July 18, 2021 – “God Leads”
Blessings to you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ! Here at West Tulsa United Methodist Church, we seek to live out our calling as the Body of Christ, as a people chosen, known, loved and sent out by our Living Lord. Here, we come together to worship God, to study His Word, and to “spur each other on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
Here, we come together to encourage each other, to pray for each other, and to discern together ways we can reach out to our hurting world with the Good News of the Gospel.
Here, we are a family – not always perfect, but always bound together by something greater than we are. Centered on God’s Word, and empowered by His Holy Spirit, together we seek to be the kind of congregation our Lord has called us to be.
For those of you joining us from home, we are so grateful for you joining us faithfully each week. We would love to welcome you in worship and other goings-on here; and we would love for you to come get to know our family so that we may worship and serve the Lord together.
Few stories capture our imagination like the story of David and Goliath. We have two armies facing off. They put forth their most fearsome warriors for a battle that’ll decide which side will serve the other. The bad guys have a giant. In fact, our reading tells us, “As soon as the Israelite army saw him, they began to run away in fright. “Have you seen the giant?” the men asked, “He comes out each day to defy Israel…. (1Sam 17: 24-25a NLT).
Goliath was a physical giant. He stood 9 feet tall and terrified the army of Israel. Every day, for forty days, he came out to defy Israel and God. No one could withstand him, not even the King of Israel. They all ran away whenever he showed up. The first question the soldiers asked David when he came to the camp was, “Have you seen the giant?” It was quite clear that they were in awe of Goliath.
Not to be outdone, the Israelites, the good guys in our story have…a teenage shepherd boy? But fear not friends, we know how it ends. David, the unlikely hero, armed merely with a slingshot and 5 smooth stones, brings about the end of the terrible Philistine giant Goliath.
If you’ve ever seen a copy of the “Student Bible,” that version of the Bible puts some text explanations and elaborations about the biblical text inside little colored boxes. Well, midway through I Samuel 17, the “Student Bible” has a little box titled, “Deadly Rocks.” The explanation claims that the “five smooth stones” David picked up from the riverbed were larger than baseballs and could have been hurled by David’s slingshot at speeds in excess of 100 MPH.
I suppose that’s an interesting little explanatory comment, but ironically, it’s completely at odds and cross-purposes with the text! The idea from the Student Bible seems to be, “How did little old David take out big, bad Goliath? Well, you know, if you got clocked in the forehead with a baseball-sized piece of rock going 100 MPH, you’d probably keel over dead as a doornail, too!” Major league ball players drop like they’ve been hit by a bullet when a 95 MPH fastball hits them in the shoulder or their helmets. Goliath simply didn’t stand a chance.
So, there’s a perfectly logical explanation here of how David won. It’s all a matter of simple physics meeting up with simple physiology. Or is it?
When we follow the whole arc of this story, it’s precisely to say that what brings Goliath down wasn’t David’s skill with the slingshot; it wasn’t the precise flight path or speed of his smooth stone. Rather, it’s the work of the LORD God of Israel that won the day. Now, David’s skills weren’t insignificant; it’s not like Goliath collapses from a God-induced stroke. But the whole point of David’s confidence that morning wasn’t his talents. It was the presence and the work of God. You see, our narrative today isn’t about David, it’s about each of us. It’s an authentic account of what it means to be thrust into leadership – and to accept it. As David says in verse 47, “All those gathered here will know that it’s 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.” The Philistines say meet my giant. David says, meet my God.
The theme of the battle between David and Goliath continues in the same vein as last week about what really matters. In our world, age matters. Size matters. Strength matters. And when it comes to war, weapons matter. Military ability matters. But none of those things matter to God.
Goliath was defying and insulting God with his taunts, not Saul, not Israel’s soldiers, nor the Israelite people. What Goliath couldn’t see was who his true opponent was that day and how outmatched he was from the beginning.
And that’s not really an uncommon problem in the Old Testament. In Exodus 5, when Moses demands that Pharaoh release the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt, Pharaoh responds, “Who is this God that I should listen to Him?” Well, the rest of the Book of Exodus gives God’s extended answer to Pharaoh. And in our lesson today, Goliath learns that same lesson, but a whole lot quicker and far more brutally than even Pharaoh did.
But I think the far more interesting question isn’t why Goliath didn’t know this truth. It’s more about why the people of Israel, from Saul on down, why they didn’t know it. God’s own chosen people are forever unaware of the power of God and of His ability to take care of His people. Of course, knowing that, we also must acknowledge that even with all of God’s power and guidance, there are no guarantees that nothing bad will ever happen to us in this life. I mean, when you look at the history of the church, it isn’t exactly free of persecutions, martyrdoms, and even dreadful accidents befalling even those faithful disciples who’re actively engaged in God’s service. Being a believer isn’t a ticket to a pain-free, accident-free, completely safe life, is it?
