The following is a revisit of a topic originally written for the now-defunct Examiner.com, where I had a column about Christianity for a time.
I have heard more sermons on David killing Goliath than I can count. It's a popular topic, and one which is easily recognized by our culture even by individuals outside of the faith. This isn't surprising--we all face massive and frightening forces in our lives, whether they are embodied in a person or a government or an employer or whatever else, and it is nice to believe that we can still hope for victory over them. So we keep coming back to this passage, and looking for ourselves in David, and seeking ways to apply the lesson of David to our own trials.
Now, this is fine. It is a valid lesson to teach, that we can trust God like David did, that God is always more powerful than whatever stands against us, that boldly stepping forward in the name of God under His promises is better than relying on the best armor or the best weapons or our own read of the circumstances. We should be teaching these things. I would simply like to add a consideration to the list of ways David and Goliath can be understood, and one that I have never heard from a pulpit. I submit that we are more often like the army of Israel than like David.
I should clarify. I do not mean to suggest that this is a better read of the point of the story of David and Goliath. The point of that story, in its original context, is about David. What I am saying is that this story also contains imagery that can help us understand the gospel, and if we are going to look at it through that lens, I submit that this approach is just as valid as the one that posits David as an example for us.
Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; and they were gathered at Socoh which belongs to Judah, and they camped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. Saul and the men of Israel were gathered and camped in the valley of Elah, and drew up in battle array to encounter the Philistines. The Philistines stood on the mountain on one side while Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with the valley between them. Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span...the Philistine said, "I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together." When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
1 Samuel 17:1-4, 10-11 (NASB)
So much of what the world sees of Christianity in public these days is reactionary. In lawsuits about civil rights being infringed, in opposition to selected media, in political backlash, in trying desperately to hold off a feared possible future condition. We so often accept this as boldly standing up for our faith, but it is never the church that really steps forward and starts something new, or bold, or supernatural in the public eye. It's just boycotts, and campaigns, and court dates. We do not look like we are fueled by anything different than the world around us. We talk in church about how Christ promised to build His church and how the gates of Hell will not stand against it, but then we just...wait for it to try, and then react.
So often, we hide in our little camps, and we cower when we feel our way of life is threatened, and then we champion everyone we see as trying to bring some form of deliverance, even if the benefits only really apply to themselves.
Israel was in a bad way when this story kicks off. The nation has a king who has started to go mad, the people are facing down an enemy they have been dealing with for generations, and now the entire army is cowering from a single warrior who stands and insults them all day. Goliath is a frightening guy, and his offer is a pretty grim one for whoever steps forward. The passage above cuts out most of the description of how scary he is and the details of his insult, but the basic facts are that he is large, well armored, well armed, and is demanding to face a single combatant knowing full well there is not a single man in Israel that can match his raw physical power.
The armies of Israel were waiting. They hid in their camp and cowered when Goliath stepped forward and waited for a deliverer. Saul tried to bribe someone, anyone, to stand up as a deliverer, even if only to gain the king's daughter as a wife.
The thing is, this state of being makes sense before a true deliverer arrives. Before the victory is won. We knock on the Israelite army for enduring Goliath's taunts without answer, but the fact is that unless God was with them, they really didn't have any other choice. And this is the way it is with the lost in our world. Every human being is born in need of a deliverer. We face the power of sin and death, which stands over us strong, well armed, seemingly immune to defeat. The fact is, the state of the Israelite army in that day is a great picture of the natural state of all men.
All men, save one.
David arrives on the scene to a lost battle that has yet to even begin. For forty days, Goliath has been taunting Israel, and no one has taken any action. They draw up in their battle lines, they listen to the words of the Philistine, they tremble with fear, and then they just go back to waiting. Goliath has basically already won his prize: the offer he makes in his taunt is that whichever champion wins the single combat, his side will have the other as servants. No one has yet faced Goliath, but they can't very well leave the valley until someone does; if they leave the scene, the Philistine army will advance on their homes, but if they risk sending someone out, they'll lose everything. If they ignore the charge of Goliath and advance, they not only have to contend with him, but the whole of his army which would still hold the high ground. They are at the mercy of Goliath and his army for as long as they wait there. They are as good as slaves already.
Now, I've said that there is value in trying to find ourselves in David, or in trying to apply the lessons learned from David to our lives. And I stand by that. I also believe that when that is all we talk about with this story, we lose sight of finding Christ in this story.
Because David is a type of Christ here. Christ steps into history, in the midst of a war against sin and death, where mankind has been functionally enslaved and no amount of fighting or not fighting can change that fact. We can't just leave sin unchecked, or it will overrun us. We can't advance on it in our own power, because we are ill-equipped to handle the forces it can muster. And who among us can step forward to conquer death itself, sin's greatest champion, and hope to prevail?
Both David and Christ leave their homes to enter a battle they had no need to fight. Both strive after God's glory, and in the process, set aside earthly tools of defense and conquest, and step forward into a confrontation that promises death. David lays his life on the line to prove that there is a God in Israel, and Christ lays His life down to prove that God has come among Israel. David and Christ both conquer not as a king, or as a warrior, but as a shepherd who puts his life between his flocks and that which threatens them. But where David deals the killing blow, Jesus receives it.
Thus David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in David's hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. The men of Israel and Judah arose and shouted and pursued the Philistines as far as the valley, and to the gates of Ekron. And the slain Philistines lay along the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath and Ekron. The sons of Israel returned from chasing the Philistines and plundered their camps.
1 Samuel 17:50-53 (NASB)
When David kills Goliath, the Philistines realize that they've lost and begin to run. The army of Israel rises up and enjoys the spoil of a battle they could not lift a finger to help win. David has acted on their behalf, and now they get to enjoy the victory. The Philistines flee before them, the power to do war is completely lost among the Philistines and they fall by the swords of Israel. It was David who won the day, but it was the people who sat on a hill for forty days who get to savor the victory and go forth in power and courage against a foe they could not have defeated just moments before.
The analogy between David and Christ begins to break down here, but it isn't because any part of it isn't true for Christ. It's because we, despite living in the glow of Christ's victory, despite watching our greatest foe fall, despite knowing that if we will only rise up the enemy will flee, we continue to sit on our hill. When we take a reactionary approach to the world around us, when we refuse to go out because we fear how the world will receive us, when we expect new deliverers, we fail to embrace the victory that has been won for us. The spoils are waiting. The enemy flees. But until we begin to press forward, we will continue to live as slaves to a defeated enemy, waiting for a deliverance that has already come, hiding from a threat that has been slain.
The battle is won! Go forth boldly in the victory of Christ!
Church planter and ministry student with a bad habit of questioning authority and writing too much.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation