By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, January 14, 2001

1 Samuel 17:32-50 David kills Goliath

David said to Saul, "Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him."

Saul replied, "You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth."

But 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 delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine."

Saul said to David, "Go, and the Lord be with you."

Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

"I cannot go in these," he said to Saul, "because I am not used to them." So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield-bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was only a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. "Come here," he said, "and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!"

David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give all of you into our hands."

As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

Matthew 4:1-11 The temptation of Jesus

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God'" (Deut. 8:3)

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone'" (Ps. 91:11, 12)

Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Deut. 6:16).

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."

Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'" (Deut. 6:13). Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty" (1 Samuel 17:45)

My message for you this morning is simple: If we have faith in God and in God's Word, we can overcome, no matter how great the odds against us may seem.

At the time of our Old Testament reading, the situation was not looking good for the Israelites. Yes, after a long period of instability and regional leaders, the people were finally unified under a single leader: king Saul. And what a king! He was a big, tall man: a head taller than all the others-a man who stood out in the crowd. And the people liked that. They liked a big, tall, strong man to give them confidence and lead them in battle.

If only Saul had been big, tall, and strong in spirit as well as in body, things may have been going better. But despite some early victories of the Israelites over their enemies under Saul, it soon became apparent that he could not lead the people of God. For all his physical size and strength, Saul lacked the spiritual size and strength to follow the will of the Lord. He was continually doing things his own way instead of God's way. Because of this, the spirit of God left him, and he grew less and less able to stand against Israel's enemies.

The scene for today's battle was simple and stark. In the hills on one side of the small Valley of Elah the Israelite army was camped, with Saul as its commander. Facing them on the opposite side of the valley was the fearsome army of the Philistines-a nation that the Israelites never did entirely subdue. The armies would come out each day and face one another across that valley, shouting their war cries, trying to win the battle psychologically before they even engaged in physical combat.

The Philistines were winning the psychological battle. Saul may have been a head taller than any of his fighting men, but he was a dwarf compared to Goliath, who stood over nine feet tall, as the story is told. Each day, day after day, for forty days this huge giant of a man came out and taunted the Israelites, challenging them to send out a warrior who could face and defeat him in battle. It was a time-honored practice. Instead of engaging in battle with the entire army, with all the resulting bloodshed, each side would send out a champion. The two would fight, and the side whose champion won would be declared the victor, while the side whose champion lost would surrender, and become subject to the other side.

One look at Goliath convinced Saul's men that it would be a losing battle. For forty days, not a single man came forward to face Goliath. Until David came along. And he couldn't properly be called a man: he was a mere youth. Further, he was not a trained soldier, but a shepherd and a musician. An unlikely champion to stand against a giant who was likely twice his height, and a battle-trained, hardened warrior.

Yet the shepherd and musician was the one who volunteered to go against Goliath, whom none of Israel's soldiers had the courage to face. And since Saul was seriously in need of a champion, and this young man was brave and well-spoken, he had little to lose in sending him out against Goliath. David tried out Saul's armor, but chose instead to fight Goliath armed only with his familiar shepherd's staff and sling. He chose five smooth stones from the stream that separated the two armies, and then he was ready.

When Goliath, the warrior champion, saw the one that the Israelites had sent against him, he responded with derision. Why, this young boy wasn't even a real opponent. He had no armor, no weapons worthy of the name. It would be a simple matter to dispatch him. And this Goliath said he would do, as he called down curses on David by his gods.

David was not deterred, nor was he afraid. "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin," he said, "but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies if Israel, whom you have defied." And he informed Goliath that he and his Philistine army would be the ones suffering death and defeat that day.

When Goliath moved forward to attack, David did not hesitate, but ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. He had no intention of defending himself from this Philistine; his plan was to strike the first blow, and dispatch the Philistine giant before he had a chance to use his impressive weaponry.

That is exactly what David did. Reaching into his familiar shepherd's bag, he took out a stone, and with an accuracy that came from long practice and from an unshakable faith in God, his stone flew straight and true, and felled Goliath instantly.

In the aftermath of this astounding victory of a young, nearly unarmed boy against the Philistine's powerful champion, the Philistine camp descended into confusion and panic. They turned and fled. The effect on the Israelites, who had been trembling with fear at Goliath's taunts for the last forty days, was just the opposite: emboldened by David's heroism and his victory, they surged forward and routed the Philistine army in a great defeat.

This is the familiar Bible story that captivates children-especially young boys. It has become a metaphor in our society, representing every struggle and triumph of the downtrodden "little guy" against powerful institutions and individuals who would oppress them. It has inspired generations of people to have faith in God and continue to fight for what is right even when the odds against success seem overwhelming.

We all enjoy hearing David and Goliath stories. This week I heard the story of how a twelve year old boy named Hunter Scott, after a lot of research into the sinking of the Navy cruiser USS Indianapolis in 1945, went on a mission of his own to exonerate the captain of that vessel, Charles McVay, from the court martial that had followed the sinking. McVay, whose promising career was ruined by the court martial, eventually committed suicide after reading one hostile letter too many from a relative of one of the victims of the sinking.

