"David's Giant-sized Defender"
July 5, 2009 1Samuel 17:22-27, 32-37, 41-49
OUTNUMBERED BY CRITICISM NINE-TO-ONE
In his book The Youth Builder, Jim Bums talks about the importance of building up young people with affirmation and trust. What he says about criticism applies to every age group: "For every critical comment we receive, it takes nine affirming comments to even out the negative effect in our life. Most young people receive more critical comments a day than encouraging ones. You can have a very positive, life-transforming effect when you develop a ministry of affirmation."
One doesn't have to be very old to have experienced the bite and sting of harsh criticism or unkind negative comments. With our tongues we can cause such pain and scarring in others' lives by thoughtless or intentionally cutting words. We can relate to that ratio of it taking nine affirming comments to counter one negative one.
In today's text we meet a champion God raised up to shepherd His people Israel - a champion who with the Lord's help overcame verbal abuse and physical threat by trusting in God to be his deliverer.
THE MAN FOR THE MOMENT
First, let's set the stage a bit so we can appreciate more the impact David had. By this point in Saul's reign, about 1030 BC, Israel was at a severe disadvantage, humanly speaking, compared to the surrounding nations. The monarchy was still very young; Saul was 'the new king on the block'. Other countries were better organized politically and militarily. Other armies were more experienced and better equipped; the historian notes in chapter 13(22) that the only soldiers with actual swords were King Saul and his son Jonathan. The Philistines completely controlled the iron industry - there wasn't a blacksmith in the whole land of Israel; farmers had to go to the Philistines (the enemy!) to get their plows and sickles sharpened. So they were behind significantly when it came to technology.
Chapter 17 opens with the Philistines assembling to make war against Israel. Saul and the Israelites camped across a steep valley from them. Whoever initiated the battle would find themselves at a disadvantage from the get-go because they'd have to be going uphill against their opponent; and we already noted the Israelites' severe weapons limitation. For 40 days there was a stalemate, as the giant Goliath challenged the Israelites to produce a contender for a match to decide the armies' fate.
But the man God had been preparing for the task was not actually IN the Israelite army just then; he was back home at Bethlehem, guarding some sheep. God had been getting a very special man ready for this task - and not this fight only, but for becoming Israel's most famous king of all time. A servant of Saul sums up David's qualities in 16:18: "I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp.He is a brave man and a warrior.He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him." Quite a list of commendation! A warrior-poet - a fighter but also an artist at the same time. David's musical ability is obvious in the book of Psalms, an Israelite book of hymns, many of which he wrote. He wasn't just singing to the sheep! He was brave, a scrapper, full of fighting spirit - bring 'em on! And he was also a statesman, speaking well, prudent in knowing what to say. Maybe being the youngest of 8 boys had something to do with that - diplomacy at the dining-room table.
But there was something else, more important than any of these skills or gifts. God had been shaping David's heart, his inner person, his desires and will, to be in unison with God's. Both 1Samuel 13(14) in the Old Testament, and Acts 13(22) in the New, describe David as "a man after [God's] own heart". What about you? Are the Lord's priorities your priorities? Are you seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness? Do you view your body members of tools to carry out His will? Are you listening each day for the Father's instructions, so you can 'keep in step with' the Spirit? David as 'a man after God's own heart' is a model for those who claim to be Christians, to have Jesus living inside us.
You pick up from David's analysis of the stalemate what's most important to him, which is also what's most important to God: namely, God's honour and glory. 17:46, answering Goliath's challenge, "This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, [here it comes] and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel." David was jealous for God's honour, he wanted everyone to know Yahweh is the one true God. That's high priority to God, too. In Exodus 9(16) God told Pharaoh, "But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Joshua told the Israelites after they crossed the Jordan River, "He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God." (Jos 4:24) God's keen to get the word out about how great and wonderful He is; Jesus' Great Commission echoes that - "make disciples of all nations..."
When David came upon the scene of the two armies in a stalemate, he had the prophetic sense that this wasn't just about two groups of differing ethnic, technological, and political background colliding. He identified the real issue was God's honour, that's what was at stake, and he framed his response to the enemy's challenge in such a way as to reflect that: "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (17:26,36) The Lord had crafted David's character and creed in such a way that he was God's man for the moment.
RELY ON GOD'S RESOURCES, NOT YOUR OWN
If you had been on the battlefield that day, you would have agreed the obstacles facing the Israelites were great. Few iron weapons. And the size of Goliath - 'six cubits and a span', about 9-and-a-half feet tall. Huge but not unheard of; Pliny records a man named Gabara from Arabia at 9' 9"; Josephus mentions a Jew named Eleazar at 10' 2"; and a Dr Plott in his history of Staffordshire describes an Englishman, John Middleton, 9' 3" high during the reign of James the First; "his hand, from the carpus to the end of the middle finger, was seventeen inches, his palms eight inches and a half broad..." (Can't you picture someone like that walking up to a fast food place and saying, 'Supersize me!')
