Pentecost 4 (Proper 7B)
Sermon by the Reverend Jo-Ann R. Murphy, D.Min.
Few stories in the Hebrew Bible have as much popular appeal as that of David and Goliath. It has become the proverbial story of the underdog. The boy David triumphs over the huge but rather immobile Philistine. But the author of this text has another message for his readers, including us: Goliath comes with sword and spear, but David comes in the name of Hosts.
There are two strands of story woven together in the Bible to tell the saga of David. One is that David was chosen and anointed king because of his skill as a musician. The other is the one we began hearing last Sunday. David was the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons. He is a shepherd boy, slight of build, and thought to be of little account. But when God regretted his choice of Saul, the first king of Israel, and was choosing Saul’s replacement, it was David who was brought in from the far pasture and anointed as Saul’s successor. “For God does not see as human’s see.”
The first part of I Samuel chapter 17 begins “Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle, and there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath….” The text goes on to describe Goliath’s enormous height and his formidable battle amour and weapons. The Philistines were sea people and they lived on the coast of Palestine. Saul is the King of Israel.
Goliath challenges Saul, “Give me a man that we may fight together.” The Bible records the expected reaction, “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.”
Can you imagine being Goliath? Can you imagine being 8 ½ feet tall? Can you feel the armor that covers your arms and legs, the helmet of bronze on your head, raise up your 300-pound iron spear? Can you feel your power and advantage, your confidence?
Now imagine how you would feel if you were Saul, terrified and bewildered as to your next move. Who is in your army who can stand up against this gigantic enemy? No one. Feel the depression; feel the defeat, the humiliation.
Then a young shepherd boy volunteers. David wasn’t in Saul’s army. David had only come to Saul’s camp to bring food to his brothers who wereserving among Saul’s troops.
“Let no one’s heart fall because of [Goliath], your servant will go and fight with this Philistine,” says the young shepherd and he recounts how he had defended his sheep from wild animals.
What is Saul to do? With no other willing volunteers, Saul reluctantly relents and says “Go, and may the Lord be with you.”
Now imagine being David. Imagine Saul clothing you in his armor, his helmet of bronze on your head and his coat of mail. Saul straps his sword on your shoulder. You try to walk but you cannot. Take off the armor. Remove it. Lay the sword aside. Now take your staff in your hand, bend down and choose five smooth stones from the dry riverbed. Feel the sling in your hand. In your mind’s eye see Goliath awaiting you.
The contrast between the huge Philistine and the shepherd boy could hardly be greater. The Philistine sees David and distains him. David is young and good looking. David is too handsome to be a seasoned warrior. David looks innocent and inexperienced. The Philistine is insulted by such a weak opponent. But David is bold, full of faith, not intimidated, not unnerved.
At the outset David states the contrast between the Philistine and himself as clearly and sharply as he can. The Philistine has sword, spear, and javelin - - conventional arms. David has none of these. David has the powerful name of Yahweh. And, and, … David has smarts. David uses his noodle.
Author Malcolm Gladwell writes, “Ancient armies had three kinds of warriors - - armed men on horseback or in chariots, infantry - - foot soldiers wearing armor and carrying swords and shield, and thirdly, projectile warriors or what today would be called artillery: archers and most important slingers. Slingers had a leather pouch attached on two sides by a long strand of rope. They would put a rock or lead ball into the pouch, swing it around in increasingly wider and faster circles, and then release one end of the rope, hurling the rock forward. Slinging took an extraordinary amount of skill and practice. But in experienced hands, the sling was a devastating weapon. An experienced slinger could kill a target at a distance of two hundred yards. And projectile warriors were deadly against infantrymen, because a big, lumbering soldier, weighed down with armor, was a sitting duck for a slinger who was launching projectiles from a safe distance.
Goliath is heavy infantry. He thinks he is going to be engaged in a duel with another heavy infantryman. When he taunts his invitation to David, “Come to me,” he means come right up to me so we can fight at close quarters. David, however, has no intention of honoring the rituals of hand-to-hand warfare. David intends to fight Goliath as he fought wild animals, as a projectile warrior.
Smart, right? The battle outcome comes swiftly. David has a massive resource beyond his own skill and power; he is defending the name of his God. David is witnessing to his faith in the God of Israel.
And we hear from Psalm 9:
The Lord will be a refuge for the oppressed
a refuge in time of trouble.
Those who know your Name will put their
trust in you
for you never forsake those who seek you,
The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
The wicked are trapped in the work
of their own hands.
Then and now. Then and now. So, a question for us this morning is, “when have you felt like the underdog? When did you feel overwhelmed by powers and forces w-a-y beyond your ability? Did you remember to call upon God’s help? Today’s collect reminds us, “… make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness,….” Never. Then and now. Amen.