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Sermons from Moorpark Presbyterian Church

David and Goliath

by Pastor Dave Wilkinson

1 Samuel 17:41-47

April 27, 2008

Audio version:Click here to hear this sermon

       Charlie Boswell was blinded during World War II. But that didn’t stop him from enjoying sports.  In fact he became the 13 time United States blind golf champion!  

       In 1958 Charlie Boswell was presented with the Ben Hogan award. Hogan of course was one of the great golfers of all time. When the two men met Charlie said how he would dearly love to play a round of golf with Mr. Hogan. 

       Ben Hogan said he would be honored to play with Charlie.

       Charlie saw his opportunity. "Would you like to play for money, Mr. Hogan?"

       "I can't play you for money, it wouldn't be fair!"

       "Aw, come on, Mr. Hogan...$1,000 per hole!"

       "I can't, what would people think of me, taking advantage of you and your circumstance."

       "Chicken, Mr. Hogan?"

       "Okay," blurted a frustrated Hogan, "but I am going to play my best!"

       "I wouldn't expect anything else," said the confident Boswell.

       "You're on Mr. Boswell; you name the time and the place!"

       A very self-assured Boswell responded "10 o'clock . . . tonight!"

       You need to use your strengths.  Sometimes you absolutely have to.  Sometimes you face giants.

       There was a poster out in the 60's of a huge, armored gorilla-like man holding a chain which was attached to a lethal-looking ball studded with sharp spikes.  Under the picture was a misquote of the 23rd Psalm which, in order to keep this a "g-rated" sermon, I will misquote even further.  The caption read: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil cause I'm the biggest, son of a gun in the valley."

       I think the appearance and attitude of the man on the poster was modeled after Goliath of Gath.  As Fredrick Buechner describes him, "Goliath stood ten feet tall in his stocking feet, wore a size 20 collar, a 9-1/2 hat and a 52-inch belt.  When he got his full armor on, he not only looked like a Sherman Tank but weighted like one."

       The Bible describes him in 1 Samuel 17:4-8:  "His height was six cubits and a span – about 9 foot 9.   He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was clothed in scale armor which weighed five thousand shekels of bronze.  He also had bronze greaves on his legs, and a bronze javelin slung between his shoulders.  And the shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and the head of his spear weighed six hundred shekels of iron.”

        Goliath is certainly an impressive sight. But Goliath isn't satisfied with looking scary.  He also talks scary.  Each day he walks out and shouts at the camp of the army of Israel : "Why do you come out to draw up in battle array?  Am I not the Philistine and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down and fight with me."

       The soldiers of Israel look at Goliath and shake their heads. They don’t want any part of his offer. Everyone in the army over 5’5” walks around in his socks hoping no one notices him in case he gets volunteered.  They cower behind their fortifications -- waiting for who knows what.

       Who knows what arrives in the form of a teenage boy named David.  He comes to the camp with a care package for his soldier brothers.  He enters the battle line one morning just when Goliath comes strutting out to put on his daily matinee.  David sees the show.  He turns to the men near him and asks: "What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the shame from Israel ?  For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should taunt the armies of the living God?"

       That’s the first time we hear David speak in the Bible.  It’s a good question.  But it's a question that his brothers especially don't want to hear from David.  All they see is their kid brother.  You can hear a lifetime of family squabbles in Eliab’s accusation and David’s response. This is a very typical brother relationship.

        “Yeah, David went through that weird oil thing with Samuel and he’s been hanging out in the palace playing music for Saul.  But we still know what he is like.” The Bible says that Eliab's anger burned against David and he said, "Why have you come down?  And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness?  I know your insolence and the wickedness of your heart; for you have come down in order to see the battle." 

       At this point the average younger brother would have rolled up his sleeves and used all his energy to punch Eliab’s lights out rather than deal with Goliath.  Instead, David just ignores Eliab’s accusations.  He wants to get to the important thing -- that giant out there.  He responds: "Hey, all I did was ask a question." 

       But Eliab and his brothers don't want David there.  They don't want David to see them afraid -- failing to respond to Goliath's mocking challenge.  His question seems to reflect badly on them.  When Eliab asks: "Why are you shirking your job with the sheep?" it is to avoid the fact that he is shirking his duty as a soldier of Israel .  He accuses David of coming to see the battle when he knows darn well that there won't be any battle as long as Goliath is out there.

       But others overhear David's question.  They intervene and take him to see King Saul. 

