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Slaying Giants
1 Samuel 17
Jay in TN

I must confess to you that I was terrified when I first saw the Giant. I was prepared for war, as a good king should be. I was prepared to lose my life on the battlefield for the sake of Israel. I was prepared to lead my men into battle just like I had led them against the Moabites, and the Amonites, and the Edomites,and the Amalekites. We had a powerful army, one that had triumphed over all who challenged us. So, I was prepared for the horror of war. But I was not prepared for him – the Giant – the one his people called Goliath. His presence as he clanked in his armor down the hill to the valley seemed otherworldly.

To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure he was human, clothed as he was in bronze. What I did know was that he was an immense being, a pillar of metal with a sword and a spear and a javelin. His shield was so large that it had to be carried by another man in front of him. And as he made his way down the hill, he threw out taunts to my men, and to me, to come and fight him, knowing all the while that those very taunts were striking fear into the hearts of us all. He was very sure of himself, and he had every right to be. And I stood with a mute face in terror as all my men looked to me for guidance. But as much as I was unprepared for the appearance of the Giant in the Elah Valley, I was equally unprepared for the appearance of this pretentious prodigy from Bethlehem, the one with the rosy cheeks and the curly hair, the one who would become the champion of Israel, the one who would eventually unseat me from the throne.

His name was David, and he was the beloved son of Israel. And as I look back on that confrontation between him and Goliath so long ago, I’m not really sure which one I was more afraid of. Since I AM a bit player in this story, I suppose I should tell you a bit about myself. My name is Saul. I was the first King of Israel, anointed by the prophet Samuel to rule the people of Yahweh. Huh, rule? No, it was more like trying to get this loose confederation of tribes to follow me in creating a nation. It wasn’t easy, especially since Yahweh didn’t really want a king over the chosen.

But once we entered into war against the Philistines, the people quickly rallied and I began to lead our armies into battle. And with the help of Yahweh we triumphed in battle. However, as is true for most kings, I began to think that our victories came through my leadership rather than through the power of God, and so I began to ignore Yahweh’s leading, and our strength began to lessen bit by bit. So by the time we gathered on the other side of the valley from the Philistines I was pretty much powerless. I was consumed with fear and uncertainty and didn’t know how to lead my people anymore. It was, of course, at this time that Goliath appeared.

Now Goliath was something right out of the World Championship Wrestling that you watch on your modern television. As soon as we saw him, we knew who he was for his reputation preceded him. Most folks said that Goliath was around 9 and feet tall, and I have no reason to doubt that. He was known as a fierce warrior, a champion, one who was sent out specifically to represent the army in battle. To make himself look even fiercer, he covered himself from head to toe in bronze. It was said that his bronze vest alone weighed 125 pounds, and that the head of his spear weighed 15. His armor was state of the art, unlike any other found in the Mediterranean world. Like the modern wrestlers of your day, his appearance was matched by his mouth, which spewed forth all sorts of names and curses, challenging the very manhood of those who watched him from a distance. With his state of the art armor and his sharp tongue, Goliath seemed to be unsinkable, a Titanic of a man in whom all of Philistia had placed their trust. And like the Titanic, Goliath sailed into the dangerous waters of the Elah Valley with little concern for the icebergs ahead.

We had been standing and watching him for forty days and nights when David appeared. Forty – the same number of days as the rain flooded the earth in the time of Noah. The same number of years as the wanderings in the wilderness. The armies of Israel under my leadership had spent forty days wandering about, trying to determine what we should do, with little direction. And then this boy shows up with all the answers. I first became aware of this boy from a distance. Word had gotten to me that the Eliab’s younger brother was in camp to bring provisions. From the safety of my tent, I watched this handsome boy with curly hair in the distance as he walked from man to man talking to each one of them. I couldn’t tell what he was saying, but he seemed very sure of himself and almost seemed to be taunting the soldiers – a dangerous act indeed. Eliab grabbed him by the shoulder and seemed to try to dress him down.

But this boy took no notice of his older brother, and turned away to talk with the other soldiers. Eventually some of them began to wander toward my tent. “What’s the kid want?” I shouted to them. “He thinks HE can kill the giant, sire,” they said with a chuckle. “These smart mouthed kids...” You know, far too often, that’s been the attitude of God’s people throughout the ages. Once folks grow up and face the Goliaths of career and finances on a daily basis, the brash and confident words of kids seem naive and unrealistic. “Out of the mouths of babes...” we chuckle without really examining what is truly being said. That’s why Jesus, the promised messiah and redeemer of later years, said that “unless you become as a child, you have no part in my kingdom.” Think about God’s own actions. Of all the persons God could have chosen to birth his son into existence God chose a naive, faith filled, simple, teenage girl who was filled with a faith beyond reason. Our God is a God who more often speaks through the foolishness of children than through the wisest adult.

