Fighting Giants

Sermon for June 24, 2012
Based on 1 Samuel 17:1-50
By Pastor Michael Cromer

Like the story of Noah’s Ark and Jonah and the Whale, the biblical story of David and Goliath is widely known by adults and children alike whether they are churched or un-churched.  The story of the battle between David and the giant Goliath has been made into movies, television shows, and depicted in children’s books. Artists have created many versions of it on canvas and in sculpture.  Music and poems have been written about this story.  It is a popular story because it is the kind of story we love.  We love stories where good overcomes evil, where someone small defeats someone large, where the outcome of the story is not as it should be.  We love a story when someone overcomes a great obstacle. These kinds of stories give us hope; they help us to believe that even if we are small and seemingly unimportant we can overcome great obstacles in our life if we only believe and have faith in God.

The story of David and Goliath is also found in the Koran as well as other ancient Jewish writings other than the bible. For Christians this story was written to show that Saul was not fit to be king of Israel and that it was David who God wanted to be the king of Israel.  This story is also seen by Christians as Jesus’ victory over the enemies of God’s helpless people. It is seen as Jesus’ victory over sin. The Jews believed that this story was more about David, the champion of the God of Israel, defeating Goliath the champion of the Philistines who were pagans.  Jewish writings say that Goliath was the son of Orpah the sister in law of Ruth, David’s great grandmother. Other ancient writings tell the story a bit differently.  They say that David picked up seven stones and wrote the names of his father, his own name, and the name of God on each stone.

This story begins with two armies, the Philistines and the Israelites, facing each other standing on opposite high ridges ready to do battle.  A valley separates them. The Philistines, from who we get the name Palestine, were a people whose territory stretched along the Mediterranean coast.  They were pagans who worshiped a number of different pagan gods and goddesses.  Abraham and later Isaac had settled for a time in the land of the Philistines and had a good relationship with them.   However the herdsmen of the Philistines and the Israelites were often in conflict with one another. Eventually the Israelites took control over much of the land of the Philistines. In this story the Philistines had ventured into Israeli territory and had taken a firm stand on the slope of a hill. The conflict between the Philistines and the Israelites over land went on for years and continues today. 

In addition to the armies of the Philistines and the Israelites in this story there is Saul the king of the Israelites and the leader of the Israelite army, and there is the shepherd boy David.  David is the youngest of eight sons of a Bethlehem shepherd named Jesse.  Three of the oldest of Jesse’s sons had followed King Saul and his army to this site where this story takes place. The youngest son David, a shepherd for his father, traveled back and forth from his duties to bring food and messages to his three brothers and to Saul’s men. He is young but we do not know his age.

Goliath, the giant in this story is the champion of the Philistines. He is the one who will fight for them.  Goliath is described as being “six cubits and a span” in height which would make him anywhere between 6’ 9”to 9’ 9” tall. In relationship to the size of most men in those days, either size would have made Goliath a daunting figure. Goliath’s armor is described as being made of bronze.  It covers his entire body from head to toe. He has a javelin slung on his back and he carries a huge spear with a huge iron head on it and he carries a sword.  Goliath is from the Philistine city of Gath supposedly the home of other giants. It was also the city where David would one day hide from Saul who wanted to kill him.

In the ancient world it was not unusual for a single person to go to battle against another before a full blown battle broke out. Perhaps whoever won the “one on one” battle would indicate which army would win. For forty days Goliath stepped forward challenging and taunting the Israelite army.  Goliath’s size was frightening and Saul and his men were “greatly afraid.” Despite their fear, the Israelite army decided they had no choice but to fight the Philistines. They couldn’t run away.  That would make them cowards. Just as they are about to go into battle the shepherd boy David arrived in camp carrying food and messages from his father. Excited over hearing the battle cries and curious as to what is about to happen, David dropped everything and ran to the front lines to see what was happening. The Israelite soldiers were nervously talking among themselves, “Look how he keeps coming out to insult us.  The king is offering a reward to the man who kills Goliath. That man will get to marry the king’s daughter and he will never have to pay taxes again.”

David asked some of the soldier’s “What will a man get for killing this Philistine and stop him from insulting our people? Who does that worthless Philistine think he is anyway? He is making fun of the living God!” The soldiers told David what king Saul would give the man who killed Goliath.  David’s older brother hearing David ask all these questions angrily scolded him “What are you doing here? Who’s taking care of the sheep you spoiled brat?  You came here just to watch the fight didn’t you?”

“What have I done?” David answered, “Can’t I even ask a question?” And David continued to ask the soldiers what the reward was for the man who killed Goliath.  And the soldiers all told him the same thing.  Some of the soldiers overheard David asking questions and they told King Saul.  Saul sent for David.  David, unconcerned that he was talking to the king, boldly said “Your Majesty, this Philistine should not be turning us into cowards.  I will go and fight him myself!”
You wouldn’t have a chance against him, you’re only a boy and he has been a soldier his whole life.” said King Saul. But David replied.

Your Majesty, I take care of my father’s sheep.  And when one of them is dragged off by a lion or a bear, I go after it and beat the wild animal until it lets go of the sheep.  If the wild animal turns and attacks me, I grab it by the throat and I kill it.  Sir I have killed lions and bears that way and I can kill this worthless Philistine.  He shouldn’t have made fun of the army of the living God! The Lord has rescued me from the claws of lions and bears and he will keep me safe from the hands of this Philistine.”

