Sermon – July 20, 2014

A Sermon Preached by Dr. Stan Henderson
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Oroville, California

July 20, 2014

“Battling Giants”

I Samuel 17:3-8, 24-27, 38-49

The story of David and Goliath is one of the most well-known stories in the Bible. It has taken on the popularity of a folk tale. I think you’ll find that even people who know nothing else about the Bible, seem to know this story. The problem is that sometimes too much familiarity with a story can actually hinder us from appreciating its deeper meaning.

The setting of this story is during the reign of Saul who was the first king of Israel. The armies of Israel were arrayed to do battle with their archenemy, the Philistines. The Israelites were gathered on the hill on one side of the valley of Elah and the Philistines were encamped on the other. And across the valley they traded insults and taunts.

Israel’s enemy had the upper hand in this psychological warfare. One of the mercenary soldiers of the Philistines was a man of gigantic proportions, named Goliath. The Israelites guessed that he was nine feet tall. He was big and ugly and mean. His armor alone was supposed to have weighed 200 pounds and his spear was said to be bigger than a weaver’s beam.

Each day Goliath would come out and shout at the Israelites – “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” When they heard these challenges, it says that King Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and greatly afraid.

It is at this point that we are introduced to David. There’s nothing remarkable to say about him. He arrives unobtrusively, the eighth son of a remote family. Three of David’s older brothers are serving in Saul’s army. The army itself was more like a people’s militia – it depended on the people of the land for food and supplies. So David comes on an errand to deliver food to his brothers. When he arrives he is fascinated by the confrontation with Goliath. And right away we see that David has an entirely different perspective on the battle.

That’s not an easy thing to do – to interpret an event through a different set of lenses than everyone else. The Gospel according to Peanuts always has a way of pointing out those insightful moments to us. In one episode, Lucy, Linus and Charlie Brown are lying on a grassy hillside watching the summer clouds drift by. Charlie Brown asks the others what they see in the white formations.
Linus says, “I see a map of the Hawaiian Islands.” Lucy exclaims, “I see the great battles of history. There is Hannibal crossing the Alps, Charlemagne conquering France, and Washington crossing the Delaware. What do you see Charlie Brown?” Meekly, Charlie Brown replies, “Well, I was going to say a duckie and a horsie, but I changed my mind.”

David hears the taunts of Goliath and he can’t believe how cowed and intimidated the army of Israel is. David even has the audacity to ask what the reward would be for the one who kills the Philistine giant. David’s older brother hears him and reprimands him for speaking so presumptuously.

Now here’s where David gives us a whole new understanding of the conflict. David’s perspective is theologically grounded. David is incensed that Goliath is defying the armies of the living God. With his bold speech, David introduces a new element into the story that redefines everything else. David refers to the Israelites as the army of the living God. Up until this point, God didn’t figure into this story. Goliath calls them the servants of Saul and no one bothers to correct him. But David knows better. Both when he is talking to the soldiers and later when he stands before Saul, David refers to the armies of the living God.

People who know the story of David and Goliath think of it as an illustration of how the underdog occasionally wins out over enormous odds. But this is not a story about God being on the side of the underdog. David says to Goliath: “This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down.” David acknowledges that the impending victory is not his, but God’s. This is not a contest between David and Goliath. It’s a conflict between Goliath and God and it is Goliath who is the underdog. Goliath has the terrible misfortune of being up against, not a young shepherd boy, but God.

The next part of the story we are familiar with. David had tried on the armor of Saul, but it was too heavy and too cumbersome for him. Instead, he elects to fight Goliath with the same weapons he had used in the past against the predators after his flock. He took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the stream to use with his sling. Then it says David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet Goliath.

“David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone.”

You see, Goliath was not the only giant David had ever had to fight. And there would be many more battles for David – conflicts in war and also conflicts of the heart. There was the death of his best friend Jonathan. There was David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the death of his child. There was the conflict among his sons. David’s son, Absalom, led a rebellion against him and was killed in battle.

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