Monday 13 February 2012

The servant king (1 Samuel 17)

This year Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, marking sixty years as the constitutional monarch over 16 sovereign states in the Commonwealth of Nations, which includes of course, the United Kingdom. Born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on 21 April 1926, Her Majesty the Queen is the second-longest reigning monarch in Britain, only after Queen Victoria (who reigned for sixty-three years till 1901).

As head of state, the Queen does (theoretically) have executive authority over the government in the United Kingdom, also known as her royal prerogative. However, such powers are limited by Parliament, which means that under the constitution, laws can be enacted to overrule the Queen. In practice, most of the Queen’s responsibilities are ceremonial and representational. She can bestow honours twice a year and appoint the next Prime Minister to office, but that’s about it.

The books of 1 and 2 Samuel focus on the establishment of the kingdom of Israel, and today’s passage in particular, 1 Samuel 17, asks the question, “Who is the true King of Israel?” Before this, there was no king. Such was the purpose of the book of Judges, which records the period of history prior to this, when the twelve tribes of Israel were scattered across the Promised Land, each locked in a constant never-ending struggle with the local inhabitants. Each time the Israelites were oppressed by the Canaanites, or the Philistines or the Amalekites or the Moabites, they would cry out to God in desperation and God would send them a judge – Rambo-like characters like Gideon, Ehud and Samson – these were military leaders who would be empowered by God to bring Israel victory against their oppressors in battle and in conflict. However, the judge would eventually die, Israel would lose heart and fall back into idolatry, and once things got really tough, God would have to send them another judge. Another saviour.

Now Samuel, after which the books 1 and 2 Samuel are named, was the last judge sent by God in this period of history (1 Samuel 7:15-17), the unique thing being that Samuel was both a judge and a prophet of God. But when he came along, the people of Israel said, “Hang on! It’s really good that God has used you to bring us victory against our enemies and everything. But how about giving us something a bit more… well, permanent!”

So in Chapter 8, when Samuel’s now an old man, and everyone can see that his own sons are downright useless and rebellious, the people of Israel go to Samuel with a request and say, “Now appoint us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5).

They wanted a king. They didn’t want to sit around waiting for God to send yet another judge, who knows when. No, they wanted a king now, “like all the nations”. What they were asking for was continuity. Stability. That is, a king would have sons, and his sons would carry on in his place as kings (something similar happens to Gideon in Judges 8:22).

But what did they mean when they said that they wanted a king “like all the nations”? We get an answer in the next chapter. In Chapter 9, Samuel tries to warn them that having a king would, in effect, mean enslavement to that king. The king would place demands upon them, and they would have no right to disobey. Unlike Queen Elizabeth II, this King of Israel would have complete sovereignty over his people with no parliament; no constitution to curb his powers.

Listen to their answer in verse 19 onwards.

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.
1 Samuel 9:19-20

That last line is key to understanding the opening verses of 1 Samuel 17: the king’s job is to go out and fight our battles. Because here we have a battle. Here, we see King Saul, the first king of Israel, leading his people into battle against their enemies. But in reality, what we see is King Saul, hiding from the battle. He doesn’t “go out and fight” their battles.

Someone else does that on Israel’s behalf. And he is Israel’s true King.

Three things I want us to see in today’s passage:
1. Know where the true battle lies (verses 1-11)
2. Know who your real king is (verses 12-30)
3. Know your God who holds the victory (verses 31-58)

1. Know where the true battle lies

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.
1 Samuel 17:1-3

The first bit is all about the enemy: the Philistines. These guys come up again and again in 1 Samuel. Yah, yah, I know it’s easy to get them mixed up with the other fellas Israel’s always in a skirmish with: what with all the Hivities, Perizzites and the Canaanites. But these guys, the Philistines, they are a real mean bunch. These guys are determined!

Back in Chapter 4, the Philistines were the guys who fought and defeated Israel in battle. But if you remember, it was that memorable incident where they got hold of the ark of God in Chapter 5. What happened next was quite funny, because God caused all kinds of havoc to fall on their city. Their idol statue of their god Dagon got smashed up. The people in the city of Ashdod got struck with all kinds of weird tumours and sickness. In the end, every one of the Philistine priests and kings got together and agreed: the ark of God had to go! So they sent it back to Israel in Chapter 6.

Next, when Samuel becomes judge, his very first fight was against the Philistines and he won a pretty big victory there in Chapter 7. In the process, Samuel was able to recapture several cities, “from Ekron to Gath” (1 Samuel 7:14). Now this is significant, because we later learn that Goliath was born in Gath, which is to say that Goliath probably had a score to settle with Israel.

