Title: David and Goliath
Date: June 21, 2009
Texts: I Sam 17:32-49, Mk 4:35-41
Author: Isaac Villegas
I used to play a lot of soccer growing up. I was part of a club team, which basically means High School soccer wasn’t good enough for us. We played all year round, traveling all over the country for tournaments. A lot of the teams we played were pretty wealthy—like the teams from California. Some of them even had sponsors—not just local sponsors, but also companies like Nike. So they would run across the field with fancy Nike soccer shoes, and sparkling new jerseys.
They had all the gear. Matching warm-up suits and bags. They even had warm up jerseys. My team had nothing like that. Nike didn’t really care about teams in Tucson, Arizona. So we always looked like a bunch of rag tag amateurs.
I remember going to one of the big regional tournaments in Phoenix. There were teams from all over the place. We showed up to the field about 45 minutes before the game to warm up. We set our bags down along the side of the field, put on shoes—some wearing Addidas, some Diadora, some Umbro, some Nike. And we put on our jerseys and started kicking the ball around on the field and stretching.
Then we saw our competitors approach the field. They sparkled. They walked in formation, two lines, side by side, matching bags over their shoulders, all wearing the same Nike shoes. They reached the sideline of the field and lined up their bags in a perfect row. Just before the game began, they all changed out of their impressive warm ups and put on their top of the line home jerseys. They were ready for war. We just stared at them, entranced.
With all their finest gear, they were Goliath. And we were David, looking like we didn’t belong on the same field. I can’t remember if we performed as well as David. I doubt it. We couldn’t go back home and impress the locals with another story of the victory of the underdog.
That has to be what David and Goliath is all about—the victory of the underdog. Against all odds, David wins. When we read this passage from First Samuel, you can almost hear the Israelite militia-men going back home and telling the story to the country folk: Our shepherd boy David fought a giant, he was 8 feet tall… no probably at least 9 feet—the biggest man I’d ever seen. And his bronze armor must have weighed 100lbs, no, maybe 150lbs. You should have seen him. What a sight! (I Sam 17:4-7)
The story is told in such a way as to emphasize David’s slim odds in beating Goliath. First of all, he’s just a kid—“you are just a boy,” Saul says (v. 33). Then there’s that part about how Saul wanted to play dress up with David. He loads David up with heavy armor—a bronze helmet, a coat of mail, and Saul’s very own sword (vv. 38-39).
But David doesn’t want it. He isn’t a warrior; he isn’t a king like Saul; he’s just a shepherd. David won’t be something he isn’t. He’s a man with integrity; he won’t fake it. So, if you’re looking for a lesson here for your life, it’s probably something like don’t be what you’re not. If you’re a shepherd, be proud of being a shepherd. Don’t try to act the part others want you to play. You don’t have to be someone’s dress up doll. David rejects what Saul is trying to turn him into.
David leaves behind the fancy warrior wardrobe, picks up his trusted shepherd staff and slingshot. He stops by the riverbank and picks up a few rocks. Then he goes to fight Goliath, who is armed with the latest and greatest technological weaponry.
I think we should make this more contemporary. Here’s what David and Goliath would look like for us today. Let’s say that Mennonites get really mad at the United States government. We get plain tired of their blasphemy—their constant attempt to play God with nuclear weapons, their treatment of money and the economy as if they were God, especially putting God’s name on their currency. I’m sure there are plenty of other things.
Anyhow, so the Mennonites decide it’s time to defend God against such blasphemy. We decide it is finally time to go to war against those scoundrels in D.C. and all the military installations throughout this beautiful land. We put the word out to all the Mennonite communities: it’s time for war. Ohio is our headquarters. Mennonites come from everywhere with their weapons—Canadian farmers as far as Manitoba hop on their tractors and combines and head for Ohio. The Mennonites communities in Mexico send their best horses and riders. And we head up to Ohio with Steve’s trailer, filled with nail guns and hammers, and maybe some shovels and pitchforks from the garden.
