A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr B ~ Pentecost 6 ~ 1 Sam 17
David and Goliath is one of those stories that’s so well known that it’s completely transcended the confines of the scriptures and has become an icon – it gets trotted out every time a smaller force is pitted against a larger force, and the smaller force wins.
You hear it in business when an upstart little software company tries to take on the Goliath of Microsoft.
You hear it in sports when an unlikely, vastly over-performing team finds itself in a championship game against an overwhelming favourite.
But, as is often the case, when a Bible story gets extracted from its context we lose what the story is really about.
David and Goliath is not a story about a little guy defeating a big guy – yeah, that’s what happens in the course of the tale, but that’s not what the story’s about.
And it’s not a story about how we underestimate our youth – although we may well do that.
And it’s not even a story about how if God’s on your side you can overcome any obstacle – although that’s getting much closer to what the story is about.
What is it about then?
It’s a clash of paradigms – a clash that pits the belief that might is right – which was shared by both the Philistines and the Israelites – against a radically different understanding of power.
Both the Philistines and the Israelites operated under the same paradigm. They were standing face to face with their armies assembled ready to fight a war.
Of course a big army needed to fight another big army – that’s the way it works – that’s the way we’ve always done it! And in some places the idea that a single champion would fight for the entire army was common. Two opposing forces – toe to toe – locked into a mindset that dictated how they had to act in that situation. Trapped in a cycle that had no end – until…someone offers a different way to look at the world.
The message of the “David and Goliath” story isn’t that little guys can do big things – it’s that God’s paradigm is better than ours. David represents the new paradigm – God’s way. It wasn’t that the Israelites didn’t know about it – of course they knew about it – they found out the same way David did – it was taught through their religion. The difference was that for David it was a present reality. For David, God wasn’t just “out there” – God was “in here.” God wasn’t the all-powerful deity that you called on when your army needed a boost – God was the ever-present Spirit that lived inside of him.
That’s a paradigm shift. It’s a transformation.
Let me show you a couple of things from this story that indicate it’s a transformation story.
In 1 Samuel 17:16 we hear “For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.” That’s no accident. 40 days. That’s one of those highly symbolic numbers that instantly would have triggered references for the Jewish people who were told this story. 40 is the number of transformation. When something in the Bible is associated with a 40 it means something new and bold and holy is happening.
Goliath came out and challenged them for 40 days – morning and evening (40 days and 40 nights!) – like the flood and Noah and how the new covenant began – when God started afresh.
After the sealing of the covenant at Mt. Sinai, Moses is with God on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights (Ex 24:18).
When the prophet Elijah is being pursued by Queen Jezebel, he flees for his life and travels 40 days and nights until he comes to the mountain of God at Horeb (Sinai) (1 Kgs 19:8).
The number also appears in the New Testament. Jesus is tempted in the desert for 40 days and nights; and his ascension to heaven occurs 40 days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3).
It’s no accident that Goliath is there for 40 days – it’s a sign that a transformation is coming – a major God-sized paradigm shift.
Another clue that a transformation is coming is the way that the story takes such an unconventional twist. There’s no way that King Saul would ever agree to let David fight Goliath! It goes against all logic – because we all know what happens in real life…
But, when you’ve exhausted your own resources you’re ready to give the impossible a try.
What would make Saul actually agree to allow David to go? Desperation!
A youth wanders in to the King’s tent and offers to fight in the place of the frightened king. That’s human power being turned upside down. It’s a sign that God’s way is emerging in the story.
And I absolutely love verses 38 and 39. David tries on Saul’s armour so he can face Goliath –– but it doesn’t fit!
Do you get it? The armour doesn’t fit!
Not just physically, it’s the wrong paradigm.
The armour doesn’t fit.
The old paradigm – the old solutions – the common sense way to do things…doesn’t fit.
Then in verse 44 – “(Goliath) 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.”
Do you see the clash of paradigms? Goliath says “come and fight” – and David responds “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of God.”
You come with weapons – I come with God.
You live by force – I live by faith.
It’s a different paradigm. Jesus said stuff like this all the time – “You have heard it said – but I say…”
The answer isn’t to do what the other guy does only better or stronger – nor is it to do what the other guy does but with God on your team. The answer is to commit wholly to the God-thing and see what God would have you do. And it’ll likely be unconventional and surprising. God’s ways are not our ways.
