Selections from 1 Samuel 17 (MSG) (David & Goliath)
South & New Life Presbyterian Churches – November 8, 2015
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
[At South only] The pictures on our bulletin cover are the amazing street art if Edward Muller. He paints on a flat road or sidewalk these pictures that LOOK three-dimensional. This one happens to be in Ireland. I mean … can you believe it? You think you’re looking down a precipice and then you see someone walking across what is truly a flat surface. It looks like they’re walking on air. The presence of the person (supposedly walking on air) changes our perspective, doesn’t it? It changes everything. We have a new understanding and new appreciation for what we’re looking at.
[Start here for New Life after their table fellowship discussion.] This familiar story that we’ve just read is one we’ve heard and seen represented in movies, books, comic books, videos … it’s part of our folklore, almost. The single, inexperienced, young, but faithful boy takes on the HUGE, well-armored, professional warrior and wins.
But it’s the story itself I want us to look at for just a few minutes.
In this story there are lots of people and lots of perspectives.
There is, of course, the NARRATOR. Who WROTE this? Who is describing this action? “According to Jewish tradition the book was written by Samuel, with additions by the prophets Gad and Nathan; modern scholarly thinking, though, is that the entire history (called the DeuterONomistic history – remember that the DeuterONomist was one of the oral histories worked into the Penteteuch? It’s that same theory. So scholars now think that this history) was composed in the period c.630–540 BCE by combining a number of independent texts of various ages.”[i]
So the voice of the Narrator is one looking back in history and setting the scene for us in this account. Is it an unbiased voice? A neutral party? Hardly. This is part of the SALVATION history of the people of Israel so the Narrator’s perspective is one of making a point about trusting in God and living out one’s faith.
Another character in our story? Well, of course there’s GOLIATH. He’s a GIANT. Now, it’s easy for us to write that off as hyperbole or exaggeration. Sort of a literary-license-kind-of-thing, but what if he really WERE a giant? What if Goliath were “a somewhat dimwitted victim of [the medical condition known as] Gigantism? [He could easily be 9 feet tall. And] victims of this disease often experience double vision and/or difficulty with side (peripheral) vision and physical weakness in spite of their imposing size.”[ii]
What was going on for GOLIATH in this story? What was HE feeling? Special and proud because he represented his people? Annoyed and insulted by this BOY in front of him? Or was he really dim-witted and, if so, was he being USED by the Philistines? Was he MADE to fight because they told him he wasn’t much good for anything else?
He was a human being. Was he a victim of his circumstances? What happens if we see him as a victim who is pushed out in front of his troops. Kind of SAD, isn’t it?
See … the thing we have to remember is that “PERSPECTIVE is understanding something because you see things from a larger frame of reference. It is the ability to PERCEIVE how things are interrelated and then judge their comparative importance.”[iii] It CHANGES things a little when we humanize Goliath, doesn’t it?
But there are MORE characters and perspectives in this story. There’s David’s FATHER, Jesse … he thinks he’s sending his youngest son to deliver food to his oldest sons in order to get some word on how the older boys are doing in this battle. A father who’s probably DESPERATE for word about his sons in this terrible war.
And let’s not forget David’s older brother, ELIAB who IS one of those three older sons … at the front of the war. Goliath had been issuing this challenge to Israel for FORTY DAYS. Every day … repeating the same challenge. That’s psychological warfare, isn’t it? Facing your enemy who is CLEARLY larger than you day after day. And finally they’re nearing the day of battle. Eliab and the others HAD to have been fearful … and your little BROTHER shows up asking a bunch of questions … man, I’d be annoyed and short-tempered, too. I’d want to get him out of there as soon as possible just to PROTECT him.
Let’s not forget that there’s SAUL, the king. HE’s looking at possible defeat if one of his men fights this HUGE adversary and loses. It will mean the ENSLAVEMENT of his nation. No pressure there! And along comes this KID … he VOLUNTEERS to take on the giant. WOW! It’s a way out for Saul … a way to save face. But he’s going to do his part – he’s going to outfit David with the BEST armor. The only problem, of course, is that it’s too big … too cumbersome … and David can’t MOVE in it.