No wonder Goliath went a long time with no takers for his challenge. Oh, and who would be the logical contestant among the Israelites? When Saul was proclaimed king we're told, "as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others." (10:23) Despite the pressure on the king, he realized he was no match physically. Why, Goliath's armour alone weighed as much as some people!
But those human obstacles melted away before the strength of God Almighty. What was David's secret? Not that he was stronger or taller or smarter or quicker than Goliath; David's secret of success was his relationship with God. 1Sam 18:14, "In everything he did he had great success, because the LORD was with him." As with Joseph back in Genesis 39(23), "the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did."
It is folly to trust merely in our own human resources; it is vain and deceitful to compare ourselves with others on a purely human basis. Michael Jackson 'had it all', but where is he now? Would any of us wish upon our offspring the legacy of legal disputes over property, debt, and custody that he has left behind?
David is intentional about making the point that it's not his weaponry or skill that makes the difference in the outcome of the battle, but his Sovereign God. He declines to use Saul's heavy armour (v39). And in v47 David warns Goliath, "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." It's all about God's resources, and relying on Him, not our own devices.
COUNTER EVIL-SPEAKING WITH GOD'S COVENANT PROMISES
Well, chances are you and I are not likely to find ourselves grappling with 3-metre tall giants in hand-to-hand combat on a battlefield. Not literally. But we ARE likely to encounter negative talk, ridicule, and maybe an evil-for-good relationship. We have all slipped up in governing our tongues, and spoken careless and unkind words. But for Christians there is extra reason those who don't believe in Jesus may speak negatively to us: Jesus warned we'd be hated by others on His account (Jn 15:18f). Those who are of the world will find a true Christian spiritually offensive.
Note who David is attacked verbally by in this story. Yes, Goliath despises David and curses him by his gods (42f). That's understandable, he's an enemy. But there are a couple of others. Look closely at Saul's discouraging words in v33: "You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth." Hear that? "You're not able...You're only..." Some might say Saul's being a 'realist', but in retrospect he's clearly 'defeatist' - without faith in God, he sees only David's limitations and inadequacy.
But somebody even closer to David has the harshest words for him. Who's that? His eldest brother! Eliab in v28 attacks his little 'bro' on five fronts: "Eliab...burned with anger at him and asked, 'Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.'" Eliab attacks David's motive - 'Why have you come? ...You came down only to watch the battle.' As if to say, 'You're no help! You're just slacking off!'
He attacks David's maturity - 'with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert?' As if David might have been so irresponsible as to wander off without finding someone to cover for him.
He attacks whether David matters - 'those few sheep in the wilderness': as if to say, 'Who do you think you are? You just look after a few lousy sheep! You don't matter.'
He attacks David's modesty - 'I know how conceited you are...' As if all David can think about is himself, doing what he wants without regard to others, proud and full of conceit.
And Eliab attacks David's morality - 'I know...how wicked your heart is.' And David hasn't done a thing wrong, he's barely arrived! All he did was bring provisions from home for his brothers, a care package. Yet what thanks does he get, but a verbal whiplashing from his oldest sibling!
Maybe David's toughest battle wasn't out facing a 9-and-a-half foot giant that day; maybe what could have wounded him the most was the angry words of someone in his own family. Certainly the Lord must have used his brothers' treatment and abuse of him to develop David's character - just as God vindicated Joseph eventually after his brothers were so jealous of him back in Genesis (37:4,8,11).
How did David respond when the words were flying? Did he return evil-for-evil? No, he simply asked in protest, "Now what have I done? Can't I even speak?" He didn't defend himself, but left it with God to be his Defender. Likewise with Saul and Goliath, David responded by resting in God's faithfulness and love shown to him in the past. "Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear...The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." (1Sa 17:36-37) May we learn David's approach, as Paul advised the Colossians: "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."(Col 4:6)
TAKING CRITICISM IN STRIDE
Charles Spurgeon suffered a firestorm of criticism when beginning his ministry in London. A steady stream of articles trashed his sermons, and pamphlets appeared denouncing his methods, motives, mannerisms, and messages. He was vilified in cartoons and caricatures. Several writers questioned whether he was converted. At first, this storm of cynicism and censure deeply hurt Spurgeon, who described himself as "broken in agony." But his wife prepared a plaque of Matthew 5:11-- for the wall of their room where Charles would see it first thing every day: "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven." The verse did its work, and in time Spurgeon learned to take criticism in stride.
Not long before his death years later a friend, visiting him in his study, said, "Do you know, Mr.Spurgeon, some people think you conceited?" The great preacher paused a moment, then he smiled and said with a twinkle in his eye, "Do you see those bookshelves? They contain hundreds, nay, thousands of my sermons translated into every language under heaven. Well, now, add to this that ever since I was twenty years old there never has been built a place large enough to hold the numbers of people who wished to hear me preach, and, upon my honour, when I think of it, I wonder I am not more conceited than I am!" Let's pray.