The great battle that is life cannot be won by might – it must be won by faith. David doesn’t just say that God is key or important – he stakes his life on his new paradigm – and the “old way” is defeated by God’s unconventional “way”. David’s solution wasn’t to tip the balance with a stronger power, but to completely change the rules.
You might say that David was “living outside the box”.
“Outside the box” has become a popular phrase to explain how to approach problem solving in the 21st century. It means you step outside the situation and come at it with a fresh approach – a new way to look at the world.
Here’s an example – a funny story that’s supposedly true:
A school principal was told by the caretaker about a persistent problem in the girls washrooms: some of the girls were leaving lipstick kisses on the mirrors. The caretaker had left notices on the walls asking for the practice to cease, but to no avail; every evening the caretaker would wipe away the kisses, and the next day lots more kisses would be planted on the mirror. It had become a bit of a game. Eventually the principal asked a few girl representatives from each class to meet with her in the bathroom.
“Thank you for coming, you’ll see there are several lipstick kisses on the mirrors in this washroom.”
Some of the girls grinned at each other.
“As you will understand, modern lipstick is cleverly designed to stay on the lips, and so the lipstick is not easy at all to clean from the mirrors. We have therefore had to develop a special cleaning regimen, and my hope is that when you see the effort involved you will help spread the word that we’d all be better off if those responsible for the kisses use tissue paper instead of the mirrors in future.”
At this point the caretaker stepped forward with a sponge squeegee, which he took into one of the toilet cubicles, dipped it into the toilet bowl, and then used to clean one of the lipstick-covered mirrors.
The caretaker smiled. The girls departed. And there were no more lipstick kisses on the mirrors.
Leaving notes, asking nicely, and even threats wouldn’t work. The cycle was broken when an unconventional, outside the box solution was brought in.
But David didn’t just think outside the box – he lived outside the box.
So when it came to interacting with the world his way of looking at it was different. The “David and Goliath” story teaches us that we need a new way of looking at the world that goes beyond the common-sense-logical-human-conventional-wisdom that we currently operate by.
We need the kind of paradigm shift that comes when you’re indwelled by the Holy Spirit.
When you’re facing a daunting struggle – when you’re up against impossible odds – when it seems like no matter where you look you can’t find the answer to your problem – this story says “you’re looking in the wrong places.” True courage doesn’t come from standing up to the bully, it comes from relying on God.
When faced with oppression the answer isn’t rebellion with greater force – even Jesus had zealots among his disciples who wanted God’s power to overthrow the Romans.
But Jesus said that God’s power doesn’t transform the outer situation – it transforms the inner person (repeat)
– then, transformed people are armed to work toward facing their problems, or righting the societal wrong.
I’ve said this before – first faith, then action.
This doesn’t mean that you just walk away from trouble saying “it’s a paradigm problem – God’s way doesn’t speak to this” – that’s false. God’s way is the only thing that truly speaks to life. Trying the same solutions to address recurring issues is a recipe for beating your head against a wall. A new solution is needed – a new idea – a new way to look at the world – a new paradigm – a new Way.
We face “David and Goliath” struggles all the time.
We usually cast ourselves as David – the little guy up against the big bad world – but maybe we’re Goliath?
Maybe we are the ones who repeatedly stand and challenge the world thinking we’re the biggest and strongest – thinking we have the resources necessary to take on all comers by our own might.
Or maybe we’re the Israelites, cowering in our tents afraid to face the big bad world because we realize our own power isn’t great enough so we think we’re doomed to always be afraid or oppressed.
But if we want to be David we have to be prepared to be transformed. We have to relinquish the arrogant idea that our own devices and energy are strong enough to go it alone, and to embrace a life of utter reliance on the grace of God.
Like some televangelists, I’d like to be able to assure you that if you allow yourself to be transformed and surrender to God’s Spirit that like David you’ll be able to stand in the face of the enemy and fling your little stones at it and watch it fall.
But I’m afraid I can’t do that.
Victory through relying on God’s grace may not look to the rest of the world like much of a victory – in fact, it may look like a defeat.
That’s certainly true of Jesus isn’t it?
Living God’s way – following in the Way of Jesus – is not necessarily a recipe for a life of leisure, ease, and riches.
But it is a recipe for a life of purpose, meaning, honour, compassion, peace, and yes, joy.
Perhaps not the same joy that the world might count – but the joy of being in deeper communion with God.
That’s a paradigm shift.
That’s a transformation of the heart.
And it’s the one and only way to defeat the Goliaths of this world.
May you find the courage to embrace life outside the box.