Joshua Chamberlain was a student of theology and a professor of rhetoric, not a soldier. But when duty called, Chamberlain answered. He climbed the ranks to become colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Union Army.
On July 2, 1863, Chamberlain and his three-hundred-soldier regiment were all that stood between the Confederates and certain defeat at a battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. At 2:30 P.M., the 15th and 47th Alabama infantry regiments of the Confederate army charged, but Chamberlain and his men held their ground. Then followed a second, third, fourth, and fifth charge. By the last charge, only 80 blues stood standing. Chamberlain himself was knocked down by a bullet that hit his belt buckle, but the 24-year-old schoolteacher got right back up.
It was his date with destiny. When Sergeant Tozier informed Chamberlain that no reinforcements were coming and his men were down to one round of ammunition per soldier, Chamberlain knew he needed to act decisively. Their lookout informed Colonel Chamberlain that the Confederates were forming rank. The rational thing to do at that point, with no ammunition and no reinforcements, would have been to surrender. But Chamberlain made a defining decision: in full view of the enemy, Chamberlain climbed onto their barricade of stones and gave a command. He pointed his sword and yelled, "Charge!"
His men fixed bayonets and started running at the Confederate army, which vastly outnumbered them. They caught them off guard by executing a great right wheel. And in what ranks as one of the most improbable victories in military history, 80 Union soldiers captured 4,000 Confederates in five minutes.
Historians believe that if Chamberlain had not charged, the Confederate army would have gained the high ground, won the Battle of Gettysburg, and eventually won the war. One man's courage saved the day, saved the war, and saved the Union.
Chamberlain’s story falls into a familiar but inaccurate category of story, David and Goliath. Was it written to be a story of inspiration and emulation?
Today’s text is one, if not the, most famous stories in all of literature. It is a tale of might versus right in which the little guy beats up the bully. It is the David versus Goliath stories that sell out movie theaters and send books to the top of the New York Times bestseller’s list. Everyone wants to have a David experience. It fills our dreams and daydreams. This story, like no other, appeals to our psyche and our heart.
Preachers have poached this passage for amens and applause building up in the minds of their congregants and image that they too can become a champion like David. Abuse of this story is not relegated to adult congregants but begins in the children ministries of those same churches. For example, millions of church children grew up watching Veggie Tales. One episode called, Dave and the Giant Pickle, is based on today’s story. In this episode in which “Dave, upset over not being allowed to join his brothers who have all gone off to war, is resigned to staying at home and taking care of the farm. When a giant pickle is sent to attack his village, Dave relies on God’s teachings, and his own self-esteem, to fight the monster.”1 And, what is the problem with that interpretation? It’s wrong! The story is not primarily about David, but about the Lord whom David represents.
Furthermore, we teach our students to identify with David, and this is wrong. We are not like David, and we are not intended to be David. We are to identify with those in the army! We are those fearful people who desperately need a champion to defeat our enemy that we are incapable of facing.
THE BIG PICTURE
Today’s text must, like all other texts, be interpreted in light of the previous chapters of Scripture (Genesis 1 – 1 Samuel 16). When we isolate a story, we indoctrinate ourselves with an inaccurate theology. Many are frustrated with God today not because He is frustrating because they have listened to false teaching.
Right interpretation begins at CREATION.
The encounter between David and Goliath is a human portrayal of a spiritual reality, a spiritual battle, which began in Genesis 3. When Satan defeated Adam and gained dominion over the earth
We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
the Lord promised that a champion would come, born of a woman, who would crush the serpent/Satan (Genesis 3:15).
Right interpretation continues through the COVENANT.
In Genesis 12:1-2 God chooses Abraham and gives him a promised land and a plentiful lineage. Through his line, one would come to bring deliverance to humanity. In
I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God promises a cruse. If it is true that Goliath is both cursing Israel and her God, then if God is a covenant-keeping God, we would expect Goliath to be divinely cursed.
Right interpretation continues through the COMMANDMENTS.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.
Right interpretation continues through the CONQUEST.
In Numbers 13:27-33 we learn that the Promised Land was permeated with giants. In Joshua 6 we see these giants defeated with praise. As we arrive in 1 Samuel 17, Abraham’s people are unable to enjoy their land because they are being harassed by their idolatrous enemies, the Philistines, who are represented by the blaspheming, arrogant Goliath. Israel needs a champion to deliver her from the Satanic oppressor. The people’s king, Saul, proves to be unworthy, so the Lord raises up a new champion, David, defeats Israel’s enemies through God’s strength, thus delivering the people. David’s victory points ahead to Jesus, the son of David, who will win the ultimate victory over Satan, thus securing everlasting deliverance for the people of God, Abraham’s children.