       Now Saul is also afraid of Goliath -- and Saul isn't afraid of much.  David's opening words are not exactly designed to win Saul's undying friendship.  David walks in and says: "Let no man's heart fail him!"  I kind of picture David there with his hands on his hips like Superman.  Saul wonders: "Does this boy see into my heart?"  

       You see, Saul is afraid.  His heart has failed him.  That’s why he’s devised an incentive plan for killing the giant.  Saul is the one in Israel who seemed most qualified to face Goliath.  Saul stands head and shoulders above the rest of Israel .   And he is the leader of the people.  But Saul is afraid because he’s not walking with God. 

        So Saul’s worked out a plan that will hopefully get someone else to do battle.  The man who kills Goliath will get a rich reward.  He’ll get Saul’s daughter’s hand in marriage, a cash payment and he will be exempt from paying taxes.  I’m not sure the daughter is much of a reward (as you’ll see when we meet her later), but the cash bonus and the tax break should prompt a volunteer. 

       But no one volunteers except David. 

       Now this isn’t the first time Saul has see David.  We saw two weeks ago how David has been with Saul playing music on the harp to calm him in his black moods.  David is first introduced to Saul as a mighty man of valor as well as a musician. 

      But, you know, that’s kind of a relative mightiness.  It’s like being introduced as a power hitter in Little League.  It’s impressive. But that doesn’t mean you’re ready to face American League pitching. Saul knows that Goliath is the ultimate smackdown, mano a mano big leaguer.   

      Saul doesn’t see sending David out there to face Goliath.  He says, "You can't fight him.  You are but a youth and he has been a warrior from his youth."  The implication is that David is obviously not a warrior -- or at least not another Goliath.

      But there is something special about David.  He is not like his brothers and he is not like King Saul.  When they look at Goliath, they see six cubits and a span and spear shaft like a weaver's beam and all the rest.  When David looks at Goliath, he sees just another wild beast -- like the lion and the bear he had already slain as a shepherd. He sees that this Goliath is under judgment "for he has taunted the armies of the living God."  David know that God doesn’t like that.  So David looks at Goliath and he sees lunch.

       Saul sees David’s confidence and says, “Okay, go for it.”  And Saul wants to help.  He helps in the only way he knows – pile on the armor, protect yourself, get a weapon with proven effectiveness. 

       Saul is the expert here.  But as David listens to him, he discovers that he can hardly move.  So David does what David has to do – even though it’s not easy.  David loves Saul. He admires Saul.  He serves Saul.  Saul is splendid and powerful.  Saul loves him and is doing his best to help him.  Despite that, David takes off the helmet, unbelts the sword and removes the armor. 

       It couldn’t have been easy for David to walk away from all that loving expertise Saul offers him.  But to go meet Goliath wearing Saul’s armor will be a disaster.  David needs to fight the battle using what he knows.  What he knows is the weapon of the shepherd.   If he gets close enough to Goliath to need armor, he’s already lost.  It’s game over.

       Dressed only in a light shepherd's tunic, David runs down the hill to meet Goliath in the valley.  Goliath sees him coming and, the Bible says, he disdains David because he is handsome. To Goliath, underarm deodorants are effeminate.  But he is a champion curser -- and he curses David by his gods.

       Then Goliath reveals the weakness that David saw.  Goliath says: "Come over here and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the cattle of the fields."  This is Goliath's weakness.  He needs David to come within range because he can't get to David.  All that impressive armor is too much.  David knows it too.  He’s rejected the offer of Saul's armor in order to fight the way he knew he can win -- keeping out of Goliath reach and running circles around him.  David would lose in a cage match but he’s not in a cage. 

       Goliath sees David’s footwork and gets nervous.  That shows.  He says stupid stuff like “I will feed you to the cattle.”  Even Goliath knows that cows don’t eat meat. 

       "Then David said to the Philistine. You come to me with a sword, a spear and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the armies of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and so that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or spear; for the battle is the Lord's and He will give you into our hands."

       Goliath tilts his head back to look for the birds of the air waiting to peck his bones.  He’s not the sharpest tack in the box.. That’s all it takes to end Goliath’s career. David put his hand into his bag and takes from it a stone -- about this big -- and slings it, and strikes the Philistine on his forehead – right where the visor would have met Goliath’s helmet if he wasn’t so busy looking for birds.  And the stone sinks deep into his forehead, so that he falls on his face on the ground -- stunned.  Then David runs and takes Goliath's sword from its sheath and kills him, and cuts off his head with it.

       I wonder how David's brothers feel. There is nothing as embarrassing as watching someone do something you just said couldn't be done. 

