The story of David and Goliath is one of the most well-known stories in the Bible. But despite its familiarity, it is often misunderstood. In this sermon, we take a closer look at 1 Samuel 17 and consider what it has to teach us about living a life of faith and what’s possible when we possess a God-dominated imagination.

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    According to the University, the most popular class at Yale, in its 320 year history, is "the happiness course," taught by Laurie Santos. The official title of this class is Psychology and The Good Life. When Professor Santos first offered it in 2018, nearly one quarter of the Yale undergraduate student body enrolled in the class. That tells you something. Here you have a school filled with bright, young students—they're smart, talented, and accomplished. They have their whole life in front of them and every door open to them. And yet, it seems that the one thing we all want—simply to be happy—has escaped them. That's true of many of us. Stop and ask yourself this morning, “Am I happy?” If so, why? And if not, why not? 

    We all know that getting better grades, making more money, finding a new job, starting a new relationship is not necessarily going to make us any happier. We'll still be just as stressed and anxious and dissatisfied. A class like that happiness course, and others like it, has some good advice to offer: get more sleep, practice hospitality, be kind to other people. That's all good advice as far as it goes. But what we all realize is that we need something deeper, and that is what the Scriptures offer us. 

    We're in the midst of a series in which we are contemplating the ancient and inescapable question: What is the good life? And as a follow up to that question: How can that life be lived? As a way of answering that question, we're exploring the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel. We're looking at the life of David. As we get into the story, it quickly becomes clear that David doesn't have a whole lot in himself to recommend to us in terms of how to live life successfully. If I told you to just go out there and be like David, you would probably run your life into the ground. He doesn't have a whole lot to offer us in himself because David is presented in the Scriptures as a complex human being like the rest of us. Sometimes David inspires us, and sometimes David makes us cringe. But the point is that whether demonstrating epic faith, or disastrous sin, David lives his life before God, aware of God, responsive to God, even in the midst of his fears and failures, and that is the key to the good life. That's what this episode is all about. 

    Today, we turn to the story of David and Goliath. If you know anything about David, you know the story of Goliath. People who have never read the Bible before have heard of David and Goliath. It is one of the best-known, most-loved stories in the whole history of the world. And yet, I would suggest that despite its familiarity, everything you think you know about this story is probably wrong. This sermon will not only illustrate the key to the good life, but it will also provide us with a little bit of a primer on how to read the Bible, especially how to read the Old Testament Scriptures. Today, I'd like us to turn to 1 Samuel 17, and consider what it tells us about the David we want, the David we need, and the David we get. I'm not going to read the whole chapter, but I will refer to most of it. I will be reading 1 Samuel 17:38-50.

    38Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, 39and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. 40Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd's pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.

    41And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” 45Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a 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. 46This 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 host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hand.”

    48When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

    50So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.

    This is God's word. It's trustworthy, and it's true, and it's given to us in love. 

    The David We Want

    Let me begin by setting the scene. The Philistines have been terrorizing God's ancient people in Israel, and chapter 17 opens with a faceoff in the valley of Elah. The Philistine army is positioned on one mountain and Saul's army, the army of Israel, is stationed on another with the valley between them. The Philistines are led by a man named Goliath although in the section of Scripture that I just read, he is simply referred to as "the Philistine." Goliath is often thought of as a giant, but if you look closely at the passage, he's never exactly described that way, although he was certainly unusually tall. By some measurements, he might have been 6’9”, perhaps even 7’ or more. 

    Goliath is impressive not only for his size, but also for his armor, which is described with an unusual degree of detail. He wears a bronze helmet on his head, and he is dressed in scales. He's wearing scale armor. He's covered in hundreds of tiny little pieces of metal. The shaft of his spear is so enormous that it is referred to as a weaver's beam. It's a beam of wood and the shield is so gargantuan that someone else has to carry Goliath’s shield in front of him. Understandably, the hulking figure of Goliath terrifies the Israelites and they all run away in fear. 

    Saul, the first king anointed to serve the people of Israel should have been the one to face down Israel's giants. Saul was something of a giant himself. He is described as being head and shoulders taller than everyone else, but Saul’s heart was falling, and therefore he's nowhere to be found. 

    David, meanwhile, is described in the exact same way as when he was first anointed to become the second king of Israel by the prophet Samuel. He's a handsome boy with ruddy red cheeks because he's so young. David has been running back and forth between Bethlehem and the battle lines bringing fresh supplies to his three older brothers, who are serving in the army. And when he overhears Goliath’s taunts, he is the one person who's willing to do what no one else would. 

