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Prophets

Lions and Bears and Philistines, Ooh, Ooh!

08-Aug-21

1 Samuel 17:1-11, 24-27, 31-51

Well, we’ve had the set up. There’s a monster named Goliath out there. He is huge. Many years ago in Sunday School, I was told that Goliath was over 9 feet tall. That is unusually large by anyone’s standard; it is clearly an anomaly of human genetics. Our texts this morning don’t bother to do the math in English feet; they just tell us that Goliath’s height was six cubits and a span. One textual variant, which none of us should be concerned about, says that Goliath was the height of four men. I’ll bet that to some of the Israelites who were gathered there on the battle line, Goliath did seem like he was that big.

Goliath is a Philistine, and the Israelites, under King Saul, are at war with the Philistines. And it has become painfully clear to every Israelite warrior that the Philistines have a weapon of war that is completely unassailable. There is no one in the Israelite army who’s going to come up against this guy. At least no one in his right mind. In addition to being a genetic anomaly, Goliath is covered from head to toe in very heavy armor that would put a Roman soldier to shame. His legs are clad in bronze, he’s carrying a huge javelin, a giant spear, and he’s got a massive sword to boot. Besides all of that, he has a shield-bearer who walks in front of him to provide additional protection. Goliath is one massive assault weapon, and he’s a Philistine, but only because the Romans haven’t been invented yet.

And, I’m willing to bet that he’s got a thunderous voice to go along with that monstrous body, because he likes to show up, a couple of times a day, on the battle lines to taunt and tease the Israelite army. And every time that happens, the whole Israelite army turns into jelly. Everyone in the whole army knows that they’re done for. They are absolutely terrified of this guy, Goliath.

And Goliath is clearly in charge of the whole situation. Bad things, frightening things, seemingly insurmountable things often take complete control of situations and sometimes they take complete control of our lives. Like the Israelite army, we find ourselves totally occupied, terribly frightened, and without hope when we are faced with a difficult situation. And like the Israelite army, we are stunned, and shocked into a deadly paralysis. There is nothing that we can do and we know it. There is no good solution. We are lost. We are trapped. Nothing good will come of this. If memory serves me right, we might as well be in a sinking ship with a sleeping savior.

Goliath is in charge of this whole situation because he’s the one who is presenting the terms and the conditions. He’s the one who’s got the upper hand, and he knows it. And because he’s got the upper hand, that’s why he’s offering the terms and conditions. And the terms and conditions are this: Choose a man; any man. Send a man out to fight me. If your man wins, very unlikely, but if your man wins and manages to kill me, we will be your servants. But if I kill your man, you will be our servants. Simple situation isn’t it folks? Send a man out, and we’ll see what happens.

Except there’s a problem. It is an impossible situation. There is not a man in the entire Israelite army who could possibly prevail against this wild, genetic mutation of human flesh and bone and blood. Goliath knows that, every man in the Israelite army knows that. Even King Saul knows it. King Saul has lowered himself to making bribes, he’s saying, Hey if any of you guys are up for taking the challenge, you can have my daughter in marriage! Ain’t she purty? You can be related to the king, have a royal bloodline, doesn’t that sound like a deal?

Well maybe it was, but deal or no deal, there were no takers. No one was that stupid. From a practical point of view, all of the decisions that have been made up to this point are reasonable, rational and sane. They make sense. Granted, they are decisions made by default, but, decisions of this magnitude are often made by default. In this case the decision has been to make no decision at all. It is a hopeless situation that no one wants to think about or talk about, so everyone is just hunkering down hoping that Goliath will have a heart attack, or choke to death on his breakfast muffin, or maybe grow old and get arthritis, or maybe even catch the COVID, or something like that.

Now enter David. David is the youngest son of Jesse the Bethlehemite. Jesse is the reason that one day Mary and Joseph will have to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Mary will give birth to her first-born son.

