Unexpected Leadership

I Samuel 17:41-47
David A. Davis
June 20, 2021
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He must have been about six foot nine. He wore a helmet made of bronze and a coat of armor that would have crushed anybody else who tried to wear it because it was so heavy. His legs were protected, and he had a javelin the size of a beam slung between his shoulders. An attendant carried his shield as this warrior, this champion would repeatedly come out and stand there and just shout: “Why have you come out to draw up a battle? Am I not a Philistine and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose someone for yourselves and let them come down to me.” The Israelites and the Philistines were in a battle with the Israelites on one mountain and the Philistines across the valley on another. For forty days this champion warrior would come out, stand, and shout. “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” According to scripture, King Saul and all of Israel “were dismayed and greatly afraid.” They were scared to death of Goliath.

The three eldest sons of Jesse were there on the front lines of the battle. Jesse’s youngest son, whose name was David, had to stay back tending the sheep. At one point David was told to deliver supplies to his brothers who were enduring the forty days of Goliath’s bark. Just as David arrived at the battlefield the troops were once again lining up. As the shouts and battle cries began, David gave the grain, the bread, and the cheese that he had delivered to the concierge of battle and ran off to find his brothers. Goliath came out in all his glory to sound off yet again and David heard it. He must have turned to say something to one of his brothers but they were gone, For as the story is told, “All the Israelites, when they saw Goliath, fled from him and were very much afraid.”

The crowds around David continued to murmur about Goliath. David said to them something like “what shall be done for the man who takes this Philistine on and who does he think he is defying the armies of the living God?” David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard David talking to the men and he was angry and talked to David like the youngest brother he was. “Why have you come down here and whose taking care of the sheep? I know you, you just came down here to see the battle.” David, like all other youngest brothers, responded to Eliab. He said, to quote from I Samuel, “What have I done now? It was only a question.” David went to the king and offered to go and fight Goliath. The king said “no, you’re just a boy and he’s professional warrior.” David persisted, told Saul of his own strength in protecting the sheep, killing lions and bears for the sake of the sheep. “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” The king relented and strapped a set of rental armor on David like it was a tuxedo and the king handed Saul the king’s own sword. But David had never worn armor and he couldn’t even walk. Off came the armor and the sword was dropped and David took his shepherds staff, five smooth stones, and his sling and he set off to take on Goliath.

I Samuel 17:41-47

And David did pretty much exactly what David said he would to. One stone was all it took. It is the stuff of fairy tales, complete with the violence. A freckled-face, fair-haired young boy stands before some nasty, almost supernatural giant with a sling shot and a few stones. The giant falls in a heap and everyone celebrates for David beat Goliath! David beat Goliath!

The classic scene of the underdog gone on to victory. A myth to be invoked every time there is an uphill battle to fight. Hollywood loves stories like that. Locker room pep talks thrive on material like that. Motivational speakers. People who write about sales. Politicians, Rocky I to Rocky 137. Root, root, root for the underdog. That’s David and Goliath.

History tends to remember and glorify the fight, the battle, the violence of David and Goliath. Humanity is attracted to violence even when it comes in the bible. You notice I didn’t even read that part. That is not to pretend or ignore or be naïve about the violence in scripture. Some may remember that I once preached a sermon from this pulpit entitled “Why I Won’t Sing ‘On Christian Soldiers” ever again. But you can’t pretend the bible isn’t full of it’s own share of violence with more than a little of it attributed to the hand of God; which provides a lasting reminder that the pages of the ancient texts of scripture are shaped by the hand of humankind. My intent this morning is not to make the story fit for Time with the Children. My intent is not to ignore the violence. My intent is to draw your attention to the talk. The dialogue. To draw your attention to what may be the best trash talk in all of scripture. The give and take between David and Goliath. The drama plays out in the dialogue. That’s the focus of the biblical narrative. The encounter of David and Goliath is told in a chapter of 58 verse. The violence is told in only 4. If you join the crowd just wanting to watch a fight and you miss the trash talk, you will miss the depth and the theological affirmation of a nuanced gospel word. Turn away from the slingshot and the stone and listen to the conversation.

“Am I dog that you come to me with sticks?” Oh, snap! That’s a pretty good line coming from a battle-tested warrior who sees a good looking, ruddy faced kid coming at him with a shepherd’s crook and a slingshot. But the talk starts back with the question David asked that led to his brother trying to put him in his place. “Who is this guy who thinks he can defy the armies of the living God.” The question is what sets David apart. He took in the whole scene and was willing to ask about the Living God. “The Lord who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will save me from the hand of this Philistine”, David told King Saul. The first blow David tosses at Goliath wasn’t the stone. It came with words. “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” David goes on in some detail shouting to Goliath about how the Lord will deliver him to David and what David planned to do. “The Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and the Lord will give you to me”.

