The Big(gest) Story - 1 Samuel 17
The Big Story - 1 Samuel • Sermon • Submitted
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(Read as we go. Start with 1 Samuel 17:1-10) When we bought our home, one of the main things that attracted us to it was the view that it has. From our living room in Golden Springs, you can see all the way to the Oxford Exchange. I was always so excited to go and sit on the back porch with a cup of coffee and just take in the view and expanse. I’ve never had anything like that before. But, you know, it occurred to me the other day that I don’t pay it much mind any more. I used to just stop and gaze at some point every day, and, now, there are probably weeks when I don’t think of it all. And, that’s one of the markers of our fallen nature: we grow tired of things that should be impossible to tire of. Only sinners take things for granted. Your dog doesn’t take for granted a single meal that it gets, does it?
And, familiar stories become like that, too, don’t they? The first time we heard it we were enraptured and hanging on every syllable. The next time we noticed a few details we missed the first. But, eventually, we grow tired of the story, and we begin to take it for granted, hardly hearing it when it’s told.
This morning’s text is a story like that. It’s a story that likely totally enraptured you the first time that you heard it, maybe as a child. But, over time, you’ve grown tired of something that was meant to encourage you forever. That is, you’ve been told of God’s power and goodness until you’ve taken it for granted like a view you hardly notice any more. Outside of Jesus’ crucifixion, David and Goliath may be the Bible’s most famous story. But, what if we’ve never really heard the story as it was intended? What if our eyes have so adjusted to it that we don’t see it all? What if I proposed to you that the Bible’s two most famous stories — Jesus and his crucifixion and David and Goliath — are meant to work in concert with one another to offer each of us hop? What if God is bringing us out on the porch again the morning and insisting that we really look at the view that He’s created with fresh eyes?
I’ve really struggled with the best way to frame up a message so familiar and so long. So, here’s what I want us to do. I want you to see three different conflicts between the characters of this story. We see a conflict between Israel and the Philistines, between Saul and David, and then finally between Goliath and God. And, by looking at these conflicts as they appear, I want to propose to you that they give us the outline of the big story of the Bible. That is, I want us to see How the Bible’s Biggest Story Reveals the Bible’s Big Story: (Headline)
We’ve “made” a “big” mess.
We’ve “made” a “big” mess.
17:2-3 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.
ILL: I said that I would paint my own house. I had no idea what all was actually involved in painting a new house. After having worked for weeks on end in every spare second I had, it felt like I’d made virtually no progress. What in the world have I done? I had created a mess for myself, and it seemed like everything I did just made the mess bigger, not smaller. That’s a pretty accurate picture of Israel (and of us, too).
Why They’re Facing:
The first conflict that we see is the national conflict between Israel and the Philistines. The Philistines have been Israel’s most stubborn and long-standing enemy. They had been a thorn in their side from the beginning. But, it was a mess of Israel’s own making. God had promised to drive out all the inhabitants of Canaan so that Israel could enjoy the land in peace. They only had to obey the Lord and go where He sent them and do what He said to do. But, they disbelieved his promise. They distrusted that God would deliver. They partially obeyed. They were “a stiff-necked people.”
Exodus 33:1-3 The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
This was a mess that they had made. They had refused to drive out the Philistines. It must not have felt like a big deal at the time. It was just a “little disobedience, just a little distrust. No big deal.” This is the nature of human sin from the beginning. Our disobedience always feels small to us. “Surely, if I you eat of the fruit you won’t surely die!” It’s just a little fruit. It’s just a little bite. It’s just a little disobedience. Certainly, Israel couldn’t have imagined standing here a few generations later with their children on one side of a ravine and the seemingly insurmountable Philistines on the other threatening to subjugate them. It had felt so small. Adam couldn’t have comprehended that his one bit would lead to the death that affect not only himself and his son, Able, but every corner of creation, too. There’s no such thing as small disobedience. Seemingly small disobediences are symptoms of a bigger problem — we think we know better than God. And, these seemingly small disobediences create big problems in our lives. Pornography. Jealousy. Sins of omission. We’ve made a big mess out of this world and out of our lives, and it has come by minimizing what God has said to do because of what we think. We’re Israel in this story!
