6/23/2024

“You Are the One: The Hero”

You Are the One: The Hero

First Baptist Richmond, June 23, 2024

1 Samuel 17

This very 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 Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.

[Begin by holding up a smooth, round stone]

This is the actual stone David used to kill Goliath [pause]. At least that’s what I tell people when they visit my study and ask me about it. They know I’m only joking. This is a rock I picked up on the coast of Maine. It’s a smooth, round piece of granite that weighs exactly 7.1 ounces. But when I hand it to them and they have a chance to feel the weight of it, to toss it up in the air a few times and feel it smack back into their palms, they often say, “Well, that would do it!”

Yes, it would.

The story of David and Goliath begins in 1 Samuel 17, with the news that the Philistines have gathered their armies for battle. Saul and the armies of Israel come out against them and the two armies line up on either side of the Valley of Elah. And while they’re standing there, sizing each other up, a champion steps out from among the Philistines: Goliath of Gath. He shouts out 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.” But no one in the army of Israel steps forward to meet that challenge, and there’s a

reason:

Goliath was a giant!

At a time when the average Israelite would have stood about five-feet-one, Goliath was nearly ten feet tall. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and a coat of mail that weighed 150 pounds. He had bronze greaves on his legs and a javelin slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam and the head of the spear weighed sixteen pounds. He was the most sophisticated military weapon of his time, and he was taunting the army of Israel, daring them to send out someone, anyone, who would fight with him.

This is where David comes into the story. His father had sent him with provisions for the army and asked him to check on his brothers and see how the battle was going. Somehow David worked his way to the front lines, heard Goliath’s challenge, and realized immediately that you would have to be a fool to volunteer for such a mission; engaging this giant in hand-to-hand combat would be suicide. He would run you through with that massive spear, cut you down with that heavy sword. But what if you didn’t get that close to him? What if there were another way?

When I was a boy my brothers and I used to put empty tin cans on fence posts and try to knock them off with a slingshot. We weren’t very good at it, but every once in a while we would hit one and hear that satisfying ping! But once, after hearing the story of David, we tried to do the same thing with a sling. We made one out of some scraps of leather and strips of rawhide, and it worked. But what we discovered is that we had plenty of range but not much accuracy. We could sling a rock a hundred yards and hear it splash in the river below our house, but we could hardly ever hit those tin can targets.

Last week I found a video on YouTube posted by a young man who was trying to develop his accuracy with a sling. He was standing in an empty lot, hurling rocks at a plastic gallon jug full of water, and hitting it most of the time. He said, “Now, after nearly a year and 30,000 tests, I can hit a small, game-size target three out of every four tries at 30 feet. Thus, I’m at the skill level of a child from an indigenous slinging culture. Adults from such cultures, with a lifetime of practice, are able to consistently hit torso-sized targets at 150 feet.” What’s the secret? “You need to practice,” he said, “a lot! You need to practice every single day for hundreds and hundreds of days. You need to practice until your arm and back are sore, practice until thick hard calluses form on your release fingers, practice until your muscles, your arm, and your mind become one. You need to practice until you are able to consciously purge all thoughts from your mind at a moment’s notice.”i

I’m guessing that when David was out there watching his father’s sheep all day he didn’t have much else to do but practice, picking out targets at a distance and developing deadly accuracy. If you’ve ever read the entire Bible you may remember that place in Judges, chapter 20, where there is a reference to 700 left-handed Benjamanite sharpshooters who could “sling a stone at a hair and not miss.” In other words, accuracy with a sling is possible, it just takes a lot of practice, and apparently David had had a lot of practice. He had skills. To him, this giant’s forehead may have looked as big as a billboard beside the highway. He may have wondered how you could sling a stone at something like that and not hit it. And that’s when he realized that he might just be the man for the job.

So he began to ask around, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” The soldiers said, “Well, he’s a giant,

obviously! And that’s exactly what he’s doing: he’s defying the armies of Israel.” “Well, what if someone should go up against him and defeat him,” David asked. “What would he get?” “Why, the king would make him rich,” they said. “He would give him his daughter in marriage and make his family free in Israel.” And that’s when David’s older brother Eliab pulled him aside. “You little runt!” he hissed. “Why did you come down here? With whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know why you’re here: you just want to see the battle!” But David pulled away and said, “Relax! It was only a question!”

But by then the rumor was spreading that some kid from Bethlehem had volunteered to fight the giant, and Saul got wind of it and sent for him, and that’s how David ended up standing in front of the king. “Is it true?” Saul asked. “Are you willing to fight the giant?” And that may have been the precise moment when David realized that it was true. “Yes,” he said. “But you’re only a boy,” Saul said, and that was true, too, although if you’re thinking David was a little boy you might need to think again. He was old enough to be interested in marrying the king’s daughter. He must have been a teenager at least. Still, he was just coming into his manhood whereas this giant, as Saul said, had been chopping men to pieces for years. But David was undaunted.

