A Sling and a Stone, a King and a Throne

A Fresh Look at an Old Sunday School Lesson

Sermon by Pastor Bill Chadwick | June 13, 2021

I Samuel 17 and 18

How many of you have heard the story of David and Goliath?  Of course, it is one of the best-known stories in the Bible.  However, I don’t believe I have ever preached on it and I was delighted to see it show up in the lectionary for this week and the next.  

Some context.  From the time of Moses (perhaps 1300 BCE) the Twelve Tribes of Israel that left captivity in Egypt lived as a loose confederacy of tribes.  They lived rather independently until whenever an outside enemy would threaten one of them.  Then the call went out to their fellow Israelites to leave their fields, grab a weapon and come to the aid of their sisters and brothers.  Well, they regularly got their jockstraps handed to them by the standing armies of their enemies led by a king, so after a while they, too, clamored for a king.  The chief prophet of Israel, a very impressive dude named Samuel, warned them that this was a very bad idea.  Kings are for other countries, not for Israel.  God alone is our king.  Kings will lead to conscription and taxes and confiscation of people’s land and all the other nasty things for which kings have forever been known.  “Trust me,” said Samuel, “you don’t want a king.”

“Give us a king!” the people demanded.  Reluctantly, Samuel and God gave in and Samuel anointed as king the man that God chose for them. Israel had its first king. This would have been late in the 11th century, maybe 1060 BCE.  The king’s name was ???  Saul.  Saul started out okay, but eventually fell into the ways of most kings and people started regretting their decision.

Saul did not follow God’s commands and eventually God had had enough and decided that Saul was no longer to be king.  That’s where we pick up the story.  Listen carefully.  The scripture reading is always more important than anything I’m going to say about it afterwards.

God instructed the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king.Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “Umm, Lord.  Uhh, you know I have always tried to follow you and do as you command, but this is a pretty dicey assignment you’ve given me.  If King Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Hmm.  Good point.  Here’s what you do. Take a heifer with you (for you city slickers who did not grow up on a dairy farm like I did, a heifer is a female that has not yet had a calf) and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. (Clergy used to get more respect than they do these days.) The elders asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Jesse’s first-born, a tall good-lookoin’ fellow named Eliab, Samuel thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Got any more sons hidden anywhere?

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.

Now some time passes, and we pick up the narrative in chapter 17 of I Samuel.  The neighboring Sea Peoples, called Philistines, who lived along the coast of the Mediterranean, were looking longingly at the territory of the Israelites.  They gathered their forces for war and pitched camp in Judah.  Saul and the Israelites assembled and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines.

The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. That, folks, is nine feet tall.  Some other sources indicate he was “only” seven feet tall.  That would be bad enough today, but remember how tiny most people were in those days.  Anthropologists tell us that the average man in Jesus’ day was 5’1” and 110 pounds.) He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing 125 pounds; on his legs he wore bronze armor, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed fifteen pounds. His shield bearer went ahead of him.

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified…

16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.

Now the three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul into war.  The youngest son, David, mostly tended the family’s flocks, but on occasion he would load up a wagon full of food to bring to his brothers at the encampment.  One day he reached the camp

He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

25 Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel…”

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

33 Saul replied, “Oh, aren’t you adorable.  But no, I don’t think so. You’re a kid.  Look at him.  That Philistine giant has been a warrior all his life!” 

34 But David said to Saul, “I have been keeping my father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 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. 36 I have 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. 37 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.”

Saul said to David, “All righty-then!  Go, and the Lord be with you.”

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on Saul’s sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

This isn’t gonna work,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his (own) 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.

41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David up and down and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

45 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. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 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 (God) will give all of you into our hands.”

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 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.

50 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.

51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s (own) sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath[f] and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the road…53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.

Well, who said the Bible was boring?

Let’s walk our way through this and see what the Living Word is for us today.

First, we have a most interesting depiction of God.  God changes God’s mind.  God gives the Israelites a king, but then takes away that king.  We see this in several other places in scripture.  In the book of Jonah, God changes God’s mind and doesn’t destroy Nineveh.  In the books of Amos and Jeremiah, God changes God’s mind, and so on.

Second, when Samuel sees Jesse’s first-born son, a tall and handsome fellow, Samuel presumes that this is the one God has chosen.  But God says,  The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  That’s counter-culture, isn’t it?  I have read that the typical American is exposed to 3000 advertising messages a day.  And most of them are telling us we do not measure up.  But… if we buy their product, then we will be okay.  It will make us look younger, our hair shinier, and so on.  

Things have changed in the past couple of decades with women in the cockpit, but think about what airline pilots used to look like.  It seemed like they were all tall and handsome.  The same with senior pastors of tall-steeple Presbyterian churches, tall, handsome and with great hair.  I didn’t stand a chance.  Paul Simon, a US Senator from Illinois, ran for President a number of years ago.  In my opinion, he was eminently qualified and had a lot of great ideas for the country.  But I knew he wouldn’t get his party’s nomination, nevertheless the presidency, because he was short and looked like Orville Redenbacher’s less attractive brother.  I thought, “In pre-TV days this man would be elected president, but he doesn’t stand a chance,” and I was right.  For the past 150 years, the taller of the two presidential candidates won the popular vote more than two-thirds of the time. 

But “the Lord looks on the heart.”  (Though the scripture seemingly contradicts itself a few verses later when it says that David was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. 

That’s the Bible for ya.)

Third.  Years ago, someone pointed out to me the significance of David refusing to wear Saul’s armor and carry Saul’s sword.  David said, “I’m not used to them.  I can’t go into this challenging situation with things I’m not used to.”

I cannot tell you how many times in a hospital room, or visiting a family who has lost a loved one, that I have been asked the question, “Pastor, in times like this, what do people do who don’t have a church?”  I have no answer.  I can’t imagine.  

Life is hard.  No one escapes difficult, difficult times.  What tools do we have to face those times?  Those of us who have a church congregation, those of us who know the gospel story, those of us who have an active prayer life, are equipped to face those times.  My heart weeps for people without those tools.  

Finally, it wasn’t just his sling that gave David the victory.  It was God’s presence.  Verse 13: 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.

God doesn’t call us to do great things and then leave us alone.  God’s Spirit empowers us to do what God calls us to do.  Forty days of taunting had left the Israelites enervated and terrified, had sapped their strength.  But David called upon the Lord and didn’t try to meet Goliath with the standard sword and shield.  When we face giant forces of evil and injustice, let us call upon the Lord.  Let us bring creative solutions.  “Ruby Bridges in 1960 New Orleans broke down the barriers of a segregated educational system through courage and prayer. A major factor in the success of the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines was the nuns, priests and laypeople who were willing to kneel unmoved  in prayer in front of military tanks” (Lewis F. Galloway, Feasting on the Word) after years of training in nonviolence.  Similarly, the nonviolent revolution in East Germany.  Following the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, I remember an East German general saying, “We were ready to face rocks being thrown and bullets being fired, but we had no answer for candles and hymns.”

David was certainly a flawed character, but when he was walking with the Lord and relying on the strength of God’s Spirit, he did great things.

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