Big Problem, Bigger God
With God, NO PROBLEM is insurmountable.
Please read 1 Samuel 15-17 as set-up to this message. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks, but it’s not required.
Some of you will remember Art Linkletter’s TV show, “Kids say the Darndest Things.” (The rest of you will Google it.) On one of these shows, Linkletter asked what lesson we can learn from the story of David and Goliath.
From one of the kids, Linkletter received a one-word reply: "Duck!"
Here’s a set of kid jokes based on David versus Goliath.
Q: Who is the greatest babysitter mentioned in the Bible? A: David - he rocked Goliath to sleep. Q: Why was Goliath so surprised when David hit him with a slingshot? A: The thought had never entered his head before. Q: If Goliath is resurrected, would you like to tell him that joke? A: No, he already fell for it once.
In my personal devotions earlier this week I discovered that when you read the whole account in one sitting, you get a different perspective on the account of David squaring off against Goliath. I later discovered that in all my years of ministry I have NEVER preached on this passage. With all that background, let me start by setting the fighters in their corners & we’ll see what God develops.
1. In this corner, at nine feet, nine inches, 668 pounds, the Philistine champion, the “Gath Giant,” GOLIATH!
What do we know about Goliath?
The text tells us he was from Gath (4), a city we are unable to precisely locate. The phrase OUT OF THE PHILISTINE CAMP (4) leaves open the possibility that Goliath was no Philistine, only employed by their army. The Bible talks about three different races of giants. Goliath may have been one of these peoples who were among the original settlers of Canaan (see Joshua 11:22).
He was a great deal taller than average (anywhere from 6’1” to 9’9”, depending on a couple variables). Average height of the time being a mere 5’ to 5’3”, that leaves a lot of room on the upper scale. Goliath’s size and his armaments were meant to be intimidating. Verses three to seven tell us how big and shiny his battle dress was.
What hope did the Israelites have of defeating him? No military hope.
The challenge Goliath issued was perfectly in order with the customs of the time. It may sound crazy to have armies staring across a valley at each other at all, let alone for 40 days (that may’ve been an above-average wait time). Obviously, with a giant like Goliath as their champion, the offer to avoid all-out war by means of a challenge looked like a safe bet for the Philistines to win.
If intimidation was the Philistines’ tactic (I think it was), it worked: the Israelites were thoroughly intimidated. Over the course of FORTY DAYS none of the Israelite soldiers took up his challenge (16). They may have seethed under his insults, but none of them dared to step into the valley. Worse, the text says the soldiers were all DISMAYED AND TERRIFIED (11). The Philistines must’ve been grinning from ear to ear when young David was finally set forth as the Israelite champion (37 + 41).
2. In the other corner, at four feet, eleven and a quarter inches, 92 pounds, the “Slingin’ Shepherd,” DAVID!
What do we know about David?
Most importantly, we know David had already been crowned as king over Israel. At the end of 1 Samuel 15, God announced to His man Samuel that he was GRIEVED that He’d made Saul king of Israel. In chapter sixteen, after a lengthy selection process, God revealed to Samuel that David would be the next king of Israel. Samuel anointed David with oil, but told no one else about it and did nothing more.
The important bit is in 16:13: After Samuel anointed David, FROM THAT DAY ON THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME UPON DAVID IN POWER.
Contrast that with 16:14: NOW THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD HAD DEPARTED FROM SAUL, AND AN EVIL SPIRIT FROM THE LORD TORMENTED HIM. The last half of 1 Samuel is the painful story of how God replaced Saul with David as king of Israel. Our passage is one of the steps in that process.
David was the youngest son in Jesse’s family, a good-looking kid (33+42) who tended sheep in the field (16:12-13; 34-37). God started with a young man of humble beginnings and raised him to the highest place of that time.
In this passage, David demonstrated some of his emerging character. In verses 17-22, he shows his obedience. Because of his age and/or other reasons, Jesse kept David out of the conflict. Here Jesse gives the future king a “grunt” job to do: deliver some food to his brothers & bring back a report; David obeyed.
Look at verses 23-26 where David is outraged that this pagan - no matter how big he was - should be allowed to blaspheme the name of God and slander the people of Israel. This demonstrates righteous anger, a state - if genuine - is difficult to achieve.
