Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
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Never underestimate God

Mark 4:35-41 and 1 Samuel 17:32-49

This is one of the best known stories from the Bible. Even in an age when many people are biblically illiterate, they still have a basic idea what you mean if you say, “A classic story of David and Goliath.” Maybe it’s because it’s over-used as an analogy in sports. “Nick Foles leading the Eagles to victory over Tom Brady and the Patriots? It’s like David and Goliath!”

The moral of the story is frequently “Never bet against the underdog” or “Don’t count the underdog out.” That’s not a bad moral for the story; it’s just not the best moral. I think the best moral is never underestimate God. Remember, God is the real hero of the story.

I think this text flows well from last Sunday. Last Sunday we were looking at 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul says, “We should stop evaluating others from a human point of view.” And that’s what happens in this story: Everyone evaluates David from a human point of view. But it’s not that David is the hero of the story. God is the hero. David gets credited, but it’s only because God is with David that he becomes the hero.

This story comes from the time in Israel’s history when they were first united as one kingdom rather than a dozen tribes. They’ve been in the Promised Land for several hundred years, but for most of that time, they have been a loose confederation of tribes. That changed with King Saul. The people wanted a king, to be like the other nations, and Saul was chosen because he was “head and shoulders taller than everyone else.” They looked at Saul from a human point of view and said, “That’s the guy who should lead us!”

At this time in Israel’s history, their chief threat was the Philistines, a group of people, whose origins are uncertain, who settled on coast of the Mediterranean southwest of Israel, the region that is today the “Gaza Strip.” They frequently raided and harassed Israel. And now there’s going to be a battle between the two nations in the Valley of Elah, between Socoh and Azekah, two towns to the west of Jerusalem.

The Philistines want it to be “champion combat,” a strategy to decide the winner without a whole bunch of people dying in the process. The reason is simple; they have Goliath, a giant of a man from Gath. He is described as being six cubits and a span tall. Some Bibles render that as “over 9 feet tall.” That’s not necessarily the case because a cubit was based on the length from finger-tip to elbow, which is about 18 inches for

many modern people. But in ancient times, people weren’t as tall, so a cubit might have only been 16 inches, and Goliath might have only been 8 feet tall. Either way, he was huge.

He challenges Israel to single combat, and no one will take him up on it. Not even Saul, the man chosen to be king because he was head and shoulders taller than everyone else! And so the situation remains static for 40 days. Twice a day Goliath taunts them, and twice a day they shrink from the fight. No one moves. The armies just stare across the valley at each other. Whoever rushes down there is going to be at a disadvantage, and no one will fight Goliath one-on-one.

Into this scene comes David. At this point, David is already Saul’s court musician, but he is too young to go to war. His three oldest brothers are there, but David is still the shepherd for the family when he is not in Saul’s court. He is sent to the front by his father to carry food to his brothers. He arrives just in time to see firsthand the situation with Goliath.

And everyone underestimates David. His brothers think he’s just there to watch the battle. He doesn’t want to do anything. He just wants to be entertained.

Saul hears that David is asking about the reward for fighting. By the way, the reward for killing Goliath is King Saul’s daughter for a wife and exemption from taxes. Both of those sound pretty good. Which is better probably depends on your age! So Saul has David brought before him.

Here’s an interesting point of the story: Saul doesn’t recognize David. David is his court musician, but Saul doesn’t recognize him. That seems odd, right? Maybe it’s a reflection of how self-absorbed Saul is. He doesn’t even bother to notice who is playing for him. Or maybe it’s just how much he underestimates David. “This kid who plays the harp couldn’t possibly be willing to fight!”

Saul says, “You can’t fight him. He’d kill you without thinking about it.”

But David persists, “This pagan is defying God. And if God can save me from a lion and a bear, he can save me from this guy.”

Saul continues to underestimate David: “If you’re going to fight him, you can’t do it on your own. You need some armor.” But David can’t fight in armor. It’s too heavy for him, and he isn’t used to it.

Instead he goes to arm himself with the weapon that he knows: Sling stones. I know what you’re thinking, “You’d have to be brain dead to fight a guy with a spear and a sword armed with a slingshot.” Don’t think “wrist rocket.” The sling in question was a leather pouch with two strings about a yard long attached to it. You would put a stone the size of a baseball in the pouch and twirl it above your head to launch it at something like 120 miles per hour.

Our Old Testament professor in seminary, Dr. Dorsey, told us the story about how he made a sling and tried it in his yard. In his words, “It was a lot of fun until I hit the garage door and put a six inch dent in it. I figured I’d better stop before I killed someone.”

Dr. Dorsey also told us another story about David and Goliath. When he lived in Israel, he went down to the Valley Elah and looked in the stream. Sure enough, it was full of round river rocks. So he grabbed a few and took them. He told someone this, and they said, “Yeah, the ministry of tourism dumps them in there.” He thought, “Yeah, right.” Well, the next time he was there, he saw a dump truck full of river rocks back up to the stream and drop its load. So if you go to the Valley of Elah, you can get your own “five smooth stones,” courtesy of the Israeli ministry of tourism.

The last person to underestimate David is Goliath himself. “Am I a dog that you come at me with a stick?” And you already know how that ends up for him.

But is it really David that is being underestimated? I would say it is God. Because it is God who gives David the courage, the skill, and the determination to fight. Goliath’s taunt is all about his own strength and ability. David’s response is full of God: “You have defied God. God himself will conquer you. Then the whole world will know there is a God in Israel, and the battle belongs to him.”

We should never underestimate God. That’s what the disciples were doing in the boat. They underestimated God. “Wake up Jesus! We’re all going to die.” They failed to realize the power of God was in the boat with them.

We’re going to face many occasions in this life when we will be tempted to underestimate God; to think he can’t do anything, that something is beyond his power. We should not underestimate God. He is able to do far more than we could ever imagine.

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