    When you pick up the story in verse 38, Saul dresses David in Saul's own armor. David is willing to face the challenger, but when he puts on Saul's armor, it doesn't fit. Why? Because he's just a little kid. It's too big for him. He tries to walk around, and it doesn't work. He says, “I can't wear this. I'm not used to this.” So David puts off the armor, and he doesn't bother with a sword or spear or a javelin. Instead, he confronts Goliath with nothing but a staff in his hand and a sling. He puts one stone in the middle of that sling and begins to swirl it around his head in ever widening circles until he finally lets one fly and then takes Goliath out with just one shot. 

    Let me explain how this story is typically told, which reveals the David we want. We love stories like David and Goliath because we read it as a story about underdogs. David is a small, young, inexperienced boy who doesn't stand a chance against the battle-tested Goliath. But David doesn't play by the rules of combat. He relies on his brains rather than his brawn. He throws off that armor so that he's free to maneuver and run around. Then he takes Goliath out with an unconventional weapon—a sling. Goliath literally never sees it coming. The moral of the story seems to be: The bigger they come, the harder they fall. 

    We love stories like this because we see ourselves as the underdog, and we want to be the hero. We want to be the hero of our own life story. This is how Malcolm Gladwell, for example, reads the story, and he wrote a whole book about it, entitled David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. He describes this book as follows:

    "David and Goliath is a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants. By ‘giants,’ I mean powerful opponents of all kinds–from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune, and oppression. Each chapter tells the story of a different person–famous or unknown, ordinary or brilliant–who has faced an outsize challenge and been forced to respond. 

    Through these stories, I want to explore two ideas. The first is that much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty. And second, that we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate it: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable."

    Malcolm Gladwell is a terrific writer. I love everything he has to say. Everything he writes in this book is interesting and helpful. It's just that this is not what this story—the story of David and Goliath—is all about. That may be the David we want, but that is not the David that is offered here. The point is not that David is a clever and resourceful underdog who takes out Goliath with a ballistic missile, which was technically superior to all of Goliath’s weaponry. That's not the point of the story. 

    The David We Need

    David we want is nothing more than an ancient Israelite version of Jack in the Beanstalk, but that's the wrong way to read this story. That's the wrong way to read the Bible. That makes the Bible all about you, and what you must do for God, but in fact, the Bible is all about God, and what he does for you, by his grace. David is not an underdog. He is something altogether different. But that is the way in which the story is usually taught, especially to children in Sunday school. So if you volunteer with the Children's Ministry, note to self: Don't teach the story that way. The David we want is an underdog. But the David we need is something altogether different. He's not simply a brave little boy who's not afraid of the big bad giant. He is the Lord's anointed, who has been chosen to fight the Lord's battles. That changes everything. 

    Let me show you how the author intended you to read the story. At the very beginning of the chapter, Goliath is presented as a champion. That word “champion” in Hebrew is a very specific technical word. It literally meant "the man in between." A champion was someone who stood between his people and the opposing forces and fought on their behalf. When Goliath calls for a challenger from Israel, he's asking for what was known as single combat. This was a common practice In the ancient world. In order to avoid the unnecessary bloodshed, two sides in a conflict would each choose one warrior to represent them in a duel to the death. That is why Goliath says in verses 8-10, “Choose a man and let him fight me. If you win, we will be your sermons and if I win, you will be our servants.” It should have been Saul, but David is the one who accepts the challenge. He's not just an underdog. He's a champion. David steps into the ring, and he risks his life in order to fight for his people as their representative so that if David wins, they win. And if David loses, they lose. The stakes couldn't possibly be higher. 

    The question then is: Why does David do it? It's not just that David was unusually brave. If you think that, you might conclude that some people are bold and brave, and say, “I guess I'm just not one of them.” But no, the kind of bravery that David demonstrates is available to all of us because the bravery that he exhibits is not merely courage, but rather the courage of faith. 

    Most people think that faith is believing without or even against the evidence, it's just a blind leap in the dark. Faith is irrational. Mark Twain once said, “Faith is believing what you know ain't so." It's an irrational act. But I would suggest no, faith is simply learning to see things the way they really are. That is the key to the good life. Faith is a matter of simply seeing reality. It's a way of seeing things the way they really are. And I would suggest that you will never become fully human, you will never discover your truest self, you will never be able to navigate all the various stresses and strains of life until you learn to see reality. And by reality I do not mean a world that has been stripped of God. No, I mean, a world that is saturated with God because that is what is really real. 

