************ Sermon on 1 Samuel 17:47 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 3, 2005
1 Samuel 17
1 Samuel 17:47
"The Battle is the Lord's"
When Saul became king of Israel one of his goals was to limit the power and influence of the Philistines. By the time of the story in front of us this morning King Saul was successful: he managed to confine the Philistines to the coastal plain area surrounding their principal cities of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gath; and, under his rule the central highlands – where the Israelites mostly live – became almost totally free of the Philistines. But the Philistines did not give up easily. In our Scripture reading we see the Philistines trying to penetrate the highlands of Judah through the Valley of Elah. They are met there by Saul and his army.
The Philistines and the Israelites arrange their forces on opposite sides of the valley. This makes it very risky for either army to begin an attack. By descending one slope, crossing the valley floor and wading its stream, and climbing up the other side, the attackers will make themselves very vulnerable. So the result is a stalemate; neither army dares to leave its position.
It is Goliath who provides a solution. Following a popular Near-Eastern custom, he boastfully challenges anyone in Israel to a one-on-one confrontation. This encounter will then decide the battle; a victory for Goliath will entitle the Philistines to dominate Israel once more; on the other hand, a victory for whoever answers his challenge will entitle Israel to dominate the Philistines.
To understand the meaning of the passage in front of us we have to spend a few moments looking at both Goliath and David.
I Goliath - God's Enemy
A Goliath is a huge man. He stands nearly ten feet tall, and the weight of just his armor is nearly that of a grown man. Dressed for battle, he presents an awesome appearance: a bronze helmet on his head, a coat of armor on his chest and back, armor on his legs, a javelin strapped to his back, an enormous spear in his hand, a sword buckled to his side, and an immense shield to his front. Clearly, Goliath and his weapons seem invincible.
Goliath comes from Gath, the place of the dreaded Anakim. The Anakim are the giants who had struck such terror in the hearts of ten of the spies sent out by Moses. It is reasonable to suppose that Goliath is one of that race of giants.
Twice a day Goliath descends the valley slope and shouts taunts at the armies of Israel. He hopes his insults will make Israel angry enough to send out a challenger or perhaps begin a foolish attack. Goliath makes it clear: the Israelites' silence shows them to be chickens afraid of their own shadow.
B The most important detail that our Scripture reading gives us about Goliath is not his size, nor his armor, nor his race, nor his challenge. The most important detail is given in the word "defy." This important word is used of Goliath six times in our passage (vs 10,23,25,26,36,45). The Hebrew word means "to treat with contempt or scorn." Scripture tells us that Goliath defies "the ranks of Israel" (vs 10). He defies "the armies of the living God" (vs 26). And, he defies the one, only, true God Himself (vs 45).
Goliath defies God. This means he is an enemy of God and the things of God. As such, Goliath represents Satan and the forces of darkness. David calls him an "uncircumcised Philistine" (vs 26,36). This means he stands outside of the covenant. This means he is not numbered among God's people. Goliath, as a Philistine, is a worshiper of Dagon. And the book of Samuel has already shown that Dagon is a false god, a no god. Remember how the statue of Dagon falls down two times before the ark of the LORD (1 Sam 5)?
Goliath, then, is God's enemy. This story makes sense only when we remember that.
II David - God's Chosen Instrument
A Eighty times Goliath issues his challenge; eighty times Goliath taunts Israel; eighty times Goliath defies the armies of the living God; eighty times he gets no response. The eighty-first time David answers his challenge.
David isn't much to look at. King Saul can say, "you are only a boy" (vs 33). When Goliath sees David he sees only a shepherd boy, "ruddy and handsome" (vs 42). This means David is not yet full grown, his chest has not filled out, and he hasn't even begun to shave yet.
B The most important detail we are given about David is not even found in our Scripture reading. We have to go back one chapter. You know the story. Samuel comes to the home of Jesse to anoint a king to take Saul's place. He sees Eliab and thinks "Surely the LORD's anointed stands here" (1 Sam 16:6). But the LORD says to Samuel,
(1 Sam 16:7) "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." Each of the rest of Jesse's sons are paraded before Samuel. But about each one God says "No, not this one either." Finally Samuel has to ask, "Are these all the sons you have?" "There is still the youngest," Jesse answers, "but he is tending the sheep" (vs 11). When David is brought before Samuel the LORD says, "Rise and anoint him; he is the one" (vs 12). So Samuel anoints David in the presence of his brothers and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD rests upon David in power (vs 13).
