Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Adventure of David and the Really Big Target (First Samuel 17:1-49)

What was David thinking when he walked out to meet Goliath?

I don’t mean that in the way that Jesse probably asked him when he heard about the story – the way fathers often ask their teenage sons “What were you thinking?” when something reeeealllly bad has happened, in the way that makes it certain that the question is rhetorical and does not allow for the possibility that the son was thinking in any way, shape or form. Although I believe that Jesse may have asked that question as well, and not only of David.

I was wondering what thoughts were going through his head. He was, after all, doing no more than putting feet to his earlier words about God defeating all of Israel’s enemies. If he was right, then an “uncircumcised Philistine,” said the same way the people in this part of the country say “Texas Longhorn,” didn’t have a prayer against an Israelite.

Unfortunately, after figuring out Saul’s armor and weapons didn’t fit him, David realized that all he had was a prayer, and I have to think there was some part of him that didn’t know exactly how it would all turn out.

Of course he knew that God’s people would defeat the Philistines, but he didn’t have any guarantees that he would survive the encounter. Perhaps he would. Or perhaps Goliath would kill him, but his death would enflame the Israelite army so that they would attack the Philistines: “They killed a kid! Let’s get ‘em!” All he knew for sure was that he was God’s servant and that God would win. No other promises, no other certainties, other than that someone who expected God’s victory ought to act like it.

He prepares for the battle the best way he can – he picks up some ammo first. Not just one rock, which makes me think he didn’t have any forewarning about how things would go, no matter what he said to Saul and to Goliath. Then, after Goliath insults him a little bit, the giant swaggers up to the fight. He probably figures the kid’s fear will finally get the better of him and he’ll run away, and all the Philistines will have a good laugh over it that night at his tent.

But he doesn’t see that David knows this is a real fight, even though he doesn’t have any “real” weapons like a sword and a spear. So David approaches it like a real fight, and attacks immediately, running to close the range for his sling. When he reaches a good firing position, he loads his sling and fires. We don’t know whether or not the stone actually killed Goliath when it hit him, but David renders the question moot by decapitating him (“Didn’t need to bring a sword. I used the other guy’s.”)

David’s actions teach us a lot of lessons. There’s the lesson about how sometimes it’s not about whether God’s people win, it’s about whether God wins. Remember, David picked up five stones, not one. He didn’t know Goliath would have a glass dome, but he knew God would win no matter what happened, so out he went.

There’s the lesson about using what you know how to use when you do God’s work. Saul and the soldiers – the military experts – knew what kind of armor and weaponry they would take with them if they fought Goliath, so they dressed David out in that kind of gear. Of course, if this stuff was so great, then maybe one of those experts might have strapped it on and fought Goliath himself, and anyway, David wasn’t a soldier. He was a shepherd, and he knew how to fight with a sling and a staff. So that’s what he used. And as we saw, when he need a sword, he found one no one was using.

Church folks may be tempted by the amazing success secular advertisers and companies have in branding their products and reaching the people they want to. We may want to use their tools, and I won’t deny we must find ways to effectively communicate the gospel.

But our given equipment, if you will, is that gospel. The message that God so loved his broken creation that he gave himself up to heal it. The message that matters to us because we’ve been that broken creation and we know that without God we’d have stayed broken. Until we recognize that about ourselves, the swords and spears of outrageous marketing and the full armor of the ad campaign will only hamper us.

Sure, the gospel may look as effective against the wrong of the world as David’s sling did against Goliath’s 15-pound spear. And smarter, wiser and hipper people may sneer that we’ve brought rocks to a sword fight. But remember, rock breaks giant. Or at least, the giant’s skull.

If we’ve got the winning combination and the winning weapon, why, we might wonder, why aren’t we taking a little off the top of all the giants, left and right? Why are the Goliaths of hedonism and selfishness and oppression and materialism and hate striding across our countrysides – both literally and metaphorically – braying out boasts of superiority and invincibility?

I can’t speak for you or for others, but it seems to me like one reason my particular neck of the woods is still giant-ridden is that, unlike David, I don’t find myself charging into the fight. When Goliath ambled out like he was at a modeling gig, David charged in and fired.

God grant me the grace and the courage to charge in when the foes of my own sin and shortsightedness boast about how they will trample me underfoot, having the faith the believe that even if they do so, short indeed will be their boasting when they realize that I follow the One whose death signaled, not defeat, but his greatest victory.

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