Not with Sword and Spear (1 Samuel 17)Series: 1 Samuel
There are some days when we can be excited about the progress of Christian culture in the world. There are more resources than ever to help more people in less-reached places to read and understand God's word. There are many going out to do good in God's name-sacrificing their comfort and their lives to serve people in Jesus' name.
And then there are days when darkness and depravity seems impossibly strong and immovable. Those are the days when you go to places like Houston, L.A., New York, Shanghai, Mumbai and find that there is virtually no knowledge of or respect for God. No one in power considers him, and the commoners have hardly heard of him. Those dark days come when we hear of the awful injustices against humanity taking place against Chinese minorities, when we hear of extreme poverty in South America, the drug and opioid crisis here and elsewhere, and the insane levels of abortion across the world. Those days come, and they darken even more when I see sin in myself, and complacency in Christians about God, his word, and his world.
As we look at this situation and consider what God has promised to do in the world, we can feel numb and discouraged. We can feel afraid. And it can make us want to just... take a nap. Hide. Forget about the enemy. Stay in a safe place.
The Story (1 Samuel 17)
I believe this is similar to how the armies of Israel felt when they were fighting the Philistines and Goliath of Gath stepped to the front of the line. It wasn't enough that they had felt suffocated by the Philistines for decades or that they felt insanely outnumbered. When Goliath stepped out, they knew they were finished. He was over nine feet tall and he was a hulk of a man. He wore a bronze helmet and was covered by a coat of mail that weighed 125 lbs alone. He had bronze armor on his legs, a javelin, a sword, and a shield-bearer to go out before him. He carried a spear with an iron head that weighed 15lbs.
Israel was drawn up in battle on one hill, the Philistines on another hill, and a valley lay between them. And when Goliath stepped onto the line he bellowed out, "Why have you come to fight? I am a Philistine, you are servants of Saul — choose a man who can come down and fight me. If he prevails and kills me, we will be your servants. If I prevail and kill him, you will be our servants." No thanks, said Israel. When Saul and all Israel heard this, they were dismayed.
Note: when Saul heard-the king who was head and shoulders taller than anyone in Israel, the man who charged into battle against Nahash the Ammonite because God's Spirit was with him- he was afraid and dared not fight Goliath. He knows the Lord is not with him. It is sad. This is what happens when we stop obeying God. Without God, the strongest, tallest, wisest, richest of us is reduced to nothing but fear and trembling. For forty days this Goliath came out and taunted the armies of Israel. And for forty days, no man dared step forward.
At this time David was splitting his time between caring for his father's sheep and serving Saul. David's three older brothers were on the line fighting. David's father instructed David to bring his brothers some grain, bread, and cheeses. So David left the sheep with a keeper and went to the camp of Israel. When he arrived, the armies were drawing up once again for battle. He left the provisions and ran to the ranks to greet his brothers. As he spoke with his brothers, the Philistine champion - Goliath-came out and bellowed the same taunt and the same invitation, "Choose a man to fight me!" And the men of Israel ran.
Later, the men were talking about Goliath around David. "Have you seen him? He has come to defy and taunt Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him. He will give him his daughter and his father's house will be free from taxes." David overheard and I love how he responded. "What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach of Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" His response is a great reminder: this Goliath may be fearsome, but Israel's armies represent the living God.
Well, Eliab didn't like this. "Who have you left those few sheep with? I know you have presumption and evil in your heart. You just want to see the battle." The reality is that Eliab doesn't like how David's expression of faith makes them look. Doesn't David realize he needs to get in line and tremble in fear with the rest of them? Eliab doesn't like his brother insinuating that maybe they don't have the faith they should have.
But David's talk of how he would go fight the Philistine landed him before Saul. "Listen, kid, you can't fight him. You are a youth, but he has been a man of war from his youth." But David insisted. "I used to keep sheep. If a lion or bear came and took a sheep from the flock, I chased it down, struck it, and delivered the sheep. And if he arose against me, I would grab him by the beard, strike him, and kill him. I have killed lions and bears that came against the flock, and this uncircumcised Philistine will be no different, for he has come against the flock, the armies of the living God."
And you have to give Saul a little credit. If David loses, they could become the servants of the Philistines. But he said, "Go, and the LORD be with you!" And he threw a bunch of his armor on David. But David refused the armor and the sword, opting to go with his wooden staff, five smooth stones, and a sling.
As David approached the monstrous and fully armed Philistine, the Philistine mocked him. He was just a handsome little teenager. "Am I a dog? Have you come to play fetch with that stick in your hand? Come here-let me feed your corpse to the animals."
But David looked at him with confidence. "You come with a sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of Yahweh of Armies, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have insulted. The Lord will give me victory over you and I'll cut off your head, then I'll feed all your corpses to the animals so that all the earth may know there is a God in Israel and that all this assembly may know that Yahweh saves not with sword and spear. The battle is the Lord's."
And with that they ran at each other, David slung a stone, it sunk into Goliath's head, and he fell down dead on the spot. He won with a sling and a stone. Then he cut off Goliath's head with his own sword. When the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they didn't honor the agreement to become Israel's servants, they just turned tail and ran. The armies of Israel and Judah had been trembling before, but now they arose with a shout and pursued the Philistines all the way back home.
