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DAVID AND GOLIATH I Sam 17(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49; Mark 4:35-41

Introduction
David and Goliath is one of those classic Bible stories which we may have enjoyed at Sunday School. To a child its appeal may lie in the way a small person overcomes a giant. But if we come to this on an adult level, there are some aspects to it that may not seem quite so straight forward.

Here are some of them. Notice, for instance, that this story doesn’t seem to know about David’s being anointed as the next king after Saul. Then there is the reward for killing Goliath – Saul has offered an incentive, but David seems to be more interested in fighting for the name of God. Another thing I notice is that David sees Goliath as a lion or a bear whereas Goliath thinks David sees him as a dog. David has experience of fighting with wild animals that threatened his father’s flocks, but Goliath thinks that a stick and stones are things used to control dogs. The last thing I notice which I want to mention is that David says to the scornful Goliath, “You come to me with sword, spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts...whom you have defied...The Lord does not save by sword and spear.” And yet David uses his own type of weapon and once he has stunned him with the stone from his sling, he uses Goliath’s weapons to finish him off. So what can we make of these more complex sides to the David versus Goliath sensation?

Background
First, we need a little background. During these two months we are exploring the longer story of how David grew to become the king of Israel and looking at some episodes from his time as king. In these times the children of Israel were beginning to settle into more of the land they believed God had promised them. There were frequent conflicts with surrounding tribes and peoples, including the Philistines who were a more advanced and established people living along the Mediterranean sea-border west of the Judean hill country and north of the modern Gaza strip.
The episode we are considering today comes from a clash which happened west of Bethlehem in the valley of Elah. A brook runs along the valley base and the opposing armies were arrayed on the either side of the valley on the slopes. Soldiers had to make their own provision for food and so Jesse sends David with a fresh consignment of supplies to his older brothers. The Philistines were not always at enmity with the Israelite tribes and in fact David made peace with the ruler of one of their cities. A battle could sometimes start with the combat of two individuals from either side (there is another case later in II Samuel) although it was more a Greek practice from later times.

A common reaction of many people as they grow up is to see the OT as rather more bloodthirsty than they realised. This can lead us to reject the OT out of hand. The whole thing loses credibility because it seems to be full of cruelty and bloodshed. But it isn’t because there is plenty of poetry and wisdom in the OT also. The only thing I can say is that our world is not much better nowadays and at least the OT describes a very real world. It does raise a very important question, though, and it is one that David’s words that I quoted earlier on provoke as well. The question is whether force of arms has a place in the purposes of God. This is something which Christians have struggled with down the ages. Some take the position of pacifism saying that arms have no place at all in God’s purposes. On the other hand you may have heard of the just war theory which was developed in the Middle Ages. It is a careful Christian response to rulers who felt that they had a duty to defend their people and protect the innocent. Just War theory talks about two things: when it is right to go to war (a just cause) and if fighting in war, how to conduct war in an ethical manner (a just means). A war is only just if it is both in a just cause and carried out in the right way. Let’s look more closely at David and his contest with Goliath.

David’s attitude
Some important lessons are to be drawn from David’s attitude to
the situation. If he really had been anointed by Samuel already, then he would have arrived at the battle scene with a particular attitude towards the situation. His brothers think of him as a curious youngster and accuse him of coming to watch the thrill of a battle. But if David knows that one day he is to be Israel’s ruler, he must have begun to feel a sense of responsibility for his people. Vs 26 tells us how David felt indignant at Goliath’s defiance of Israel and their God. He finds it scandalous that an uncircumcised man, a worshipper of dead gods should insult the people of God and therefore the living God himself. There 4 things to note about David’s attitude to the situation.

The first is that David approaches it as a shepherd. Later in their history, Israel would come to think of themselves as the flock of God. David already has that attitude. His way of tackling the challenge to his people is with the same tactics he uses in protecting and providing for his father’s flocks of sheep. If he has fought off or killed lions and bears as a shepherd boy, then he can fight off Goliath, giant as he may be.

Secondly, David makes use of his own familiar equipment. Saul tries to make him wear his armour and carry his weapons. But David is unused to such things and prefers to meet Goliath in his shepherd’s garb and carrying only his bag, staff and sling. David is surer of his skill and experience with the old shepherd’s tools than with impressive things like armour, helmet and sword.

Thirdly, David is quietly confident in the rightness of his cause. It is not just the shepherd’s equipment that he carries, but he is sure that whether he wins or loses, the cause of defending his people and the name of his God is a worthy one.

Fourth and last, David realises the nature of his adversary more accurately than his adversary’s assessment of him. David saw Goliath as a lion or a bear. That is not a small challenge for a young man, but accurately assessing the situation helps him win.
David sees that he can lodge a well-aimed stone in Goliath’s forehead. Goliath, despising David and feeling insulted that he was being treated like a dog, is all bluster and shouting. He does not realise how much of a threat David is to him.

Application
If we think of the meaning of this story there are two ways in which it can apply. One is more personal and the other is more to do with organising public life.

We can learn from David’s attitude on a personal level, applying it to the way we live and the values we hold to as Christians. We heard last week how God calls each of us in our own way, looking not on appearances but on the heart. We may be faced with a challenge, something that seems gigantic and threatening. Instead of being frightened, we can apply who we are and what we already have to this new situation. Just as Jesus stilled the storm in quiet confidence whilst the disciples panicked around him, we can go forward quietly trusting God. That doesn’t mean being naïve, because we saw how David assessed his opponent accurately, noticing where he could best attack him and win.

On a public level, I think we can apply just war theory to the way Christians think about the ordinary concerns of how to run a city, a nation or an organisation. Although we may desire God’s will for the world, we take action as well as speak and pray. David spoke up in the name of God, but he also took action. It is not always appropriate to pray and then stand back, waiting for God to do a miracle. More often it is our role to get stuck in, make things happen, whilst all the time being aware of why we are doing so and in whose name we trust. Use of force must always be the last resort. But life in the world is rarely clear-cut, and just war theory can help us to see that sometimes we have to decide between the lesser of two evils rather than between good and bad especially if we are more like Goliath than David – when our nation or organisation is more powerful than the opposition.

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith

 

 

   


 
 

Faithful Creator,
whose mercy never fails:
deepen our faithfulness to you
and to your living Word,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen


 

 



Acknowledgements