    What was different between David and everyone else in the valley of Elah that day, is that David was filled with a God-dominated imagination, rather than a Goliath-dominated imagination. That's the fundamental problem that most of us have. We have a Goliath-dominated imagination. When that happens, Goliath is all you can see. Goliath becomes all important and everything else becomes insignificant. Goliath becomes the defining reality of your life that controls your every move. It fills you with anxiety and fear. It makes you paranoid and defensive. 

    What is your Goliath? What is threatening your life today? What is that hulking figure that looms large on the horizon? What is that Goliath that stalks every dream at night? 


    For some of you, your Goliath could be relational. It could be that there is a person who is opposing you, standing between you and something that you want. You might have an ogre for a boss, or a teacher, a family member, a co-worker, a colleague, a neighbor, and that Goliath consumes all your thoughts, directs all your emotions, controls all your actions. 


    Maybe your Goliath is not relational, but it's situational. You suddenly find yourself in the throes of challenging circumstances that you didn't see or expect. You've been betrayed by someone you love. You've lost your job. You've been diagnosed with a chronic illness. Suddenly, you're contending with forces well beyond your control. And you have no idea how you're ever going to get through it.


    Maybe your Goliath is not relational or situational, it's societal. I cannot tell you how many people have turned politics into their Goliath. Politics consumes their thoughts. It's all they can ever think about. It's all they can ever talk about. Somehow, no matter what the conversation started with, it always comes back to politics. "Those Democrats." "Those Republicans." You're afraid of what those social conservatives are going to do to you or you're afraid of what those social progressives are going to do to you. Politics has become your Goliath. It’s your defining reality. Maybe your Goliath has a name and you think, “If I could just get rid of her, or if I can just get rid of him, then everything would be OK." 

    Maybe your Goliath is not politics, maybe it's economics. Especially after a week like this, it's the markets that are casting a looming shadow over your life. Maybe you've identified some ideology as your bogeyman. We all do this. We all create some kind of Goliath, and Goliath dominates our imagination. It's all we can see. That's not how David saw. David did not have a Goliath-dominated imagination. He had a God-dominated imagination. Eugene Peterson writes this, 

    "The moment we permit evil to control our imaginations, dictate the way we think, and shape our responses, we at the same time become incapable of seeing the good and the true and the beautiful."

    "But David entered the Valley of Elah with a God-dominated, not a Goliath-dominated, imagination."

    "In the Bethlehem hills and meadows, tending his father’s sheep, David was immersed in the largeness and immediacy of God. He had experienced God’s strength in protecting the sheep in his fights with lions and bears. He had practiced the presence of God so thoroughly that God’s word, which he couldn’t literally hear, was far more real to him than the lion’s roar, which he could hear. He had worshipped the majesty of God so continuously that God’s love, which he couldn’t see, was far more real to him than the bear’s ferocity, which he could see. His praying and singing, his meditation and adoration had shaped an imagination in him that set each sheep and lamb, bear and lion into something large and vast and robust: God."

    "His imagination was so thoroughly God-dominated that he couldn’t believe what he was seeing and hearing [in the Valley of Elah]—Goliath terror, Goliath phobia. It was an epidemic worse than cholera, everyone down with Goliath-sickness, a terrible disease of spirit that had Saul and his entire army incapacitated."

    All the people could see was Goliath, and they were filled with fear. All David could see is God, and it filled him with hope. Consider what 1 Samuel 17 tells us about David's motivation, his confidence, and his victory. 


    Consider, first, David's motivation. Why does David choose to get involved? He enters the fray when he hears Goliath’s taunts not in order to defend his honor or his people's honor, but God's honor. He says in verse 26, “‘For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?’” It's God's name that is at stake.