When Saul became king, his most significant battle recorded at the beginning of his career was (again!) against the Philistines in Chapters 13 and 14. (Though actually, it was his son, Jonathan who was the real hero in leading the men into victory. Saul turned out to be a real jerk, trying to steal the glory from his own son.)

Now all this is to say that these guys don’t know how to give up! The Philistines had been defeated by Israel time and time again, under Samuel as judge, under Saul’s reign as king. But they kept coming back. Each time, they got tougher. Each time, they got more personal.

And this time, they were determined to show Israel who da man!

The chapter opens with the Philistine army encroaching on Israelite territory, “Socoh, which belongs to Judah.” They camped out in Israel’s backyard! That’s bad-ass!

In just the first two verses, we see a stark contrast between the opposing forces. The Philistines “gathered… for battle”. Saul and the Israelites, however, “were gathered”. One verb is in the active, the other, in the passive – meaning this: the Philistines knew what they were doing. Israel didn’t. The Philistines were ready for a fight. Saul and Israel had no choice but to defend themselves.

Saul wasn’t leading Israel into a battle. Both Saul and Israel were being led into confrontation by the enemy. We find out later that Israel basically just stayed there, for forty days, frozen – waiting for the enemy to make the first move.

Saul and all of Israel were afraid. What made it worse was this: they were afraid of one man. His name was Goliath.

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armour on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him.
1 Samuel 17:4-7

This guy was big! Three metres high and covered head to toe in bronze armour. He looked more like a Decepticon than a human being. His coat of mail alone was 5000 shekels. That’s 55 kilograms in weight – 11 huge bags of Japanese rice from Cho Mei – try wearing that on your chest all day! Goliath carried two pieces of weaponry – an iron spear that weighed 7 kilograms, and a large shield. The reason we know the shield was large was because he needed another person – a shield-bearer – just to carry it around!

Now term the ESV uses to describe Goliath of Gath is the word “champion” there in verse 4. But the word is literally “the man in between”. Now that’s significant. If you look back to verse 3, you see that Israel and the Philistines are camped out across one another, on two mountain ranges, with a valley “between them”. It was a gap separating the two forces. Goliath was the man who now stood in this gap, the champion who now stood “in between” the two camps.

Yet as menacing as it was to behold this bulked-up Yao Ming mutant on steroids, we soon find it out that it wasn’t so much what they saw, as it was what the Israelites heard from Goliath, that truly terrified them.

He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.”

When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
1 Samuel 17:8-10

Goliath’s challenge was this: Show me a man that I might fight him! Why bother with the large numbers? Just one man will do. We’ll settle it right here, right now. Just one-on-one. Winner takes all!
Well, actually Goliath said a bit more than that, if you look closely, especially at verse 8.

“Am I not (the, and not simply ‘a’ as found in most translations) Philistine, and are you not servants (or slaves) of Saul?” What is he saying? Goliath is claiming to be the true representative of his nation, the Philistines. His strength, his height, his courage says it all. He is the Philistine of Philistines! In contrast, the Israelites are nothing but slaves to the king. Already, Goliath is implying, there is no equal to be found amongst Israel’s ranks.

Furthermore, look at the wager he proposes in verse 9. “If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants (or slaves). But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants (or slaves) and serve us.” What is he saying? Either you win (but remain slaves to your king). Or you lose and become slaves to the Philistines. Either way, you are nothing but slaves!

Now think about it for a moment: Who was Goliath challenging to face him? Was he simply saying to them, “Let one of you come and face me, if he dares”? It wasn’t just anyone, was it? Who was supposed to fight Israel’s battles on their behalf? It was the job of the king. That’s what Israel asked for when they said to Samuel, “Give us a king like the nations.” Goliath wasn’t issuing an open invitation to any and every Israelite soldier. If anything he was mocking them as slaves, unworthy even of his attention. No, Goliath had just one man in mind. “Send in the king. Let me fight your king!”

Do you now see the significance of the response recorded in verse 11? When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. Israel was afraid. Saul also was afraid. He didn’t want to face that giant of a Goliath. How could he? Just look at him!