In verses 34-37 David showed confidence before King Saul, describing how he’d survived lion and bear attacks. This also demonstrates humility, as his point was that the LORD had delivered him (37) then and David was confident the LORD would deliver him from this mouthy pagan giant too. Rebuking Goliath’s taunts (45-47), David again expressed this confidence in God.
How was he the solution to the problem of Goliath’s challenge?
One explanation is to look at Goliath’s disadvantages. Bill Murphy Jr. wrote an article for INC. magazine entitled “Three Things People get Wrong about David vs. Goliath.”
Disadvantage #1 = Goliath can't see. Scientists have speculated that Goliath might have had a disorder called acromegaly. This condition causes a person to grow extremely tall, but can lead to double-vision and severe nearsightedness. This may be implied by the text. In verse 41, Goliath and his shield bearer KEPT MOVING CLOSER TO DAVID. It’s true that Goliath’s motive might’ve been to close range and attack with his sword, he didn’t need to: He could’ve thrown his spear to make an attack at range or thrust it at David at medium range. However, when you consider the possibility of near-sightedness, he may have been edging closer to see David better. In verse 45, Goliath taunted David, saying, “COME HERE.” Was that because he couldn’t see David?
Murphy concludes, “Big competitors' perceived advantages can often mask their even bigger disadvantages.”
Disadvantage #2 = Goliath is powerless. Psychologically, Goliath was designed to intimidate. Every detail in his description is the epitome of someone you don’t want to mess with. I think the Philistines were pulling a fast one - they wanted to intimidate them into giving up without a fight. Look at verse one - who started this fight? the Philistines. It was a put-on from the first moment.
Tactically, David has the advantage of mobility. The text makes a big deal of Goliath’s armor and David’s lack of armor. We think this is meant to emphasize David’s disadvantage, but it actually explains how he won: he moved more swiftly and attacked first.
A second explanation is to look at David’s tactical assets. This is Murphy’s third point: David was deadly. The Bible never says David went into battle with "only a sling." We might think of a sling as a child's toy, but it was actually an effective weapon. In skilled hands, it was on a par with a bow. Armies of the time had division of slingers.
I’ve read a rock from a sling has the stopping power of a .45 caliber handgun. David pressed his advantages of mobility and deadliness: he used his deadly ranged weapon and attacked Goliath before he could get close enough to swing his sword.
3. The outcome of the fight: a TKO (Totally Killed Off).
One outcome was peace for Israel. Verse 51 tells us WHEN THE PHILISTINES SAW THAT THEIR HERO WAD DEAD, THEY TURNED AND RAN. The Israelites pursued their retreating foes all the way to their home cities, leaving behind a trail of death and plunder.
The plunder here is important. I read that there were no blacksmiths in Israel. The Philistines kept the Israelites in a vassal-like state by withholding metalworking technology from them. Therefore, the Israelites increased their stock of technologically superior weapons as the picked up what the Philistines dropped.
Another outcome is David taking another step toward kingship. As we’ve seen, David had already been anointed as the next king, so God empowered Him to win the fight and take a step toward establishing his kingship by making him popular and well-known. For example, in 18:7, the people exalt David over King Saul as a greater soldier.
The Philistines offered a rigged fight, but it was not rigged in the way they expected. Instead, God determined the outcome of the fight to advance His plan.
Bill Murphy Jr. concluded his article with the following observation: “The lesson isn't simply that when a powerful competitor takes on a smaller one, the smaller one might nevertheless win. Instead, great leaders understand that the real keys to battle are sometimes obscured by our misconceptions. Perceiving them correctly can amount to a Goliath-sized advantage.”
You may not care about finding lessons for leadership in this passage, but here’s something we can all take to heart: With God, NO PROBLEM is insurmountable.
Rather than be intimidated by what appears to be a mountain, we need to rethink the situation. First, trust in God as David did. He had faith and joined the battle. Second, take another look at the obstacles in front of you. There are bound to be things that seem like disadvantages that can, with a little forethought, be turned into advantages.
David did not win his battle with Goliath. God won the battle. In fact, it was won before it was fought, and that was reflected in David’s confidence. We must trust God will do the same for us.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982.