When ancient Israel was threatened by Goliath and the Philistines, it took a teenage shepherd boy to put things into proper perspective: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” David had the insight to see beyond appearances and understand that God was far more powerful than any human adversary—that God would be responsible for saving Israel.
We need to share David’s insight as we confront the Goliaths in our lives. We may seem overwhelmed, but remember: we have a mighty God on our side!
Sermon Text: 1 Samuel 17:32-51
The following is my original manuscript.
When I was a child, we had a neighborhood bully named Ricky. He was three or four years older than me. And every morning, waiting at the bus stop on my way to school, I lived in fear of crossing Ricky in some way. My strategy was, “Keep your head down. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t do anything that would cause Ricky to notice you in any way.” I didn’t want to give Ricky any incentive to beat me up. One time I watched him, with very little provocation, walk up to my friend Wes and punch him in the nose. Wes cried. And I felt badly for him, but, to be honest, I was mostly thankful that Ricky hadn’t decided to punch me!
One morning, though, I messed up. Badly. Ricky, you see, came to the bus stop with a “Weeble” in his hand, and he was playing with it. Do you remember Weebles? “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” Those egg-shaped toy figures? Ricky told the group of us at the bus stop that he found it on the side of the road. Naturally, I found it funny that a kid in fifth or sixth grade would be playing with a Weeble. And I merely relayed this information in a neutral, non-judgmental manner to my classmate Scott on the bus ride to school. But before the end of that very ride, it got back to Ricky that I was making fun of him for playing with a Weeble.
I still remember him walking over to me on the bus. “You’re making fun of me? You’re dead! After school.” By the end of the school day, even I had forgotten about this innocent little misunderstanding. But guess what? Ricky had not forgotten! As my sister Melinda and I were walking home, Ricky ran over to me and punched me in the gut. I started crying.
Before he could do any worse, my sister, who was a couple of years older than me, hurled her tin-metal Hollie Hobby lunchbox at Ricky’s head. I can honestly say it was the kindest thing she ever did for me. The lunchbox landed square on one of his temples. I’d like to say that, like Goliath in the story, he fell forward to the ground—not dead, but at least unconscious and filled with remorse for punching me. But actually he just ran away. Ricky knew how to fight with his fists, but he was no match for Holly Hobbie lunchboxes! I guess the moment someone actually stood up to him, he’d run away.
Don’t we, as a culture, love these types of David-versus-Goliath stories? How many movies have this theme? Every Rocky movie, for example. Or Rudy? Or remember that basketball movie Hoosiers—the story of an unlikely, undersized high school basketball team from a small town in Indiana, which, against all odds, manages to play their way to the state championship?
There’s a great scene in the film in which our heroes arrive at the big-city basketball coliseum, awestruck by the sheer size of it. To think: they’re going to play basketball here, in front of tens of thousands of people! So intimidating! In an effort to settle their nerves, he coach, played by Gene Hackman, pulls out a tape measure. “How tall is the rim?” he asks. A player stands on a chair and measures: It’s ten feet, just like every other goal they’ve played on. And how far is the foul line from the basket? Someone measures: 15 feet from the backboard, just like every other basketball court they’ve played on. You get the idea. The point is, they’ve done this before. There’s really nothing to be afraid of.
But I hope you can see that the real David and Goliath story is very different from what we often think of as David-versus-Goliath-type stories. The real Goliath is a bully, to be sure, but he’s no pushover. And it’s not as if King Saul could pull out a tape measure, measure his height, and say, “See… He’s really no taller than you or me.” No, at over nine feet tall, he’s as tall as two of Saul’s men put together! It really does seem as if the Israelite army is no match for Goliath. It really does seem that they have something to be afraid of!
So in today’s scripture the two armies are on opposite sides of a valley, facing off against one another. They’ve been there for weeks, without much fighting. The Philistine army is proposing to settle their dispute with Israel in an unconventional but not unprecedented way: Instead of having the two armies charge to the middle of the valley and fight it out the old-fashioned way, each side would instead choose one representative, a “champion,” their best fighting man, to square off against the other champion. So Goliath, the Philistine champion, tells the Israelite army that if someone can defeat him, then the Philistines will surrender and become Israel’s servants.
Israel is terrified of Goliath. King Saul is terrified of him, and he’s having no success motivating anyone to take Goliath on—at least until this teenage shepherd boy named David comes along. David isn’t old enough for military service, but he’s incredulous that these soldiers are afraid of Goliath: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
In the previous chapter, Chapter 16, Samuel, Israel’s spiritual leader, is called by God to find a new king, someone who will prove more faithful than Saul proved to be. God directs Samuel to Jesse’s house, and Samuel anoints the boy David, in secret, to be Israel’s next king. David is a young and unimposing figure—as Goliath himself sees. David is considered too good-looking to be taken seriously, to be threatening to anyone. Yes, I have that same problem! “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” The point is that David is not a likely candidate for a future king. But as God tells Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature… God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”
This insight—that we need to see beyond what is visible to the eyes, to see beyond appearances—is exactly the special insight that David brings to the situation. See, David actually agrees with Saul and the Israelites that this wasn’t a fair fight between Goliath and Israel… But for the opposite reason. Not because Israel was overmatched, but because the Philistines were overmatched! Is Goliath crazy? Going up against God and God’s powerful army? Goliath doesn’t stand a chance!
