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David: Man After God's Own Heart,
Part II:
The Giant Killer

A sermon by Dr. Jim Somerville, Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist Church
Richmond, Virginia
June 17, 2012

1 Samuel 17

Last week as you may recall, I started a summer sermon series called “David, Man After God’s Own Heart.”
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says that it was David that made the eyes of ancient Israel sparkle. It was his stories those people told around their cook fires and their camp fires.
And so it seemed good to me to approach this series more like a story teller than a preacher. I’ve gotten rid of the pulpit, thrown away my notes, taken my tie, which will unsettle some of you. But let me assure you that when the series is over, all of that will come back, the pulpit, the notes, the neck ties. Until then, maybe you could just relax and enjoy the story. Let me warn you, some of these stories don’t sound like sermons. And today’s story is a good example. But I believe that these stories have power in them, and that if you will prepare the heart, the soil of your heart, so that the seed of the word can fall there and take root, something good will grow.
Times were hard for the people of God. It seemed like no matter how many times King Saul routed the Philistine army and ran them out of Israel, they would simply regroup and return to fight again. This time they were coming up the valley of Elah, one of the four principle valleys in that western watershed of Israel sloping down to the Mediterranean coast. They came up the valley and camped out near Soku. Saul got wind of it, he blew the ram’s horn trumpet, the shofar, and mustered his troops and they began to march down the valley to meet the Philistines there.
Now the Israelites and the Philistines had been at it so long it was almost a ritual between them. The Philistines would line up on one side of the valley, the Israelites would line up on the other. They would glare at each and rattle their swords and shout their war cries, and eventually the Israelites would surge forward, the Philistines would meet them on the battlefield, they would fight, there would be winners, there would be losers, and eventually it would all start over again.
They had been at it for years and years. but this time, when they lined up for battle, before the shofar could be blown, the ranks of the Philistine army separated, and a champion stepped forward, Goliath of Gath, a giant of a man. He stood six cubits and a span. Now a cubit, as you know, is the average length of a man’s forearm from elbow to fingertip, about eighteen inches. And a span is the distance between spread finger and thumb, about eight inches from tip to tip. Goliath was about nine feet and eight inches. If he were on your basketball team you would want to put him at center, and he would stand with his head just a few inches below the rim of the basket. He was tall!
But not only tall, he was big! He wore a helmut of bronze on his head, and wore a coat of mail that weighed five thousand shekels of bronze. that’s nearly a hundred and fifty pounds! Imagine walking around with that on. He had bronze greeves guarding his shins, covering his legs, down below a bronze javelin slung between his shoulder blades. If you looked at Goliath you would have known he was invincible. Bronze helmut on his head, his bronze coat of mail, bronze greeves, bronze javelin, and in front of him went his shield bearer.
Goliath came forth from the ranks of the Philistine army. He came clanking down the hill to the valley and looked up at the army of Israel and said, “Why have you drawn up for battle? Am I not a Philistine and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man from among yourselves to come down here and fight with me, and if he fights with me and kills me then we will serve you, but if I defeat him and kill him then you will serve us and be our servants. This day I defy the armies of Israel, give me a man to fight with me!”
And all the soldiers in that army of Israel turned toward King Saul, the manliest man they knew. He stood head and shoulders above every other man in Israel. He had been chosen as King so that he could lead his army into battle and give Israel rest from its enemies all around. But when Saul saw this giant, he was greatly dismayed and terribly afraid, and all of Israel with him. He slunk back to his tent and cowered in fear while Goliath stood there in the valley shouting, “Give me a man to fight with me!”
Now there was a boy in Bethlehem named David. He was the son of Jesse, one of eight sons Jesse had. By the time Saul became King, Jesse was too old to fight in his battles but he sent his three oldest sons to be in Saul’s army. There was Eliab, the oldest, tall, strong, good-looking. And then Abinadab, who was his equal in almost every way. And Shamah, the third. These three were in Saul’s army. They were there at the battlefield near Soku. David would go back and forth from the battlefield to Bethlehem where he took care of his father’s sheep.
