, the descendant of Ruth and Boaz.
David’s story actually begins with the prophet Samuel arriving in his home town (I Samuel 16) to anoint the next king of Israel. God has rejected Saul, who had become caught up in his own hype and who disrespected God’s commands for his own pleasure over and over again. God sends Samuel to Bethlehem (the town that Jesus will later be born in but we’re getting ahead of ourselves) to the household of a guy named Jesse who had eight sons.
The eldest son walks in and Samuel assumes that it has to be him. It’s always the oldest in the ancient days who receives the blessing and is built for the best, right? But God tells Samuel not to worry about this son’s looks or his height, implying that Samuel saw what everyone else did: this guy was big and strong and a GQ model! God says he’s more concerned about what is inside the young man’s heart.
[Sidebar: this doesn’t bode well for the guy’s heart! But it is interesting that we see a pattern where good looks, and the accolades of others, are not in line with what God is looking for. I wonder if pretty, athletic people don’t have to attend to the same things because they find other avenues easier. Guess God is evening the playing field for short, ugly people?]
Jesse’s first seven sons get the big red America’s Got Talent “X” from God. I have to feel for Samuel a little here. He’s already expressed fear that Saul might become angry that a new king was being anointed while Saul was still king, alive and kicking, and now God was crossing off the most obvious choices after Jesse had shown Samuel hospitality. It had to have been uncomfortable, and frustrating, and at least a little embarrassing.
But Samuel dutifully asks if there’s another son, figuring there has to be something, right? So Jesse summons in the youngest [read: least important] who has been left out watching the sheep while the ‘big kids’ were paraded before the visiting priest. David wasn’t even invited to his own coronation! He was considered too small, too weak, too young, too everything to be included, first by his own father and then by Samuel.
And then God says, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” And Samuel knows that this is who God has chosen. God already told Samuel- and Saul- that God had “sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of the people” (I Samuel 13:14)! God looked down at the world and out of all of the men he could’ve chosen to lead his people, he picked a guy who was the eighth son, the one with no blessing to grasp and nothing about himself to hold onto.
We can see that God loves the underdog, that God looked into this young man’s heart and saw something he could love and respect. That David would grow to be a mighty king with God as his leader and his heart aimed at doing God’s will. This was bound to be amazing!
David is the kind of young man that other people overlook, who is shuttled around as unimportant. David is the kind of person whose gifts are overlooked by others, who is forced to do work like running lunch to his older brothers who are part of the unbelieving horde.
But David is the first one who sees that it someone must stand up against the bully, the Philistine’s champion. His brothers try to talk him out of it; Saul tries to talk him out of it — he tells David he’s too young.
Sidebar momentarily: Isn’t that the way life works? Not only is there a giant – a danger, an evil that needs faced, but there are people who are supposed to be on our side, who are supposed to be our friends, who are supposed to be of the same belief system as us who say it can’t be done. David is prepared to go against Goliath, but he has to go through all of these doubters first. Unfortunately, we can be like that at church, too. If anything, I hope today that you begin to see problems as opportunities to be overcome – and that you encourage others to overcome them as well.
Thankfully, David recognizes that God has been using his life up to this point to prepare him for a giant, for Goliath. And he’s quick to tell Saul so in I Samuel 17:34-37. “Look,” says David, “I’ve been fighting off lions and bears. I’ve been left out in the wilderness by myself with my father’s sheep – and I’ve fought fiercer things than another man.”
Can you imagine? Lions and bears? With what, a sling and a few pebbles?
Here’s David, unafraid because he can see the giants that he has already defeated. He recognizes where God moved in his life before.
And David tells Saul that. David reminds Saul that the battle is God’s, not David’s.
Of course, Saul tries to dress David in the armor Saul would use to fight Goliath even though he wasn’t brave enough or faithful enough to do it. Isn’t that the way it always goes? There’s a new way of doing something and we tend to try to fit it into the same old boxes, we say, ‘it’s never been done that way before.’ And here’s David, wise enough to say, “No, thanks. I’ve got this.”
