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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 06/24/2012

The story of David and Goliath is probably the one David story that everyone knows.  It’s another one of those Bible stories or phrases that gets referenced in popular culture and when anyone hears it they know what it means.  You get it a lot in sports, the NCAA basketball tournament for example when some little school that’s never on TV plays one of the power schools from one of the power conferences and it’s touted as a David vs. Goliath match up.  Up here you get it in hockey when Northern or Tech plays someone like Michigan or Michigan State and everyone’s happy if David wins (unless you’re from one of those Goliath schools) but again, if someone mentions David vs. Goliath, everyone knows what that means. 

It is a classic story, but it is more than just an underdog story of a boy and his slingshot challenging a big bad bully.  That may be how you learned it in Sunday School and for Sunday School that’s OK; but there’s more going on so as I’ll do with some of these stories this summer, we’ll engage in a little Bible study as part of the sermon and maybe get at some aspects of the story that you hadn’t thought about very much.

First of all it’s much more of a character study than it is an action story because there really isn’t much action.  The actual battle happens in the final two verses that were read this morning as David takes a stone, puts it in his slingshot, flings it at Goliath and that’s that.  In the next couple of verses David does run Goliath through with a sword and cut of his head just to make sure so there is a little more action but I guess those who put together the lectionary thought that was a little too gruesome for you to hear on a summer Sunday morning.

In contrast to the limited description of action, there is rather significant development of the main characters.  There is quite a bit of description concerning Goliath, which I think adds to the Sunday School fascination with the story.  Kids want to know, just how big was he?  How much did his armor weigh? things which don’t really have all that much to do with the story other than to tell us he was a big, scary guy.  Maybe more relevant to the story is Goliath’s attitude, as he was basically an arrogant, trash talking bully.

In case you were wondering though, a height of six cubits and a span would be about nine foot, nine, truly a giant.  But…earlier manuscripts had him at four cubits and a span which would be more in the neighborhood of seven feet which with the size of today’s athletes doesn’t seem so off the charts, but I can tell you, having stood within a few feet of Wilt Chamberlain many years ago, seven feet is pretty big and a little scary.  As far as Goliath’s armor goes, five thousand shekels would be about 125 pounds, the head of his spear at six hundred shekels would be about 15 pounds.

All of this of course is to make a contrast between Goliath and David who was just a boy, still taking care of the sheep, not old enough to go into battle, his only role being to bring lunch to the big guys, the men who were really men as opposed to David who was just a delivery boy.  The narrator doesn’t really tell us how big or small David was but you get something of an idea when Saul finally agrees to let David take a shot at defeating Goliath and then tries to dress him up in armor to the point where David could barely move.  You think of a little brother putting on big brother’s football equipment and maybe looking cute but falling down under the weight and cumbersomeness of it; that’s David.

David and Goliath are the two main characters but there are a couple of other’s to be aware of.  First of all there’s Saul.  When Israel asked for a king, Saul was the first one chosen but he had fallen into disfavor with the Lord and that’s when David was anointed.  But at the time of the confrontation with Goliath Saul is still king; we know David is on the horizon, but the way these stories are put together, it seems like Saul doesn’t know that.  In any case, Saul is still king and in this episode he’s not a very good king.  He’s mostly afraid; afraid of the Philistines, afraid of Goliath, afraid to act. 

Then there is Eliab, David’s oldest brother who we might have logically expected to be anointed as the next king if the next king was to be one of Jesse’s sons; he’s the oldest, he should be the one.  But no; David was selected and in this story, Eliab is mostly mad, not mad at not being chosen as king because like Saul, according to this part of the story he doesn’t seem to know that; Eliab is mad at David for making him look bad, mad at David for showing up and saying “I’m not afraid; I’ll deal with this Philistine,” which of course exposes the rest of them, including Eliab, as cowards.

So that sets the stage, we know the characters and we know the outcome, but to get at what this is really about, apart from just being a good story, we have to pay attention to what David says.  First he speaks to Saul and in his speech he introduces another character who everyone else seems to have forgotten about.  “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”  The Lord, who had been left on the sidelines, is back in play. 

This is the first time in this story that the Lord has been named.  David had previously mentioned “the living God” but this is the first time the Lord, L-O-R-D in capital letters in your bulletin, is named and of course that’s significant.  For Saul, the Lord winds up being an afterthought as he responds to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you,” but there’s an “oh yeah, I forgot about him” quality in Saul’s response.  Not so David; for him the Lord is not an afterthought but a living presence in his life.

That’s what separates David from other characters in this story.  He’s more than just a scrappy underdog because he recognizes that there is a reality that goes beyond the facts on the ground that only have to do with flexing the muscles of power whatever they might be.  David recognizes a reality and a truth that runs counter to arrogance and violence.  It’s not a tale of non-violence though is it?  We have to be careful not to take it there.  David defeats Goliath, and it does involve violence.  David isn’t a pacifist in this story and I don’t think he ever is.

The difference of David in this story is that unlike the rest of Israel, he continued to hold on to the Lord as active and involved in the affairs of his people.  The rest of them had been frightened into submission by a vision of the world that only had room for the strong and powerful.  Faced with the power of Goliath and the Philistines they had pretty much forgotten about who they were as the Lord’s people.  But the vision of the Lord always includes care of the weak and the vulnerable; there is a place for them and David’s difference in this story is that he continued to trust that the Lord would provide for him as one of the weak and vulnerable.  His trust was in the subversive power of the Lord’s truth. 

There is a lot going on in this story about faith and trust in the Lord but still, it may be that for the people of Israel who first heard it, this story functioned much as it does when we teach it to Sunday School kids today, mostly a lesson about encouragement at those times when you face what seem to be insurmountable odds.  It’s a good lesson, and it’s helpful as long as challenging the odds includes courageously sticking to what you know is the truth rather than just becoming another version of the oppression you’re facing, rather than just becoming another Goliath.

This is a story about courage and faith against the odds, but even with that and even though David wins this battle, we know the Davids of the world don’t always win, they doesn’t usually win.  In the history of the world, Goliath has a better winning percentage.  The moral of the story isn’t “trust in the Lord and you’ll always win,” the moral is “trust in the Lord.”

There still may be storms to face and defeat to deal with, but then there’s today’s gospel.  The disciples were afraid, caught in a great storm until Jesus reminded them that he was still in the boat with them.  He’s with us in the midst of the storms, he’s with us in defeat and he can and does transform those times.  His story, which is our story, is one of bringing new life and hope out of brokenness.  Jesus is still in the boat and with him there’s always hope.  With David, we can trust in the Lord. 

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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