One day Jesse said to David, “Listen, go down to the battlefield and take this half bushel of parched grain for your brothers, and take ten loaves of bread, and here, take these ten cheeses and give them to the boys’ commanding officer. Put in a good word for the boys and if you can, bring back some word from the battle. I would love to know what’s happening down there.”
So David found someone else to take care of the sheep and early the next morning he got up and started down toward Soku, about fourteen miles west of Bethlehem. It was a long walk. By the time he got there it was already late in the afternoon. But the armies of Israel and the armies of Philistia were lining up against each other as they did every morning and every afternoon, and David left his things with the baggage keeper, he pushed his way through he crowd to the front line and got there just in time to see the ranks of the Philistine army part, and to see Goliath step forward.
Goliath came down to the valley and repeated the challenge that he had been using for forty days now, saying to the armies of Israel, “Choose a man from among yourselves, send him down here to fight with me! If he defeats me we will serve you, if I defeat him, you will serve us!”
And David heard it, and he said to those soldiers standing around him, “Which one of you is going to go down there and fight that giant? Which one?” And they all said, well, not me, not me, not me!” And David said, “Well somebody needs to fight this giant! Somebody needs to go down there and cut his head off! What will the king give the man who does such a thing?” And they said, well, if he lives, the king will greatly enrich him, and give that man his daughter’s hand in marriage, and give his family a free ride in Israel.......if he lives. And David said, “Somebody needs to do it! Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he dare defy the armies of the Living God?!”
And do you know that it is the first time in the whole story that the name of God has been mentioned?
Don’t you just hate that? Don’t you hate it when you are working on some big problem, and you’re chewing on the end of your pencil trying to figure it out and some little kid comes along and says What’s the matter? And you say, well, you couldn’t possibly understand! I’ve got this big problem I’m working on, I mean huge! It’s enormous! It’s bigger than big! It’s enormous! This problem you couldn’t possibly understand. And that little kid say, “Well, have you prayed about it?”
Don’t you just hate that? Eliab hated it when David, his little brother, this cocky kid came down there from Bethlehem and started talking about this battle and how somebody should go down there and lop off this giant’s head and wouldn’t the Lord want it that way? Eliab said, “You pip-squeak! I know how you are! I know what you want! You just come down here to see the battle and you’ve left our father’s sheep wandering around alone on some hillside in Bethlehem, who know’s what’s become of them! Shame on you!”
And David responded with that tone of voice that little brothers have been using with big brothers forever. He said “Hey! It was just a question!” And then he turned to one of the soldiers near and said, “OK, one more time, what will the man get who kills this giant?”
Well King Saul heard all that big talk and that very evening he invited David to his tent. There he was, sitting in the tent with the lamplight flickering on the walls all around. He says, “What’s this I hear about you and all this big talk about fighting the giant?”
Now Saul, as I’ve told you, was a big man. He was head and shoulders taller than any man in Israel, and even sitting down he was an intimidating figure. But David refused to be intimidated. He said, “King Saul, you don’t have to worry about that giant any more, I myself will go and fight him and kill him!”
And Saul laughed out loud. He said, “Look at you, you’re just a boy, and this giant has been killing warriors since he was just a boy.” And David said, “You don’t understand, I used to keep sheep for my father in Bethlehem, and every once in a while a bear or a lion would come and steal a lamb from the flock, and I would jump up and chase it down and I would kill it and rescue the lamb from its mouth, and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw and strike it down and kill it! Your servant has killed both lions and bears, and so will this uncircumcised Philistine be to me! The Lord has rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear and he will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!”
And Saul said, “Well then, go, and may the Lord go with you!”
He tried to give David his own armor to wear, do you remember this part of the story? He put his bronze helmut on his head and his long coat of chain mail that must have come down almost to David’s ankles. Strapped that long sword around his waist so that it dragged the ground behind him when he tried to walk. David tried but he couldn’t walk, and finally he said to Saul apologetically, “Thank you for the offer, but I believe I will simply use my own usual weapons of warfare.”
