From Shepherd to King (2)
“Facing the Giant” 1 Samuel 17
David was chosen by God to be king - a very unlikely choice perhaps from a worldly point of view. He was so young & inexperienced in many ways. Yet God saw his heart & the Spirit of the Lord anointed David for the task to which he was now called. Notice however that it was not right away that David was made king. He had been anointed in secret & it would be some years before he actually would be crowned as king. Yet as we will see today, God began to position David for his future role. God used him, even as a teenager, to win a major victory over the enemies of God’s people. Saul was still Israel’s king but God’s hand of blessing was no longer upon Saul. In fact 1 Samuel 16:14 tells us, “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, & an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” This does not mean that God sent an evil spirit to possess Saul. It simply means that once God’s Spirit was removed from Saul he was open to the influence of evil spirits. In this sense God allowed it for Saul had chosen to turn his back upon God. So too, when we deliberately turn away from God we open ourselves to demonic powers.
God’s hand of blessing, however, was very much upon David. Very soon he was to find himself learning a lot about what was involved in being king – it was a huge jump from looking after the sheep of his father Jesse. It all began when Saul starting having strange moods & even periods of insanity. Of course his attendants were very concerned & tried everything to help. Someone had heard about the young shepherd boy from Bethlehem who played the harp & sang so incredibly beautifully. It is very interesting to see how David is described by one of Saul’s servants in v.18 “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man & a warrior. He speaks well & is a fine looking man. And the Lord is with him.” Isn’t this a wonderful description of young David? Most important is the fact this man noticed that the Lord was with David - & he was such a talented nice guy. David’s gifts & his character were clearly connected in this man’s mind with the fact the Lord was with David.
It is wonderful when people in the world, people out in secular society, see a Christian & describe them in this sort of way. I have been impressed again how well people speak of NZ’s Olympic runner, Nick Willis. He is known as a Christian - & people say “And he is such a nice guy!”They say the same of TVNZ weatherman Jim Hickey & former All Black rugby player Michael Jones. This is how it should be! Christians should not be seen as strange, judgmental religious fanatics – but rather we should be seen as reliable, hardworking, nice people. Jesus said to His followers, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds & praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
The fact David was called to the palace to play the harp & to sing for Saul when he got into a bad mood is a real sign of God’s kindness & grace to Saul. David would have been playing & singing many of the songs of praise that he had composed. The quality of his music was fantastic & it soothed the distressed mind of Saul. Each time David played Saul began to feel better. I am sure too that the words of David’s songs had much about our loving merciful God, & were so uplifting that they touched Saul’s heart. Yes, it was the grace of God to Saul – giving him the chance to come back to a life of faith & obedience – if he so chose.
We not only see here a beautiful picture of the grace of God, but we also see a picture of the sovereignty of God. David was called to the palace of the one he would one day replace as king. This was part of God’s plan. David could learn firsthand about the affairs of state – even if from the sidelines. Saul was so pleased with David that he made him one of his armour-bearers. The word “armour bearer” also means “servant” or attendant – yes, David was just one of many such servants but he was right there in the palace. It was not yet the right time for David to actually be made king. He was in no hurry, nor was God.
We too need to learn to be patient. We may believe that God has certain plans for us. He may have given us a vision, a promise. Maybe there is something we believe God wants to do for us, some prayer we want Him to answer. But we need to wait for His perfect timing. In the meantime we can learn & we can grow in our life of faith despite the difficult circumstances we may be facing. We can trust God. He knows best. 1 Samuel 17:15 tells us, “David went back & forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.” Saul was based at Gibeah which was not far from Bethlehem. David could go home in-between periods of service in the palace. It was a time of learning.
