David and Goliath

I Samuel 17
September 5, 2021
Union University Church
Reverend Laurie DeMott

I am preaching through the historical periods of the Hebrew scriptures and the lessons we are supposed to draw from each of them.  In the stories of the father and mother of our faith — Abraham and Sarah — we learn that what seems impossible to people is possible with God.  In the story of the Exodus, the Bible tells us that God hears and knows our suffering and will be with us until we are free.  And last week, we came to the period of the Judges when the Israelites learned that no human authority should supplant God, and so God is best understood in the diversity of human voices and experiences.

In spite of the lesson of the Judges, nevertheless, Israel never gives up lobbying for a King, and God finally concedes to their desires.  For the next four hundred years, Israel is ruled by a succession of Kings who, for the most part, fulfill God’s warning against putting our trust in human princes.  Israel endures a succession of weak corruptible men who stray from God’s desires, divide the nation with their wars and political battles, and eventually lose the Israelites their homeland when the Assyrians and Babylonians crush the weak rulers under their feet.  In all of this sordid sad history, there are a few men who manage to be good Kings and the most famous of all is King David, Israel’s second and greatest King.  David united the tribes under his rule, established Jerusalem as the political and religious center of Israel, and expanded the boundaries of Israel to its largest reach in the history of Israel.  And most importantly to the Bible, David remained faithful to God. 

David ruled Israel for 40 years and his story takes up a couple of books of the Bible and that’s not counting the number of Psalms that were attributed to him, but probably the most famous episode of his life, known even by those who have never stepped foot in a church or synagogue, is the story of his battle with the giant Goliath in chapter 17 of I Samuel.  This battle takes place when David was still a boy and yet everything you need to know about what made him Israel’s finest King is contained in this story.  For the sake of brevity, I will summarize the story for you and as I do, I want you to listen for the words that foreshadow the secret of David’s coming rule in Israel.

And as we open our Bibles to that page in David’s history, the Israelites are at battle with the Philistines which for the moment has been reduced to a schoolyard stand off.  The Israelites are camped on one side of a valley and the Philistines on the other, and every morning, one of the Philistine soldiers comes out of his camp and yells taunts across the valley at the Israelites. 

“Choose a man,” he shouts, “and let him come fight me if they dare!  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.”  This sounds like a pretty good deal — instead of battling on for days and weeks more, the Israelites could end this whole war with one good knockout.  The problem is that this particular Philistine doesn’t look like he would go down easily.  His name is Goliath and he is a giant of a man, “six cubits and a span,” the Bible says which is about ten and a half feet tall, taller than the tallest basketball player on our courts today.  Moreover, he’s built more like a football player than a basketball player with muscles bursting from his heavy armor.  The shaft of his spear alone is as big around as a fence post, big enough to punch a hole in you that you could stick your hand through… or that your companion could stick his hand through since you’d be too dead to move.  This monster of a man stands on the hillside every morning insulting the Israelite soldiers, and the Israelites nervously nudge one another and say, “Why don’t you go teach him a lesson?” but no one moves because they are frozen in place by the sheer size of the enemy.  

It is into this scene that David walks.  David’s not a soldier; he’s not even a man yet.  He’s just a kid who has brought some cheese from his father for the commander — he’s a delivery boy — and yet when David hears Goliath’s challenge, this pipsqueak of a boy volunteers to fight him.  Unlike Goliath, David isn’t built like a high school jock but is so small, the Bible says, that when they try to bulk him up with the king’s armor, the boy disappears inside the metal and can’t even move.  Impatiently, David steps out of the armor, grabs his trusty slingshot, and strides across the valley to confront the giant Philistine.  Goliath laughs when he sees the kid coming, “ Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And then the Philistine sneers with glee, “Come on, little boy, and I will feed you to the scavengers!”

David yells back, “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.”

And with God at his side, David brings Goliath crashing to the ground with a slingshot.

