Preached by Michael Cheuk, June 21, 2015
Taken from 1 Samuel 17:1-24; 32-49
Today, our Old Testament Lesson tells a very familiar story – the story of David and Goliath. Even though this story is familiar to many of us, it is good to hear it again, hopefully with fresh ears. So let’s begin the story!
This story begins with a geography lesson. The Philistines were a people that lived along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. During that time, they already controlled five coastal cities. As the Philistines grew in power, they started expanding their territory eastward toward the more mountainous terrain where the Israelite tribes had settled.
In this story, the Philistine troops deployed to the towns of Socoh and Azekah overlooking the Valley of Elah. This valley was a very strategic place because it guarded an important gateway to the mountains and it provided access to Jerusalem. Whoever controlled this area also controlled access to the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the trade routes to Egypt and Asia. So as our story opens, the invading Philistine army gathered in attack formation, and Saul, the King of Israel, and his troops took defensive positions on another hill to prepare to stop the invasion.
Things don’t look good for King Saul and the Israelites, largely because the Philistines had a distinct advantage. Though it’s not mentioned in this translation, other versions of the Bible reveal that Goliath had a secret weapon, a spear tip made of iron. Iron, lighter and stronger than bronze, was a technology that the Philistines mastered but the Israelites lacked. In fact, the Bible tells us that, “Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel.” The Israelites couldn’t even sharpen their own tools; they had to bring them to Philistine blacksmiths and pay high prices. Like the longbow in the Middle Ages, the Gatling gun during the Civil War, the radar in the Battle of Britain, and the atomic bomb at the end of WWII, iron spears and iron swords gave the Philistines a huge advantage. On this day in Valley of Elah, out of the entire Israelite army only two soldiers—King Saul and his son Jonathan—possessed a sword or a spear.
Of course, there’s another reason why things don’t look so good for the Israelites: Goliath himself. He wasn’t just a giant nearly ten feet tall, he was a giant with the latest warfare technology, equipped with the latest weapons. Goliath was like a thunder-walking, trash-talking tank. You can now understand why the Israelites were losing hope, losing heart. Beating this giant seemed like “Mission Impossible.”
While Jesse’s three oldest sons had enlisted in Saul’s army, David, the youngest and smallest boy, was back home shepherding the flock. When his father asked David to go to the Israelite camp to deliver food and check on his brothers, it was a risk for such a young boy. No one would blame David if he decided to just stay in the fields and watch over his father’s sheep. But David took the risk and obeyed his father’s instructions.
At the battlefield, David delivered his provisions and there, he saw the troops. He also saw and heard Goliath. And what he saw and heard incensed him. For Goliath did more than just challenge Saul’s troops, he insulted them and he insulted Israel’s God. On that day, there was more at stake than just who was going to control Valley of Elah and the trade routes. There was more at stake than whether the Philistines or the Israelites were going to win. For you see, Goliath was not only the champion of the Philistines, he was champion for Dagon, the god of the Philistines. His challenge was more than a challenge to the Israelite troops, it was a challenge to the Israelite God. On that day, what was at stake was no less than whose God was the true God. In response to this challenge, the Israelite troops and King Saul were totally frightened and losing heart. But David had other ideas.
Here we have a portrait of contrasts: On one side we have Saul, a man who, on the surface, seems to have it all. He’s tall. He’s handsome. He’s a warrior with powerful weapons of war at his disposal. And yet, he is frightened and afraid.
On the other side, we have David, the youngest in his family, a herder of sheep, not a leader of troops. And yet, he told King Saul, “Don’t give up hope.” In the Hebrew, David literally said, “Let no man’s heart fail him.” Isn’t it interesting that here’s a boy with a heart that was after God’s own heart who was willing to fight Goliath, in contrast with Saul, a tall and experienced warrior who, in the face of trying circumstances, had lost his heart to fight for his God. At first Saul can hardly take David’s offer seriously, but something about David’s faith and courage makes Saul change his mind and give the boy a chance.
Before David went to fight Goliath, Saul outfitted him in armor. Since Saul and Jonathan had the only iron and bronze armor and weaponry in all of Israel, it was most likely that Saul was giving David his own armor and weapons to properly outfit him for battle. Saul himself was a big man, and his armor was too big and heavy for David. Burdened with someone else’s armor and weapons, David could barely walk, much less fight. Like Popeye, David finally said, “I yam what I yam. I am a shepherd and not a soldier, and I am not used to all this armor. I have to fight as a shepherd with the skills and tools of a shepherd.” So he took off all of Saul’s armor.
When conquering giants, we need to know and be ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to imitate one’s heroes. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to follow in a parent’s footsteps. But at the end of the day, we are called to conquer giants by taking off all of the well-intended but unwieldy armor that others want to impose on us. We are called to know who we are and strive to become the best version of how God made us instead of becoming a pale imitation of someone else. And that’s exactly what David did by taking off Saul’s armor, shield and sword, before he approached the giant.
