Sunday October 27th 2019
Pastor Galen Zook
1 Samuel 17:32-37; Mark 4:35-41
David and Goliath
The two opposing armies had reached a stalemate. Neither army wanted to lose their strategic position perched atop their particular mountain, so they camped out, staring at each other across the valley that lay between them. Neither side wanted to attempt an attack that would surely bring a lot of bloodshed to their own side. Attempting an attack would mean rushing down their own mountain, across the valley and climbing up the enemy’s ridge, all the while being completely vulnerable to the arrows of the enemy archers.
Since neither army was willing to move, the Philistines, a sea-faring people originally from the island of Crete, sent out their best warrior to engage the Israelite army in “single combat.” This was a common practice in warfare at that time, similar to a duel, where each side would send out a proxy to fight on behalf of their whole army. The two warriors would engage in hand-to-hand combat to the death, and the army with the winning warrior would be declared the victor.
The problem was that the Israelites could not find a soldier from among their own ranks who could even come close to matching the warrior chosen to represent the Philistines. The Philistine’s warrior was gigantic, somewhere between 6 and 9-and-a-half feet tall. He was completely covered in armor (with the exception of his forehead), and he carried a massive sword and spear.
No one on the Israelite side seemed remotely capable of engaging him in combat, so day after day the giant, named Goliath, would call out to the Israelites from the other side of the valley, challenging them to send someone out to fight against him, but to no avail. Finally, David, who at that time was just a young shepherd boy who came to visit his brothers on the battlefront, accepted the challenge and agreed to fight against Goliath.
David refused to wear the armor that the king offered him to wear, and instead went up against Goliath with merely his shepherd’s staff, a sling, and 5 smooth stones. Goliath was offended that the Israelites sent a mere boy to fight against him rather than a seasoned warrior, but before he knew what hit him, David ran towards him and slung a rock that struck him directly in the center of his forehead, penetrating his skull, and knocking him to the ground. Then David used Goliath’s own sword to cut off the giant’s head. And the Philistine army ran away in fear.
David’s Faith in God
What was it that gave this young shepherd boy such confidence and courage to go up against such an intimidating and imposing warrior? Why was David seemingly unafraid, while his older brothers and all of those who had been trained in combat refused to accept the challenge?
David’s courage came in part from the fact that as a shepherd he had successfully fended off bears and lions who had attempted to attack his flock of sheep back home. But from David’s own words, it is obvious that his courage came even more so from his belief that God was on his side, and that God would help him defeat Goliath. David told King Saul that “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” (1 Sam. 17:37).
David’s belief that God would deliver Goliath into his hands is often held up as the epitome of faith. So often we think that if we could just have as much faith as David, then surely we could conquer any giant that might come our way. The giants we face may not be battle-trained warriors who call out to us to come and fight against them. But so often in life, we face seemingly insurmountable hurdles. The truth is that God does have the power to help us overcome and even conquer any giants that we face.
The Rest of the Story
But the reality is that David’s story doesn’t end with his defeat of Goliath. In fact, the story of David and Goliath comes very near the beginning of David’s life, and while David has many other early successes, as David’s life goes on, we see David stumble and fall, and we see David face other battles in his life that are not so easily won.
The most famous example of David’s moral failing, of course, is David’s assault of Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11), and the subsequent murder of her husband. (Since David was by that time the king, the power dynamics between David and Bathsheba were such that their relationship could scarcely be called an affair). This was indeed one of the lowest points in David’s life, but after the prophet Nathan confronts David with his sin, we do see David turn to God in shame and repentance. In fact, Psalm 51 was written as a prayer of confession in response to David’s sin with Bathsheba.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin… Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
(Psalm 51:1-2, 10-12
Soon afterward, David and Bathsheba’s first child became ill, and although David fasted and prayed for seven days, in the end, their child died.
