I Samuel 17:19-24, 41-49, John 14:8-14
June 25, 2006
This story we have today is one of the most appealing stories in the whole Bible! Isn’t it? It makes us feel good. Because this is a story of “small town boy makes good.” This is the underdog coming from behind to win. This is the short skinny kid becoming the fighter ace. This is the shy, quite girl becoming CEO of a fortune 500 company. This is the ’69 Mets. This is the wimpy guy, George McFly, decking the class bully Biff Tanner with one punch in “Back to the Future.”
Here, the shepherd boy stands before the Giant, with just a sling and a stone. He prevails, and yet another Bible story becomes a metaphor for life. This story is synonymous with those who overcome their fears, and stand strong in the midst of adversity, even when facing great odds.
This Philistine was big. Yet his size and strength were not his only weapons. One of his chief weapons, was fear. Goliath didn’t just stand there looking formidable and menacing. He taunted the Israelites. Actually, taunting an enemy before battle was an essential part of warfare in those days. And it continued down through the ages. When the Assyrians besieged Jerusalem in the time of Isaiah, they sent their man up on the wall cry out against them and to tell them they had no chance. The purpose was to strike fear in the hearts of the Israelites, and to take away their hope. When the French soldiers taunted King Arthur from the castle in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” they did so with a certain amount of historical accuracy. (Not calling Arthur’s mother a Hamster!)
Fear is a huge enemy isn’t it? Fear is a foe as great as a Goliath. And we all have fear. That’s what makes this story so appealing. David stood before the giant “with just a sling and a stone, surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors, shaking in their armor…” (“The Voice of Truth” – Casting Crowns) Fear is the great foe. And it can be a foe quite beyond many of us. Fear can defeat us before we start anything. It can intimidate us. It can paralyze us. It can keep us from taking any action.
In Tolkien’s classic story “The Hobbit,” little Bilbo Baggins was making his way down the secret tunnel towards the dragon’s lair. And he stopped. “Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.” (The Hobbit,” p 193) Bilbo fought the greatest battle in that tunnel – with fear. In a time of great fear in this nation, Franklin Roosevelt told the people “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
What strikes fear in our hearts? What does fear keep us from doing? Are we ever paralyzed with fear like the armies of Israel? Or do we stand before the giant? And I’m not talking about being in terror. Sometimes our fear is subtle and just shows itself in inactivity or even reluctance.
Fear is something the Bible talks about a lot. In the RSV, the word fear occurs 303 times. Think about the fear associated with Holy Week. Jesus’ disciples became afraid when the soldiers came to arrest him. and they all scattered and ran. Even Peter, the disciple who brashly pledged he would die with Jesus if necessary, denied before a servant girl that he even knew Jesus. Even after the resurrection, the disciples were still in hiding for fear that they were next.
When I read this story for today, I have to wonder. Was David afraid? Remember again that we have the best perspective in these stories. We know how this all turned out. We know David would win. And he would become the greatest king in the history of Israel. But I wonder what he knew at the time. I wonder how he felt. I’ll bet David was afraid, no matter how defiantly he stood there. The difference is that he overcame that fear.
What do we fear? Do we ever picture ourselves standing before the giant with the warriors behind us shaking in their armor? What is our Goliath? Is it the unknown? Do we fear that which is “out of the ordinary?” Do we fear change? Many of us do. We fear things that our “out of our control.” And when we fear, what do we do about it? How do we handle our fear? That’s the important thing. Sometimes it’s hard isn’t it?
There’s a lot of fear in our world. There are those who promote it. There are those who would seek to motivate people by fear. Frankly I’m tired of that. Personally, I wish we would get back to motivating people by inspiration. I wish elections leaned more toward people saying, “Vote for our candidate because he’s going to do good in such and such a way.” Instead we hear too much of, “Vote against the other guy because of these terrible things that will happen if you do.”
What did David do about his fear? I really believe he had fear that day, but he overcame that fear. As he listened to this Philistine taunting the army of Israel – and God – David became angry. And in his case, that righteous anger gave him power to overcome his fear. It made him want to answer the challenge of Goliath, when no one else could.
Now, I’m not suggesting we use anger against our fears – though it can be a great motivator, can’t it? I think it’s the “righteous” part “righteous anger” that’s the important thing. Sometimes knowing what’s right in the sight of God makes us strong enough to stand. In that song “The Voice of Truth,” the writer suggests that there are different voices inside of us. There’s the one that calls out to us like the giant, “reminding us of all the times we’ve tried before and failed.” That’s the one that keeps us paralyzed, that keeps us “shaking in our armor.” But the voice of truth – the voice of God – says “be not afraid, for I am with you.” That’s the one David listened to. That’s the one we need to listen to.
As I said there are many places in the Bible that deal with fear. This is a big subject! There are so many passages in the Bible that talk about fear, whether they use the word or not. Many, many places we read about God as our strength, our rock, our fortress, a bulwark against our enemies.
I don’t know if you remember it, but there was a movement at one time to “de-emphasize” such things in our faith. People wanted to remove all references to warfare in our hymns. They took out of hymnals, or worse, changed the words to such songs as “Onward Christian Soldiers” and our last one for today – one of my favorites – “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” They would say, “We should be talking about the Love of God, not all that stuff about conflict and war.”
I think that’s wrong. And I cringe when I think about the ways I’ve seen some of those hymn words changed! I think we need to recognize the fears in our world. I think we need to meet them head on. We need to grab our sling and stand defiantly before the giant! Interestingly enough, the people who have said that we should concentrate on “God’s Love” were actually on the right track. One of the places where Paul talks about fear he says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18) That’s a great message!
The way that happens is that we learn to rely on God’s great love for us. And we hold on to that when we face our fears. That’s what David did. He knew that one of the most important things about God’s love was his promise to be with us. Jesus said, “in the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And of course meant “I will be with you in the world.”
David let God be his strength that day! It was a lesson he would learn over and over again. In the Psalms he would write the words we used for our Call to Worship. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1) Do we do that? Do we let God be the stronghold of our lives?
There is an important perspective in that, isn’t there? There is a comparison between the strength we have in having God on our side, and the strength of the things we fear. When we understand that God is our light and our salvation, we get that perspective. Then, with David we can ask ourselves, “Whom shall I fear?” You see, the fears are not gone. They have been “put into perspective.” And I think we need that perspective often. If we choose to ignore the fears and “only talk about God’s love,” we might miss it entirely. But if we face the fears and then compare them to the exceeding greatness of God being our light and our salvation, then we can get that perspective.
So, as we think of David standing before the giant, with just a sling and a stone, we might think of our own giants. And as we do, we can remember, as David did, that God is our light and our salvation. We can choose to listen to that voice of truth within us, the one that tells us not to be afraid, for as Jesus told his disciples, “I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
Eternal God, we thank you that you are the stronghold of our lives. Help us to live our lives as bold disciples. Help us to rely on you to avoid the fears that surround us. Teach us the discipline of love, that we may stand before the giants of our world, knowing that you have overcome the world. This we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.