As the boy David told the king of his dangerous experiences as a shepherd, the two armies stood waiting. David told the king of how God had protected him and rescued him from danger.  Neither one of the two armies standing by ready to fight one another really believed in the protection of God.  The Philistines were pagans; perhaps they believed that one of their many gods might protect them.  The Philistines seem to have more faith in a victory for themselves than the Israelites who are supposed to have faith in the one true God.  But then again, the Philistines had Goliath even if their gods fail to protect them they could still count on Goliath.

As the king of the Israelites Saul should have had the same faith as the boy David but he did not.  It is another reason God eventually replaced Saul as king and made David the king of Israel.  But to save face Saul agreed with David.  He mustered up the faith he should have had and agreed to send David into battle with Goliath, but not without some physical protection.  He gave the boy his armor, the heavy and oversized armor of a very tall grown man to protect him, with a bronze helmet just in case God didn’t protect David. David weighed down by the heavy armor took it off. “I cannot go with these; for I am not used to them.” Instead David took only his staff and went down to the river bed and chose five smooth stones and put them into his shepherd’s leather bag.  With his shepherd’s sling in his hand, his only physical weapon, he walked into the valley towards Goliath who lumbered towards him from the other side. Goliath, despite his imposing size, covered in armor from head to toe, still held a shield in front of himself as additional protection. 

When Goliath saw this young boy dressed only the clothing of a shepherd, young and handsome, still looking more feminine in body, not yet looking like a young man, he laughed.  This must be a joke.  Perhaps it is a trick. Seeing that David is carrying his staff Goliath shouts to him “Am I a dog that you came to me with sticks?” He cursed David in the name of the Philistine pagan gods.  “Come here and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and beasts of the field.”
David who is confident, perhaps scared, but still confident said to the giant. “You come to me with a sword and a spear and a 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. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the other Philistine soldiers to the birds of the air and wild beasts of the earth; so that all the earth may know that there is a God of Israel and that all those here today will know that the Lord saves, not with a sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will  give you into our hands.”

David, because of his faith in God saw this situation differently than the Philistines and even King Saul.  He knew that God can deliver people from danger, despite the odds, when faced with any kind of hopeless situation. God had saved him many times as a shepherd.  David walked into what appeared would be a quick slaughter carrying only his shepherds staff, a bag of stones, a sling, but most importantly he carried with him the armor of his faith to protect him believing that the one true God would deliver him from danger. Deliverance and protection does not come from human weapons and human armor; it comes from the one true source of power, God.  In his speech to Goliath and to both armies listening from the higher ground, David witnessed this to those who needed to hear and know- That it is only God who saves.

After David declared his confidence in God to all who were listening he ran, he did not walk timidly towards the giant, he ran towards his enemy.  When the giant and the boy met, David confidently removed a smooth stone from his leather bag, put it into his shepherd’s sling, swung the sling, and released one of its straps and the stone flew straight towards Goliath’s forehead.  It was the one small place where his head armor does not protect him.  The stone hit Goliath’s forehead and sinks into his skull. Goliath fell to the ground.  He was dead.  David approached the fallen giant, removed Goliath’s sword and cut off his head.

The hero of this story is a child, one of the very least in the world in biblical times and still today.  The hero of this story is not a strong, military man trained in battle but a simple shepherd boy who believed in the power of God. For children today who feel they have no power or no voice in the world this is a story of hope.  For adults who feel they have no power and no voice, this is a story of hope. For the millions of people around the world living in countries where “giants”, dictators and communist governments, control their lives, this is a story of hope. For anyone who has been told they are too small or not good enough to succeed this is a story of hope.

We all face “giants” in our lives at one time or another. Perhaps the “giant” you are battling is a deadly life threatening illness that you have been told is incurable.  Perhaps you are battling the “giant” of depression that leaves you paralyzed.  Maybe your “giant” is overwhelming debt that hangs over you every day and you see no logical way out. Your “giant” might be low self-esteem, lack of confidence, feelings of unworthiness that keep you from living a victorious life.

Our world is filled with highly armed countries whose governments threaten one another with their impressive weapons. We arm ourselves with weapons in the name of preserving peace in the world and yet wars continue to be fought throughout the world. We fool ourselves into believing that those who have the most weapons and the strongest armor will always be safe. But a handful of determined terrorists flew planes into The World Trade Center and showed us how vulnerable we really were despite everything we had in place to protect ourselves. They found an opening in our armor.

God would prefer that we not save by physical force.  David knew that there were ways to victory beyond armor and weapons. David’s victory over the giant Goliath came because he believed in the power of truth. That truth is that God is opposed to violence, arrogance, and self-serving power. By trusting entirely in God and in God’s ability to deliver and protect we can find hope in situations that seem hopeless. We can find the peace in the world and the peace in our lives that we all long for and yet find so hard to attain. The living God that David turned to is the same living God that remains with us today; still here, still speaking, still protecting, and still delivering us from “giants”, still available to help us find better ways for attaining victory. All that is required of us is to simply believe that, and live our lives, not as the world lives, but as people of faith whose champion is still the God of Israel.