Why They’re Fearing:
So, they’re facing this big mess that they’ve made, and what’s their response? Is it to go back and trust God’s promise now, and do what He had said to begin with? Is it to drive out the Philistines by the power of God’s angel that is sent before them? Nope. Angel warriors can’t be seen. God can’t be seen. But, Goliath can. They’re paralyzed by what they see. Do you know where disobedience begins? It begins with distrust. It begins with unbelief. Adam’s sin began with the distrust that God’s word was true. He felt like God wasn’t giving him full disclosure. What’s Israel’s problem? They don’t believe God can possibly deliver them from the enemy that they see right in front of them.
Goliath’s description is the most detailed military description give in the whole OT.
17:4-7 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 armor 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.
Innovative (Philistines were among the very first civilizations to utilize bronze). Insurmountable. (9’9” or 6’9” — 125lbs of armor — 15 lb spear head — just a monster) Impossible (this was certain death).
But, what had God just said to his prophet Samuel in chapter 16? Stop looking at the outward appearance; listen to the LORD! And, the LORD had ensured his protection and deliverance of his people. Don’t miss this. God had already promised that if his people called on his name that they would be saved. He would drive out their enemies. And, the point is that the real threat, the real giant that was terrorizing Israel was not Goliath of Gath. He was just a symptom. The real giant that was terrorizing Israel was their own unbelief in the promise of God to save them. Here they were subjected to fear, being terrorized, living enslaved, allowing God to be mocked, certain of their own death — because they trusted what they saw over what God had said. They were being terrorized by their own unbelief. You see, war in antiquity was always religious. It was a battle between whose God was greater. And, Goliath seemed to prove that Dagon was greater. They could see it. All they had from YWHW was his word.
The biggest problem in your life is not anxiety or anger or insecurity. Your biggest problem is unbelief. It’s your unbelief that terrorizes you. It’s the unwillingness to call on the name of the Lord to be saved. It’s that you trust what you see more than what God has said. That’s why this world’s a mess. That’s why death threatens us and sin enslaves us. That’s why our lives are a mess. That’s why we’re hanging out terrified, huddled on our side of the mountain. We’ve made a big mess out of all of this because we don’t trust what God has said.
We “need” a “better” king.
We “need” a “better” king.
1 Samuel 17:11-12 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. 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 second conflict that comes up is really more of a contrast, though it would certainly lead to conflict down the road. It’s the contrast between Saul and David. It’s the tell of two kings here. At the forefront of the author’s mind would have been the need to explain the need for the transition from Saul to David, and God’s hand in the process. So, Israel has created quite a mess for themselves, and what they need is a king who will lead them to victory. Saul was Israel’s Champion. He was a head taller. He was strong and handsome. He was their king and representative. And, he’s shaking in his sandals. “Now David” enters the picture. They’re set beside each other so that we can see the difference between the salvation that we would choose (“Saul”), and the salvation that God sends (“David”); our means to fix our mess contrasted with God’s means to deliver us from what we’ve made. Self-made hope versus God-sent hope. False, fear-inducing hope versus true, life-giving hope.
Self-preserved or God glorified?
17:23-26 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?”
Saul is supposed to go and deliver his people, but he’s cemented into the ground. Why? Saul’s main concern is his own safety. He’s incentivizing someone else to do his work. He’s unwilling to risk death for his people. He is preserving himself at all costs. In many ways, Goliath is presented as a more honorable man than Saul, and it’s a comparison that we should draw. Goliath is blatantly blaspheming YWHW and defying that He is the God of gods. But, and this is what we need to realize, is that Saul is practically blaspheming. Saul’s self-preservation puts him at the center of his universe. His unwillingness to risk makes him appear most important. It reminds us of what Jesus said to the Church of Laodecia: “Be hot or cold, for I spew the lukewarm out of my mouth.” Goliath is almost better than Saul. At least, he’s cold. Saul is supposed to know God, but he’s living as though God isn’t there at all. He’s living as though his own life is the most important thing, as though he is god himself.
Contrast that with David. First time David had likely heard YWHW’s name blasphemed. He’s incensed. David doesn’t consider the danger. David doesn’t concern himself with the costs. David doesn’t flinch at the size of the foe. David’s concern is only the glory of God’s name, only with whether or not God’s name is being made famous and his reputation is being upheld among the nations.
