1 Samuel 17:32-49 by Doug Gunkelman

Before we left last week on our pilgrimage of Dixieland music, I checked a book out of our Divinity library to read along the way. In the front of the book is the “Twiggs-Havel” Library sticker that says “In honor of Dick’s 80th birthday – given by Olga Retsch.”

The title is “A Table in the Presence” by Lt. Carey Cash, chaplain U.S. Marines. “The dramatic account of how a U.S. Marine experienced God’s presence amidst the chaos of the war in Iraq.”

I got to thinking about why Olga would choose this book to honor Dick. I want to share 3 paragraphs of one experience as the Marine battalion entered the outskirts of Baghdad in April, 2003…

Separating children from their parents is nothing new. There are certainly parallels between this book’s story and Dick and Olga’s story. Olga shared with me her story of being forced into a labor camp during W.W. II, being forced to walk naked for disinfection, and surviving on one loaf of bread per week and potatoes. A 17 year old girl. She said, “Hunger is a horrible thing.” This book helps us remember that history repeats itself and we need to confront evil knowing God is with us.

David shows up in the name of the Lord on the front lines of a battle with the Philistines. He knows God is with him.

A gigantic Philistine warrior named Goliath strode out into the valley of Elah between his army and that of the Israelites, and made the army of King Saul sick to its stomach by taunting them and challenging someone, anyone, to face him in single combat -- mano a mano. Nobody -- not even King Saul -- dared to go down and face this monster.

It would take a different sort of person to deal with the problem. Enter the young man David, who was probably a teenager at the time and not old enough to even suit up for battle alongside his brothers and his countrymen. We know how the story goes: David will go out to meet Goliath armed with only five smooth stones and a sling, but what we don't often consider is the process that David goes through to save his people from ruin. Just like those five stones, there are five steps we can take to deal with any sort of stomach-churning problem in our lives.

  1. Identify the problem. For the soldiers of Israel, Goliath was clearly the problem for which they had no answer. His daily taunts had made them all the more afraid, and none of them were willing to put themselves on the line to deal with the threat.

But David identified the problem as being not so much a giant called Goliath but rather the fear within the ranks of God's own people. No one stepped up to take on Goliath. The situation was so dire that the king offered to "greatly enrich" the man who would go down into the valley of Elah to face the Philistine warrior. The king even offered to "make his family free in Israel." And a royal daughter was thrown in, too (v. 25).

David knew that the real issue was that no one around him seemed to recognize that they were part of "the armies of the living God" (v. 26). The problem wasn't with the nasty looking dude down in the valley, but with their faith and confidence in God.

So often when we look at a problem, like immigration problems, we're apt to make a giant out of it and consider all the ways that it can defeat us. The more we focus on that person or that issue, the bigger it seems to grow in our minds. The reality is that the solution to the problem begins with identifying the source of the fear. Ultimately, the only thing we can ever control is ourselves and our reaction to a particular problem. In any given situation we need to ask, "What is pushing my buttons or causing my fear?" Once we identify what's going on that makes us tremble, we can then deal with the problem.

David looked at Goliath and saw not a problem but an opportunity to enhance his own reputation and, even more so, the reputation of God (v. 26). He was "a man after God's own heart" and, as such, David was confident that he could deal with Goliath, despite all evidence to the contrary (13:14; Acts 13:22).

We can be confident, too, knowing that we have God on our side no matter what problem we face.

  1. Draw on your experience. David was able to draw on his own experience with the weapons of a shepherd and the power of God when considering the task ahead. Out there in the fields near Bethlehem, David had killed lions and bears when they went after the lambs of his flock, which meant he was familiar with the weaponry and knew how to use it against a stronger opponent. But David also had experience with God, who had saved him "from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear" and would now save him "from the hand of this Philistine."

Whatever problem you are facing, you have some experience to draw upon. Where have you faced this issue in the past? How were you delivered? How did God intervene to help?

And if this particular Goliath is outside of your realm of expertise, then don't hesitate to bring in someone with the relevant experience to help, be it a counselor, a friend, a Stephen Minister, or a group like AA. Ask God to bring you a team of people to provide you with their experience.

David may have looked like he was "just a boy" while Goliath had been "a warrior from his youth," but looks can be deceiving (v. 33). Focus on the experience you have rather than on the qualifications you don't!

  1. Sort out the superfluous. King Saul, who was supposed to be a mighty warrior, tried to give David his armor to help him go out and do what the king should have done himself. David tried it on, but he found it to be more of a hindrance than a help. "I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them," he said to the king (v. 39). He went with the basics instead: his trusty staff and sling, along with five smooth stones (v. 40).

In the face of any problem, it's tempting to want to pay attention to details and play out lots of different scenarios. Such thinking can cause a swirl of confusion, rather than dealing with the basics one step at a time. David chose not to add more confusion to the problem, but went with what he knew and relied on his skills. He didn't need elaborate, fancy and complicated -- but useless -- armor.

The best strategy for us in the face of a challenge is to sort out the superfluous information and stick to what we know we can do, leaving the rest to God.

  1. Don't listen to negativity. Seeing a young teenager coming at him with a stick and sling, the gigantic warrior Goliath engaged in some serious trash talk (vv. 42-44).

David refused to give in to Goliath's appraisal. He had armor that Goliath knew nothing about -- the name of the Lord of hosts (v. 45).

When problems arise, it's easy for us to pay attention to the negative voices within and without. David worked on the problem rather than quivering in his sandals like the rest of the Israelites. He had spent most of his time listening to God out there in the fields alone with the sheep, and it was the voice of God that no doubt steadied him there in the valley of Elah.

If we're going to deal with that problem head on, we need to listen to the right voice!

  1. Trust God for the result. David's response to Goliath is telling. Notice that David doesn't seem to believe that the result is up to him; rather, he says, "This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand ... so that all the earth will know there is a God in Israel, and that this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's and he will give you into my hand" (vv. 46-47).

People of God know that God can take any situation, even the most negative, and work it out for his glory. David believed that truth throughout his life, even in the dark days when he wrestled with the results of his own sin. He presented what he had that day in the valley: himself, his trusted weapons, but even more, his faith in God. He trusted God for the results and God delivered.

The Goliaths in our lives present a formidable challenge, but we don't have to face them alone. God is with us, and while we should do our best to prepare to slay these giants, we ultimately trust God for the result, knowing that whatever happens will be for his glory not for our glory.