Being a believer means that we have the faith that says that however God works it out, at the end of the day, God’s purposes will prevail. God will do what He sets out to do, and though He may use us and our skills and our efforts to get it done, at the end of the day, the glory is God’s because it’s the almighty working of God that’s able to do far more than we can imagine or accomplish on our own, no matter how hard we work.
But I also wonder what kind of a difference would it make in the life of the church today if more of us recognized David’s firm faith in God’s ability to take care of David and God’s people? Certainly, we’re not called to laziness in the church or elsewhere in life. Knowing that all is in God’s hands has never meant that we let our hands sit idle. We pray for God to give us our daily bread, but we also recognize that in the world in which we live, manna doesn’t fall out of the sky daily. We work for that bread, don’t we? But that knowledge that God’s got everything in His hands might mean that we can do our work on His behalf with greater joy. With greater confidence. And with a firmer sense that God can and will prosper our work. Contrary to what we sometimes think, we don’t have to work ourselves to death or to the point of exhaustion in an arrogant belief that it’s finally up to us to make the church successful or it’s up to us to make this or that church program effective. God’s in control. The victory is already His.
But if we had David’s kind of faith in God, it might also mean that our posture over against the wider culture could likewise be one of hope and grace. Too often churches come off as a little desperate, a little too worried that the voices of the world arrayed against us pose a threat to us. We fear that these voices in opposition are somehow going to win the day because their bully pulpit is larger, their voice is louder, their anti-religion opinions are more strident. And so sometimes when the church responds to the cultural forces or the foes of the faith, we can come across as flailing around a bit in a kind of panic or anger that characterizes those who have forgotten that truth: The God of all truth—is on their side.
When we hear the story of David facing Goliath, we often see it as an underdog story. We like those underdog stories, don’t we? Stories where the hero with no hope eventually saves the day in the last 5 minutes of the movie. Think of all those movies that we’ve got along those lines. Rudy. Hoosiers. The Karate Kid. Star Wars. Rocky. If you Google “underdog movies,” you’ll find hundreds of examples.
Why do we love the underdog so much? Well, we want the world to be just, don’t we? We want the bully to get their comeuppance. When we look carefully at this story about David and Goliath, we find that it isn’t just another story about the underdog’s winning. It’s a fresh picture of bold and courageous faithfulness; of God as reflected in David’s character. When we look at the facts of this story, we can begin to see that David isn’t the underdog at all. Let’s look at three reasons I think might help us see this story in a new way.
First, David was prepared. He wasn’t some scrawny little 98-pound weakling that our popular culture sometimes makes him out to be. Oh, to be sure, he probably wasn’t as big and brawny as his older brothers, but we can still picture him as being wiry, sinewy, solid as a rock, and as fast as a gazelle. David was one tough, little guy. He’s like the boxer in the ring who hangs in there with the champ. David has more heart than anyone in our story.
David also has an impressive resume. He says in verses 34-36, “When a lion or bear comes and carries off a sheep from the flock, I go after it and attack it and rescue the victim from its jaws. Then if it turns on me, I seize it by the beard and batter it to death. Lions I have killed and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine will fare no better than they …” Wow! These aren’t the words of some untested city kid. These are the words of a young man who has calloused hands, a courageous heart, and lots of moxie. Now, I’m going to take a guess today that no one here today who’s pried open the jaws of a lion or battered any bears to death…am I right? David is a gutsy guy who’s smart enough to know that Goliath’s weakness is his arrogance. He’s also wise enough to conceal his own strengths…his faith in God and his measly, little sling loaded with river rock.
The second reason we know David isn’t an underdog, is that he stays true to himself. When Saul tried to load him down with all those heavy pieces of armor and weapons, David knew at once that he’d be lost out there with all that extra weight. David knew he couldn’t be in “the zone” if we wore all that armor. What did that extra weight represent? He knew that the weight represented he pretenses of the world; in other words, trying to be someone you’re not. David knew that he had to be himself. He had to play the game the way he always had. He had to play the game he knew best; the game that had gotten him to this moment in his life and this battle. He wasn’t going to win simply because his weapons were similar in size with Goliath’s; David knew he had to trust his instincts and that he wasn’t in this fight alone.
The third reason David wasn’t an underdog is the most obvious to those of us who are able to read this story thousands of years later. David had God on his side. God wasn’t on David’s side because he was an underdog. He was with David because David trusted in God completely. In fact, this story serves as a model of faith and trust for all of us who face obstacles we think we can never overcome, or traumas that threaten to take us down, and even those stresses in life that worry us to death.
