Toorak Uniting Church

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David and Goliath

1 Samuel 17     Communion
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
9:00 am, 7 May 2006

When we read Bible stories we don’t read them for their historical accuracy but for what they tell us about God and how a life with God works. What they offer is not historical truth but reliable truth, and that is something completely different. Scripture is not ordinary history but salvation history, a history that is hidden in and underneath the ordinary facts of human history and has a different, far more profound story to tell.

If we look at the story of David and Goliath for instance there are many aspects in the story that are difficult to reconcile with each other or with the facts of general history as we know them.
For instance: In chapter 16 David has become Saul’s shield bearer, here in chapter 17 Saul doesn’t even know him. Here in 1 Samuel 17 it is David who slays the giant, in 2 Samuel 17 however the same story is recounted with a certain Elchanan in the leading role.
And then Goliath’s armour? The description does not make sense. Historical research shows that it is cobbled together from pieces that find their origin in times that are centuries apart and that there is no way all the things that are mentioned in the text would ever have occurred all at the same time.
And what about David bringing Goliath’s weaponry to his tent? That is quite impossible. We just heard that he was still living in his father’s house and did not yet have his own tent!
David takes the head of Goliath to Jerusalem it says, that is also quite impossible. Because at the time of David’s fight with Goliath Jerusalem was still in the hands of the Jebusites and only much later, in 2 Samuel 5, will David capture the city.

Is it important? Does our faith depend on David slaying Goliath and not Elchanan? And could not the mentioning of Jerusalem be a joyful forshadowing of things that are yet to come? It will happen, won’t it, David will defeat not one but multiple giants and finally, when it is all said and done, he will the one that conquers Jerusalem.
So even if the writer of the story got his facts mixed up a bit, there is still that core of historical truth there, isn’t it?

But what has that got to do with us? And why is the story worth reading for us? Because there is more than just a few, slightly garbled historical facts here. There is more than just a story to embellish King David’s antecedents a bit. More than Saul promising his daughter to whoever slays the giant like a fairy tale king. It is a story about God, and about our relationship with him and what is important is the contrast between the true King and the Goliath, the contrast between David and Saul, between faith and trust in the power of weaponry and violence. The contrast between Israel’s God and the other gods in a world that seems, at first sight, to be determined by the last.

The story tells us that it is the shepherd king, the boy not yet tall enough to put on Saul’s weaponry that wins the day, and not Goliath who was taunting and harassing a whole army into submission.
Over and against the power of supremacy and dominance there is the power of Israel’s God taking shape in the person of a shepherd boy. Over and against sophisticated weaponry and carefully planned psychological intimidation there is a boy with a sling who puts his faith in God and is not defeated.

It is not by the sword that Goliath is defeated, David confronts the giant with the Name of the Lord (it is significant that the text explicitly mentions that David was not carrying a sword and that it is with the name of the Lord and not in the name of the Lord that he confronts the giant) and uses the tools of a shepherd to defeat him. The shepherd being the image that is used time and again in scripture to picture the King as God would want him. A king that cares and is not intimidated by unbridled wild animal power but puts his own life on the line for God’s people.

In that sense we can see a foreshadowing of Easter in this story, where Jesus, the true shepherd, defeats the power of death.

I guess what the story does in the end is asking us which side we are on. Are we like Saul who let’s himself be convinced by Goliath’s boasting and threats and doesn’t see any other possibility than to meet/pay kind with kind? Or are we with David who confronts intimidation and the power of force with faith and trust in the indestructible power of the shepherd king?

It seems to me this story has a lot to tell us. Whether we consider our response to global threats of terrorism and nuclear armament or in our approach to people or institutions that use intimidation and threat as a means to cajole others into whatever they want them to do.

As followers of Christ our trust should be in God first and our tools of retaliation should be those of the shepherd king and not of the giant threatening us. It does not mean we can’t stand up for ourselves, it means we won’t let ourselves be intimidated, even where the odds seem to be overwhelmingly against us. That we stand up for God’s Kingdom and God’s people in faith and trust, knowing we will only then be able to free ourselves and others of the terror of seemingly invincible powers.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2006

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