Now, before we do move on, I want you to notice something about the battle so far. Answer me this: Where is the true battle? Here we have a grand total of fifty-eight verses in what is possibly the most famous battle in all the bible – David and Goliath – and the action sequence only begins much later in verse 48; and lasts for only six verses. That’s it. Less than one-tenth of the passage is given to any fighting at all.
And yet I put it to you that the battle began from the very first verse. The Philistines had effectively invaded Israel right from the beginning. Yet for forty whole days, Israel did nothing but sit and wait for something to happen. Why? Because one man stood in between. Because Goliath, for forty days, stood between the two camps, and issued a challenge to the king. He didn’t have to use his spear. He didn’t have to raise his shield. All he did was open his mouth and fear descended upon the entire Israelite army.

Where is the true battle?

Israel stood frozen because they thought the battle had not yet begun. Not until swords were drawn. Not until trumpet was sounded. What Israel did not realise was that they were already being defeated.
Where is the true battle? It was in their hearts. Israel had lost all hope of winning the battle because they had lost all faith in their king. Saul had let them down. They were slaves to a useless, cowardly king. And soon they would be slaves to a fearsome enemy nation.

Let me ask you: Where are your battles fought? Most of you are probably going, “Me? Battles? This is the twenty-first century!”

There was a time when Christians would sing songs like “Onward Christian soldiers”, “Stand up! Stand up for Jesus!” or “Glory, glory! Hallelujah!” We don’t hear such songs anymore. They seem to have become out of style. The only one that comes close is the fairly recent one by the Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “O Church Arise” but aside from that, there doesn’t seem to be anything else that’s sung in our churches today. Yet, this is the reality in scripture, in both new and old testaments: The Christian life is a battle – a constant struggle – against sin, against death and against the devil.

Could it be, that the reason why you don’t see this, is because either your don’t know your bibles? Or worse, like Saul and the Israelite army in the Valley of Elah, you guys have already lost. Maybe that’s why you keep putting off getting baptised, or actually committing to a church, or reading your bible. Because you think: “The battle’s back in Singapore after I graduate. The battle only starts on the first day of work. The battle only starts after I get my degree.” Is that what you tell yourselves?

You don’t realise that the battle is right here. Right now. You don’t see that what you’ve done – either by your blindness or laziness – is this: You have made yourselves easy-pickings for the enemy.

2. Know who your real king is

Now thankfully, the passage doesn’t end there. Otherwise this would make for a truly depressing sermon application! Because next, we meet the hero of the story. We meet a young man named David.

Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. The three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest. The three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem. For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.
1 Samuel 17:12-16

Two important things are introduced here about David. Firstly, he was young. He had eight brothers, the three oldest brothers were in the army, they were there in the Valley of Elah with Saul, but David stayed at home because he was the youngest of all the brothers. So, the first piece of information we get about David is that he was young, probably too young for the army, and definitely the youngest amongst all his brothers.
But the second thing we learn is that he was responsible for his father’s sheep. Why that’s important, we’ll see very soon.

And Jesse said to David his son, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers. Also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See if your brothers are well, and bring some token from them.”
1 Samuel 17:17-18

One day, Dad sends David on an errand to find out how his three eldest sons were doing. It had been forty days since they went out to war with Saul. So Jesse tells his youngest son to pack some supplies (and to be sure to bring some goodies to curry favour with the Commanding Officer) in order to bring back some news. Verse 19 is probably still part of Jesse’s speech to young David, “Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the Valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines,” meaning, Jesse thinks that they were caught in a prolonged stand-off with the Philistine forces. He didn’t know that the whole bunch had been spending over the past month twiddling their thumbs and checking their Facebook statuses. However, David would soon see the real situation with his own eyes.

And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper and took the provisions and went, as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the encampment as the host was going out to the battle line, shouting the war cry. And Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. And David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage and ran to the ranks and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.
1 Samuel 17:19-23

Just take note of verse 23 for now. The armies looked as if they were about to engage in battle. David was right there with his brothers (amidst the ranks, verse 22 tells us). But then, just as the action was about to begin, Goliath steps up to the plate – the same way he had done for the past forty days, issuing the exact same challenge he’s given the past forty days. And verse 23 says, “David heard him.” Notice Israel’s response.

All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid. And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father's house free in Israel.”
1 Samuel 17:24-25

The soldiers retreated “when they saw the man” (verse 24). Goliath was all it took to turn back the entire army. Just one man. And yet, they said to one another, “Have you seen this man?” This guy is huge! He is awesome! And they start gossiping about how the king would reward the foolish, I mean, brave soldier who manages to kill Goliath: freedom from taxes and marriage to the princess!
At this point, David’s had enough, so he butts in the conversation.

