Unlikely Hero - Week One: "Giants Fall"
If you had to list the top five most well known stories in all of the Bible, the story we're studying this week would be one of them.
All you need is two words---two names, in fact---and all of your memories of when and where you first remembered hearing this story just might come rushing back to you: David & Goliath.
It happened just then, didn't it? You had this rush of familiarity when you read it. Even if you didn't really attend church all that much when you were a kid, the story of David and Goliath is one of those stories from the Bible that just sort of transcends church.
I don't remember the first time I heard the story, but I remember where I heard it: the Fairfield Road Baptist Church in Greenville, SC---in a tiny classroom that was in the basement. My Aunt Sylvia was my Sunday school teacher, God rest her.
The thing about these very familiar stories is that we think we know everything about them. In fact, pastors often avoid some of these familiar stories for that very reason. But there is so much more to these stories than we remember from Sunday school, or even from popular culture.
Let's get to work and see what we can discover anew...
To begin, I am simply going to post a link to the Biblical passage that contains the story of David and Goliath. You can read it if you like, but it's fifty verses long and I don't want to take up that much space here, nor am I keen on reading the whole thing when I preach. Here's the link to the passage.
I'd like to reframe the story a bit so we don't have to read the whole thing, and I also want to add a few tidbits of information so we can better understand what is happening.
First and foremost, the story opens up with King Saul and the Israelite army squared off against the Philistines in one of their many battles. The Philistines send out their greatest warrior, a man by the name of Goliath, who is described as being a nine foot tall giant, to taunt the Israelites and to offer himself as champion. The basic idea of offering a champion in the ancient Near East was to pit your greatest warrior against the greatest warrior of your enemy. In theory, if your champion lost then your whole army lost. Whether or not they kept to these rules is sketchy, but Goliath does a fairly good job of intimidating and humiliating the Israelites when no one comes out to fight him.
Interestingly enough, there are some Egyptian papyri from the 13th century that mentions warriors from this region who were giants, and who were great warriors---so it wasn't just the Bible that talked of these things. But scholars widely believe that Goliath wasn't actually nine feet tall, and was probably more like 6 feet nine inches. To people who averaged in the five foot range in height, however, that was pretty big.
Goliath taunts the Israelites for 40 days, which is not a coincidence. Remember that the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, so this is familiar number and a familiar feeling for them. They are intimidated and immobilized. No one seems to have a solution, and no one seems to want to fight, including Saul.
Then David shows up. He's been sent on an errand to bring a care package to his brothers, who are all in the army. Once again, we are reminded that David tends to get left behind when the really important things happen. God had other ideas, however, because he shows up right when he's needed most. When he surveys the situation and sees the giant Philistine mocking the people of Israel, he immediately sees it more deeply than anyone else seems to be seeing it.
Goliath isn't just mocking Israel, he's mocking Yahweh--God. This would have been understood in a culture where the god you worshipped was connected intricately to your success in battle. If you won, it was a sign that your god defeated your enemy's god.
David is the first one in the story to ask a very important question, "Is there not a living God in Israel?" His outrage and his ability to see through to the truth the matter---that no one seems to have faith in God---angers his brothers, of course. They have already had to deal with the fact that Samuel passed them all over and anointed David king, and we see here the resentment that they must have felt toward him.
We also get a glimpse here of the contrast between David and Saul. Saul sits across from the Philistine mocking his God and takes it. He does nothing because he knows that his own power won't be enough to defeat the shouting giant. Yet, he doesn't have enough faith to call upon the "living God" for help as David does.
David finally convinces Saul to allow him to go and fight Goliath, which I am sure Saul thought was a fool's errand. At this point I am sure that Saul was sufficiently embarrassed that he was quite willing to let this upstart kid go out and get himself killed just to save face. If you think that's a harsh assessment of Saul, stay tuned---he gets worse.
At any rate, he tries to give David his own armor and weapons, but it doesn't fit---which is a highly symbolic moment. David isn't meant to inherit Saul's throne, which has been shown to be wanting. His choice to take only his shepherd's sling as a weapon reveals to the reader that his armor, his weapons are heavenly in nature, a sign of his true kingship.
His opponent, the giant Goliath, is armed to the teeth and covered in protective armor that is seemingly impenetrable. His armor weighs 125 pounds. The tip of his spear alone weighs 15 pounds. He has a shield that undoubtedly reached to the ground. The dude was stacked and ready to fight, which is what he does after mocking David for coming at him as if he were a dog---with sticks and rocks.
