Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
Sunday August 25, 2019
Scripture: 1 Samuel 17:1-11, 32-49, 51-54
David and Goliath. The classic story of the underdog defeating the obvious choice. It is such a classic story that it is the prototype for anyone facing overwhelming circumstances – you hear the media referring to a “David and Goliath Situation.” The small but mighty hero saves the day.
I want to invite you to imagine yourself into David’s shoes for a moment. You are the youngest son to a farmer in Bethlehem, out on the fringes of society. And as the youngest, you are given the job of tending the sheep, meaning that you are away from the comforts of home and human companionship for weeks or months at a time.
Then one day a prophet named Samuel shows up in your father’s home, announcing that the next king would be one of his sons. But you aren’t related to the current king, Saul. The prophet looks at each of your brothers in turn, and decides that they aren’t the one who will be king, and it’s only then that they remember that they have another brother, one who is out in the distant fields with the sheep. They send a messenger to fetch you, and when you get home, this prophet announces that some day you are going to be king, and he pours expensive oil over your head, anointing you as if you were already a king. How must that feel, being told that you are a king, while the old king is still alive?
And then the summons arrives. The king has heard that you are a musician, and he needs someone to play the harp for him, to soothe his heart. How must that feel to enter the king’s household as a young boy, knowing that a prophet has announced that you are the rightful king?
And then we come to the war with the Philistines. They are a more powerful army, and are likely going to win the war, but to minimize the potential loss of soldiers, they issue a one-on-one challenge. Really, the king or one of his top soldiers should be the one to take up the challenge, but everyone is afraid. Sure Goliath is massive, with huge muscles, but he can’t move very quickly so that should even the odds a bit.
You see how he can be defeated, by exploiting his slowness to move, and so you tell the king that you will take him on. After all, a young musician and shepherd boy is better than nobody at all, and if nobody steps forward, then your side will lose by default.
The king tries to dress you up in fancy armour, and give you the best weapons that his army has, but as soon as you put them on, you know that this will take away any advantage that you have. After all, wearing this armour, you will be as slow as Goliath, and you won’t have any of his strength to compensate.
You insist on heading in to the combat armed with just your slingshot and five smooth stones – the same weapon that you have used to protect your father’s flock all these years. After all, there’s not much else to do on the hillside other than practice your harp and practice your marksmanship.
I wonder if anyone tries to talk you out of it, on your way down the hill to meet Goliath. If someone does try to talk you out of it, if someone points out just how massively huge Goliath is, and how strong his muscles are, and how sharp his sword is – if someone does try to talk you out of it, are you tempted to turn around and head back to your father’s sheep? There’s no glory there, but there are no giants either!
But you don’t turn around, and when you get within a stones throw from Goliath, your muscle memory kicks in – after all, it’s no different than trying to do away with a wolf or a lion who is threatening your sheep.
How does it feel when you see your stone hit its mark? Do you feel triumphant? Do you feel empty? Do you feel proud? Did you catch a glimpse of the surprise in Goliath’s eyes when he realized that this fight wasn’t going to go the way he thought it would?
Now let’s step out of David’s shoes, and examine the story from the perspective of Saul, the king.
Saul was the first king of the Israelite people. When they had crossed the Jordan River after 40 years of wandering in the desert wilderness and entered the Promised Land, they initially lived as tribes – each tribe descended from one of the sons of Jacob – each tribe governed by wise judges. But the people wanted a king – they saw the powerful empires of their neighbours, and they cried out to God, “We want a king!” God replied, “No you don’t,” but the people persisted, “We want a king!” And finally God relented, and the prophet Samuel anointed you, one of the members of the tribe of Benjamin, as king.
You did your best. It’s hard to be the king of a people who aren’t used to having a king. You tried your best to balance out doing what God told you to do through the prophets with doing what the people wanted you to do. And eventually the pressure got to you, and you weren’t able to do it all.
And then the prophet Samuel, the same one who had anointed you as king, told you that you weren’t good enough, told you that God had chosen another king instead. How does it feel to hear this? Do you feel cheated? betrayed? set up to fail?
And through all of this, the threat from the neighbouring tribes and kingdoms never lets up. The newest threat comes from the Philistines, this sea-faring nation that settled the Mediterranean coast and is trying to make their way inland. And now they have issued a challenge – send your best warrior to enter one-on-one combat with Goliath, a giant and the secret to their success in battle.
What are you to do? If you refuse the challenge, you will lose by default, and you will lose the land that God gave to your ancestors. And yet who are you going to send? If you go yourself, you will likely be killed, and then that pronouncement by Samuel that there is a new king will come true. And yet you don’t have any soldiers in your army who can match Goliath’s size and strength.
It’s no wonder that you have stress in your life and you aren’t able to sleep. Honestly, who in their right mind would want to be a king?!
And then this boy, this child who entered your household as a musician to help to soothe your heart and mind in the middle of all of the stress, this boy steps forward and offers to fight the giant.
How does this feel to you? Are you ashamed of your actions, watching this boy step forward to do what is, by all rights, your job? Are you afraid for him, afraid for the outcome, afraid that the land will be lost for all of your people?
Or maybe a rumour has reached your ear that the Prophet Samuel has visited the farmer Jesse, and has anointed this boy David as the next king. Maybe the thought of David going into battle against the giant fills you with relief because if he is killed, you will be the only anointed king in the land.
And how do you feel, watching this boy without armour, without weapons, defeat the giant that you assumed was undefeatable?
It is a complex story – one filled with intrigue and plotting. I was trying to think of a good contemporary situation that is similar – and in many ways I think that this is the story of David and Saul, rather than David and Goliath – and the person who came to mind is Greta Thunberg. Last year, when she was 15, she began a “school strike for the climate” which has now spread around the world. Led by Greta, the students of the world are trying to reach us adults and convince us that we need to change the way that the world runs. Are we Saul in this story, letting a young girl do what we should be doing? Thunberg has gone on to address the United Nations climate change summit, the World Economic Forum, the EU Parliament, and she is now crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a zero-emissions boat to address the United Nations again. One person, a David, doing what she is able to do using the gifts she has been given, to approach the Goliaths of the world powers.
Greta Thunberg, addressing the European Parliament
I have to ask though, where is God in the story of David and Goliath? I don’t see God acting through war and violence and killing and political intrigue. But David knows that God is with him. David knows that God is with him, and that he doesn’t need to be led by his fears. David knows that God doesn’t want him to be afraid, doesn’t want him to be paralyzed by fear the way that Saul was.
And isn’t that true for all of us? If we trust that God is with us, then we don’t need to be led by our fears. It’s OK to be afraid, but if we let that fear take over, then it’s as if we are saying that whatever it is that we’re afraid of is stronger than God. If we trust that God is with us, and that God is stronger than our fears, then we can keep taking one step after the other as we follow God.
This week, the world has been flooded pictures of the rainforests burning in Brazil, and it is good that we are afraid. After all, these forests are the lungs of the earth that God created. If we don’t have trees, then nothing will be able to breathe. But if we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear and overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge, then things will only get worse.
Whatever Goliath you are facing in the world, be like David and remember that God is with you. God is stronger than our fears, and God’s love is stronger than anything it is that you are afraid of.
And remember that God is always saying to you,
My love is stronger than your fears.
Don’t be afraid. My love is stronger.
And I have promised, promised to be always near.”
May it be so.