And David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” And the people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done to the man who kills him.”
1 Samuel 17:24-27

Notice that David asks two questions. The Israelite men answer the first but ignore the second. “What shall be done for the man who kills Goliath?” Verse 27: “The people answered him the same way.” They do not answer the second question, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

You see the first question asks: What can we do? What’s in it for us?

The second question asks: What will God do?

For the first time in the whole story, God is mentioned. For the first time in forty days, God is brought into the picture. Up till this point, Goliath is seen as a threat to Israel. Goliath is defying Israel (verse 25). But David sees in a split-second what everyone around him seems to be have absolutely clueless about for the last forty days: Goliath is challenging not Israel, but the true and living God (verse 26)!

And that gets David into heaps of trouble with his oldest brother, Eliab.

Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab's anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again as before.
1 Samuel 17:28-30

It is pretty ironic how Eliab accuses his youngest brother of presumption, claiming, “I know… the evil of your heart.” Because if you look back a chapter, to 1 Samuel 16:8, there God tells Samuel that he can see into David’s heart. “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (Compare also what God says of David in 1 Samuel 13:13, “a man after his own heart”). Eliab is claiming to be able to do what only God can: to see into our innermost motivations. More likely, this oldest brother is just ticked off that the youngest child in his family is revealing the soldiers for who they really are, cowards.

In response to this, it almost appears like David is acting like a kid. “What have I done? Was it not but a word.” But to think that, would be to miss the deep significance of what David is actually doing here. Because, what was David doing? In Eliab’s eyes, David was speaking out of turn. In Eliab’s eyes, David was boasting of something he had no knowledge of as a kid.

But in David’s own words, what was he doing? He was speaking “a word”. And in verse 30, he continues to speak that same “word” to the others around him. What was David doing? He was speaking into their hearts. He was speaking of God.

He was, in a sense, evangelising!

In fact, what we see next is David evangelising – speaking the good news – to King Saul!

When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, “Let no man's heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”
1 Samuel 17:31-37

There are three parts to this message of good news that David preached to Saul that day.

1. Do not let your heart fail
David is dealing directly with the problem in the Israelite ranks: fear. Their hearts have failed them. Why? Because of Goliath’s taunts. “Let no man’s heart fail because of him.” Not a single sword has been drawn and yet every man in Israel’s army has already been defeated. David speaks into the true battlefield, into their hearts, encouraging the soldiers to see the battle from God’s perspective. And now he tells the king to do the same. Goliath is just a man. You serve the living God!

2. Your servant will go and fight
David says he will take up the challenge. He will face the mighty Goliath. But notice how David addresses himself before the king: Your servant. Three times, David stands before Saul, unashamedly identifying himself as his servant or slave.

Remember Goliath’s taunts, “You are all slaves of Saul!” David sees no dishonour or shame in that; in the same way that David would not allow his youth or lowly profession to be looked down upon. David is Saul’s servant. And this servant is more than able to meet the challenge.

As an aside, notice that David sees tremendous value in his experience serving as a shepherd over his father’s sheep. It is worth remembering that the great Moses, the man of God, was also at one time, a shepherd. Eventually, the word “shepherd” came to be a way of addressing the leaders, the priests and even the kings of Israel (See Ezekiel 34). In the New Testament, the leaders and elders of the church are called to be under-shepherds of Jesus Christ, who is the chief shepherd overseeing his flock, the church (1 Peter 5:1-4). Of course, the term we are more familiar with is “pastor”, which is simply the Latin word for “shepherd”.
And yet, in a tragic way, “pastoral” ministry has now been more narrowly defined in terms of providing marriage counselling and visiting the elderly and sick. We talk of someone having a “pastor’s heart” as a way of describing someone who has a gentle demeanour, drinks lots of tea and goes, “uh-uh, uh-uh, I see what you mean. You poor thing. Let’s pray.

For David, being a shepherd had nothing to do with cuddling his sheep and whispering soft nothings into their ears. Pastoring sheep meant defending the sheep. Pastoring sheep meant leading his sheep, not individually, not one by one, but as a flock. When a lion or bear snatched a lamb from the flock, David “went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth” (verse 35). For David, to be a pastor meant having guts and courage.

And in the Old Testament, the pastor is the leader, the priest, the king. It doesn’t mean that counselling isn’t important for church life. But counselling is not pastoring. That is not the biblical definition of the pastor/shepherd. The pastor’s job is to lead and the pastor role is to protect the flock.
And here, this pastor says, “I will fight the enemy.”