Anyway, back to David. His words seemed foolish. How could this kid think he had the power to do what the armies and king of Israel were unable to do? But, after forty days of waiting in the wilderness and forty nights of sleepless, terror filled nights, I was willing to grasp at most anything, so I called him over to my tent. Right away, as he entered the tent, before even introduced himself, he said, “Let me at him sire. I’m not afraid of him.” “Okay,” I thought, “this kid has moxie but I need to bring him down to reality.” So I stood up and looked at him and said, “Look, you can’t fight this guy. You are just a kid. You don’t know anything about fighting battles. This Goliath has been a street fighter for many years and knows about brawling. How do you think you can stand up to him?” David then started in with all the explanations as to why he should be allowed to fight. Like many young people, his explanation was a rush of words breathlessly proclaimed, which tried to show how he was as tough as the Philistine.

But it was the last thing he said that caught me, the final words that pierced my heart and finally gave me the strength to overcome my terror. “Yahweh has saved me before, he said, “and Yahweh will save me now against this Philistine.” Of course! It’s what I had forgotten all along. This was not my battle. This was not even David’s battle. This was God’s battle and God’s battle alone. We had no power to defeat Goliath through our own strength. No, it was through God’s strength alone that this man would be defeated. And with this knowledge in my heart I heard my voice say “Go and may Yahweh be with you.” But, even though I was able to call upon God in this moment, I still was not able to fully place my trust in God. I mean, this boy was going out to face a formidable fighting machine. Goliath had the best technology and weapons that money can buy. He had countless shekels spent on his military training. Surely I had to try and even the playing field, to help David to fight Goliath on Goliath’s terms?

So, I began to dress David in the proper attire for fighting a battle. I placed my official robe on him so that Goliath would know that this was our designated champion. I gave him my helmet and bolted my breastplate on him to give him some protection from the spear and javelin. I handed him my sword and told him to gird it around his waist. And then, knowing that he was properly attired for battle, I stood back to take a look at him. Frankly, he looked foolish. He could hardly move in my battle dress. He tried to take a step and about fell on his face. David looked at me and said, “Thanks for the clothes, but I’m not used to them and I think I better fight the way I know how to fight.” With that, he put on his simple shepherd’s cloak, grabbed his stick in one hand, and headed off with a sling in his other hand toward a dry stream bed to gather stones for the battle. And friends, THAT is the image that I most remember from my encounter with David.

Oh we all know the rest of the story, how Goliath insulted the boy, how David threw back the insults and ran toward the giant. We know how David slung the stone and hit Goliath in the head. We know that the Giant fell down and David finished him off. Those are the stories of news headlines, the stories that get covered on the Scene at Six, the stories that transform shepherd boys into kings. But the story that I remember, the time that I truly new David was to be the new ruler of God’s kingdom was in the simple act of taking off my armor and heading off to face the giant alone. You see, I knew one way of making war, of fighting the battle, of achieving success. It was a way of weapons, of strategy, a way that based itself in state of the art hardware, and developed techniques. My way was to look at the Goliaths of the world and follow their lead, somehow thinking that brawn equals success.

However David is the model of another way, the way of those who, without the benefit of superior arms or armies, continue to trust that God can make deliverance possible against the odds. The way of David is to see that there is hope even when faced with hopeless situations. David is the one who knows without a doubt that there are resources beyond the technology of kingdoms. He offers an alternative to the way of swords and empires. David’s way is the way of Mahatma Gandhi, the way of standing for truth in the face of national pride. David’s way is the way of Rosa Parks, of Desmond Tutu, of all those faithful persons who have drawn of the gifts that God has given them to stand in opposition of arrogant and self serving power, and the violence that so often accompanies it. David’s trust is not in the techniques of power or the technology of battle, no David’s trust is in the power of truth as and love as revealed by God. To be a child of David is to understand that God’s ways are not the world’s ways and that faith and love will always triumph over evil.

And for those of us who have placed our faith in the powers of the world, trusting in the power of our loving creator is down right threatening. To use the words of one of your modern songwriters in a song to Martin Luther King Jr., “to fight a fight without a fist, all human instinct puzzles this, how dare you threaten our existence.” That is indeed how I felt as I saw David take off the armor that day – threatened. I was threatened by the fact that the way I had always known was challenged by a new way. And at that moment I wasn’t sure who I was more afraid of, Goliath, or David. As I look back on that day now, thousands of years after that event. I’m beginning to understand the power behind David’s actions. It is the same power seen in Jesus Christ, the one from the household of David, who was the suffering servant of the world. It is the same power that Jesus talked about in his Sermon on the Mount where he told his followers to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. It is the same power that was written about by the Apostle Paul when he wrote to Corinthian church these words:

"For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles . . . For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. . . . God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.""

And such is the story of David and Goliath. Yet, in a sense it isn’t the end of the story. For the story of David’s triumph over Goliath, the story of the victory of the weak over the powerful, the story of the lesser defeating the greater continues to this day whenever the people of God place their trust in the creator instead of their trust in the weapons of this world. When the children of God, the ancestors of David, the people of the way fully remember that the foolish, unselfish love of God love conquers all, then the Goliaths of our world – those oppressive forces that cause people to tremble with fear – will be slain. People of God, take off your armor. Find your stones and your sling. Let’s go slay some giants. Amen.