The Valley of Elah sits nestled between opposing slopes to the west of Jerusalem.
It was a middle ground contested between ancient Israel’s armies and the local Philistines forces. The battle lines were drawn: the Philistine coalition on one ridge, the Israelites on the other. Down in the valley was the point of no return. It was there, with enemy eyes ahead and frightened but friendly eyes behind, that perhaps the most well-known battle would occur.
It was there that the bronze-clad, 9-feet-tall, Philistine champion would lumber out daily to defy the armies of Israel and the God they represented. It was there for 40 days that the Israelites, trembling in their ranks, whispered and wondered among themselves at who could stand against Goliath of Gath, the ancient equivalent of a modern-day tank. Israel needed a hero.
Among the ranks of Israel were three of the elder sons of a man named Jesse, a Bethlehemite from the clan of Judah. Concerned for his boys, Jesse sent his youngest son, a shepherd named David, to deliver bread and cheese and to report back to him regarding the welfare of his brothers. But, being a good younger brother, David approached the battlefront with curiosity.
The whispers reached his ears of the jawing giant who stood in defiance against Israel and the Living God. David was indignant. After all, who would have the gall to give Goliath another moment to curse the LORD their God? David determined to down the fool.
When his brothers heard and saw that David was gearing for battle, they made fun of him as brothers do.
Accusing him of arrogance, wickedness and inexperience, David’s oldest brother Eliab did his best to discourage the young man. But David would not budge. His courage was contagious and reached the ears of King Saul. When David bowed before King Saul, the king recognized David’s confidence. However, blinded by fear, Saul discouraged David from going to war.
David was a young man, and Goliath was a seasoned warrior. However, David steadily gave his defense: “David said to Saul, ‘Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 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 rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine,” (1 Sam 17:34-37, NIV). David would be able to face Goliath because God would go with him.
Convinced of David’s confidence, Saul changed his mind. Instead of having David go home, Saul suggested that David don the king’s royal armor. Imagine this: Saul, a tall man himself, attempted dressing this ruddy youth in his royal armor. It would not fit, and David saw no use for it. If he would face the giant in battle, David would do it on the King’s terms, but not Saul’s. No, David would go to battle on God’s terms.
We know the story. David grabbed his staff, gathered five smooth stones from a nearby brook and gripped his sling. As other men fled, David forged onward, fuming at the indignation of the Philistine giant who loomed ahead, cursing at him. Words flew, followed by a single stone that sank into the giant’s skull. Suddenly, in the most unexpected of ways, Goliath fell.
Friend, we all need a hero. We all need one who will victoriously stand in the gap between us and the giant. As we read this familiar story, there are often two great mistakes that we make.
First, we misname the giant. We read our story into the details of David and Goliath. We consider the giant to be a car accident, cancer or some other catastrophe. Albeit those are situations that bring suffering and sorrow, those are symptoms, shadows of the true giant standing ahead. The giant is sin and he brings death. Second, we misname the hero. We read this story and think, “If I can just be like David; if I can muster the courage; if I can find the right stone; if I can, if I can, if…” We cannot.
David was not the hero. The hero was the Living God. The hero we need is the better Son of David, the Son of God, Jesus who secured the better victory over the giant of sin on God’s terms. Today, may you come to him, by grace through faith, and find the rescue we need.
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