“I used to keep sheep for my father,” he said (as if it were something he had done a long time ago, before becoming a professional soldier), “and whenever a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock I would run after it, and strike it down, and rescue the lamb from its mouth. And if it turned against me I would catch it by the jaw, and club it to death. I’ve killed lions and bears in this way and this Philistine will be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord, who saved me from the claw of the lion and the paw of the bear,

will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” David is fearless, isn’t he? Surely that is one of the reasons he was a man after God’s own heart. But he isn’t only brave: he’s also smart. Saul tries to dress him up in his own armor, putting his helmet on his head and covering him in a coat of mail. David straps on Saul’s sword, but when he tries to walk it drags the ground. “No thank you,” David says, politely. He tells Saul he’s simply not used to all that armor, but I think there is another reason. I think he knows that if he’s going to use his sling he will need his full range of motion. He can’t allow anything to get in the way. And as far as swords go, Goliath already has one. If David can just knock him out he can use that sword to cut off his head. As I said, he’s smart!

So, he goes out to fight the giant, taking only his shepherd’s staff and his sling. He stops in the dry creek bed running through the center of the valley where he chooses five smooth stones, probably just about the size and shape of this one [holding up stone], and puts them in his bag. Five stones, I say: not one. He wasn’t cocky. He knew it might take him a few tries to knock this giant out. But he also wasn’t afraid. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

When Goliath saw him coming he laughed out loud. He said, “What? Am I a dog, that you send me a boy with a stick? Send me a real man, so that we can fight together!” But David just kept coming, staring at Goliath’s forehead as if it were an archery target. It must have been a little unnerving. “Well come to me, then,” shouted Goliath, “and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field!” And that’s when David delivered the speech he had been working on for the last fifteen minutes. He said, “You come to me with sword and spear and 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 very 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 Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

That’s it, that’s what kept David from being afraid. He really did believe that God was with him and that God would deliver this giant into his hand. I tried drawing a picture of it once. There was Goliath, ten feet tall and probably five hundred pounds of pure muscle, standing on that hillside in all his impressive armor; and there was David, standing in front of him, a skinny little silhouette holding a sling; but behind Goliath, where David could see him but Goliath could not, was the Lord God Almighty, rising up from behind that hill like Mount Everest, and getting ready to crush that puny giant under his thumb like an insect.

So, David was smart, and he was brave, but he also had this tremendous faith that God was with him, and because God was with him he could do what he had to do. And did I mention? He also had skills. In that moment, from a distance of about thirty feet, he sized up Goliath’s head (which was so much bigger than a plastic gallon jug filled with water). He focused on the spot that he thought would be most vulnerable, right between the eyes. And then he consciously purged all other thoughts from his mind, swung that stone around his head, and let it fly, almost too casually, as if he were trying to knock a tin can off a fence post.

I did a little research on this. I asked the artificial intelligence app on my phone what the force of impact would be for a smooth, round piece of granite weighing 7.1 ounces and traveling at approximately one hundred miles an hour. The app gave me some complicated mathematical formulas for calculating kinetic

energy as a product of mass times velocity, but then it said, “If the granite piece comes to a stop in a very short time, the force exerted on the target would be significant, and could potentially cause physical damage.”

I love it when the Bible and my artificial intelligence app agree, because the Bible says that when that stone hit the Philistine in the forehead it sank in, and I’m guessing that whatever electrical activity was going on in that tiny brain came to a stop, so that Goliath—that big, fearsome, armor-clad, muscle-bound military machine—fell to the ground face first. The armies on both sides of the valley felt the earth shake. But David ran up light as a deer, pulled Goliath’s sword out of its sheath, and used it to kill the giant, and cut off his head.

That’s it. That’s the whole story. You may want to know that the army of Israel gave chase to the Philistines and pursued them as far as Gath and the Gates of Ekron, leaving their dead bodies behind for the birds of the air to eat. And you may want to know that on that day David became the hero Israel had always dreamed of: someone who was smart, and strong, and skillful, but most of all someone who believed in God so wholeheartedly that he had no fear.

In this series I’ve been trying to help you find your place in the story, to help you hear God say, “You are the One.” So let me ask: are you a giant killer? Are you strong enough, smart enough, and skillful enough to meet the challenges of life? More than that do you have the kind of faith it takes to stand up to those challenges? Do you believe in a God bigger than any obstacle you will ever have to face? If not, you know what you have to do, right?

Practice, practice, practice.

—Jim Somerville © 2024