God, the one and only God, the Almighty God Who has made the heavens and earth, has chosen David to be His servant. David is the Lord's anointed. Bound up in David, then, is the power of God, the honor of God, and the glory of God. So, it is more – far more – than a ruddy shepherd boy advancing towards Goliath on the other side of the little brook running through the Valley of Elah. Advancing towards the giant is the instrument God has chosen to use in the battle against Goliath and Satan and the forces of darkness.
David, then, is God's chosen instrument. This story makes sense only when we remember that.
III The Issue - God's Honor
A Why does young David answer the challenge of mighty Goliath? David answers Goliath not because he is an enemy of Israel. He challenges Goliath not for the sake of his brothers, Eliab, Abiynadab and Shammah. He challenges Goliath not to save the honor of Saul and Jonathan – for if anyone answers Goliath's challenge it should be Saul or Jonathan; after all, when Saul is first chosen to be king he is described as
(1 Sam 9:2) an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites--a head taller than any of the others.
Why does David answer Goliath's challenge? Because Goliath is an enemy of God and David is God's chosen instrument. David burns with a zeal and love for the Lord and the things of the Lord. The Lord's enemies are his enemies. He hates those who hates the Lord (cf Ps 139:21,22).
B David also knows what is at stake here. "The battle is the LORD's," he says (vs 47). This is not Israel's battle, first of all. Nor is it David's. Nor is it Saul's. This battle is the LORD's. It is God's struggle against Satan and the forces of darkness. The contest is not Israel against Philistia or David against Goliath but God against Satan. It is God's name that is being blasphemed (vs 43), not Israel's. It is God's honor that is at stake, not Israel's. It is God's power and might that are being challenged, not Israel's.
C David is young and untrained. Yet he dares to answer Goliath's challenge. Why? Do we have to say that David is extra brave or extra foolish?
Hebrews 11 tells us that David is a hero of faith. By faith, his "weakness was turned into strength," and he "became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies" (Heb 11:34). As a hero of faith, David knows that victory does not depend on swords and spears and javelins. David knows that victory depends upon the Lord and not upon himself.
David lives by faith. And he enters battle in faith. In this light, David tells King Saul the story of the lion and the bear that carried off his sheep. By God's grace and strength he was able to kill both the lion and the bear. Says David,
(1 Sam 17:37) The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.What faith in the power and strength of the Lord. When Saul hears this, he says, "Go, and the LORD be with you."
"Go, and the LORD be with you." In the final analysis, that is why and how David answers Goliath's challenge. Because the LORD is with him, David dares to go into battle though he is young, untrained, and inexperienced.
IV God's People - Their Failure
A The Israelites – the people as well as King Saul and his son Jonathan – are a real disappointment throughout the entire story. I mentioned earlier that Goliath is one of the Anakim. Ten of the spies sent out by Moses were so scared of these giants that they gave a bad report of the land. And the people, in turn, became too afraid to proceed. In today's Scripture reading we see Israel continues to react with fear and trembling before giants:
(1 Sam 17:11,24) On hearing the Philistine's words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified ... (24) When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear. Because of this fear neither Saul, nor Jonathan, nor David's brothers, nor anyone else is able or willing to do what David does – answer the challenge of Goliath.
B In telling us about the Israelite response to Goliath, the author of Samuel deliberately reminds us of the story of King Saul and Nahash the Ammonite. We can read all about Saul and Nahash in chapter 11. Nahash besieged the Israelite city of Jabesh Gilead. He agreed to peace only on the condition that every man have his right eye gouged out. Like Goliath, Nahash treated the LORD Himself with contempt and scorn. Saul was so infuriated by this and so full of zeal for the LORD that he roused the ill-equipped and ill-trained Israelites into war and utterly destroyed Nahash.
What a difference a few years can make. Saul has lost much of his zeal for the LORD. Saul now fears more for his life than for the name of the LORD. Saul is now more interested in his own comfort and safety than in defending God's honor. How disappointing for one who leads God's people! Furthermore, Saul assumes that the men of Israel are just like he is. Instead of calling the men of Israel to fight out of zeal for God and the things of God, Saul thinks it necessary to lure them into battle with offers of money and marriage, with a promise of freedom from taxes and military service (vs 25).