There are other characters … the other Philistines … Goliath’s shield-bearer … the other Israelites … but let’s not forget DAVID. A young kid. Confident of his own abilities … maybe a little OVER-confident as we all are in our youth … sure of what he knew … brave … and stepping out in front of all these people in order to defend HIS GOD’S reputation!!!
Each one of these characters brings us a different PERSPECTIVE on this event, don’t they?
I read this week that, a good measure of spiritual growth is perspective. … In a spiritual sense, it means seeing life from GOD’S point of view, not just our own. In the Bible, the words “understanding,” “wisdom,” and “discernment” all have to do with perspective. The opposite of them … the opposite of perspective is “hardness of heart,” being “blind,” and “dull.”[iv]
In other words, for us to grow and develop spiritually, we have to BROADEN our PERSPECTIVE and not just see things from our own vantage point which is too limiting, and as far as I’m concerned, this is a great story to help us practice doing that. The Bible even tells us in 1 Corinthians that “unbelievers have no spiritual perspective (1 Corinthians 2:14). Likewise a lack of perspective is a mark of spiritual immaturity (1 Corinthians 3:1-2, 13:11, 14:20).”[v] So each one of us should want to develop the ability to see things from another’s perspective.
The Reverend Rick Warren is NOT someone I quote very often. He’s quite conservative. I was less than impressed with his prayer at the 2nd Obama Inauguration. He is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California which is one of America’s largest and most influential churches. But in spite of the things I disagree with him about, I DO like what he has to say about developing spiritual perspective. I agree with him that “there are many benefits of learning to see everything from God’s perspective,”[vi] not the least of which are these two points:
FIRST: Perspective causes us to love God more. The more we can see multiple reasons and outcomes … the more we get out of just our own little narrow self-centered perspectives, the bigger our experience of God is. The more we recognize the humanity of others, the more we are likely to get it that God isn’t just on our side … AND the more likely we are to remember that WE aren’t God!!!
And SECOND: Perspective helps us resist temptation for the same reasons. When we understand that maybe Goliath had his own demons and interactions, we humanize him and are less likely to want to hurt or demean him. When we recognize Saul’s position, we are less likely to ENVY his role as King. The more we know about and accept others, the less likely we are to feel we have to change THEM or change OURSELVES to be like them … the less tempted we are to disregard their humanity.
This story has LONG been used to talk about being faithful to God and how David’s faithfulness is a model for us all. But I think there’s even MORE for us to glean from this iconic story …
We can look at this individually or from our perspective as a nation. I’m going to choose the latter so as not to make anyone too uncomfortable here today. You can apply it to yourselves in the privacy of your own home.
The obvious question is who ARE we? As a country. As a nation. We started out fighting the great British Empire. Back then, we were DEFINITELY the David against the giant imperialist nation. But who are we TODAY?
We seem to equip ourselves with the best “armor” and armament that money can buy. Have we become Goliath? And if so, do we leave ourselves vulnerable to a river stone flung at us by a slingshot of … oh, let’s say … a computer hacker from a foreign country. Are OTHER nations excited to bring us down because they identify themselves with David?
Some of us are feeling uncomfortable like the brother, or we are worried like the father. Some of us want to save face and grasp at straws for solutions to things like King Saul. And sometimes some of us are like David … young … self-confident even in our own lack of experience. We THINK we can do anything and our brashness is offensive to those with greater wisdom.
So we have to ask: What’s GOD’s perspective?
God who sees all and knows all that is in the heart of all of each one of us … what is GOD’s perspective on our country’s role in the world? What’s GOD’s perspective on how we care for each other and live out our faith values? What’s GOD’s perspective and call to THIS faith community?
What’s God’s perspective on how we care for each other and protect or minister to each other in Jesus’ name?
Who or what are the giants that WE do battle with every day of our lives?
Who or what are the giants that our NATION is not yet addressing? Hunger? Poverty? Homelessness? Human rights? Justice?
And who among us are going to be the Davids who will be strong and brave enough, armed with the love and presence of Jesus to take them on?????
It’s a good story.
Lots to think about.
May God grant us a new perspective on our OWN lives and the life of our church as we reflect on David and Goliath this week. Amen.
[iii] ©2012 by Rick Warren. http://rickwarren.org/devotional/english/develop-god’s-perspective-on-life