    Consider David's confidence. When David first volunteers, Saul resists. He says, “You're too young. You have no idea what you're doing. You'll never win.” When facing adversity, a lot of people say, “You just have to believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself, you can do anything.” But that's not what David does. David does not believe in himself. He believes in God. Yes, as a shepherd, he's struck down lions and bears before with his sling, but he doesn't place his confidence in his own skill. No, in verse 37, he says, “[It’s] the Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, and he will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” 

    He confronts Goliath wearing no armor and carrying no weapons in his hand, except for his sling and his staff, which was in fact a shepherd's crook. That's why Goliath mocks him in verse 43. All he sees is David with a staff in his hand, and he says, “‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’” As we picture the scene, we're supposed to see that this would have been ridiculous. Here's this scrawny little shepherd kid stepping out onto the battlefield all by himself with no armor, no weapons. He comes to Goliath in apparent weakness, and yet it is precisely his apparent weakness, which is his strength. 


    Finally, consider David's victory. David doesn't take any credit. He gives all the credit to God. He tells Goliath in advance beginning with verse 45, “‘You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord…This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand…that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hand.’”

    Goliath is preparing himself for hand-to-hand combat with David. That's why he says in verse 44, “‘Come to me.’” But instead, David rushes toward Goliath, swirling that sling over his head, and then finally letting that one single stone fly, and he takes out Goliath with one shot. But the narrator underscores time and time again that there was no sword in David's hand because that is the point. The narrator wants to emphasize that the battle is the Lord’s. It's all his doing. God is the one who gives the victory. The only reason why David delivers his people is because God gives the blessing. Because David won, now his people won. David wins, and now the people win in and through him, even though they didn't do a darn thing. That's the point

    One way to think of this would be to draw an analogy to rooting for your favorite sports team. You might be sitting in your living room, eating potato chips. Then all of a sudden, your team scores the winning point, and you jump out of your chair, and you say, “We won! We won!”—as you spill soda over the living room. But someone might turn to you and say, “What are you talking about ‘we?’ ‘We won?’” You haven't done anything. You’ve been sitting there for a couple hours. You've got potato chips on your chin. But you see, we so identify with our favorite team that we can actually share in their gains and losses. We claim their victory as our own. That's what happens for David's people. They claim the victory that David has achieved for them.

    The David We Get

    The David we want is a moral exemplar, an underdog that we can emulate. But the David we need is a champion, someone who fights on our behalf so that if he wins, we win. And his victory is then imputed to us. David is not just a brave little boy. No, he is the Lord's anointed. He doesn't just demonstrate courage, but rather he exemplifies the courage of faith. God brings deliverance through David, not because he's so brave, and he's a dead shot with the sling. but rather because David is chosen and filled with the Holy Spirit. That is what the story is really about. 

    The story is still meant to encourage you to be courageous. Don't be afraid of the giants in your life. But if I told you to just, "Go out there and be like David." If I ended the sermon here and said, “Just be courageous like David,” that wouldn't do you very much good.

    The real question is how? How can we learn to be brave like David no matter what life throws at us? If you had been there and if you were standing up on one of those mountaintops looking down into the valley of Elah, what would you have seen? You would have seen this scrawny little kid dressed like a shepherd with nothing but a sling and a shepherd's crook in his hand, going after Goliath, who was dressed like a battletank. You would have thought that there's no chance of this kid surviving. You would have thought either this kid is crazy, or he is incredibly brave. Maybe his bravery would inspire you a little bit too, and you would say, “If he can do it, I can follow.” 

    The problem, of course, is that David lived 3,000 years ago. The Philistines are long gone. Let's be honest, David really doesn't have all that much to do with us. David doesn't help us today. David can’t encourage us and inspire us to be brave. The David we want is an underdog. The David we need is a champion, but the David we get is something far better because our hero is not David. No, our hero is the great David's greater son. David prepares us for the coming of the true Anointed One, the True Champion, who faces the ultimate giants that threaten us in this life. 

    Did you notice that Goliath is dressed in scale armor? What do you think he would have looked like covered in hundreds of little metal scales? From a distance, he might have looked like a giant snake. He looks like an enormous dragon. But you see, great David's greater son, Jesus, is the one who faced down the ultimate serpent of sin, evil, and death. Jesus is the one who strikes the fatal head wound to that ancient serpent through the cross. There's almost no other story that compares to David and Goliath that provides us with such a compelling picture of what Jesus actually accomplished for us on the cross and what it means to be saved by sheer faith. Jesus is the true mediator, the one who stands between his people, and all those forces that oppose us. 