Every few years, someone tries to use the story of David and Goliath to sell television episodes – or even a movie – with limited success. People just don’t buy in. They want to believe that a little guy can upset the big guys (that’s why we watch March Madness), but they just can’t seem to believe that a kid with a sling shot would actually take down a fully-armored warrior. It just doesn’t make sense.
So here we are, yadda yadda yadda. One sling, five stones, out into the field David goes. Goliath mocks David and David’s response is just awesome:
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel” (I Samuel 17:45-6).
Mic drop. Exit stage left.
In fact, if we’re putting this up against actual war movie hype speeches, this is in my top three. Which ones are the other two? Why, I’m so glad you asked!
In Braveheart, William Wallace tells his assembled farmers preparing for the culmination of the war (and movie): “Fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!”
Pretty inspiring, right?
In Independence Day, President Whitmore channels Winston Churchill and Dylan Thomas as his ragtag pilots prepare to take on the alien fleet: “In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world, and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. Mankind, that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences any more. We will be united in our common interest. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the 4th of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution, but from annihilation. We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist and should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice, ‘We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive.’ Today we celebrate our independence day!”
There’s only one movie speech I like better than those two … but I’ll save that for another day.
“I come against you in the name of the Lord.” Roll that one around on your tongue a minute. Think of your giants. Tell one right now, in your own head, “Fill in the blank, you come against me with all of your junk and I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty. You’re done. Stick a fork in it.”
David pulls a Babe Ruth. He calls his shot. He tells Goliath what is going to happen, and then he goes and does it. It’s almost boring at this point because we can see the way the tide has changed, how we’ve moved from the crowd’s unbelief to David’s faith. We’ve seen how one divine spark burning is enough to catch the world on fire.
So, sure, David defeats Goliath; the Philistines run and the Israelites rout them. That’s the story we tell our kids from little on up, to remind them to stand up to their bullies, to remember that God is with them, and to be reminded that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.
But to really learn from this story, I believe we must consider what kind of person we are – and what kind of person we want to be. While this is often boiled down to David and Goliath, it’s truly much more complex. Consider these types of people – and examine your own heart.
First, there’s Goliath – the bully – the type of person who believes that their previous ‘wins’ and show of force are their best means of success, who prey on the fear of others to empower themselves and disempower others.
Second, there’s Saul – the king – the type of person who has been put in a position of authority but who lacks leadership qualities, and who proves to be unworthy of following.
Third, there is David – the young boy – the type of person ignored by others, whose skills are overlooked, but who chooses bravery when put in a position where a response is needed.
And then there are the masses in between – the Israelite army who had no faith of their own, and placed it in a man – only to crumble and cave in fear when a threat arose; and the Philistine army, who had been so lulled into believing that their bully was the best bully, who finally found themselves turning tail and running when their false security was exposed.
The Bible is full of people who stepped out of the crowd, who believed in faith that they were called to run toward the danger rather than from it. Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego; Daniel; Paul; Stephen. And one of my new favorites, from 2 Samuel 23:21-22:
Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion.
Seriously, who goes into a pit on a snowy day to kill a lion? Who pursues the danger, the problem, the evil to its lair to put an end to it?
Men and women of God, that’s who. The kind of people who…
… walk on water…
…feed the hungry…
…speak for those who have no voice…
These are the Davids, the Benaiahs, the Daniels of the world, who push past their own anxiety, their own pain, their own disappointment, and recognize their moment when it comes. They are heroes, and they come in all shapes and sizes. And we could be next.
Do we have that kind of bold faith, to walk out onto the battlefield of our lives and claim the victory in the name of Jesus? Doesn’t it have to start with our attitudes and work its way out? Can we recognize that if we want our world to change, that we have to see the ways we need to change to be more like Jesus and recognize that God wants to use us as his “champions”?
I hope that you will recognize that there are battles worth fighting, and that you will fight them in the name of the one true God. I hope that you will pray that God will give you the strength to move when others are afraid and petrified, that God will use you to be a mighty force for stomping fear and setting people free.
How will you face your giants today? Whose hero will you be?