C Finally, we can also say that Saul – and Israel – have lost all perspective when it comes to Goliath. All that they can see is Goliath's armor and strength. And, they think it is only armor and strength that can defeat Goliath. That's why Saul tries to dress David in armor before sending him across the brook (vs 38,39). Saul has forgotten that the battle is the LORD's and that victory or defeat is in the hands of the LORD and not in the hands of Israel or its king.
V The Victory - of and by God
A David goes out to meet Goliath. But he goes out without armor or sword or spear or bow. He goes into battle only with his shepherd's staff, five stones, and a sling. This is important to our story. Why? Because the Lord wants an unarmed, untrained, inexperienced youth to battle an armed and dangerous giant. The Lord wants the contest, humanly speaking, to be as unevenly matched as possible with all the advantages on Goliath's side. Even Goliath sees it this way.
(1 Sam 17:43) He said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. God wants it this way because He wants to show that the battle and the victory is His!
B We can't make the mistake of thinking, though, that David is helpless and defenseless before Goliath. Don't forget, David is a tool, an instrument, a weapon, in the hands of God. And, he goes into battle with the name of the LORD on his lips.
(1 Sam 17:45) David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. The Ancient World believed that to say the name of a god is to call him to your defense. David goes against Goliath in the name of the LORD Almighty. This God is the LORD of hosts; He is the God of gods and the King of kings. He is the Maker of heaven and earth and everything in them. He is the "living God" (vs 36) and not a dead god like Dagon, the god of Goliath.
C You know what happens. David runs quickly toward the battle line.
(1 Sam 17:49) Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. Scripture's conclusion:
(1 Sam 17:50) So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. Of course the Philistines do not live up to the conditions of the challenge made by Goliath. Instead of surrendering meekly to the Israelites "they turned and ran" (vs 51). And the Israelites pursued them and killed them (vs 52).
When David, in the name of God and by God's power and strength, defeats Goliath he makes a statement to the Philistines, the Israelites, "and the whole world" (vs 46). When David defeats Goliath he makes a statement that the name of the LORD is sufficient to strike the strongest man or even army to the ground. This God needs neither sword, spear, nor javelin to win a victory over Satan, Dagon, Goliath, and the Philistines. This God uses what is weak to put the strong to shame. He uses what is foolish to shame the wisdom of the wise (1 Cor 1:27). As David puts it,
(1 Sam 17:47) All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give all of you into our hands.
What is the message for us? There are three messages.
First, we have to realize that David's enemy is our enemy too. This enemy may not take the form of Goliath, Dagon, or the Philistines anymore but he is still the same enemy. He still defies God. He still hates and attacks the people of God and loves nothing better than to have them sin and fall from the faith. He loves nothing better than to destroy the church with heresies, schisms, fights, and conflicts. In other words, we have to realize that we are part of the same age-long struggle between God and Satan that David was involved in.
Second, like David, we have to realize that the battle first of all is the Lord's. It is not up to us but up to the Lord how the battle goes. And, like David, all that we can be is faithful warriors or instruments in the hands of God. This means that, unlike Saul and Israel, we aren't scared and frightened into inaction. This means that, unlike Saul and Israel, we are filled with zeal for the Lord and the things of the Lord. This means that, unlike Saul and Israel, we don't lose perspective and see the might of the enemy rather than the power of God. This means that, unlike Saul and Israel, we don't need offers of jewels, money, rewards, and honor to fight for the LORD. This means that, like David, we dare to do anything, go anywhere, face any enemy, and battle the forces of darkness both within us and around us – because the Lord is with us and the battle is His.
Finally, we are being told that what God does for Israel He also does for you and me – He saves us from the enemy, and without the sword or spear!
To save us from this enemy God once more has a chosen instrument – Jesus Christ. Like David, He isn't much to look at – He seems to be just an ordinary man with ordinary parents from an ordinary town.
But once more God defeats the enemy without the sword or the spear. He uses, of all things, a cross and a grave, a crucifixion and resurrection. He again uses what is weak to put the strong to shame and what is foolish to shame the wisdom of the wise. He uses His Son, dying on the cross and arising from the grave, to defeat the powers of darkness.
We, my brothers and sisters, are in a battle. The battle is the Lord's. And, so is the victory.
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