All through the story Saul and the armies of Israel have no idea what to. David’s brothers stand around, lacking courage and faith, not saying a word. David, the unexpected leader steps up as a living witness to proclaim the battle belongs to God. Before the slingshot snaps he testifies to the Lord who will surely save. He talks about the whole earth knowing about the God who saves not by the sword and spear. He steps up when surrounded by fear and silence, when the only voice being heard was coming from the oversized, trash talking champion named Goliath. David steps up as a living witness to proclaim that the battle belongs to God. From a simple question, to a bit of arm twisting of the king, to the war of words, to the heroic victory, the battle is the Lord’s.

Some may remember my experience of the Lord’s Prayer when I played high school football some 45 years ago. After my senior season had concluded, the head coach said at a banquet that it took him 3 years to figure out who was messing up the Lord’s Prayer the team would say before each half of play as we took a knee. He said, “it was Davis, that dag gone Presbyterian saying “debts and debtors”. But my little stubborn presbyterian teenage self is not the point. Every time we would say that prayer on my public school football team, the voices in the huddle would get louder and louder until we were shouting “for Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, the Glory”…roar! Now let’s go out there and kill them!

Yes, prayer and faith, and Christian rhetoric, and scripture itself has been used for personal gain, for power, for wealth, and to use people, oppress people, gain advantages, and to WIN battles that were far from God since the beginning. We live in world that seems ever more more to be defined by winners and losers, those who are in and those who are out, those who are right and those who are wrong. When a preacher only focuses on the violence, the fight, and the victory, then the sermon becomes a rally cry to arm yourselves to fight against the Goliaths of the day. I have heard enough locker room pep talks to give you one of those sermons at the drop of hat and send you out into the world to confront the Goliath’s of your life armed with what the Apostle Paul calls “the whole armor” of God. God knows there is no shortage of preachers  who line up giant after giant and inspire the listener to go out there and fight…literally.  It’s so much easier when someone tells you where the monsters are. Life and faith seem simpler when the Goliaths are so well-defined.  You don’t have to wrestle much with the challenge of the gospel of Jesus Christ when your convinced you are the underdog. Preaching David and Goliath like that draws a crowd, it sells tickets, it gets ratings. There is no lack of that kind of trash….talk in the church, in the nation, in the world. The older I get in life and in my relationship to Jesus, I am ever more convinced that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about winners and losers, fighting battles, and claiming earthly victories.

There is more to this text than the four verse of battle. The dialogue is less about Goliath and more about the Living God. The biblical genre of trash talk gives testimony to God who lives, a God who saves, a God who delivers. We may allegorize the giant and the armor and the stone and the slingshot and the battle, but the story of David and Goliath is an affirmation of how Davie, this one who would be king, David, the unexpected leader of God’s people, the one from God would build a dynasty, this David who embodied strength and faithfulness, who danced pretty much naked before the Lord, who knew the love of a friend, David, whose faith was proclaimed in such grace-filled words, the one who knew a fall from grace late one afternoon on a rooftop, he who tasted of God’s judgements, the father who wept and fasted for his dying child, this David who could sing God with such heartfelt joy, this David knew that his life belonged to God, and the battle belonged to God. All of it belongs to God.

Before the people of God go marching onward as to war, naming the Goliaths of this world and the Goliaths in the nation and the Goliaths in the church, all the while positioning themselves as underdogs, we ought to best stop and ponder. The purpose of prayer and the life of faith is not to win, but to know deep within that we belong to God. And to affirm with David that this life’s battles belong to God, and the Living God saves not with swords and spears. We have been saved by the Son of God whose victory over evil and death the world defines as a huge loss, a death on the cross. But through his death and resurrection, we have been set free to live as children of God, knowing that nothing in life or in death shall separate us from that love of God we know in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It is human nature, isn’t it? Some folks just like a good fight. But when all is said and done, you and I are called to stand and affirm that this battle, this life belongs to God. Not simply when the battle lines are drawn, but when the work day never seems to end, when the longest school year ever comes to an end, when your simply trying to do your best as a parent or spouse or partner or child, when there are choices to make at home, when stuff in the news just seems to get worse, when being a caretaker for someone you love has you exhausted, when what comes after graduation is yet unclear, every part of life belongs to the Living God.

For God is my rock. God is my strength. God is my salvation, my refuge, my abiding peace, I shall not… be shaken.


Hymn following sermon: In Silence My Soul Thirsts, from Glory to God #790. Text: Sheldon W. Sorge and Tammy Wiens; Music: Sheldon W. Sorge. © 2000 Sheldon W. Sorge. Used by special permission. All rights reserved.