David is too young to join the army, and so he is at home tending his father’s flock of sheep. But one day Jesse is interested in discovering the well-being of his older sons who are in the army, and so he sends David to the war zone to bring them some lunch. When David arrives, he sees Goliath out there on the battle-line swaggering about, taunting and teasing and issuing his invitations to battle, and before long, David is inside King Saul’s tent offering to kill Goliath.

Now this is very interesting and very ridiculous all at the same time. David is just a boy. David is too young to even be in the army. David is a shepherd, not a warrior, David has no business even offering to go and fight Goliath. But David sees something in this situation that no one else in the whole army has been able to perceive. In spite of his youth, David clearly understands the spiritual dimension of what is going on. For some reason, in the heat of the moment, and in the stress of the hour, everyone else has missed that. Everyone else is looking at this situation realistically, practically, sanely and reasonably. They’ve done the math, and the figures don’t work. There is no solution.

But David can see beyond all of the reasonableness, and the caution, and the practicality and even the sanity of it all, and he sees a far greater reality that in his heart and in his mind overshadows every other consideration. This is not a battle between the Israelite army and the Philistine army, this is not a battle between genetics run amok and a stupid and fool-hardy Israelite warrior, if one could even be found. This is a battle that is the Lord’s, pure and simple. When everyone else sees problems and proceeds with caution, David sees God and proceeds with faith. May we never be so blind that the sight of all of our problems blocks the vision of our God. May we have the insight to believe that the battle is the Lord’s, whether it be a difficulty in our own lives or a challenge that we face as a congregation. May we discover what it means to live by faith not by sight. It is absolutely essential. Bad decisions, no decisions, and wishful thinking come about as the result of living solely by reasonableness, sanity and practicality. Victory and power and God honoring strength come about when we live by faith. When we live by faith, God is in control, God is in charge, and Goliath is impotent and harmless.

Is living by faith easy? No. Sometimes it is absolutely insane. Look at the interchange between David and Saul. David is doing his best to teach Saul a lesson about faith, and Saul is doing his best to teach David a lesson about practicality.

You can’t do this. You’re only a boy. Goliath is big, he’s been a warrior from his youth. Yes I can. God’s been with me and helped me to prevail in situations where it was humanly impossible. I’ve killed lions and bears before, and if God can save me from the paws of lions and from the paws of bears, God can surely save me from the paws of this wheaties infested giant.

But you’ll need some armor. OK I’ll try some on. I can’t walk in this stuff. I’m not used to it, I’ve never worn it before. I’m taking it off. And so he did. Armor might have been good from a practical point of view, but David was counting on having armor from God. And so he went out, clad only in his shepherd’s shirt, and on the way he collected five smooth stones from the river bed, put them in his shepherd’s pouch, and went out to face the giant with only his shepherd’s staff and his sling shot.

When Goliath saw David, he was surprised and shocked and insulted. If you’ve got the time, someday soon, compare the ways that Goliath and Saul both react to David. It is nearly the same. And it is nearly the same because neither of them are acting on faith. Neither of them have considered God. David’s faith seems ridiculous and idiotic to both Goliath and to king Saul, but it is life to David.

But pay close attention also to David’s very clear statement of faith, because it must be our statement of faith, and it must be spoken as clearly to our impossible situations as David speaks it to Goliath.

“You come to me with sword and spear and 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 very 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 Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into my hand.”

And the rest, as we say, is history.

Goliath does not see the little stone until crashes into his skull. God’s arsenal pierces the darkness and victory is assured. Faith is the victory.

One final consideration: Is David a hero or is he just a boy? If he is a hero, we can forget all about him right away. He’s beyond us, above us, over us, far removed from us; he becomes the giant that Goliath never was. No, David cannot be a hero. He must never be a hero. He must always be a boy. A boy with faith. A boy who trusted God more than anything else. He must be someone just like us. And he is. Let us live by faith.

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