3. God will deliver me
The ultimate victory lay not in Goliath’s taunts. But neither did it reside in David’s confidence. The victory belonged to God and to God alone. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Now, David is talking about more than God’s power to defeat the enemy. He is telling Saul the good news of God’s power to rescue David from harm. “The Lord … will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” What David has done here is preach the gospel. “Do not fear. I will be your substitute and fight on your behalf. And God will be faithful to save.” That’s the gospel according to David.

But Saul doesn’t get it. He still cannot bring himself to trust in God’s salvation alone; to trust in this gospel alone.

Then Saul clothed David with his armour. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armour. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd's pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.
1 Samuel 17:38-40

Saul’s weapons were Goliath’s weapons: bronze armour, coat of mail and sword. They were not David’s. Now in case we miss the blatantly obvious, this was Saul’s armour – this was the armour of the king! Saul was dressing this young shepherd up with his shield, his helmet and equipping him with his own sword – the symbolism being, that Saul was handing the keys of the kingdom to another person!

But David rejected them. “I cannot go with these.” David was not a warrior like Goliath, clad in bronze and armed with sword. And David was not king like Saul, either.

David was a different sort of warrior, one whose true strength lay in his trust in God. And David was a different sort of king, the servant king who fought, risking his life, to save the flock.

3. Know your God who holds the victory

And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”
1 Samuel 17:41-44

David enters the battlefield ready to challenge the mighty Goliath, the man in the middle. Both camps are in full view of the fight. But Goliath looks ahead, and initially has to advance forward to get a clearer view of his opponent, probably because of his minute size. When he does see David for who he is – just a kid – the Philistine champion is less than impressed! He is insulted that the Israelite armies would send this boy to fight a man’s war. Not unlikely, he is angered that Saul hasn’t come out to meet him.

Still, Goliath would make a lesson out of this boy. He calls upon his gods, Dagon (1 Samuel 5:2) and Ashtaroth (1 Samuel 31:10) and curses David to his face. “Come to me,” Goliath says, “and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.” There would be no mercy, even for this child.
But notice what Goliath is doing. He is tearing down his opponent with his words. The curses, the put-downs, the threats are all designed to strike the first blow into his opponent’s heart. Furthermore, he is saying all this not simply for David’s benefit – Goliath is so confident he can take this kid down in no time – no, it’s for the Israelite armies. He wants to terrify them with a display his might. He seeks to destroy any spirit they have left in this foolish kid. He wants Israel to know the Dagon and Ashtaroth, the gods of the Philistines, will utterly destroy all who oppose them.

But David, in turn, engages Goliath with the gospel, which says, the LORD is the only true and living God. And this God is the Deliverer of Israel!

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hand.”
1 Samuel 17:45-47

Each and every verse speaks not of David’s ability but establishes God’s identity. That is: David is telling us who God is.

David identifies God as the “LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel.” (The word “hosts” simply means “armies”, hence what we have here is a repetition of the fact that this God is a God of war). Later on, David says, “The battle is the Lord’s.” God is in conflict and war against his enemies. He leads his people into war against his enemies.

But secondly, this is the God who saves “not with sword or spear” (verse 37). God will defeat his enemies but he will not do so using the weapons of his enemies. Hence, David’s opening statement to Goliath, “You come to me with sword and spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts.”

The point is that David would not use the tools of war to defeat this man of war. And that’s important because of the following verses describing how David does strike down the Philistine champion, with nothing more than a stone and a sling. Many a sermon has been preached on the five stones David chose from the brook to take down Goliath, investing deep significance in each of these stones (symbolising the five wounds of Christ!) or even the type of stone used (smooth stones from the brook fly straighter!) but the point has already been made by David himself: he came against Goliath “not with sword or spear”. So much so, that the narrator repeats this fact in verse 50, “There was no sword in the hand of David.”

When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.
So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.
1 Samuel 17:48-50

The defeat of the great Goliath signalled the defeat of the Philistines. Verse 51: “They fled.” The Israelite army pursued them, pushing the enemy beyond the borders of their land, reclaiming the lost cities and only returned to plunder the abandoned Philistine camps.

However, the camera is till focussed on David. This was a significant moment for the young shepherd. And though he had already defeated Goliath in verse 50, with no sword in his hand, curiously enough, he does pick up a sword in the very next verse.

Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. And the men of Israel and Judah rose with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron. And the people of Israel came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp. And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armour in his tent.
1 Samuel 17:51-54

Verses 51 and 54 are obviously connected in that David cuts off Goliath’s head and then deposits his armour “in his tent”. David had earlier rejected Saul’s armour. He didn’t want it. But now he takes Goliath’s because that armour does belong to him; because that victory does belong to him. The victory won by the entire Israelite army that day, in defeating Goliath and in defeating the Philistines, came not by the hand of Saul. It came through David.

But the author obviously wants us to take notice of what David does instead with Goliath’s head, his prize, as it were. And verse 54 says that David “brought it to Jerusalem.” Now this seems to come out of nowhere. At this point in time, Jerusalem was not yet under the control of Israel. But much later on in 2 Samuel 5, we learn that David establishes his ascent to the throne by overthrowing this city, by making it his home, such that Jerusalem would eventually be called, the City of David. And what we have here is a preview of what is to come. When David eventually did become King of Israel, he brought into it Goliath’s head as a way of saying that this was where it all began. Here as a shepherd boy, in the battlefield, facing an insurmountable opponent. Here in the Valley of Elah, God established David as the true King of Israel.

The servant King
A thousands years later, at the entrance to that same city of Jerusalem – the city of David – the crowds could be heard chanting a familiar refrain we just encountered in today’s passage.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Matthew 21:9

The cries of praise were being offered in honour someone they were even calling, “The Son of David!” The event is sometimes referred to by Christians as Palm Sunday. And the person the crowds were so excited about was a man named Jesus, a carpenter from the northern town of Nazareth.

It was the week before Passover when every pious Jew would be gathered to offer sacrifices to God as commanded by Moses in the Law. And here was Jesus making his entrance into the great city of the King. Some were even speculating that this could be the Christ, the one whom God promised would one day ascend to the throne of David. They spread palm branches on the road. The men threw their cloaks on the ground. The whole city was stirred up. This really could be it. Jesus really could be the one!

What were they expecting Jesus to do? Well, what did David do when he boldly proclaimed before Goliath, “I come to you in the name of the Lord!” He defeated the enemy. He became the king. Israel won the victory!

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

And yet, Jesus rode into the city on a donkey. Matthew tells us that this was to fulfil the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, “Behold your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey.” Jesus is the King, but he is a humble King. A gentle King. I wonder if you might even say, a servant King.

What if we were to ask the crowds gathered that day, the three questions we encountered in today’s passage.

1. Where is the battle?
2. Who is your king?
3. Who is your God?

In answer to the first question, they might have said, “The battle is right here, in Jerusalem. Against the Roman occupiers. Against Herod. Against the tax collectors. Yeaah, Jesus is coming to kick their butts!”

In answer to the second question, they might have said, “Jesus, I guess. After all, everyone seems to be calling him the Son of David.” And yet, it would be merely days later, when the same crowds are addressed by Pilate, the Roman governor, with the question, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15)

But what of the third question: Who is your God? Well, ironically, it is the crowds who ask this question of Jesus as they see him hanging on the cross. “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

Where is the true battle? It happened on the cross. The cross is the symbol of God’s judgement upon our sin – your sin, my sin. The shame, the pain, the separation, the desperation – all that was taken on by Jesus Christ on our behalf, when he stood in our place on that cross; he stepped into that battlefield, to free us from our sins, from the punishment for our sins and from slavery to the one who accuses us of our sins, the devil.

Who is your true king? It is the one powerful enough to help us in our weakness; and yet humble enough to enter into our weakness. Though rich, he became poor for our sakes, so that in his poverty we might be rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). Though sinless, he became sin for our sake, so that in Jesus Christ we might be the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Who is your God? He is the one who raised Christ on the third day, delivering him from death and decay, and vindicating the work of his Son on the cross to justify sinful men and women as fully forgiven and fully accepted sons and daughters of God through his blood. And one day, God will judge all evil and rebellion against him through this same Jesus, to whom God has given all authority in heaven and on earth.

That at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that he is Lord. To the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:11

Until then, we who trust in Jesus Christ, as our Saviour, our true King and our true God, witness to this one truth: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved!” (Acts 4:12)

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord: the Lord Jesus Christ.

You laid aside Your majesty,
gave up everything for me.
Suffered at the hands of those You had created.
You took away my guilt and shame,
When You died and rose again.
Now today You reign,
And heaven and earth exalt You.

I really want to worship You my Lord,
You have won my heart and I am Yours.
Forever and ever, I will love You.
You are the only one who died for me,
Gave Your life to set me free.
So I lift my voice to You in adoration.

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