Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
June 23, 2019
1 Samuel 17: 2-11 (CEB)
Saul and the Israelite army assembled and camped in the Elah Valley, where they got organized to fight the Philistines. 3The Philistines took positions on one hill while Israel took positions on the opposite hill. There was a valley between them.
4A champion named Goliath from Gath came out from the Philistine camp. He was more than nine feet tall. 5He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore bronze scale-armor weighing one hundred twenty-five pounds. 6He had bronze plates on his shins, and a bronze scimitar hung on his back. 7His spear shaft was as strong as the bar on a weaver’s loom, and its iron head weighed fifteen pounds. His shield-bearer walked in front of him.
8He stopped and shouted to the Israelite troops, “Why have you come and taken up battle formations? I am the Philistine champion, and you are Saul’s servants. Isn’t that right? Select one of your men, and let him come down against me. 9If he is able to fight me and kill me, then we will become your slaves, but if I overcome him and kill him, then you will become our slaves and you will serve us. 10I insult Israel’s troops today!” The Philistine continued, “Give me an opponent, and we’ll fight!” 11When Saul and all Israel heard what the Philistine said, they were distressed and terrified.
So we’re in the midst of this four week sermon series about King David. Through these four weeks, we are looking closely at the story of David’s life and work as we try to learn more about the most revered (and perhaps troubled) earthly King in all of Israel’s history. Last week, Lynda taught us about David the Shepherd. We learned about David’s anointing as the future King of Israel despite all the odds against him, and we learned about how being a shepherd gave David many of the skills needed to be a great leader of people.
This morning, we turn to the story of David and Goliath as we think about David the warrior. For many of us, the story of David and Goliath is as familiar as the story of Zacchaeus. We have heard this story since we were children. This awe-inspiring tale of a little boy, not yet a king, not even a soldier, who stepped onto the battlefield and took down the greatest, fiercest soldier of the Philistine army, a giant named Goliath. We are going to explore this story more today, but it’s important to remember that David’s triumph over Goliath is not the only feat of David the warrior. Because of Saul’s jealousy of David, and his desire to kill David so that he would not become King, Saul made David a leader of his army, hoping he would die on the front lines. But instead, David led the army to victory after victory. I think there’s one primary reason that David was so successful on the battlefield and that’s what we’re going to focus on today. But first, I want to tell you a story.
Some of you all may remember back in January when I sought prayers for a young girl named Maddie, the daughter of my sister’s best friend. Maddie is 11 and has cerebral palsy. She is confined to a wheelchair and is non-verbal. During Christmas, Maddie traveled with her parents, brother, and sister to the Philippines to visit family—her grandparents and aunts and uncles. But while she was there, Maddie began having breathing difficulties, which quickly progressed into pneumonia, and then also sepsis. She was intubated. Nothing about the situation was good. Her mother texted my sister and another friend asking for prayers. The result was phenomenal. Their whole neighborhood and community in Chapel Hill rallied in support of Maddie offering prayers and sending messages of encouragement to Maddie and her family. The family figured out that over the course of the month or so that Maddie was in the hospital, there were people on every continent (except Antartica) praying for her. Maddie overcame the pneumonia, was extubated, and on Valentine’s Day the family arrived back in the states. This October, Maddie will participant in the Marine Corps marathon, pushed in a special wheelchair by a team of people who desire to help Maddie and people like her experience full lives. I think of Maddie as a warrior, and here’s why—because she and her family face life with faith, not fear.
And I think that’s what is most remarkable about David as a warrior. You know, after David was anointed by Samuel (the story we heard last week), he didn’t immediately become King. Saul was still reigning over the Jewish people. During that time, David became a servant of Saul, working in the court of the King, it was one of the ways David learned about being a leader of a nation. As the Israelites continued to work to establish themselves in Promised Land, there were ongoing squabbles with other nations and tribes in the area. During the reign of Saul, the Israelites were busy fighting the Philistines. Where the story of David and Goliath comes in, the two armies are encamped in the Valley of Elah, seemingly at an impasse. So Goliath comes forward, this great giant of a man, 9 feet tall and covered head to toe in full battle armor. He yells across to the Israelite army and offers them a deal. “Send out one of your men to fight me. If your man wins, we will become your servants. If I win, you will become our servants.”
