The God Lens

"David and Goliath" Edgar Degas
"David and Goliath" Edgar Degas

Text: I Samuel 17:1-50

I really appreciate all of the stories of King David, and for the next several weeks we're going to be looking at the life of David and some of those stories. He's hands down my favorite Biblical character, and the stories of his life and the Psalms that he's written have had a huge impact on my life and on my ministry.

You learned this particular story as one of the first ones if you went to Sunday School as a child.  I'll bet that those of you who did learn the story as children have memories of the things it conjured up in your minds -- the big, bad giant and little brave David with his slingshot and his tiny stones, and that glorious moment when he throws the stone and saves the day, while all the grownups look on amazed. It's a little kid's fantasy to be able to be the one who comes out and saves the day when none of the grownups can do it. And it's also a perfect grownup's fantasy, at those times when we feel like the little pipsqueak facing the big bully. Maybe it's the little mom and pop business taking on the big corporation, the new employee trying to take on the big boss, or the wronged victim trying to find justice in the maze of our legal system. When we feel small, and the enemy looks like he's ten feet tall with 150 pounds of armor on him, we want to come back and say, "Tell me that David and Goliath story one more time."

People look at that story for other reasons too. English professors recognize it as simply great literature. Psychologists look at it for the mind games that Goliath plays with the army of Israel, his taunts and his interaction with David. I even had one man in one of my Disciple classes back in Cross City, who became completely engrossed in the ballistics of the story. He came to class with a complete analysis of just how fast that stone had to be traveling and how he'd have to swing it to have it go into somebody's forehead and kill him.

But what I want to look at this morning isn't so much how we view the story from the outside, but what's happening within the characters on the inside. I think as we look for the truth of the story, that's where it lies. We're often trained to think that when we decide if a story is true, we're talking about its historical truth. I think it probably happened, but that's not what I'm considering the truth of the story. The truth of this story is the religious truth that's within it -- the truth about God and about ourselves that we can learn from really looking at what's going on in the story.

On the one hand you've got the armies of King Saul and all of Israel. They are looking at the situation with very human eyes, and what they see is pretty darn intimidating. You heard the challenge from the Philistines -- "Your best warrior against our guy." And it turns out that the best guy that they have is this 10-foot behemoth with all of that armor. This is like accepting a challenge on the basketball court, and then finding out that their guy is Michael Jordan. And then you know that if your guy loses, not only you but all of your people have to go and be slaves of the other side. So Israel is naturally stalling. It's a nasty situation and they're trying to find a way not to go out and do battle with this guy. And then, to add insult to injury, here comes this little kid, the little pipsqueak brother of several of the soldiers. He's a gutsy kid, and when he hears about this great reward that's being offered to beat this Goliath guy, he goes to the king and says, "No problem. This won't be any harder than killing lions or bears."

Now, hang on. To me, that little line tips us off that something else is going on in David's brain. I don't know how long it's been since you've killed a lion or a bear with your bare hands, but if you ask me, that's not something that you say, "oh, it's no harder than killing lions or bears." That's a pretty daunting task -- under normal circumstances. Obviously this is a kid who's looking at things from a different angle. When we see David's response to Saul, we realize that David's not looking at this with strictly human eyes. David doesn't see what the others see. David's wearing those "God glasses" that we talked to the children about. He's viewing life through the God Lens. We talk about rose-colored glasses -- these are God-colored glasses that shape the way we see the world. Listen carefully to what David says about killing those lions and bears: "Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear. This uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine."

This is not David just claiming that he's a really strong kid who can wipe out lions and bears with no problem. This is a kid who sees that all of those battles, whether it's against lions or bears or Philistines, belong to God. It's God who saves him from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, and it's because God is with him that he can do this. David sees what nobody else in Israel, including the king, can see. For all its appearances, this is not a military issue. This is not about who has the strongest warrior, or the best weapons, or the most clever strategy. This is about the faithfulness of God to God's people. It's not an issue of strength -- it's an issue of trust. It's not about who can defeat Goliath and who has that physical strength, but who will trust God enough to be the channel for God's victory. All the rest of the army has been searching for a warrior who could beat Goliath, and they knew they didn't have anybody with the strength to take down a man like that. Then along comes David, looking through the God Lens. David sees that it's not an issue of human strength at all. When you place yourself under God's care, God will fight your battles.

Notice when David goes to Saul to volunteer, he doesn't tell Saul how amazingly good he is with a slingshot. He doesn't claim he killed those lions and bears with his own brute strength. He simply claims that God is with him, and that the battle really belongs to God. That was how David saw all of life. Everything was filtered through the God Lens. When David walked onto that battlefield and he heard Goliath defy God, it was as plain as the nose on his face that anyone could go out and kill the man, because it wasn't a question of human strength but a question of the strength of God. Goliath might have been big compared to David, or compared to others in the army of Israel, but next to God, Goliath was a toothpick. Goliath thought he was challenging Israel. David could see that Goliath had challenged God, and David knew which of those two was stronger.

The army couldn't see it. They were looking for a champion among the men. David could see that the champion was God, and that all God needed was a willing vessel to walk out there. It could have been David or it could have been any other person in that army. But only David had the eyes to see it. I think that right there is the truth of the story. If we can get around the fact that it's a violent story, and all the other issues that may come out in it, if we can see that this is a story about faith and a story about who's in control of the world, about who fights all of our battles for us, then I think we can find the truth for ourselves.