David boldness stands in stark contrast to a whole field of cowardice when his brothers think he’s left his flocks to come gawk at the carnage that’s about to happen. And then David utters this startling sentence in Saul’s presence, “Do not lose heart, sir. I will go and fight this Philistine.” I can picture everyone mute at David’s words until Saul, with almost a laugh and a hint of envy in his voice, tells David that Goliath will tear him limb from limb. David proclaims his conquests out in the wilds and ends with the phrase, “[Goliath] has defied the armies of the living God.” And he boldly asserts, “The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” David’s faith was in God.
So, was David really an underdog? He was prepared physically. He remained true to himself. And he knew God was with him. That sounds like anything but an underdog. In fact, have you guessed yet who the real underdog is in this story? Goliath! That’s right, Goliath! Why? Because the battle here isn’t between David and Goliath; the battle is between God and Goliath. Goliath never stood a chance! Goliath is the real underdog. He’s not fighting David and his slingshot. He’s going up against God. And because Goliath isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, he doesn’t even realize that he’s the underdog until it’s too late.
David’s was a tool of God in our story. This isn’t a story about David’s triumph over the big bad giant against all odds. It’s a theological statement about the power of God over everything that looks to bring us down. God is the main protagonist on the stage, not David. God is the main character in the story. Goliath stands for the evil and sin and all the destructive practices of abuse and injustice that we fight against every day of our lives. And the good news is, we aren’t fighting them by ourselves. God is fighting in and through us! That is, if we trust in God enough to join the battle with Him. For some of us, our Goliath is our fear of the giant. For others, our Goliath is our worry and our anxiety over what the outcome will be. Either way, like Saul’s army, we stand immobilized when it comes time to face our Philistine giant.
We want to see David and Goliath as another meeting at high noon at the OK Corral. But, when we forget God is Goliath’s real foe, we turn this story into another version of Star Wars where good and evil are equal; the Jedi and the Sith duking it out for who’s in charge. This story really is more aptly an answer to the question, “Who’s in charge here?”
And doesn’t the answer always come back resoundingly! “God is in charge of our world and your life and mine.” In the end, evil won’t have its way. Oh, sure it’s going to thrash around here and there and try to push us off course. This threat can terrify us and tempts us into even more nefarious sins in a futile attempt to win the battle alone. It threatens to keep us turned in on ourselves. It keeps us safe in our sanctuary rather than facing this evil in the world with God on our side. David shows us a better way. David shows us how Goliath, who stands for evil really, is the underdog. That’s why David won that day. Because God was with him all the way.
We see that God is leading us and is with us all the way through the victory of the cross and the resurrection. Evil keeps trying to beat us down, but no matter how hard it tries, Christ wins. In the face of Jesus, evil doesn’t stand a chance. Now, I realize that there are times we think we might be overcome by the Goliaths around us: drugs, addictions, envy, greed, malice, and the like. There are Goliaths in our lives around this world, in our community, and in our lives that threaten to strike us down. But when they do, we need to pull this story out and read it again and with different eyes. Not because we want to see David, the underdog, conquer the big bully, but because the big bully is really the underdog and his opponent, God, wins every time!
I love the story of the little boy who was, coincidently also named David. Little David was in Sunday School one day and the Sunday School teacher said to him, “Tell the class where God is.” Well, little David didn’t say anything; he didn’t really understand what the teacher was asking.
The teacher asked him a second time in a louder voice, “David, where’s God?” At this, the little boy became scared, and he ran home to his bedroom where he shut himself in the closet. His mother saw this happen and followed him home. Finding him in his bedroom closet, she asked, “David, what’s wrong?” He shouted out, “God is missing and everybody thinks I did it.”
That’s us! We too often hide in the closet, thinking that God is missing. But God isn’t missing! God is with us! God is leading us. God is using us. And the battle isn’t David’s. It isn’t yours, and it isn’t mine. The “battle belongs to the Lord. No weapon that’s fashioned against us will stand; the battle belongs to the Lord.” And if we believe that the battle belongs to God, and I for one do, then we can join David with God on our side taking on all the injustices around us, knowing that God is with us from this day forth and forevermore.
No. The story of David and Goliath isn’t about really about an underdog taking on the giant. This is what happens when God leads us and we respond obediently, confident in the victory. It really is often astonishing and remarkable. Sometimes, the victory is won in the form of what we least expect. Think about it. Often, it’s through a child, whether a young shepherd boy of a baby in a manger. But whatever God uses, we’re able to do more than what the world might say to us, or about us, because the One who ultimately matters is with us and leading us. Let’s follow Him.
1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 16-23, 32-49 (New International Version)
David and Goliath
17 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah.
4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.
8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand. 17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of the unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.
20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it.
32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.
“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 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 and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”
45 David said to the Philistine, “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.”
48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.