I SAMUEL 17:12-49


DECEMBER 21, 2008


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            A Sunday School teacher told his Sunday School class the story of David and Goliath.  He embellished it with great detail.  He animated the story with gestures and movements, concluding with all the details of how little David killed Goliath with a rock from his sling.  At the end he asked the class what lesson they had learned.  One of the boys raised his hand and said, “Duck!”

            This morning we continue our Advent sermon series, which we are calling “The Bethlehem Chronicles,” where we are looking at events and people associated with the city of Bethlehem.  Thus far we have looked at three people associated the the city of our Savior’s birth: Rachel, Micah, and Ruth.  Today we turn to Bethlehem’s most famous citizen, David.  “Wait,” you may the thinking.  “What about Jesus being Bethlehem’s most famous citizen?”  Well, Jesus may have been born in Bethlehem, but he never lived there.  Bethlehem, however, was David’s hometown, and today we turn our attention to the event in David’s life that put him on the biblical map, and we might subtitle this story, “How to Tackle a Giant Problem.”[1]  Listen to the description of Goliath beginning in verse 4.


            And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath whose height was six cubits and a span  He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze.  He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders.  The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him.


            Let me put this in words we can understand.  He was nine feet tall, he had a twenty inch collar, a size nine hat, and a forty inch belt.  When he put on his armor, he not only looked like a Sherman tank, he weighed as much as one.  He considered under-arm deodorants effeminate.  Fortunately, for the Israelites his previous fights left him a little punch drunk.  He had won them every one of them, after all he was the Philistine champ, but he wasn’t as mentally sharp as he once had been.  When he tried to think something out, it was like struggling through a hip-deep bog.  When he tried to explain something, it was like pushing a rock uphill.[2]  So when David took a different tact, using a sling and a stone instead of brute force, well, it caught ol’ Goliath by surprise, and what we learn from the story is not just “to duck,” but more importantly, we learn what to do when faced with a giant problem.  The next time we face one of these giant problems, let’s remember what David did.

            First, keep cool.  The Israelite soldiers were awed by the size of the brutish Goliath.  He filled the entire Israelite army with fear, but David, who was considered too young and too small to fight, did not let fear destroy his ability to size up the situation.  His mind did not get overheated.  He kept his cool.  Look with me at verse 24.  Let’s get into David’s head for a moment.


            All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid.  The Israelites said, “Have you seen the man who has come up?  Surely he has come to defy Israel.”  And skipping to verse 26), David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills the Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel?”


            In other words, while others were having panic attacks, David asked about the reward for the person who takes Goliath out.  He’s not quaking in fear.  His mind is not overheating.  He does not allow the problem to overwhelm him.

            Let me introduce you to Saint Anthony of Egypt.  He lived in the fourth century, and he was a Desert Father, a holy man, a monk, who presided over a community of monks who lived in the desert, away from civilization in order to purify themselves and to gain spiritual insight.  Anthony was the most prominent of the Desert Fathers, and he gave great advice to thus under his charge.  For example, he said things like ...


            “Sing Psalms before sleeping and after sleeping.”

            “Keep from a full stomach.”

            “Hark back to the deeds of the saints.”


            He passes along wisdom like this to all the monks under him, and he also offers this bit of counsel.  He said, “When a phantom appears during meditation, be fearless and ask, ‘Who are you and from where do you come?’  If the vision is good, you will be assured.  If not, your steadfast calm will weaken it.”

            David’s steadfast calm, weakened Goliath.  When facing a giant of a problem, keep cool.

            Second, when facing a giant of a problem, we need make room for God.  Look at the end of verse 26.  David asks,


            For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living god?


            David inserts a new factor into the equation.  He inserts the living God.  Israel, who faces the Philistine threat in fear and immobility, acts as if God were irrelevant to the battle.  For David this is unthinkable.  As awesome as Goliath may have been David fixed his eyes on someone greater.  In fact, listen to his conversation with King Saul.  Verse 32.