And so it was that early the next morning just after daybreak, David was down in that wadi, that dry creek bed down in the valley of Elah, choosing five smooth round stones that had been tumbled in that creek bed during the spring rains when the water flowed. Five smooth, round stones that he put into his pouch, and then he went back up the hill to join the army of Israel.
A little later that same morning, both armies lined up for battle as they usually did morning and afternoon, and the ranks of the Philistine army parted and here came Goliath clanking down the hill to the valley, and once again he shouted up to the armies of Israel, “Give me a man to fight with me!”
And here came David, with a stick in his hand, and Goliath said, “What am I, a dog, that you send a boy with a stick?” And he began to curse David by his Philistine gods and said, “This very day I will strike you down and kill you and give your flesh to the birds of the air and the wild animals of the field.”
And David said to him, “Nah, uh!!” He said, “You come to me with sword, and shield, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel! The one you have defied! This very day he will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and kill you and cut off your head and I will give the bodies of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the wild animals of the earth so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel and so that all this assembly may know, the Lord does not win battles with sword and spear, but the battle belongs to the Lord!”
Then David began to run toward Goliath. I mean, for weeks, the army of Israel had been running away from Goliath, but David ran toward him, and as he ran he reached into that pouch, he pulled out one of those smooth round stones, fitted it into the pocket of his sling, he whirled it round his head, once, twice, three times, and with a flick of the wrist he let it go. That stone sailed through the air like a laser guided missile to the broad, blank expanse of Goliath’s forehead. And it struck its target with a bone-shattering crunch, and when it did an explosion of light went off inside Goliath’s tiny brain, and he stumbled backward and tried to regain his balance, and then tilted forward and fell, flat on his face on the valley floor.
David had never stopped running. He reached the body of the giant, took that huge sword out of its scabbard, struggled to raise it up high over his head, and then let it fall hard on Goliath’s neck. The sword was sharp, the cut was clean, and Goliath’s head, still inside that bronze helmut, rolled heavily downhill into the valley clanking against the stones.
And then the army of Israel let out a shout, and they jumped up from where they were and began to give chase to the Philistine army. The Philistines ran down the valley of Elah and the army of Israel chased them, cutting them down all the way to Gath and to the gates of Ekron.
When they were finished the valley floor was littered with the bodies of the Philistine soldiers, and for weeks afterwards, the vultures circled over that valley and the wild animals would come out at night to feast on the flesh of the Philistine army until all that was left was a valley of dry bones.
When David was done with battle that day, he collected Goliath's armor and put it into the tent where his brothers were staying, and then he took Goliath's head to the tent of Saul.
Standing before the king he held up that head by its matted mop of hair, and Saul, who was sitting there, looked at the ugly face of that giant, of whom he had been so afraid, and then looked on the shining face of this boy from Bethlehem, and asked the question that had been on his mind all day, “Whose boy are you anyway?” And David said, “I am the son of your servant Jesse, from Bethlehem.”
The next day Saul and all the army of Israel loaded up their things and headed home. They went through villages along the way and the women of the villages came out shaking their tambourines and singing their songs of victory. One of them with flashing eyes improvised a new verse, and sang “Saul has slain his thousands, but David, tens of thousands!”
And Saul heard it, and turned to Abner his general, and said, “Did you hear that? Did you hear what she just said? Saul has slain his thousands but David his tens of thousands? What’s next? Will they give this boy the kingdom?”
From that day forward, Saul had his eye on David.

In just a moment we are going to sing a hymn of invitation. Before we do I want to invite you to look into your own heart and see what’s there. The Bible says that David was a man after God’s own heart. What was it about him? What did God love so much?
When you look into yourself do you see a heart that is devoted to God? Have you given him everything you have to give? Is there any part of your heart left that you could give today? Maybe this would be the day when you could step forth from the ranks and come and stand among this people and say I give myself wholeheartedly to God, nothing less will do.

—Jim Somerville 2012

 
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