1 Samuel records that, “When Saul and all Israel heard what the Philistine said, they were distressed and terrified.” In other words, they were afraid. They looked all around and they didn’t see among them a match for Goliath, much less a willing soul. So no one went forward. For forty days straight, Goliath approached the Israelites with the same deal, but the situation never changed. This is the part of the passage from 1 Samuel that we didn’t read (I would encourage you to go home and do so), because after forty days, David shows up. He’s just an errand boy, and he’s bringing some provisions to the battlefield; in this case, sent by his father with bread for his brothers. While David is there, he asks for an update. You know, “Hey guys, what’s going on?” So the soldiers fill David in. As they speak, Goliath comes forward once again, and David sees the soldiers flee at his sight, he can see the distress and the fear in King Saul’s face and in the faces of the men around him.
So David steps before Saul and says, “I’ll fight this Philistine.” Saul, of course, is aghast. He reminds David that he is but a boy, and this Philistine is a giant who has been a warrior since he was a boy. But then David reminds Saul that he has rescued his sheep from the mouths of lions and bears and has even killed some of the great beasts. Then David says, “The Lord, who rescued me from the power of both lions and bears, will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.” So David steps out onto the field of battle, the great giant before him. He pulls out his sling shot and flings a single stone that strikes Goliath right in the middle of his forehead, knocking him to the ground. Then David went to Goliath pulled the Philistine’s sword and, the Bible says, “finished him off.” That is how a normal, otherwise unremarkable shepherd-boy defeated Goliath, sending the entire Philistine army running.
You know, a lot of times when we come to this story of David and Goliath, we draw the metaphor out of it. We think about how if a young shepherd boy can defeat a great warrior-giant, then there is nothing we can’t do. We talk about the Goliaths in our own lives and these obstacles that we have to face sometimes that oftentimes seem too great to overcome. We draw faith from the idea that “if David could do it, then I can do it.” And that’s all well and good, but I think if we’re going to truly be able to conquer the “Goliaths” in our lives, we need to understand how and why David was able to do what he was able to do. Because we want to defeat the Goliaths in our lives, we need to be able to do the same. Here’s what I think. I think David’s triumph over Goliath actually came the moment that he believed he could defeat the giant. It wasn’t the fact that David walked out there with a sling shot and good aim, it was the fact that David stepped on to the battlefield with faith. That’s what really struck me as I read this story again this week. This moment when Goliath comes forth and David watches Saul and all of his soldiers cower and run in fear. And David just steps up and says, “I’ll do this. I’ve got it…I’ve done it before and I can do it again.”
I think David knew the power and presence of God in his life at that moment. I think David knew his anointing to be about more than one past act and for him it was a lived experience—God with him, in him, empowering him to serve God in the world. And David had faith in that. David believed in that so much that he was able to move through life, even face Goliath, without fear. Remember his words, we read them together last week, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me…” And after he defeated Goliath, David was pursued by Saul for years. Saul tried again and again to have David killed because he was jealous of David and didn’t want him to become King. Still David served Saul and led his armies, and he did it all without fear.
To me, that’s the key to this story of David and Goliath. What I hope we learn from David the warrior is that victory comes not so much from some great training or prowess or physical attribute, victory is born out of faith. As Christians, we sometimes talk about how “the worst thing is never the last thing.” Or we say that in the end, “Love wins.” The story of David and Goliath is evidence of that, a reminder that we will all face hardships in our life, but if we will keep faith, then we can overcome. Warriors are people who, when confronted with Goliath, can step forward in faith rather than running away in fear. Warriors are people like Maddie. Or people like my friend Brian, who broke his neck nine years ago and is paralyzed from the neck down. Brian finished his college degree in physical therapy, and every day…every, single, day, he spends hours doing physical therapy. He is spurred on by the belief, the faith, that someday he will write and walk again.
I can’t say that I don’t ever get scared, because I do. Sometime things happen and I’m afraid. But I think what I want to take away from this story of David and Goliath is that I am anointed. I am baptized. God has called me and God has claimed me and God has equipped me to live in this world and to have faith in him, even when there’s every reason to fear. And that doesn’t mean that sometimes bad things won’t happen, but when they do, our faith also tells us that God will be right there with us. So we don’t need to fear even the worst, because we are still not alone. God will walk beside us. The warrior is the one who steps out, with full faith in God, and says, “I can do this.”