As chapter 17 opens we discover the nation of Israel was facing a great threat. War was looming with their old enemies the Philistines. The Philistines lived along the coast & quite often attacked Israelite settlements in the foothills of Judah. The Philistines had more advanced weapons than the Israelites & at the time had a near monopoly of iron & metal working. The Israelites had to go to them to have their iron ploughs & pruning knives sharpened. In terms of weapons, the Israelites had very few swords & relied on wooden weapons, spears, bow & arrows & the sling. In the Book of Judges we read about 700 Israelites from the tribe of Benjamin (Saul’s tribe) who “could sling a stone at a hair & not miss.” (Judges 20:16)
We read in 17:1, “Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war & assembled at Socoh in Judah.” In other words they had invaded Israel. The Philistines stood on a hill on one side of the valley while the Israelite army faced them from a hill on the other side of the valley. There was a stand-off between the two armies but the Philistines seemed to have a big advantage. Not only did they have superior weapons, but they had an experienced & terrifying fighter, called Goliath. He was about 3 metres tall (that is almost 10 feet). The Chinese basketball player Yao Ming is only 7ft 6ins (i.e. 2.29 metres) so Goliath would have towered over him. It was fairly common in ancient times for each army to choose their champion. Then instead of the two armies fighting, the chosen champions of each army would fight each other. This would save a lot of bloodshed & the side of the victorious fighter would be seen as the winner & could claim the disputed territory.
And so we read in v 4, “A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp.” Not only was Goliath huge, he was covered in heavy armour. His armour covering front & back was made of bronze & weighted five hundred shekels, i.e. 127 pounds or 57 kilograms. He had a massive spear with an iron point. He had a helmet too & another man carried a large shield ahead of him – so he was very well protected. This scary guy Goliath came out each day & shouted across at the Israelites. “Why do you come out & line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, & are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man & have him come down to me.” (v.8) Furthermore Goliath shouted out this challenge, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man & let us fight each other.”(v.10) Notice the effect Goliath’s challenge had upon the Israelites. The Bible puts it very clearly, “On hearing the Philistine's words, Saul & all the Israelites were dismayed & terrified.”(v.11)
Are there not times when we feel dismayed & even terrified, when we feel overwhelmed by all the difficulties we are facing? Temptations, troubles, tragedies or bereavement – these things can suddenly strike us. Our normally peaceful pattern of life gets disrupted. We do not know what to do or where to turn. Sadly, like Saul & his army, some people do not turn to the Lord. They face the enemy feeling totally lost & helpless, unable to do anything. Their eyes are focussed on that giant shouting his obscenities, the enemy threatening to overwhelm them. The Philistines & Goliath were the enemies threatening God’s people. In a very real sense the enemies facing God’s people today are the trio we sometimes refer to as “the world, the flesh & the devil”. The “world” refers to the mindset of our secular godless society. The “flesh” is our old sinful nature. And the devil of course is Satan, the evil one. Saul & his army saw the enemy out there & were left dismayed & terrified. We very often feel totally overwhelmed by “the world, the flesh & the devil”. We feel dismayed & terrified.
This is where young David comes into the picture. In vrs 12-39 we read of how he comes to visit his three soldier brothers. David brings them all kinds of goodies from home sent by their father Jesse. Just as David arrived, the Philistine giant Goliath appeared giving his daily challenge from across the other side of the valley. David saw how all the Israelites reacted - in panic & fear. David overheard what the soldiers were saying & asked for more information. What was uppermost on David’s mind was not the reward being offered to the one brave enough to offer to fight Goliath but the shame to Israel of the current situation. David asks in v.26, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” David’s chief concern was the glory of God. His eyes were not so much on the giant as upon God & His glory. Goliath had referred to the Israelites as the army of Saul but David saw them as the armies of the living God.
