Graduates and Giants

Graduates and Giants

1 Samuel 16:1-14

James C. Denison

I am holding a stone which changed the world. I know this because I picked it up last month in the Valley of Elah. It was the very stone used by David to slay Goliath. It’s been waiting there 30 centuries for me to find it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

I did actually find the stone in the valley, at the very place where the famous battle was fought, but ours was one of about ten tour groups who came through picking up stones that day. I’m guessing that someone working for the Israeli tourism industry must truck in stones periodically to replenish the supply. But I’m sure that mine is the correct one.

It was a stone like this one, in the hands of a young shepherd boy, which changed the course of human history. What God did with that boy, he waits and longs to do with your life and mine. But it’s hard for us to believe that we can be a David today.

On this Senior Recognition Sunday, Pike and I are speaking to graduates and their families. You’re stepping into a hard and harsh world, with earthquakes in China, cyclones in Myanmar, explosions in India, and economic uncertainty around the globe. You’re looking at a future you cannot see, with giants of fear and uncertainty lurking on every hand.

But I am also speaking to Christ-followers of all ages and places in life. You have your own questions and struggles, doubts and decisions, worries and guilt and fear. You know a Saul who refuses to believe in you and a Goliath who is taunting you this morning. But you also have a God like David’s God ready to use your life to change the world. How do we slay the giants we are facing this morning? The answer may surprise you.

Expect the call of God

Saul has been chosen as Israel’s first king, but his pride and arrogance soon replaced God on the throne of his heart and work. He kept goods which should have been sacrificed to God, and usurped the place of God over the nation. So God “rejected him as king over Israel” and chose another in his place (v. 1). Samuel, the last judge and first prophet of Israel, was sent by the Lord to find and anoint that new king.

God sent Samuel to Bethlehem, then an obscure village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, to meet with a man named Jesse and his sons (v. 5).

The custom then and now in the Middle East is for the firstborn to inherit the majority of the estate and take his father’s place one day as head of the family. So when Samuel met Eliab he was sure that “the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD” (v. 6).

God’s response still echoes as one of the most significant statements in Scripture: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (v. 7).

The second in line came before Samuel, but God did not choose him. So with all seven sons (vs. 8-10). If Samuel had given up at this point, how would history have been different?

But the prophet instead asked, “Are these all the sons you have?” Jesse explained that the youngest “is tending the sheep.” We think of this as a routine kind of chore, something like walking the dog or mowing the lawn. But in this agrarian culture, “tending the sheep” was akin to managing the bank or running the office. The youngest son was doing something more significant than any of the others.

Jesse sent for this youngest, still unnamed son, and Samuel noted that “he was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features” (v. 12a). “Ruddy” means “red,” describing his hair or complexion, or perhaps his sunburned features. Then God said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one” (v. 12b). Samuel did as God asked, “and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power” (v. 13). At the same time, “the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul” (v. 14). God has transferred his anointing from the former king to the new leader of the nation.

And that’s the story of the most significant royal ascension in biblical history. No next steps or plans or preparations. As best we can tell, David went back to tending sheep. Samuel returned to his home in Ramah. Saul continued as king of the nation. Nothing of our text would have made the day’s news.

And yet the entire future of God’s dealings with humanity shifted with this moment.

Saul’s attendants hear that this young shepherd is a fine musician, and call him to serve and comfort the king he would one day replace (vs. 21-23).

The Philistines are at war with the Israelites, and Jesse sends his young son to check on his older brothers serving with Saul in the army.

Here he meets the giant whose death would catapult him to national fame and start him on the trajectory which would lead to the throne and the glory that was the Kingdom of David.

This is a day like that day for you. The prophet who came to Bethlehem has come to Dallas. The world may not see the historic significance of the day when God calls you, as they did not see the importance of that day when God called David. But that fact makes this day no less important.

God had a call for David, a purpose and a plan. His plan for David was different from his plan for Samuel or Jesse, Eliab or his other brothers. He has a specific and unique call for you, a purpose and a plan. He has a will for every one of our graduates and every one of us.