We’re ready for war. Our troops, armed with pitchforks and nail guns and shovels, riding horses and combines and tractors, face down the U.S. armed forces, with their tanks and their Hum-vees and A-10 bombers and apache helicopters. No problem. Long-live the underdog! Farmer David against Goliath the war machine.
That’s one way to see how incredible this face-off between David and Goliath looks. There’s no chance in the world that David would win. Farming equipment isn’t a good match against tanks.
But the little guy wins in this story. The shepherd boy is victorious. He knocks Goliath down with a small stone. So, if we’re looking for a lesson for our lives, maybe it’s something like weakness wins. Just because someone has more power doesn’t mean that they will win. Technological sophistication doesn’t secure victory. To go back to my soccer days, our rag-tag team beat plenty of other teams who had the fanciest gear.
With God on our side, anything can happen.
But is that the case for this story? Is it a story about how God uses the weakest of weapons to strike down taunting enemies? Is it a story about how God puts a little divine umph into David’s sling, and how David has access to God’s ballistic guiding system?
Here’s where I get into trouble as I try to figure out how to preach this passage. I’ve been taught that the task of the preacher is to pay attention to what God is doing in the passage. And if I do that, I have a hard time picking up on what God might be up to. Where is God in the story? Usually when God wants something done, God shows up and tells the people what should be done.
So, for example, there’s the story of Noah. God shows up and tells Noah to build an ark and that’s what he does. Or there’s the story of God telling Joshua to march around Jericho for a while and then the whole city would be destroyed. But God is silent as David decides to take on Goliath.
We are told that David wants to know what he might get out of the deal before going off to fight Goliath. He asks in verse 26, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine…?” And when he hears about the reward (which includes marrying King Saul’s daughter, making the man a member of the royal family)—when David hears the reward, he decides to fight. What are David’s motives? It’s hard to say. We do know that he chooses to fight Goliath without any direction from God—at least the text doesn’t say anything about God.
Where is God in the story? Is David flying solo? Or is God his wing-man, invisible yet present, whispering in David’s ear commands that we don’t hear? After all, there is that passage in chapter 16 that says that “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon Dave from that day forward” (16:13).
So, does that mean we can expect that everything David does is ordained by God? Maybe. But what about that later episode where he commits adultery with Bathsheba and ends up killing her husband in an attempted cover-up? I think it’s safe to say that God doesn’t command people to commit adultery. Not everything David does is ordained by God.
All of this leaves me completely in the dark as I try to think through this David and Goliath story. I don’t know what to think. Maybe the storyteller leaves us in the dark for a reason. Maybe we are supposed to wonder why David does what he does without hearing a word from God.
Let’s forget about how David wants to know the reward for killing Goliath, and try to read David’s motives in the best possible light. Maybe he really is upset about how Goliath blasphemes the Lord. Maybe David is filled with righteous indignation as Goliath hurls insults against the God of Israel. So David fights in order to defend God.
So, here’s my question for us. Do we think God needs to be defended? Why in the world does a God who controls the winds and the storms, as we read about in the story from Mark, need people to defend his reputation? I mean, if Jesus can sleep through the threats of chaos at sea, why would God pay attention to some 9-foot Philistine warrior named Goliath?
Reading this story about David and Goliath makes me re-think my image of God. When I think about God, do I imagine a cosmic personality who gets offended when puny humans taunt him? What kind of God do I worship? Do I need to defend God? Can’t God take care of himself? Does God need my protection?
I don’t think that’s the right way to think about God. Because if Jesus shows us what God is like, then we encounter a God who is vulnerable, vulnerable to the point of death, to the point of going to a cross, silently, without offering a defense to his accusers or a rebuke to those who malign him. And, when they put him on the cross, Jesus doesn’t promise to return with a vengeance. No. He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
It seems to me like David has something to learn from Jesus. David could have gone down to that battlefield, stood before Goliath and prayed, with Jesus: God forgive this stupid man, because he has no idea what he’s saying.