Goliath the giant was ready to rumble, ready to take on the Israelites’ top warrior. Imagine his surprise when, out of the ranks of the Israelites, came forward a lanky, little boy. Were the Israelites joking? Goliath might have insulted the Israelites, but he himself seemed genuinely insulted when all of a sudden, this puny boy who was too young even to shave, walked toward him with nothing, for all he could tell, but a stick. Goliath raged, “I am Goliath, a human tank! I asked for a top gun and you bring out a pop gun?! You dare to disrespect me by coming after me with a stick of a boy carrying nothing but a stick?! Puny boy, after I finish, there’ll scarcely be enough of you left for a field mouse!”
But David answered, “You can come at me with sword and spear and other weapons of mass destruction, but I come in the name of the God of Israel. This is not about you or me—this is about who is the real God of the universe. Everyone gathered here will learn that God doesn’t save by means of sword or spear or any other human weapon. The battle belongs to God—you’re not fighting me, you’re fighting the Lord God!”
When conquering giants, we need to remember that ultimately the battle does not belong to us, the battle belongs to God. God has more at stake than even we have in defeating the giants of the world that are mocking and insulting God. As we face the giants, we can take heart to know that if we focus on God and God’s ever-present help, we can overcome the world, even when our personal resources seem small and inadequate. Who needs God when we believe that we can fight the battle ourselves? It is only when we recognize our inadequacy that we can witness to the world what an extraordinary God we have. Any victories we might have over the opposing giants of this world will only come through the power and might of God. That’s what David was saying to Goliath: The battle belongs to God—you’re not fighting me, you’re fighting God!
The battle belonged to God, but that did not mean that David was not equipped. Unbeknownst to Goliath, David did have something up his sleeve—five things to be exact, five smooth stones from a dry creek bed. After proclaiming his faith in God before the giant Philistine, David did something he was gifted to do: he slung a stone. As a shepherd boy, David had probably hurled rocks from his slingshot hundreds of times. This time, David’s stone knocked the giant to the ground and allowed him to slay the giant.
When conquering giants, the battle is the Lord’s. The question for us is whether we will allow God to use us in the fight. This story of David and Goliath is a favorite of children and adults alike. We identify ourselves with David. The little guy, the young boy, the underdog wins. Who doesn’t like that?
But what application does this story have for us today? What giants do the people of God face today? Given the horrific shooting that took place this past Wednesday night at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, and given the deaths that have taken place in Ferguson, in Cleveland and Beavercreek, in Baltimore, in New York all involving black lives, can we say that the giant of racism still exists?
Baptist pastor Amy Butler issued this statement after the massacre in Charleston:
“Words are insufficient to capture the depth of grief, anger, and despair many of us have felt as we heard the news of this violent act of terrorism fueled by a shameful legacy of racism in our country. Our prayers and our hearts go out to the families of the nine precious lives lost, to the congregation of Emanuel AME Church, and to the city of Charleston, SC. Tragedies such as these confront us with hard questions. As people of faith, how can we speak words of peace and reconciliation when even our houses of worship cannot provide sanctuary from the violence and hatred in our world? How can we proclaim all lives are cherished and beloved by God when our brothers and sisters are targeted for the color of their skin? How can we hope for a culture of peace and justice when we do not even have the courage to limit the use of deadly weapons in our society? Our lack of resolve, our collective failure, has created this litany of tragedies. Still, she concludes, it is in these moments of despair that we need each other most. We need our churches and communities to provide comfort and to call us to action with the deep conviction of our faith – a faith that gives us the courage to speak words of hope into a culture of death, a faith that compels us to work for justice and God’s peaceable kingdom on earth as in heaven, a faith that assures us love and not hatred will win in the end.” 
At the CBF General Assembly in Dallas that Will and Erin Brown and I attended this past week, Kathryn Freeman led a breakout session on racial justice. Freeman says that it is common to have a call to prayer in the aftermath of racially charged attacks. While prayer is necessary, Freeman stated that “…it cannot be all you do. The time for listening, praying, and mourning is over. We need to be actively standing against [injustice] as the church.”
In facing the giant of racism, will we be David speaking words of hope and acting with deep conviction and faith in God . . . or will we be Saul, blessed with abundant resources for the battle, but sitting on the sidelines, lacking in courage and paralyzed by fear?
The battle that we’re in is nothing less than a battle to see who is the true God. Will we serve a God who is known as a refuge for the oppressed, a God who is known by acts of justice? Or will we settle for the status quo, demonstrating that we believe the powers of the world cannot be shaken?
Who are we? We are the children of God, and we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world (and in our own lives). Our weapons are faith, hope, love, prayer, forgiveness, speaking truth to power, and a willingness to lay down our lives. We serve a God who tells us again and again, “Do not be afraid.” We worship and follow Jesus, who in his death and resurrection, taught us that we are not a people who will kill for our beliefs; rather, we are a people willing to die for what we believe.
When David faced his giant, he came not with sword, nor spear, nor javelin, but he came in the name of the Lord Almighty. In his courageous action, the whole world knew that there was an extraordinary God in Israel. Can the world say the same thing today?