Like most of the surviving crew members, Hunter Scott was convinced that the court martial was unjustified. And he went all the way to the U.S. Congress to press his case. Thanks in large part to his efforts, Congress has just passed a law exonerating Captain McVay fifty years after the sinking. It was inspiring to hear a twelve year old boy speak of his conviction that an injustice had been done, and his determination to right that wrong even if it meant facing the U.S. Congress. We have David and Goliath stories even today.

We may not all get involved in struggles against the governments, armed forces, and political powers of this world. But the story of David and Goliath resonates with us not only because we continue to admire those who stand up for what is good and right against great odds, but because we, too, must face our own giants. We, too, need the encouragement of feeling that even though the odds may be stacked up against us, there is a far greater power behind us, by which we can prevail.

In popular lore, the Philistines have come to stand for every worldly and materialistic power that oppresses simple, honest people. And David stands for the courage of simple, honest people who stand up to the Goliaths of this world. Swedenborg gives a more specific meaning to Goliath and David, relating especially to our own inner, spiritual life. Though the story of David and Goliath can be interpreted to apply to the larger events of our society, it gains its greatest power for us when we realize that David and Goliath refer to elements of our own personality and our own inner experience.

As we explored during Advent through the stories of Joshua, our life involves many inner battles. All to often, the emotional and spiritual battle lines are drawn within us. The opposing forces within us face off against each other, challenging one another. And the result will determine whether we will be ruled by our higher self or by our lower self.

Our battles with the Philistines within us are particularly difficult ones. In traditional Swedenborgian terms, the Philistines represent faith separated from charity. In more current language, they symbolize the idea that it is enough to know what is right without actually acting on it; the idea that the most important thing is to be right about things, and that showing thoughtfulness and kindness to others is a secondary consideration.

If we are in the grip of our inner Philistines, we tend to be proud of our own intelligence, believing that we are better than others because we see and understand things better than they do. We may think that we are doing others a great favor if we show them the error of their ways, and give them our prescription for how to straighten themselves out. This is especially "Philistine" of us if we do it less because we really love them and care about them, and more to prove that we are right and they are wrong.

However, not everyone gets caught up in pride and intellectual conceit. In fact, some of us have a rather low opinion of ourselves; if anything, suffer from low self-esteem rather than an overabundance of it. I believe there is an aspect of Goliath that relates to us when we are facing that "giant" enemy of frustration, depression, and inner defeat as well. Because it is a matter of what we focus on, and where we put our trust.

In David's speech to Goliath, notice the contrast between what Goliath trusts in and what David trusts in. Goliath puts his trust in his sword, his spear, and his javelin-his prized weapons, made of wood and bronze and iron, which he uses to physically attack his enemies. In our own lives, when we focus on our own mental and emotional equipment, and on the apparent hopelessness of our situation, the obstacles to overcoming either our own intellectual pride or our own depression and self-defeatism do loom up like a giant inner enemies, before which we tremble in fear.

David was not carrying any of these solid, heavy weapons. But he put his trust in something far greater: the name of the Lord Almighty. In contrast to Goliath, who drew both his identity and his strength from the outward, physical weapons of war, David drew his identity and strength from within and above himself. Though his simple shepherd's staff and sling seemed woefully inadequate against the heavily armed Goliath, he had something far more powerful that the Philistine lacked: a firm and well-grounded faith in the greater power of God against all enemies.

We can draw upon the same power when we are facing our inner Goliaths-whether they be excessive pride in ourselves or a lack of confidence in ourselves. Sometimes tend to focus on that fearsome, taunting Goliath which tells us that we can never hope to become anything more than a slave to our lower selves, to our old patterns. But each of us also has a David inside us. Each of us has a conviction hidden away within us that there is a greater force in the universe than anything this earth can throw against us.

Perhaps our "David" is still innocently tending the sheep in obscurity, and we have not discovered that strength yet. But it is there. And we, too, can call upon that strength when we've had enough of the taunting of our lower nature. Even if every theory and argument and resolve and technique that we've ever thrown against our inner Goliaths has failed, there lies hidden within us, in a place we may not suspect, the power to overcome.

That power is not our power. As long as we trust in ourselves, and think we can pull ourselves out of whatever rut we are in, we will lose. But we will begin to win the victory as soon as we can say, with David, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty."

When we can approach our inner battles with that kind of faith, the defeat of our Goliaths is inevitable. And Jesus shows us how to accomplish that defeat. Each time the Devil tempted him, he drew out a simple, tried and tested truth from Scripture. These tried and true spiritual principles are the five smooth stones, rounded and honed in the streams of our life experience, which David used to fell Goliath. If we have faith in God and in God's Word, we can overcome, no matter how great the odds against us may seem. Amen.

Music:  Dimensions
1999 Bruce DeBoer


David and Goliath Graphic
Courtesy of Broderbund Christian ClickArt Collection