When we look at this story through the God Lens, it sounds mighty familiar. It sounds like the New Testament message of salvation through God's grace, even way back here in first Samuel. We can't make it by ourselves. It's God who fights the battles, and God who grants the victory if we just allow ourselves to be used. It didn't have to be David who defeated Goliath. It could have been anybody. The victory was there for the taking, just as our salvation and the victory over sin and death is just there for the taking. We don't have to work our way through it. We don't have to work to conquer it. It was conquered by Jesus. The only thing that ever was or ever is necessary, from Genesis to Revelation, is faith -- faith that God is God in fact, and we are not. God is the one who is in control. God is the one who goes before us, who fights the battle.

The problem in the story is that nobody else recognized that it was a faith issue. They were too consumed in their human fears and their human concerns, as so often we are. But David had learned to look at life through the God Lens -- through the lens of faith. He could see what others couldn't -- that God's champion doesn't have to be nine feet tall or have impenetrable armor or the latest weapons. God's champion doesn't have to be extremely clever or eloquent. God's champion just simply has to be willing to step out in faith and be used, because it's God who does the work through us. God is the one who gives us whatever equipment we need for the challenge. We don't have to scrounge around and get it ourselves. It's all a gift from God. The talents we have are a gift from God. The life we have is a gift from God. When we put that in God's hands and say, "Here, take it, use it," then we're like David and we can conquer anything with just a little slingshot and a stone.

Faith. It is all God has ever asked of us. Go back to Genesis. "It's going to rain, Noah. Trust me. Build an ark."

"I've got a land for you, Abraham. Trust me. Go to Canaan."

"I'm going to free my people, Moses. Trust me. Go see Pharaoh."

"You will bear the Son of the Most High, Mary. Trust me. Accept my child."

"I will die and in three days rise again, Peter. Trust me. Feed my sheep."

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, even though dead, yet shall he live. And the one who lives and believes in me will never die. Trust me. Believe that I am the word made flesh."

Faith is all that was ever needed, and all that ever will be needed. We see that just in our day-to-day lives, not only in faith in God but just faith in anything. You came in here this morning and you sat down on a pew, and you had faith that it wasn't going to fall down. Everything we do, every time we step out, we are expressing faith in something, generally in things that we don't see or that we don't fully understand. I know I have faith every time I turn the key in my car ignition. I don't understand how all that works but I have faith it's going to come on and move. Our whole lives are designed to work by faith. If we had to completely understand and know everything before we took a step, we would all be sitting at home not taking any steps at all.

Our religious life is just the same as our day-to-day lives. The things that enable us to go out and to do and to conquer and to have a real life are faith things. We often don't understand how they work or if they're going to. Sometimes we fall on our face. But we step out in faith because God has promised and God has proved faithful when we do that.

The story of David and Goliath is that same truth, that same call to faith that's there throughout scripture. It's an Old Testament version of the Gospel, I think. David's faith saved Israel from bondage to the Philistines. The faith of Christ saves us from bondage to sin and death. Jesus met His Goliath at Calvary. Death stood tall and ferocious and cruel at that "old rugged cross" that we sing about. Death mocked and jeered and cried out, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." But Jesus, who was called the Son of David, went out to meet His Goliath in faith, trusting in the God that He called "Abba," Father. And that act of faith -- the act that endured death on a cross while still proclaiming that the nature of God is love -- that faith saved the world.

That's the message, I think, of David and Goliath. It doesn't teach us that the little guy always wins, or even that God always bails the faithful out of trouble. If you have even a passing familiarity with life, you know those things aren't true. The way of Christ is still the way of the cross. But it does teach us that when we are confronted by Goliath, when the giant shakes his sword and threatens to enslave us, that the answer lies not in human might or human resources but in having faith in God's love.

Our day will come. Each of us will have our time, maybe more than one, where we meet Goliath on the field. But we won't realize what we're seeing, unless we've learned in the little things in life before that to look at things through the God Lens. Like Israel, we often fail to realize that what we're dealing with is a faith issue. Like Israel, we see just how big that giant is, and how strong and how terrible the challenge, and how difficult it's going to be if we lose, and we're afraid. We stall for time wondering who can bail us out, forgetting that it's about faith. Sometimes we need the little Davids to come into our lives and say, "Hey, who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the Living God? Get out there. It doesn't take anything more than a sling and a stone. It's God's battle, really." And as we're cowering in our camps it helps to remember -- to remember the little guy who could see that this is about faith, and that any one of us can step out and meet that Goliath, and that for all the loud bluster he'll fall down, just as simple as that.

God wants for us to give up our human vision and to see things through the God Lens. Jesus has already defeated Goliath. "In the world you shall have tribulation," says Jesus. "In the world you shall meet Goliath. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world. Trust me. Have faith. See what I see."

David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves. For the battle is the Lord's, and the Lord will give all of you into our hands."

Every battle is an issue of faith. Faith is not so much about recognizing the power you have, but rather about being willing to give up the power you have, so that God's greater power can come in and accomplish the work. We take Saul's armor at first, and we say, "I can't walk in this." We put it off and accept simply what God gives us, and we go forward and the battle is won.

Trust God, and have faith. It's no harder than killing lions or bears.


(c) 2000, Anne Robertson

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