David’s oldest brother Eliab, one of Saul’s soldiers, clearly despised his young brother & spoke very unkindly to him. David however was not put off by his brother’s angry remarks. If no one was ready to take up Goliath’s challenge, David decided he would do something. This soon got reported to Saul & we read in v.32, “David said to Saul, ‘Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go & fight him.’” Saul understandably was not convinced. He said, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine & fight him; you are only a boy, & he has been a fighting man from his youth.” (v.33) David then proceeds to tell Saul about how he had fought & killed both a lion & a bear that attacked his sheep. Saul had looked at David & said, “No way!” But, David who was looking at God said, “No problem!” Listen to his powerful statement of faith: “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion & the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine. Saul said to David, ‘Go, & the LORD be with you.’” (v.37)
What happens next is really humorous – as Saul gets David to try on some armour. He was not used to it & politely said “no thanks!” “Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag &, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.” (v.40)
Can you imagine the scene? The army of the Israelites must have watched in disbelief as David, just a young teenager, headed down the slope towards the towering Philistine standing across on the opposite hillside. They must have watched with bated breath as he bent down to choose his five stones from the stream. Just as dumbfounded must have been the Philistine army. Maybe both armies were asking themselves, “Who does he think he is?” Maybe Goliath asked the same question. They should not have asked “Who does he think he is?” but rather, “who does he (David) think He (God) is?” This was the key to David’s bravery & the key to his faith. It was what he thought of God that mattered. The Israelite soldiers had said about Goliath: “He’s so big, he’ll kill us.” By faith David however was saying, “He’s so big - it would be hard to miss such an easy target!”
Not surprisingly, Goliath thought the whole thing was just a joke. “He looked David over & saw that he was only a boy, ruddy & handsome, & he despised him. He said to David, ‘Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.” (vrs 43 & 43) He threatened to tear David apart & feed him to the birds. How did David reply? “David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword & spear & javelin (in other words, with ordinary weapons), but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” David was saying he was coming not just with ordinary weapons. He was coming with spiritual weapons. The greatest spiritual weapon of all is the powerful name of LORD Almighty, the wonderful name of Jesus. As we pray in the name of Jesus the giants standing in our way are defeated. There is power in the mighty name of the Lord Jesus.“This day the LORD will hand you over to me, & I'll strike you down & cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air & the beasts of the earth, & the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 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, & He will give all of you into our hands.’” (vrs 45-47) What an incredible statement - not said sitting in a cosy lounge or in a beautiful church but said facing a ruthless battle-hardened giant bearing down upon him. “I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty… whom you have defied.” “The whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.” “The battle is the LORD’s.” What an important lesson to learn! It was above all a spiritual battle & David was using spiritual weapons. Not only that – it was God’s battle, not David’s!
Dear friends, do we face giants intent on tearing us apart? Do we face the mocking attacks of a world that defies God & laughs at His people? In some societies Christians face very real physical opposition, being a Christian can be dangerous. This past week I heard Pastor Lai of Lighthouse Church share about a certain nation in Asia where a preacher was threatened with death if he dared go to a certain place to preach. He went anyway, despite the warnings of the local people that his life would be in danger. “Why did you come?” they asked. “I came because I have such good news that I am prepared even to give my life in order to bring it to you.” After he finished preaching the village head rose to his feet & said, “I want to believe in the God of this man who was willing to give his life for us.” After he stood to his feet, so did many others. Like this brave preacher in modern-day Asia, David was putting himself in great danger by facing the giant Goliath. He was so committed to bringing glory to God that he was unafraid. He knew that whatever happened, the battle belonged to God. He could trust God to take care of him.
David only needed to use one of those five stones. His very first sling shot hit its mark – right on the forehead of the giant. It hit like a bullet. Goliath fell down flat – knocked out cold. David then used the giant’s own sword to chop off his head. The champion of the Philistines lay dead & the Philistine army fled in terror. A great victory was won that day. Dear friends – let us learn from this famous story. Let us, like David, be passionate about God’s glory. Let us not be left paralysed by the opposition of secular society around us. Let us long for the presence & the power of God to be displayed amongst His people. Let us be ready to lay our lives on the line for the God we serve, that others may see & believe.