1 Samuel begins at the end of the Judges. Remember that though Ruth follows Judges it took place during the time of the Judges. As we came to the conclusion of Judges we read these chilling words
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Israel had a king but they had rejected that king just as their first had in The Garden of Eden.
And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
The Lord agreed to give them what they wanted. However, He had Samuel warn them of the impending consequences of their request.
So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
The people responded . . .
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.”
Instead of being God peculiar people they wanted to be like everyone else. Instead of being set apart they wanted the status quo. Instead of being unique they wanted to be universal. Instead of being different they wanted to blend in.
The Lord gave His people what they wanted so that they could want what they really needed.
1 Samuel 9 begins the journey of God’s people learning to want what they really needed.
God chooses for them a man that they would have chosen.
There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.
Now Samuel called the people together to the Lord at Mizpah. And he said to the people of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us.’ Now therefore present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your thousands.”
Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its clans, and the clan of the Matrites was taken by lot; and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot. But when they sought him, he could not be found. So they inquired again of the Lord, “Is there a man still to come?” and the Lord said, “Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.” Then they ran and took him from there. And when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”
Now that Saul has ascended to king Israel begins her decent into further chaos. It does not happen overnight but sin’s effect is hardly ever noticed immediately.
As our story arrives in chapter 15 we see fully the real Saul.
And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.”
Saul sets up a moment to remind everyone that he was their champion. Why is this significant? Samuel set but a memorial to remind God’s people that God was their champion
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”
As chapter 15 closes The Lord through Samuel announces His rejection of Saul as king. He now sends Samuel on a mission to choose the king of His choice in
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.”
Now that we have arrived at our text notice first the people’s champion Saul. He is offering a reward for someone to fight the giant. The king, Israel’s champion, is really a coward.
As the chapter unfolds David arrives by order of his Father with food for his brothers.
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. 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.” 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?”
Before we finish this story let’s stop and correct the error that is about to be made. Where do you and I fit in this story? Most people identify with David. Everybody wants to be David. However, we are not David. We are not intended to be David. We are Saul. We are the army. We are cowards and if someone doesn’t save us from our cowardice our lives are going down the tubes.
David is not an example of how not to be a coward. Notice he doesn’t say, “Come on let’s all rush Goliath together. We can do it!” God does not send these cowards an example. He does not save them through inspiration or through emulation but through imputation.
He saves cowards through imputation! What do I mean by imputation? Well, first of all, let me just show you two ways in which the David hero story is utterly different than all the hero stories.
David’s hero story is utterly subversive, utterly different than all the other stories. First of all, the savior in this story is weak. He is weak. He is vulnerable. He is little. He is too small for the armor, but he is not successful in spite of his weakness. He is successful because he is weak. It’s only because he looks unarmed. It’s only because he looks so silly. It’s only because he looks like a joke that he wins. So first, God’s savior is weak, and he saves through his weakness.
Secondly, God’s savior is a representative. He is not an example. He is not an inspiration. He is a substitute. When Goliath comes out and challenges to battle, he doesn’t just say, “All of you come after me.” Here’s what he says.
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.”
This is representational fighting, which did happen in the ancient times. David was fighting as the legal representative of his people. David was not just fighting for them; he was fighting as them. They were going to be treated as if they’d done everything he did. If he won, they would be treated as if they’d won. If he lost, they would be treated as if they lost. If he was brave, they were treated as if they were brave. If he was a coward, they were treated as if they were cowardly.
David does not come and say, “Let’s charge them.” David does not save through inspiration or emulation. He saves through imputation. What happens to him is imputed to his people, because they’re in union with him. As a result of that, then his victory is imputed to them.
What difference does it make to us, these subversive, radical differences between the David hero story and all other hero stories from all the other religions and cultures of the world? All the difference in the world.
In Hebrews 11, these great heroes, including David, are enumerated. “Remember Abraham. Remember Moses. Remember David.” Then finally the Hebrews writer says,
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
“Remember David, but look at Jesus,” the Hebrews writer says, “the founder of our faith.” The word founder is a Greek word that means champion. Here’s what the Hebrews writer is saying.
God sent the ultimate David, Jesus Christ. He was weak. He was little. He didn’t save us just in spite of his weakness but through his weakness. He didn’t just save us from physical death like David did but from eternal death. He didn’t save us like David did at the risk of his life, but more than that: at the cost of his life. Here’s how he did it. He went into the ultimate valley of death.
Of all the religions our God is the only God who was courageous. Our God was the only God who needed to be courageous. No other religion believes God became human and vulnerable. Our God became human and vulnerable.
God does not save the children of Israel through emulation and inspiration but through imputation.