In the midst of tending sheep, he may be calling you to lead a nation. Be ready for the word of God to come today. Meet with him every morning to get your marching orders for the day. Stay obedient to the last word you heard from your Lord, and open to the next. Tell God that you’ll go anywhere and do anything he wants, and you’ll know your next step. His will is not an option but an order. The God of the universe doesn’t give advice but commandments. Expect the call of God and submit to the call of God, and you will hear the call of God.

Trust the call of God

How did this young shepherd boy and future king slay Goliath? The giant was over nine feet tall (1 Samuel 17:4), wearing armor weighing 125 pounds and carrying a spear with a 30-pound point. You may think that such a person cannot actually have lived, but Robert Pershing Wadlow was 8’11” when he died on July 15, 1940 at the age of 22. Imagine a boy trying to fight such a giant–that’s how many of us feel this morning, facing the giants who stand before us. How do we slay them?

First, fight the battle at hand.

David had to lead sheep before he could lead the nation. He had to serve Saul before he would replace him. He had to serve his brothers before he would rule them. He had to fight lions and bears before he would fight Goliath: “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37).

He couldn’t fight Goliath until he met Goliath. In the meantime, he was obedient in the now, faithful in the moment, committed to God for each day as each day came.

This year’s high school graduates are not yet in college; God has a will for you this day and this summer. You’re in business, worried about problems and challenges this week; but God has a word and will for you this morning. You’re struggling with decisions about the future; but your Father has a plan and purpose for you this moment. Seize what is before you now, and God’s will unfolds as each step comes.

What lion or bear or sheep or brother or king has God set before you today?

Second, listen to God, not skeptics.

When David offered to fight the giant, his oldest brother scoffed: “I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle” (v. 28).

King Saul was just as skeptical: “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth” (v. 33). The Hebrew is emphatic: “You are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth.”

Who are your Eliab and Saul? Expect skeptics and critics. Your brothers or superiors will tell you that you cannot do what is in your heart. It’s easy to be Eliab or Saul, and even easier to find one. Refuse to listen to those who say you cannot do what God says you can do. Whatever God has put on your heart for this next chapter of his plan, listen to his voice and it will lead you home.

Third, trust the stone in your hand.

David believes that all God has done with his servant, he can still do: “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (v. 37).

And he trusts the gifts and skills God has given him. Saul, the tallest man in the nation, tries to give his armor to this boy shepherd, but it obviously is too large. So David “took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine” (v. 40).

I’ve seen shepherds in Israel today use slingshots to hit Coke cans at 40 feet. They are experts at slinging stones to scare away wolves or herd sheep. For a short distance, a stone from such a sling can travel as fast as a bullet.

God prepared David for his purpose. He anointed him with his Spirit to accomplish his call. God has prepared you for his purpose. He has given you abilities, experience, education, spiritual gifts appropriate for all he intends you to do. What stones has he put in your hand?

Last, fight for the glory of God.

David went to battle “in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (v. 45). He knew that when the battle was done “the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel” (v. 46). He was sure of victory, “for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (v. 47).

God will not share his glory. If you’ll fight the battle at hand, listening for his voice and will, trusting his preparations, seeking his glory, he will use you to slay giants and build his Kingdom and live a life of eternal significance. But only then.

Why do you seek success today?


Our graduates are stepping into a world filled with giants. The rest of us already know that they’re real and dangerous. There’s a reason why you’re here to listen to this message today, a battle you’re fighting, a giant you’re intended to slay. Who is your Goliath? What stone is in your hand? What purpose is in your heart?

Know that you are as unique and important to God as the shepherd king David. His plan and purpose for your life is as significant to eternity as his plan and purpose for him. God went to universal lengths to create a world just for you.

A scientist I was reading this week calculates that the odds of another planet existing in the universe capable of supporting life is one in a quintillion (one followed by 18 zeroes). To picture that number, cover the earth in pennies–twice.

Your life was worth Jesus’ death, as our Lord’s Supper reminds us. Whether you’re graduating from school or simply from another day, your Father has a plan to prosper and not harm you, to give you hope and a future. He has a giant waiting on you and a victory waiting for you. This is the promise of God.