Preached June 28, 2015
By Rev. Dr. Amy Ruth Schacht
Samuel 17: Excerpts
The Hardest Fight
If the stories weren’t so familiar to us, and Hollywood produced the movie of First Samuel, the unfolding twists and turns, incredibly human stupidity and arrogance alongside unbelievable acts of courage and bravery would glue us to the edge of our seats. Over and over again, the most powerful men are brought down by their own pride – which they use to hide their insecurity – and their unwillingness to trust in God. And it’s the very young who show us how power can be disguised in weakness.
Today we’re zeroing in on David, and his battle with Goliath – An extremely well known episode from the Hebrew Bible, made even more popular by Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.” Before we jump in, here’s some context: The Philistines had been knocking on the Israelites’ door for awhile – They want to split Saul’s kingdom in two and claim it for themselves. In the meantime, the last verse in chapter 15 says, “And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.” So Saul has fallen out of God’s favor, and the prophet Samuel has been instructed to anoint a new king behind King Saul’s back. That newly anointed king is the very young, inexperienced shepherd boy David – The youngest of Jesse’s 8 sons. No one as of yet knows he’s been anointed by Samuel, but you can imagine in a world like Game of Thrones, it’s a risky position to be in.
Hear now the scripture of the battle between the young shepherd boy David, secretly anointed king, and the pro-football player linebacker-sized battle-tested Goliath:
Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle, and there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants, but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. David was the youngest (son of Jesse); the three eldest followed Saul (into battle.) David rose early in the morning, and came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line. Goliath came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him. David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 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.” David said, “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.” So Saul said to David, “Go and may the Lord be with you!” Saul clothed David with his armor. (David) tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to (it.) Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these, for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then David … chose five smooth stones….and his sling was in his hand and he drew near to the Philistine. 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. But David said to the Philistine, “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 defiled.” David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistines on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.”
There are all sorts of examples in the sports’ world of the little guys beating the big guys – Even this latest NBA Final had the huge superhero LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers losing to the smaller, but quicker, Golden State Warriors – An example of how a small team can beat the most talented giant.
So we know it can happen in the world, but let’s consider what David understood about himself: Saul tries to make him into someone he isn’t – Literally weighing him down with a heavy suit of armor and unwieldy weaponry. Of course Saul is trying to help – The entire future of the kingdom of Israel is at stake, carried on this small shepherd boy’s untested shoulders. But David literally cannot move. That is not who he is, and he takes it off.
What is one thing you wish you could change about yourself? What is one thing that you see as a great weakness? Think about it for a moment: Is it your temper? A weakness in your body? Your patience – Or rather, lack thereof? How much you drink? Or eat? Your efforts to control things? How would you finish this sentence: I wish I …… or I wish I weren’t …. Anyone willing to share?
Personally, I wish I weren’t so intense. I embarrass myself sometimes, with how intense I come across – I know I communicate extreme emotions that I’m not really feeling – Or, sometimes, that I am feeling but I wish I weren’t wearing so brilliantly on my sleeve. I would not make a good spy, or politician. I have lived long enough and am introspective enough to realize this intensity is not attractive, and it gets me into trouble, and its not how I want to be in the world. And honestly it’s just one of a list of things I’ve gone round and round about with God – Understand, this is not what God would actually say to me, but what I sometimes think God would like to say to me: Me: God, I wish I were calmer! God: Yes, that would be nice, wouldn’t it. Me: I would be a better person if I didn’t get so worked up. God: Yeah, and people would like you more. I’d like you more. Me: My intensity probably gets in the way sometimes, doesn’t it. God: You would sure be a better disciple if you would just calm down. Me: Hey, wait just a minute here, God – Didn’t you form me in my mother’s womb? Didn’t you make me this way? I didn’t just up and decide one day, “Wow – it would be so much fun to have so many soapboxes that I just jump from one to the other!” I think you need to take a little bit of the responsibility here, Creator of all.”
But then, let’s look again at David: He turned his greatest weaknesses into strengths, all by trusting that God has his back – That God was on his side. Lack of battlefield experience – Check. Lack of armor – Check. Small, undersized, unnoticed, under-estimated? Check.
I am not saying that what we’d like to change doesn’t need to change – My intensity cuts off communication; maybe your temper threatens your relationships or your loved ones’ sense of security and safety. Maybe your impatience drives up your blood pressure and your efforts to control makes those around you miserable.
But, but – Could there be a gift in these supposed burdens and flaws we carry? Franciscan priest Richard Rohr puts it this way: “We don't come to God by doing it right. We come to God by doing it wrong. If we come to God by being perfect, no one is going to come to God. It is in doing it wrong, being rejected, and experiencing pain that we are lead to total reliance upon God. … God has let me do just about everything wrong, so I could fully experience how God can do everything so utterly right."
We live in a world where everyone wants to be perfect – Some standard out there that not only is unattainable, it is egotistical. Think about this: Why do you want to be perfect? What would it mean to you? That you would never hurt anyone again? That you would be secure in yourself? That God would love you? That no one would dislike you? By all measures, Goliath was THE perfect warrior – Huge, experienced, protected, strong. All things he could point to and say “I did that.” By all measures, David was far, far from perfect: Weak. Inexperienced. Naïve. Small. Ignorant. And yet when he walked away the victor from that battle, he knew it wasn’t him at work – It was God.
Richard Rohr goes on: “In a world where imperfection seems to be everywhere, the humble and honest have a huge head start in spiritual matters and can first and always find God in their … lives.”
That pretty much sums up this entire first, and second, book of Samuel – The accounts of the first kings of Israel. Every single prophet, then every single king, blew it; got arrogant, got proud, tried to cover insecurity and mistakes and flaws with conceit and self-importance. And their mistakes were not small – The more power, the more widespread the damage – But it was only King David who kept going back to God. The King who began as a shepherd, as the baby in the family. He lost his way, and others lost their lives because of his arrogance. But he always came back to the one who made him. Richard Rohr, again, “The quickest ticket to heaven, enlightenment, or salvation is calmly acknowledge littleness. Then you have nothing to prove, to protect, or to promote. You are already at home …."
Goliath makes fun of the Israelites’ God, and of course – He is so strong and powerful, he doesn’t need the Divine. He has learned to show no weakness, no vulnerability, no need. David says, “God has saved me from the paw of the bear and the paw of the lion; I trust God will hold me close in this battle as well.” Every day is a battle. Every day, we are told we are not enough; we don’t do enough; we aren’t strong enough, competent enough, smart enough, good enough. Every day the world points out to us – and we believe it – all the ways we don’t measure up. David knew he didn’t measure up, and he didn’t worry about it. He trusted God. ee cummings puts it this way: To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” I would rephrase it to say: The hardest battle is between you and your trust and dependence on God. We are far from perfect; that is honestly how God made us, for every day we are reminded that without God, we are as doomed as Goliath, no matter how strong our protective armor, our shield, our weapons, our spirits, our bodies, our will. Come to this day, and every day, calling on the Lord of hosts to hold you fast, in Christ.