Not that anyone else in the story shares David’s theological insight. Certainly not King Saul.
When Saul asks David why he should let a shepherd boy go and fight a man too fearsome for even his bravest warriors, David describes his experience as a shepherd. “If ever a lion or bear took one of our flock,” David said, “I would go after it, strike it, and rescue the animal from its mouth. If the lion or bear turned on me, I’d kill it with my own bare hands.” Can you imagine?
Last week, I had a physical. And I was asking my doctor about the shots that I would need for my mission trip to Kenya in September. He was reviewing the material from the CDC website. He said that a rabies shot was listed as “optional.” “Are you going to be around animals?” he asked. “Well, we’re going on a safari one day.” He said, “Hmmm… If a lion attacks you, you’ll have bigger things to worry about than whether or not it has rabies! So I don’t think you’ll need a rabies shot!”
The point is, being able to grab a lion by the jaw and kill it with your bare hands is an impressive accomplishment. And like any job interview, David is listing his accomplishments for Saul. Like any job interview, he’s listing his qualifications to take on Goliath. Like any job interview, David is putting his best foot forward.
But David doesn’t do what most of us do in job interviews. You see, while it’s true that David’s actions demonstrate great courage, and it’s true that he can kill a lion or bear with his bare hands, and it’s true that the skills necessary to kill lions and bears will also help him defeat Goliath, David goes on to tell Saul something that most of us wouldn’t exactly put on our LinkedIn profile: “The Lord who rescued me from the power of both lions and bears, will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.” The Lord rescued David? I thought this interview was all about what David could do, and here David is, giving God all the credit for his success. David rightly understands that his success comes only from God.
He later tells Goliath the same thing, in so many words: “You’re coming against me with these conventional weapons, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of heavenly forces… Today the Lord will hand you over to me. And when he does, the whole world is going to know—not that there’s this quick and clever young shepherd boy in Israel who’s good with a slingshot —but that there’s a God in Israel! There’s a God on Israel’s side, who is so much more powerful than anything you can muster against me!”
Are we much like David? Most of us would probably be happy to tell people all about what we’re going to do… by our own strength, our own power, our own intelligence, our own cunning, our own wisdom, our own talent, our own money, our own abilities. But David—who is able to see beyond appearances—says, “It’s not what I’m going to do. It’s what God is going to do. All I’m really doing is opening myself up to God and letting God work through me. If I’m going to win this battle, it won’t be because of whatever resources I can bring to bear on the problem; it will be because of God’s resources—because of what God can do! God is calling me to face this crisis, and God is going to give me everything I need to be successful!
By all means, in the face of great adversity, it’s not easy to believe that God has got your back, that God is in charge, that God has everything under control. It takes courage. It takes insight to see beyond appearances. It takes that thing that we often don’t talk about in church… It takes the F-word. It takes faith.
Me, personally… I’m not much like David. I don’t like using the F-word. I like relying on my eyes. I like relying on what I can see. I like relying on my own strength and my own resources. Faith is often a last resort when I feel like I can’t do anything else. “I guess I just gotta have faith,” and I grumble.
You should have seen me when I took it on faith that God was calling me to leave a successful and happy engineering career, to sell our house, to uproot my family, and to go into ministry. “I believe that God is calling me into ministry, but how on earth am I going to pay for this?” That was my attitude. To make matters worse, I told my mom, “So Mom, God is calling me into ministry. I’m going to go to seminary.” And the first words out of Mom’s mouth—I kid you not—were, “O.K., but I can’t give you any money, and you can’t move in with me!”
So I’m desperate… scrambling… trying to find a way to make it work out financially. I’m worried about it, you know? And the financial aid adviser at the Candler School of Theology listened to my concerns before reminding me, once again, about the F-word. She said, “I’ve never seen it not work out. The money always comes through… the scholarships, the grants, the loans. It’ll work out. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, but God will make sure it works out.”
My family and I survived those incredibly difficult three years of seminary, and the difficult three years of the ordination process. We made it to the other side of that particular trial in our lives. And we’re all still alive and healthy and intact. The experience toughened us up. We’re stronger than ever. So guess what? The next time a crisis comes, I can say, “Well, God rescued me from that previous crisis, and he’ll rescue me from this one.” I’m not saying I’ll never be afraid, but who knows? It might just take a little more than some uncircumcised Philistine to scare me now. Seven years ago? Sure. But not now.
Who or what are the “uncircumcised Philistines” in our lives? Are they unemployment, business problems, debt problems? You want some good news? There’s a God on our side. Say that with me: “There’s a God on our side!” Are they marriage problems? “There’s a God on our side!” Are they problems with our health? “There’s a God on our side!” Are they problems with our children? “There’s a God on our side!” Are they problems with our parents? “There’s a God on our side.” Are they problems in our relationships? “There’s a God on our side.” Are they problems with addiction? “There’s a God on our side.” Are they problems with loneliness, depression, or fear? “There’s a God on our side.”
So what do we do about the Goliaths in our lives? Pick up our sling. Pick up our stones. Face our giants with confidence. Why? “Because there’s a God on our side.” And in case you don’t believe me, God has done something to prove to you that he’s on our side: you see, “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for a friend.” And “God proves his love for us in this: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” And now, nothing can separate us from God’s love, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.” Let’s let the whole world know… There’s a God on our side. Amen?