David and Goliath

We went old-school this Sunday and considered the story of David and Goliath. This is one of those stories we mostly just tell to kids and then abandon as adults. But it’s a great story, and definitely not just for kids. It wrestles with all sorts of adult themes, not to mention feeling a bit like an episode of Game of Thrones at the end, what with all the beheading.

In worship we acted the story out as a congregation–there will be a link to that recording over on the church website in the next day or two. In the meantime, some thoughts on the grown-up themes of David and Goliath are below.

Such a fun story, isn’t it? No wonder we love telling this story to kids.

It’s not just for kids, though. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

This story wrestles with very grown-up questions. How do we face unwinnable battles? And what if we’re not big enough or smart enough or strong enough or good enough for whatever the day holds? What are we scared of? What strikes fear in our hearts, and keeps us up at night? And how do we deal with it?

We don’t always think of those as religious questions, or faith questions. None of the Israelites thought that Goliath was a theological problem. He was just a flesh and blood scary dude.

So David sounded kind of ridiculous when he showed up and asked a spiritual question: what do you mean you’re not going to fight Goliath? Goliath is not God, and he’s over there claiming to be. Let’s go show him what’s what.

Goliath’s not God. If there is one thing that gives David courage, it’s this. Goliath is not God. So really, ultimately, what is there to fear?

But for the Israelites, the ones standing on that hill, listening to him taunt them each day, Goliath might as well have been God. He has become their all-consuming reality. He starts and ends the day. They’ve lost sight of anything else. He had become their god.

We usually think about idols as things or people we adore. That’s how coveting works, right? We look at our neighbors and think, if we could just have what they have, it’s so beautiful, and so shimmery, then we’d finally be happy. We idolize the stuff, forgetting that happiness comes from God, not stuff.

Goliath reminds us that we can also make idols of the things we fear.

When our fears define our reality, shape our lives, narrow our vision and constrict our hearts, chances are we have a Goliath on our hands.

For those men on that hill, Goliath shaped everything. Those men were already, in a very real way, no longer servants of God, but servants of Goliath—feeling what he wanted them to feel, doing what he wanted them to do, limited to the reality he offered.

I wonder who or what is Goliath for us today? What fears do we let define us?

I wonder if money, and the fear of its scarcity, is a Goliath for any of us. When we begin to believe that some amount of money will secure our future, and give us a good life, we become preoccupied with hanging on to what we have at all costs, and accumulating more and more. When the fear of not having enough becomes the motivating factor behind what we do and think and feel, we have stopped worshiping God, and started bowing to Goliath.

I also wonder if our cultural conviction that violence will ultimately keep us safe is another way we worship Goliath. The Israelites were pretty sure that might needed to be met by might. Do we also believe that? Are we, deep down inside, convinced that we really had better get them before they get us—no matter who the them is? Does some part of us believe that pursuing security, personal or national, at any cost, is worth it? When our trust in the ways of war exceeds our trust in the promises of our God, chances are we’re worshiping Goliath.

And, I wonder if the fear of dying is the Goliath that taunts us most personally. It is, of course, part of being finite creatures to be aware of, saddened by, and humbled by our mortality. But when the fear of our limits creeps in and begins to define us, when it takes the shape of neuroses or anxieties or addictions that feed death in the midst of life, when our lives are nagged by fear and our days dogged by dread, when we lose sight of the promises of the Living God, the Author of Life, perhaps we’ve joined the Israelites bowing in front of Goliath.

Goliath’s power, of course, is that it seems completely obvious that he’s going to win. Everyone can see that.

David, though, shows up, just a kid, and has the innocence and the foolhardiness to really believe that God will have God’s way. And since Goliath is not God, well then, we should be able to beat Goliath, right?

Everyone thought he was crazy for this. Maybe he was crazy.

Maybe a bit of crazy is necessary when we’re facing Goliath.

David was foolhardy. He was also faithful. Sometimes foolhardiness is the only faithful choice. When the wisdom of the world leads us away from trust in God, then we are called to be fools.

Thankfully, God can work with crazy, and foolish. And, a whole host of other limitations.

David was not just foolhardy. He was also scrawny, ill equipped and inexperienced. Pretty much all he had going for him was his trust in God to make a way out of no way.

And that trust was enough to overcome all the reasonable, nagging doubts that must have been in the back of his mind, things like: that guy is at least three of me, and his spear alone is bigger than my biceps, and I don’t know what I’m doing.

So often we’re so familiar with our own shortcomings that we sit out the game entirely. God can’t possibly use me—I’m not nearly good enough. My two cents, my harebrained idea, my little offering, aren’t nearly strong enough or strategic enough to matter.

But God used David just as he was. Saul’s impulse was to dress him up like Goliath, paper over all his inadequacies, and send him out mimicking the very one he intended to defeat.

But God didn’t need David to become something other than the boy he was—small, innocent, and ill-equipped. It turned out that being small made David nimble, being foolish made him brave, and a little stone was all it took to find a chink in Goliath’s massive armor.

In God’s hands what seems to be nothing is everything, foolishness is wisdom, and weakness strength.

All that David really brought to the field that day was a trust that God is God, and a willingness to be used by God. Even today that’s all God asks of us.

As we face those fears that nag and dog our steps, we do not have to be superheroes, mighty in strength, wise and virtuous. As we face those people and things who counsel hopelessness, greed, and hate as the ways of the world, as we face the fear of not having enough, not being enough, as we face our fear of being unsafe, of losing all we love, God does not ask us to have it all figured out, and be paragons of righteousness. We need only a bit of trust that the one who promises is faithful, and that we, even we, can be in God’s hands instruments of love and peace and healing.

Because our God is not the God of common sense who choses the likely suspects.

Our God is the God who used an elderly, infertile couple to be the ancestors of a mighty family of faith.

Our God is the God who chose a murderer and stutterer to stand up to Pharaoh and lead the people out of slavery.

Our God is the God who asked a poor, unmarried girl to bear divinity into the world.

Our God is the one who came to us not in glory, but as a child, weak and helpless.

Our God is the one who faced hunger and poverty, betrayal and shame.

Our God is the one who died, and in that foolishness, the very foolishness of the cross, opened for us the doors of new life, defeating death forever, and giving to us a kingdom that can never perish.

Friends, if this sounds crazy and awfully unlikely, it is. But then, so is our God. And thank goodness.

This is our story and our song. We know a strength made perfect in weakness. We know a wisdom that delights in folly. We know of a shepherd who walks with us through the darkest valleys and brings us out to a feast of abundance. We know that there is more here than meets the eye.

And some world-wise voices will say that the way things are, is how they always have been, and always will be. But we know that the God who was and is and ever shall be is right now, this very minute bringing a new creation into our midst.

And that God calls us, even us, broken, flawed, too small, too foolish, too weak, calls us to be part of this new creation, to trust in the way of Jesus, to be peacemakers, hope-bringers, miracle workers.

May we dare to say yes, the way David did, trusting that God will be with us, bringing life from death, plenty in a land of scarcity, healing to the broken, and peace to the land. May it so be.

by Sarah W. Wiles
June 24, 2012
Bethany Presbyterian Church
Tacoma, WA
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