Everyone, even the most secular atheist walking the streets, knows this story of David and Goliath because it has been used throughout the generations to buck up the heart of the little guy who feels overpowered by his or her adversary.  Scrappy sports figures are likened to David; individuals seeking justice against corporations are described as Davids fighting Goliaths.  Anytime the odds seem unbalanced against someone, this story is trotted out to give heart to the underdog.

But David himself would have told us that to describe this as a story about a little guy beating a big guy is to miss the point.  This is a not a story about David and Goliath; it is a story about God, and it is in our Bible to set the stage for David’s monarchy.  How did David defeat Goliath and go on to become the greatest King Israel had ever known?  By refusing to focus on the size of the giant and instead focusing on the size of God.  When David arrived at the camp with his cheese, he heard the Israelites talking among themselves and all they could talk about was how big Goliath was but when David spoke, his words focused on how big God is.  

“You come to me with sword and spear and javelin;” he yelled at the giant, “but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel.”  David’s challenge rose in the ears of those behind him as well as the one before him, daring the Israelites to remember: this is your God, Israel, the God who led Abraham and Sarah to a new land and inheritance, who brought the slaves out of slavery, who thundered on the mountaintop, carved commandments in stone, rained mannah from the sky, and gave the homeless a home, the God who toppled the walls of Jericho, defeated the Midianites with just a handful of men carrying jars and trumpets, who took a nation of nobodies and brought them to a land flowing with milk and honey and promise, and then as they watched, the small young untrained unseasoned unarmored pipsqueak David was able to do what no other Israelite had done: he toppled the giant Goliath.  They had their eyes on the giant but David had his eyes on God.  

The lesson for us from this story is, as one preacher put it, “Stop telling God how big your problems are and start telling your problems how big God is!” (1)

Stop telling God how big your problems are and start telling your problems how big God is!

Most of us, most of the time are like the Israelites.  We stand staring across the valley at the troubles besetting our lives, quaking in our boots at what we face.  And it’s not as if we don’t have good reason to feel frightened; a lot of the difficulties we face are serious ones.  Cancer is not a small thing.  Losing your job is not a small thing.  Divorce, death, disease are not small things.  When David strode out on the field to confront Goliath, he could have said, “Oh, hey, you’re not so big.  They were so exaggerating back at the camp.  In fact, now that I get up close, I think I could take you with one hand tied behind my back.”  David, however, never pretended that the size of Goliath was a figment of the Israelite’s imagination.  Up close, Goliath looked just as big as he had from back at the camp — a giant of a man, ten and a half feet tall, taller than anything they had ever seen.  The problem David faced that day was genuinely threatening and so too the problems with which you may struggling right now might really be as gigantic as Goliath.  Those problems may be bigger than anything you have ever faced before in your life.  David didn’t deny the size of Goliath but what he did do was to remind the Israelites that no matter how big Goliath was, God was bigger.  When they kept their eyes only on Goliath, their hearts were overwhelmed by the strength and might of the enemy they confronted because what confronted them was not a small thing but David knew that if they kept their eyes on God, their hearts would be filled with a strength, a power, a love so huge that nothing in the universe can defeat it.

Stop telling God how big your problems are and start telling your problems how big your God is.

Every week in church, we sing hymns proclaiming the mighty power of God.  We don’t sing these songs because God has a hungry ego that needs to preen itself on our compliments; we sing them to bring our eyes back to the immensity of God.  The difficulties we face in life are real — the sorrow and pain that we endure can be debilitating, our grief can be wrenching and our path forward confusing — but we sing of the mighty power of God to remind ourselves that as people of faith, we are held up by a love broader, wider, and deeper than anything in our world.  No matter how big our problems are, we worship a God who is bigger.

David faced the giant Goliath and proclaimed, “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,” the Lord of heaven and earth, the God who made what seemed impossible possible, the God who freed the Israelites and led the people through the wilderness, the God of the cross and of the empty tomb, the Lord who is victorious over death itself.  

So when your problems taunt you from across the valley, remember David and don’t let those problems tell you how big they are; you tell your problems how big your God is.

Footnotes:

1. Rev. James McCarroll, preaching at an American Baptist Youth Convention