            David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fall because of him; your servant will go and fight this Philistine.  Now that sounds ridiculous to Saul because David is only a scrawny teenager.  Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.  But remember that David has put God in the equation, and he tries to explain this to King Saul, who should know this but doesn’t.  But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it.  Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like on of them.  In other words, he can’t be any tougher than a lion or a bear.  Now listen to what comes next.  We are tempted to think David is being macho here, that he is really in love with his own prowess, sort of like Tim Allen on Home Improvement, but not what comes next, verse 37.  David said, “The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of the Philistine.


            Folks, David kept God in the equation.  It was God who rescued David in the past and it will be God who rescues Israel in this present situation. 

            Third, when facing a giant problem refuse to be discouraged.  Three people try to discourage him, but he would have none of it.  First, his brother, Eliab, tells him he is a thrill seeker and should go back home and take care of the sheep.  Second, King Saul dismisses him as too young and scrawny to fight the Philistine.  Finally, Goliath goes after him.  Verse 42.


            When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance.  The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?”  And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.  The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.”


            David, however, would have none of it.  He refused to be discouraged.  So did another man.  Listen to these words,


            If you sometimes get discouraged, consider this fellow.  He dropped out of grade school.  Ran a country store.  Went broke.  Took fifteen years to pay off his bills.  Took a wife.  Unhappy marriage.  Ran for the House.  Lost twice.  Ran for the Senate.  Lost twice.  Delivered a speech that became a classic.  Audience indifferent.  Attacked daily by the press and despised by half the country.  Despite all this, imagine how many people all over the world have been inspired by this awkward, rumpled, brooding man, who signed his name simply, A. Lincoln.[3]


            Fourth, when facing a giant problem, picture a positive outcome.  David said, “The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will save me from this Philistine.” 

            Do you recall the story of The Little Engine Who Could?  Remember how the engine kept saying, “I think I can, I think I can?”  Well, David was the little shepherd boy who could.  He used his mind to picture a positive outcome to the problem. 

            A study was done of women with mastectomies.  The study revealed that those who faced their problem with a positive attitude were twice as likely to be alive ten years after their mastectomy than those who were not as positive.

            Fifth, expect the best, but be prepared for the worst.  Note that David carried five stones just in case the first one missed the mark. 

            In the Broom Hilda comic strip, the little green witch peers over the edge of a cliff.  Across the deep canyon is Gaylord the Buzzard.  Gaylord cries to Broom Hilda, “Come over here with me.”

            Broom Hilda looks over the side of the cliff and answers, “I can’t jump that far.”

            Gaylord replies, “You’re defeating yourself with negative thinking.  I’m writing a book on the power of positive thought in which I can prove you can do anything if you have the correct attitude.  Tell yourself you can do it, and just do it.”

            Broom Hilda takes his advice and says, “Okay.  Here I come!” whereupon she takes a giant leap and falls deep into the canyon.  Gaylord peers over the edge of the cliff as Broom Hilda cascades downward and says, “I think I’ll add a chapter on building up your leg muscles.”

            Positive thinking is great, but it can only do so much.  Listen to this bag of baloney espoused by Napoleon Hill in his book Think Rich and Grow.  He writes, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”  That’s simply not true.  It’s not true that if we just lift our chins and have the right attitude everything will turn out fine.  Sometimes the best we can say is, “We’ve got a mess on our hands, but if we roll up our sleeves we can do something about it.”

            Expect the best, but prepare for the worst.

            Then sixth, trust God to walk into battle with us.  David stepped into battle trusting that God would fight along side of him.  In verse 46 he says to Goliath, “This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand.”

            Listening to David’s confidence in God I think of the legend of the elephant and the mouse who became good friends.  Everywhere they went they walked together side by side.  One day they came upon a long, narrow bridge suspended over a deep gully.  Side by side they stepped onto the bridge and walked across.  When they stepped off the other side the little mouse said, to the elephant, “Wow, we sure did make that old bridge shake!”

            And whatever problem we are facing today, God will make that old bridge shake!



[1] Borrowed from Norman Vincent Peale’s book Bible Power for Successful Living, Peale Center for Christian Living, Pawling, NY, 1993.

[2] Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, (Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1979), 41.

[3] Published by United Technologies Corporation, Hartford CT, in The Wall Street Journal.