What describes you? Self-preservation and practical blasphemy? Or, do you live as though God’s glory matters renders all costs untraceable?
Our limitations or God’s capabilities?
1 Samuel 17:32-37 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!”
Saul’s first words to David are a discouragement. His first words: “You are not able.” He immediately refocuses our eyes on what can be seen and the size of our enemy and our own personal wimpy-ness. That’s what we do, isn’t it? Saul is disappointed in the savior that God sent. He’s not impressive enough. He’s not flashy enough. He requires too much faith. He sees David, and he’s not impressed. Just a little shepherd-boy.
David’s response: “I’m not worried about what you see right now because I’ve what I’ve seen in the past.” That is, He that I know is greater than he that opposes us now. Lion. Bear. Giant. Three opponents = one deliverer. In other words, David knew that he was just a means by which one far greater would fulfill his promises.
What describes you? Do you focus on your limitations or God’s capabilities? Do you focus on the problem right in front of you, or the faithfulness of God that stands behind you?
Our ideas or God’s promises?
17:38-39 Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. 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.
Saul realizes that David is intent on going, and he immediately thinks: “We need an idea! We need to improve the odds. We need to match up with Goliath the best that we can. We need to try to look tougher and badder and better than we are.” This is human nature’s response to the insurmountable enemies we face. Our bodies decay, and we think: “I’ll just eat healthier and exercise more.” But, we just slow down the inevitable. Suffering comes, and we don’t know how to respond. So, we just try to look badder than the suffering and think positive, pretending like it doesn’t bother us. But, we don’t fool ourselves. We face the certainty of death, and we so we try to be better and do better and live better, hoping to pass whatever judgement is on the other side. But, we’re like Saul — left trembling with our feet cemented to the ground.
David recognizes that looking badder and better and tougher wouldn’t work. He couldn’t out-Goliath - Goliath. His only hope was in the tested and true promises of God. In man’s ways, we go in vain, but in the tested promises of God, we can stand with real and substantial hope.
What describes you? Do you live according to your own ideas and trying to be better and look badder and act tougher and happier to no avail? Or, do you live entirely by the promises of God?
APP: Goodness, don’t you see the story here: We’re not David. We need David! We need One who can overcome our blasphemy and change our perspective to God’s glory alone. We need One who will come in spite of our limitations to tell us that God is capable and willing to deliver us. We need One who doesn’t ask us to be better and try harder and act tougher, but who will assure us that God’s promises and grace and mercy are the answer. Oh, in light of the mess we’ve made, we need a greater king!
We’re “saved” by a “bigger” Giant.
We’re “saved” by a “bigger” Giant.
17:45-47 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.”
And, it’s in this last conflict that we learn that we’ve titled this story all wrong. What becomes clear is that the final conflict isn’t between David and Goliath; it’s between God and Goliath. So, this isn’t David versus Goliath. This story should be known as God versus Goliath. Here’s what David realized: He’s only the underdog in this story if you don’t believe in God. In truth, Goliath is the underdog. He’s the tiny little man that’s smashed by the great Giant.
There’s a story in view here more than simply how David would lead Israel as king, though that’s here. There’s a story in view here that’s more than just how God delivered Israel than the Philistines, though that’s here. This isn’t just a story of David’s personal history or Israel’s national history; this is a story of redemptive history, and how God was working to save the world. He had promised that the Seed of the Woman would crush the head of the serpent. And, what do we have here? We have a monstrous man clothed in scale-like reptilian armor who represents both slavery and certain death. Israel is on the opposite side of impossible chasm, and it appears that they will be defeated forever. But, God sends a deliver who appears weak and small, but through whom his power was wielded, and that deliverer renders the death blow to the great serpent. Then, the Deliverer cuts off his head, and how? With his own sword. You see, there is a greater David coming who will finally crush the serpent’s head, and how will he crush it? He’ll use the serpent’s own sword — death. He’ll go to the cross and die, and by dying He will defeat death and behead the Serpent.
And, that’s the hope that we have. Death doesn’t hover over us any more. Sin doesn’t enslave us any more. That’s promised. It’s a secure as Jesus is alive. So, you don’t have to slay the giants in your life; God has already done that. Just live wholly, entirely for his glory with the reckless abandonment of one set free from the threat of dying.