What seemingly impossible situations are you facing? What is causing you fear? What keeps you up at night? What gives you an upset stomach? Fear is a powerful force that affects so many of us. Fear of losing our health. Fear of losing control. Fear of poverty. Fear of death.
In our Characters series, we come to a famous story of David who was confronted by a soldier named Goliath who drove fear into the hearts of the whole Israelite army. Their story is found in 1 Samuel chapter 17. We actually met David last week. Very briefly. Last week we studied the amazing story of David’s great-grandmother, Ruth.
Ruth lived in the period of the nation of Israel when judges ruled the land of Israel. The very last judge was a man named Samuel, who was also a great prophet. During his years he led Israel in victory over the Philistines, and he eventually anointed the first king of Israel, a man named Saul. As king, Saul had some victories, but he also disobeyed God, and so in 1 Samuel chapter 16, we read that God instructs Samuel to anoint a new king to take over after Saul.
In nearly every nation in the history of the world that has a monarchy, they almost always use the same system for picking the next king or queen. Do you know what it is called? Primogeniture.
My wife, Michelle, and I have been watching The Crown on Netflix, all about the life of Queen Elizabeth of England, and in one episode they show a flashback when Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret are girls, and they are discussing how Elizabeth will someday take over for her father. They both agree that with Elizabeth’s personality which was more quiet and reserved and Margaret being more the people person, Margaret, the younger sister, should be queen. So Margaret goes to an official to make this request thinking it is for the best. The official has to break the news that primogeniture is the way it is, and Elizabeth will be queen. Margaret is crushed.
Primogeniture means simply that the first born child takes over as the next monarch.
Interestingly God instructs Samuel not to follow primogeniture. Saul’s son Jonathan would not be the next king. In fact, no one from Saul’s family would be king. Instead God directs Samuel to go to the town of Bethlehem to the house of Jesse, whose grandmother was a Moabite (a non-Israelite) lady named Ruth, and Samuel anoints not the oldest of Jesse’s sons, but the youngest, a shepherd poet named David. Then we read that the Spirit of the Lord came on David in power. 1 Samuel 16 concludes with David traveling to Saul’s house from time to time to play the harp for Saul, because Saul was regularly afflicted with what seemed to be a combination of spiritual and psychological oppression, and David’s music would calm him. That brings us to 1 Samuel 17, and the famous story of David and a man, named Goliath.
How do we normally understand the story of David and Goliath? It is perhaps the classic underdog story, right? In sports, in war, in a political election, and in just about any arena where one weaker, smaller person or group is pitted against an opponent that seems bigger, wealthier, more experienced, or more famous, we say that it is David vs. Goliath situation. A famous example is from a few years ago when the Eagles were considered underdogs in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
But what we’re going to find is that the original David vs. Goliath story is almost certainly not an underdog story.
1st Samuel 17, verses 1-3 tells us that two armies, the Philistines and Israel, are facing each other from opposing hillsides. These two nations had been at war with one another for many years. But this particular battle is unique. Why? Keep reading…
The Philistines have a secret weapon. Well, a man. A giant of a man. Goliath. And he is decked out in armor, armed with a javelin, and we later learn he also has a sword. He also has a shield bearer going ahead of him. In other words, Goliath is an imposing soldier. Intimidating. Fearsome.
Furthermore, as we keep reading, we learn that the Philistines use Goliath in a unique method of ancient warfare. In verses 8-11, we learn that each side is to send out a single champion soldier to represent their army. Whichever soldier wins the one-on-one fight, they will have won the battle for their whole army. It is, in a way, a good idea to avoid loss of life. But King Saul of Israel and his army are terrified. Who wouldn’t be, right? Goliath was a freak of nature! Who would want to go fight him?
Here’s what is sometimes missed in the story: Israel had a giant too. It’s true. Israel had a tall man. He wasn’t as tall as Goliath, but they had a man who we are told was a head taller than all the rest. You know who it was? King Saul. In 1 Samuel 9:2, we read that Saul was impressive too, without equal among all Israel, as he was a head taller than the others. He should have been the one to go fight Goliath. But he didn’t. No one from Israel’s army would fight. They were all terrified.
Fear is crippling, isn’t it? Fear can cause you to forget truth. Fear can cause you to fixate on disaster. Think about that in your own life. Have you ever succumbed to fear, to assuming the worst of things? Assuming that things are terrible and awful and insurmountable, as if there is no hope? I’ve been there. If I’m driving down the road, for example, and I hear what seems to be a new noise coming from the direction of the engine of the car, my mind can go lightning fast down a negative path thinking, “Oh man…our car is dying and it is going to cost a ton to fix and it is going to ruin us financially.” Because I heard one little new noise? Fear can do that, if we let it. Hear that last bit of the sentence? If we let it. How have you let fear cripple you?
Saul and Israel allowed Goliath to fill their hearts with fear. Jump down to verse 16, and we read that this was going on for forty days. Forty days! Goliath would come out twice a day, challenging any Israelite soldier to fight him. That’s forty days of fear. Forty days of Saul and Israel crippled by their fear. Maybe you’ve been there. If we allow it, fear can linger, and it can ruin our lives. We can’t sleep good. We can’t eat. We can be very difficult to be around. Our friends and family try to help us out, but fear can get a stranglehold on us and lock down our lives. Anyone know what I mean? We know it is no way to live. We hate the struggle, but we can get so stuck that we have no idea what to do. That seems to have been happening to Saul and his army.
As we continue the story, we’re going to learn an amazing response to fear.