    Like David, instead of running away from the danger, Jesus runs towards the danger, not to defend his own name, but God's name. Jesus doesn't rely on a sword. No, he doesn't win through a display of brute force, but rather he wins through apparent weakness by using the rather unconventional weapon of a cross—of death—to defeat sin, evil, and death. Like David, Jesus is our champion, our representative, who fights not merely for his people, but as his people, and he does so not only at the risk of his life, but at the very cost of his life. Because Jesus won, we won. His victory is imputed to us even though we didn't lift a finger—even though you didn't do a darn thing. That is the point

    Unlike the subjective analogy of rooting for your favorite sports team, our participation in Jesus' victory is real because it's grounded in an objective truth. When you put your faith in Jesus for your relationship with God rather than yourself, your faith so unites you to Jesus that everything that is true of him becomes true of you. So if Jesus dies on the cross in your place, then you have died in him. If Jesus has conquered over sin, evil, and death through his resurrection, and you're united to him, then you've been raised to new life in him. It is as good as done. You can say along with Jesus, “We won!” His victory is yours because of what he accomplished on the cross, even though you had nothing to do with it. 

    Charles Dickens' famous novel, A Tale of Two Cities, is not only about two cities, it's about two different people. Charles Darnay is a wealthy French aristocrat. Sydney Carton is a lousy, good for nothing English lawyer. They couldn't be more different from one another, and yet they look remarkably similar to each other. They both fall in love with the same girl, Lucie Manette. Eventually, Lucie marries Charles Darnay. But despite that, Sydney Carton makes a promise to her. He says, “No matter what happens, I would sacrifice anything for you and for the ones you love.” 

    As it turns out, years later, during the French Revolution, Charles Darnay is arrested, and now he is facing execution by guillotine. But Sydney Carton sneaks into the prison the night before and tricks Charles Darnay into exchanging clothes with him. And then he drugs Darnay and has him dragged out of the prison where he's reunited with his wife and child in an awaiting carriage. Then Sydney Carton stays behind in Charles Darnay’s cell to endure the sentence that was intended for him. 

    On the very next day, Sydney Carton is riding to the place of execution, to the guillotine, and he's seated next to a young woman, a seamstress, who holds his hand because she's afraid. She had met Charles Darnay, but then as she looks into Sydney Carton’s face, he sees that her eyes suddenly fill with doubt and then astonishment, as she realizes what he has done. 

    She whispers, “Are you dying for him?” He clasps her young fingers, and then he puts his own index finger to his lips, and he says, “Shh. Yes, and for his wife and child.” She is so overcome with this act of bravery, she says, “Can I hold your brave hand, stranger, until the very end?” 

    His act of courage instills courage within her. Why does Sydney Carton do it in the first place? Because he knows that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He knows that there's nothing that he could ever do to make up for his past failures. But he believes that Jesus not only died, but rose again so that he might have new life in him. And therefore he's willing to risk it all. 

    We have received something far better than a mere story. If you had been there that day, in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, you would have seen someone who looks nothing more than a shepherd, dressed in a mere tunic, surrounded by battalions of Roman guards with all their armor and weaponry. When they came to arrest him, you would have heard Jesus, the Good Shepherd, tell Peter to put his sword away because he won't need it. You would have watched as they took off of Jesus, not armor, but his clothes as they stripped him naked. Then you would have seen Jesus voluntarily rush towards the battle line—the ultimate battle line, the skull of Calvary—where he willingly submits himself to death because his apparent weakness is, in fact, his strength. But as you watched all this unfold, you would have thought to yourself, "Either that man is crazy, or he is incredibly brave. That is a man that I could follow. If he leads, I will follow." Jesus’ courage makes us brave. 

    The Bible is not all about you, and what you must do for God. No, it's all about God, and what he has done for you through Jesus by sheer grace. You're not the hero of the story. Jesus is the hero of every story. When you understand that Jesus is the true champion, "the man in between," the mediator who does for you what you could never do for yourself, who enters the fray to fight the ultimate battle against the great serpent of sin, evil, and death, then you can handle anything life throws at you. If you have a God-shaped imagination, then you know that the real battle has already been won. And therefore you can deal with whatever lesser giants you might have to contend with. Jesus is the one who makes us brave. 

    Let me pray for us. 

    Father, we thank you for the fact that your Scriptures point us to the key to the good life, which is to live a life of faith by which we see the world as it really is. Help us to get in touch with reality. Inspire within us not a Goliath-dominated imagination but a God-dominated imagination. Show us, Lord, that the David we want might be an underdog but the David we need is a champion, and the David we get is Jesus and his victory is our own. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.