A few chapters later, David’s other son Absolom revolts against his father and tries to usurp King David’s throne. David is told that “All Israel has joined Absalom in a conspiracy against you!” (2 Sam. 15:13 NLT), forcing David to flee for his life from his very own son. In 2 Samuel chapter 15, we seek David walking up to “the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, with his head covered and walking barefoot; and all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went.” (2 Sam. 15:30).
If that weren’t bad enough, as they walk along, a man from the household of the former king Saul by the name of Shimei meets them on the way, and he comes at them cursing and throwing rocks at them. One of David’s soldiers asks permission to kill Shimei (2 Sam. 16:9), but David responds by saying, “My own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him…So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, throwing stones and flinging dust at him” 2 Sam. 16:11,13).
What Happened to David’s Faith?
What happened to David’s faith in God? What happened to the bold and courageous faith of the young shepherd boy who refused to stand back and listen to the giant curse and rail against God’s people? What happened to the courage of the young boy who operated in complete confidence that God would surely give him victory over his enemy? What happened to the faith of the boy who believed not only that God could protect him, but that God surely would protect him?
Well, what happened to David is surely what happens to all of us. And that is something called “life.” Life happens. We experience tragedy. We experience difficulty. We experience hardships. We come up against giants. And sometimes we experience amazing victories.
But sometimes the giants that we face are not so easily defeated. Sometimes we come away battle-scarred and limping. Sometimes the enemies that we face do not flee, but instead, continue to mock us and criticize us. Sometimes the giants do not fall. Sometimes it is we who fall.
Our faith gets shaken, and sometimes it falls apart or seems to disappear. No doubt many of us have friends and loved ones who experienced tragedy or difficulty in their lives and they walked away from their faith, they turned their back and rejected God. Something bad happened in their life, and they never set foot in the doors of a church again.
The Start, Not the End
But you see, so often we think that David’s interaction with Goliath represents the pinnacle of his faith journey — the time in his life when his faith was the strongest. But the reality is that when David went up against Goliath, his view of the world, and thus his faith in God, was somewhat naive. To David, there were clearly good people, and there were clearly bad people. Goliath was clearly bad because he fought for the enemy, whereas David and the Israelites were good, therefore God was on David’s side and would surely give him the victory.
But later on in his life, David began to realize that there is clearly both good and evil inside each and everyone one of us. David’s own moral failing demonstrates that even someone who described as “a man after [God’s] own heart: (1 Sam. 13:14) can still fall into sin.
As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said,
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
At the end of David’s life, David’s view of the world, and thus his faith in God, is more complex and nuanced.
David understands that although God could help him conquer any giants he might face, that doesn’t mean that God always will give him the victory. He understands that sometimes suffering is arbitrary and that the question “why do bad things happen to good people” is irrelevant since there is no one who is completely righteous. As David says in Psalm 14:3, “there is no one who does good, no, not one.” All of us as human beings have made mistakes. We are all in need of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
And so while David begins his life with a seemingly strong faith in God, we see that near the end of his life David still has a strong (and perhaps even stronger) faith in God. he knows that God will not always allow him to defeat every giant he may face, but he has a deep and lasting faith and trust in God’s grace and mercy, even in the midst of pain and suffering and persecution. And he becomes a more grace-filled and compassionate person to others — indeed a man after God’s own heart.
Life with Open Hands
This is what we might call, “living life with open hands.” It’s opening ourselves up to the possibility that we might experience suffering and loss, and we may not ever know why. Living life with open hands means that we know that no matter what we go through, what giants we might face, no matter whether we win or lose, that God is right there by our side, fighting our battles with us and on our behalf. It’s trusting that in the end, God will cause “all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 NASB).
So let us live life with open hands, open to the work that God wants to do in our lives, open to the opportunities and possibilities, recognizing that so often life involves trials and hardships, but that God is with us each step of the way, working for our good and fighting on our behalf. And let us open ourselves up to God’s mercy, grace, and love poured deeply into our hearts, that God’s love may overflow to everyone around us.