Living in Submission to 1 Samuel 17
Anyone with eyes and a brain knew there was no way David was going to win this fight with a sling and a stone. And yet, by trusting in the Lord, David put the whole army to flight. Impossible battles are no new thing, and the impossibility of God's Kingdom winning out against the domain of darkness feels very real today. How can we bring our lives into submission to this text as we consider the war we are engaged in today?
1. Be concerned about the reputation of God's people for the sake of God's name.
All Saul and his army could see was an army and an enemy they were afraid of. All they saw was, "Their guys are stronger than ours, we are outmatched." It's logical. It's science. We would be stupid to argue with that. But David looked beyond this one battle and saw something more. He saw the armies of the living God cowering before a sinner. He saw a giant boasting of his might and of his gods, and the hosts of Yahweh believing that threat. He saw the nations realizing that Israel's fear meant there was no God in Israel after all. He saw the enemy insulting God's people and God's name and he wouldn't put up with it for one minute longer. "Who is he that he should defy the armies of the living God?" It was time-not to fight for David's honor but for God's. It was time to take away the reproach of Israel.
No one else stood up because they didn't mind losing this battle if it meant saving their lives. They were more concerned about saving their lives because they didn't care about the impact this battle had on the name of Israel and her God.
When we decide to give up because we are discouraged, when we decide to remain silent about the gospel and about true righteousness, when we choose sin instead of God, divorce instead of faithfulness, we are saying, "Hey, I don't mind sitting this one out. It is my choice and I will deal with the consequences." But in reality, we are too dim to recognize that we are playing on a much larger cosmic stage. It's not just about my life or yours and the fate of our personal souls - it's about the honor of God's name in the world. Do we not realize whose uniform we are wearing! God is light and we wear the armor of light. What we do and don't do reflects on his name.
We must adopt this perspective because eventually we will do enough dumb things that we feel our honor and even our lives aren't worth fighting for any longer. But if we develop a respect for God's name, we will find that motivate us to get up and do what we were called to do with the faith that he will sustain us somehow for the honor of his own name.
2. Love the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.
David may seem like a scrawny teenager, but his love for his father's sheep and his Father's people and his faith in God made him into a man's man. Possibly my all-time favorite text in 1 Samuel is David's rationalization to Saul for why he can fight the Philistine. “Saul, you don't understand, when a lion or bear takes one of my father's sheep, it's go time. I chase them down, deliver the sheep, and if it turns against me, I grab its beard and kill it with my bare hands. This Philistine has come against the armies of God, so it's go time." As I read that I think, “We need a king like that." We need a king who will leave the safety of the flock and risk his own life to rescue God's people. We don't need a hireling who runs when the enemy comes. We need a king who will not rest until he has established justice in the earth. We need a shepherd-king who will lay down his life for his Father's sheep.
The reality is that snatching the lamb from the wolf, executing justice, slaying the evildoer-it's not something you do from a high tower in heaven. You put your own life at risk.
Thank God for David, but thank God more for the one he points to-Jesus Christ. When the hour of darkness came he did not say, "Father, save me from this hour," but instead, “For this purpose I have come." When the hour of darkness came, he brought judgment upon the god, the uncircumcised giant of this world by being lifted up on the cross. It was only through his own death that he destroyed the one who had power over death.
Thank God for Jesus. And may we - children and adults, teachers and shepherds- go and do likewise.
3. Be energized by our king's representative victory over the champion of the enemy.
Goliath's challenge was simple. l'll represent the Philistines, choose someone to represent Israel. Whoever wins this one fight wins the battle. All Israel fled before Goliath and the Philistine army in fear-none of them was fit to represent Israel against the enemy. But once David had cut off Goliath's head, the enemies fled and all Israel and Judah rose with a shout to cut them down. David's victory was not one simple skirmish-it was the decisive, representative victory of all Israel over all Philistia. Philistia knew it. Israel knew it. Goliath's armor and sword did nothing; it didn't matter how many swords Philistine had, they saw God was with them, the battle was their's, and the enemy wouldn't be able to touch them.
It was promised in Genesis 3 and Romans 16 that we, the children of woman would crush Satan and his offspring under our feet. Aren't you thankful that we didn't have to lead the charge in that fight? Jesus alone could take on the champion. We fear losing our lives-both to miss out on good things and to die altogether. Humans tremble before sin, Satan, and death. But Jesus was obedient unto death so that through death he might destroy Satan who has power over death (Hebrews 2:14). Through the cross and the resurrection he disarmed all rulers and authorities in heaven and earth and put them to open shame (Colossians 2:15). This victory is not Jesus' alone, it is the representative victory of God's children over the snake and his offspring; the representative victory over all rulers and champions against God and his people.
And you know what this needs to lead to? Jesus' representative victory should release us from fear of the enemy and of death. It should energize us to go out and fight the enemy with the power of the truth of the gospel and to confront what is wrong in this world with our gifts and with Christ-like self-giving love. It should release us from the fear of what might happen if we lost everything for God and his Kingdom.
They have hate, but we have Jesus' love.
They have sin, but we have grace through Jesus.
They have rulers and authorities, but we have the king of kings.
They have deception, but we have truth.
They have guns, but we have the empty tomb.
They have numbers, but we represent the living God.
Let us represent him honorably.
Let us not cower back in fear, let us use our gifts and opportunities boldly for his glory, "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self- control." (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)
“They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” (Rev. 17:14 ESV)