Felling Our Fears

Sermon by Rev. Brian Combs, 5/19/19

Both armies were in a stalemate, hunkered down in the trenches of inaction for weeks.  The Philistines were in the low lands, the Israelites were in the high country, and neither side was willing to escalate the conflict in the open plains in between.  Until the giant, Goliath, stepped onto the battlefield to destroy every challenger.  He stood nearly seven feet tall, wore a coat of armor weighing over one hundred pounds, brandished a spear, javelin and sword, and announced his undefeated record for all the world to hear. 

On the other side, a pubescent shepherd arrived with hummus sandwiches and a basket of figs.  He was the designated errand boy, the courier trusted only with delivering snacks to his older brothers, the real soldiers, entrenched in their foxholes.  After handing over lunch, he was dismissed back to chasing barnyard animals.  But instead of standing down, he went up the chain of command and pestered King Saul for a shot. 

Out of options, Saul relented.  David secured his field tools, palmed a few rocks and sprinted into the fray.  And when it was all over, the sheepherder emerged not only as the victor of a war but also as a champion of two world religions. 

In today’s text, what makes David a hero of faith?

1 Samuel 17:32-49 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “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.” When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Congregational Responses:

He believed in his abilities more than Saul’s suggestions.
He trusted God more than arming himself with the weapons of war.
He remembered all the protection God had already provided.

Malcolm Gladwell, the podcaster, author and man of faith, became obsessed with today’s text.  He immersed himself in the culture of ancient Palestine, studied the geography of the Holy Land and read countless commentaries and articles.  In his research, he came across a paper written by an Israeli Endocrinologist on a condition called Acromegaly.  It’s a disorder of the pituitary gland that causes an overproduction of human growth hormone.  Because of the body’s exaggerated size, many side effects occur, including chronic fatigue, limited joint mobility, muscle atrophy, and compromised vision.  Considering these infirmities and the strange details in the 1st Samuel story- the mighty Philistine was delayed in his fight response rather than quickly being on guard, his blurry eyes saw multiple sticks in the shepherd’s hand rather than one staff, and he is helped to the battlefield by an assistant instead of walking on his own- Gladwell concludes that Goliath, like nearly all titans, was almost certainly hobbled by Acromegaly.  Although Goliath was saluted as the ultimate warrior, by the time he gets to this encounter, he couldn’t see straight, couldn’t walk a line, and most certainly couldn’t clinch a fist.  An invincible reputation was actually little more than an impaired body.

After cowering in the corner of their bunkers for forty days, it didn’t occur to the Israelites that the giant, not the shepherd, might be the one at a complete disadvantage.  Paralyzed by impossibility, they kept their trembling hands to themselves, hung their heads in defeat and refused to engage in a battle they thought was already lost before it began. 

Not David.  Abandoning his countrymen’s submission, he jumped over the sandbag walls and ran towards the armed conflict.  When he arrived, standing tall in the shadow of Goliath, he must have realized what was obvious upon examination.  That the giant was little more than a teetering threat that couldn’t be backed up.    

David is a hero because he exposed the truth that most Goliathan fears are fabrications of our own making. They either don’t exist at all or they tumble to the ground when confronted.  Fear can be felled in two verses of scripture or less, but only after you get in its face. 

We all have a giant to contend with, a menacing terror that taunts us daily threatening our very existence.  But armed with faith, surrender is no longer our only option.  Instead, defiantly stand up, take the fight to what scares you most, and let your stone fly.