       The difference between David and his brothers is insight. David doesn’t only see the giant.  He also sees the hand of God.  He doesn’t measure by size but by opportunity. 

       Saul asks, “Who is this guy?”  Of course he thought he’s known David. David’s that harp kid. But Saul suddenly realizes he hasn’t known David at all. 

       The difference between David and his brothers – the difference between David and Saul – is that David doesn’t enter the Valley of Elah with a Goliath-dominated imagination.  David has a God-dominated imagination.  To him it is incredible that everyone should cower before this hulking bully. Aren’t these men enlisted in the army of the Living God?  God is the reality that David lives with.  He believes Goliath has already been judged for mocking God and that he, David, is just there to pick up the pieces. 

        At Easter I showed a video clip from the movie Chariots of Fire that showed Eric Liddell in a gallant come-from-behind victory.  It is said that Liddell had the most awkward running style of any athlete of his time.

       Ian Charleston, the actor who played Liddell, said that it was difficult to emulate his running style because he ran with his head back.  When Charleston tried it, he kept running off the track or bumping into other runners. 

       By the sixth day of filming, Charleston said he finally understood what Eric Liddell must have been doing.  He recalled that in drama school, he and others had engaged in trust exercises. They ran as hard as they could toward a wall, trusting someone to stop them.  “I suddenly realized Liddell must have run like that.  He must have run with his head up and literally trusted to get there.  He ran with faith.  He didn’t even look where he was going.”

       Liddell stepped away from a great athletic career and the promise of a celebrity’s lifestyle in Britain to become a missionary in China .  Once there, he ended up in a Japanese concentration camp where he died at a relatively young age from a brain tumor. 

       But Eric Liddell died as he ran.  With his head up.  Trusting.  His favorite words were “Absolute surrender” and “Be still my soul.”  His final words to his friends were simply, “It’s complete surrender.”

       That’s what David experienced as he stepped out to face the giant.  He knew how to trust.  He didn’t know for sure what will happen when he goes out to face Goliath.  He took four backup stones with him.  But he goes out with a determination to try something great for God –so that even if he goes down, he’ll go down standing up. 

       The story of David and Goliath is one of the greatest of all children’s stories.  It’s the first full-blown story about David.  If you know anything about David at all, you know this story.    People who’ve never read the Bible know this story.

       But once we’ve learned the story that’s not enough.  Learning stories isn’t the same as learning the multiplication table.  Once we’ve learned that three times four equals twelve, we’ve learned it.  It’s a fact that doesn’t change.  But stories don’t stay put. They grown and deepen.  The meaning doesn’t change but the meaning deepens. Having learned the meaning of love, for  example, we don’t for a moment  supposed that we’ve passed one course and can now go on to other things – deciding maybe to sign up for computer science. The meaning of what we’ve learned will go on getting deeper and deeper.

       In the same way, David and Goliath is a great children’s story.  Children love it because to them everyone is a giant and they feel weak.  But it’s not just a children’s story.  We need the message too.  We all face our giants.  We are all weak in ourselves. So we all need the Lord.  We have to let the message keep growing.

        A thousand or so years after the battle in the Valley of Elah , the descendant of this David, Jesus Christ, sat with His disciples in the upper room.  They were saying to Him, just like Saul, "You can't do it this way."  They made rash promises and Jesus prophesied their denial.  They saw only the looming shadow of the cross.  But beyond the cross Jesus saw something else -- "the joy that was set before him."

       We are the people of this Jesus.  What are the wild beasts, the uncircumcised, and the taunters which face us? What are the giants in our lives?  What are the giants in our world? 

       I don’t know what your intimidating giant is today. It may relate to your job, relationship, a parent, or your school.  My giants keep changing according to circumstances.  Maybe your giant is a spirit of worry and fear that shouts across your valley every day – day after day.  Perhaps you don’t know what lies across the valley. Maybe you can’t get a handle on what that giant is, but it’s haunting you. 

       Do we just see giants.  Or, like David, do we see them from God’s point-of-view?   Do we just see giants.  Or do we also see the hand of God and hear the promise of Jesus: "I am with you always."   Do we hear His voice, “The battle belongs to the Lord.   All I ask of you is five smooth stones and the sling of faith and I’ll take it from there.  You don’t have to wear somebody else’s armor.  You just trust me.  I’ll strip you down to nothing but faith and then I’ll accomplish a victory where I get the glory. But as for you -- you trust me.”

       This sermon has only one, very simple point.  But I know I need to hear that one simple point over and over again.  Maybe you need it too.  It’s what trains us to walk in faith.