What the loudmouth giant didn't know was that David had fought lions and bears off with his shepherds staff and sling as he was defending his sheep. Again, this is another sign of his kingship---the ability to defend his flock, in contrast to Saul who can't even be stirred to go out and face an enemy who is shaming him and defaming God publicly.
David says to Goliath:
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”That's a pretty awesome speech, and we're going to come back to it in a bit. David takes one of the smooth stones that he picked up to use in his sling, and then lets it fly toward the giant. Slings were often used in battle in the ancient Near East, so this wasn't a foreign weapon, just one that seemed kind of foolish to use against a guy all armored up.
The stone hits the giant in the forehead right where he is the most vulnerable, and he falls down stunned or unconscious. David scurries over to him, takes they guys own sword and hacks off his head---killing him with his own weapons, which is also highly symbolic.
And just like that... a legend was born.
Great story, right? But what does it mean? And more specifically, what does it mean for us?
Here's what I think: When the well placed stone of Faith is thrown with Courage and aimed by an unwavering Trust in God's Grace---Giants Fall.
Man. That. Will. Preach.
Let's unpack this a little. You see, the focal point of the story is one of contrast between David's faith, and Israel's lack of faith. Here's what it teaches us:
First, it is unthinkable to assess a conflict, battle or crisis apart from the rule of the Living God. But I get how that's hard to do when the odds seem totally stacked against us. Consider the questions that the Hebrew people undoubtedly had--which are the same kinds of questions that you and I harbor deep within our chest in a moment of crisis.
Is God for us? In other words, does God really care about what happens to us?
Is there a living God in Israel? Or as I might ask, "Is there a living God in my life?"
Does God keep His promises? I know what's in the Bible about God and his promises to take care of His own, but does he really?
David answers yes to every single one of these questions, then picks up some rocks and heads out on to the battlefield.
Second, David understood that the "giants" of this world cannot be beaten on their own terms. In verses 45-47 he tells the giant, "you come at me with a sword and a spear...I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty." David's trust wasn't in technology, or force but in the power and truth of God. So often we find ourselves trusting in the very things that are used by the Enemy to defeat us. We trust in money, power, influence... but when we are being honest, none of those things actually feel like they fit when we put them on. God is in opposition to arrogant, self-serving power---we can't face the giants in our lives by using it.
Finally, It was what David did as mush as what he said that showed the source of his power. David wasn't afraid to take action---in the name of the Lord. Contrast this with Saul, who never even mentions God, and was too fearful to venture out on to the field.
I think that the most Christians lack both faith and resolve. We keep trying to do the same things over and over again, expecting a different result, which is the definition of insanity. We sit around wringing our hands about the way the world seems to be going to hell and a handbasket, while trying to put on armor that doesn't fit, and giving lip service to a God who we don't treat at all as though He is living. Our problems seem huge sometimes, and the task seems impossible. And we are scared.
The Israelites said about Goliath, "He's so big we can't beat him." David said, "He's so big I can't miss." Can I get a witness?
I love this poem by Emily Dickinson, which speaks right into this very issue:
I Took My Power In My HandI took my power in my Hand--And went against the World/Our failure to face the giants in our lives comes not from the size of the giant, but our own fear of failing.
Twas not so much as David had--But I was twice as bold/
I aimed my Pebble--but Myself was all the one that fell/
Was it Goliath--was too large--or was myself too small?
The giants of this world can seem too much for us, can't they? This story embodies the hope that we when we are faced with overwhelming odds, evil power and destructive forces that there is a way to over come it.
This is one of my favorite images---a modern David & Goliath moment from the student protests in China at Tiananmen Square.
Just an ordinary man, holding nothing but a shopping bag. At that moment he made a decision that his life was not as important as the moment. He stood against the giant of tyranny and his act of bravery became one of the most indelible moments of history.
If you feel as though the giants are too large. If you feel as though God is not near, not aware of your fear, your pain and your struggle to face them... Know this. You are not alone. You can face the giants. They may come at you with all the powers of darkness, but you come at them in the name of the Lord Almighty, who hates arrogance, and despises evil. So take your sling, and your small, smooth stones and let fly.
Because when the stone of Faith is thrown with Courage and aimed by an unwavering Trust in God's Grace---Giants Fall.