On a Sling and a Prayer
1 Samuel 17:41-50
Dr. Jim Denison
A shipwrecked sailor spent three years on a deserted island. You can imagine his joy to see a ship drop anchor in the bay. A small boat came ashore, and an officer handed the man a bunch of newspapers. The survivor was confused. The sailor explained, “The captain suggests that you read what’s going on in the world and then let us know if you want to be rescued.”
Anyone here choose the island?
Psychologists say that 60 percent of us are going through some crisis right now. Six out of every ten persons on your pew is going through some crisis right now. Six out of ten would probably rather be on that island than in this church service right now. Do you?
Do you ever feel like a young boy with no training, no background, no credentials, sent to fight a warrior who stands over nine feet tall? Ever feel like David against Goliath?
You’re not alone. Moses had his Pharaoh, his Red Sea, and two million complaining Jews. Peter had his Herod seeking his life. Paul had his Nero. Jesus had the devil himself. You’re not alone.
Who is your Goliath? Where are you at war? Does the giant live in your home? Your health? Your finances? Your stress? Here’s the one point today: you can fight the giant in your strength, or in God’s. But not in both.
Fighting in your strength
We find ourselves part of the best-known story in the life of David, perhaps in all the Old Testament. We are standing in the Valley of Elah, 17 miles west-southwest of Jerusalem. We’re at war with the Philistines, a sea people who have settled in the area known today as the Gaza Strip. Their expertise with making iron weapons has given them military advantage over Israel, and they will remain a thorn in the nation’s side for another 500 years.
As we stand with King Saul and his soldiers, we watch the largest man we’ve ever seen stride into the valley between the two armies. His name is “Goliath,” and he is identified as their “champion” (v. 4), literally “a man who stands between the camps.” He did not fight with the rest of the soldiers, for he was an army unto himself.
We stare in disbelief. Samuel provides the most detailed physical description to be found anywhere in the Bible, recording what stands before us. Goliath is “six cubits and a span,” thus over nine feet tall. Such height is not impossible even today, as proven by one Robert Pershing Wadlow, a man 8’11” tall at the time of his death on July 15, 1940 at the age of 22.
Goliath’s armor is made of several hundred small bronze plates resembling fish scales, weighing 125 pounds. His spear’s point, shaped like a flame, weighs over 30 pounds. Its shaft is “like a weaver’s rod” (v. 7), meaning that it is wrapped with cords so it can spin through the air and thus be thrown with greater distance and accuracy.
Goliath marches out for hand-to-hand combat with his shield bearer before him to give added protection. He looks, and feels, invincible.
In contrast, Saul and his army have no iron weapons. They have no giant champion, except Saul, and he is cowering at the rear of the lines in fear. None will fight this man. And so Goliath will win by default, and his Philistines will continue to enslave Israel.
It is at this crucial point that a young shepherd boy enters biblical history. Saul scoffs at him: “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you (emphatic) are only a boy, and he (emphatic) has been a fighting man from his youth” (v. 33). Saul and his army know only one way to fight: in human strength. With human weapons. Using human resources. And they don’t have enough. We never do.
A fascinating book is in the news these days: The Transformation of American Religion, by Boston College professor Alan Wolfe. The thesis is simple: religion in America is no longer about God—it is about us. It’s all about us.
Regarding worship services: “When they worship, Americans revere a God who is anything but distant, inscrutable, or angry. They are more likely to honor a God to whom they can pray in their own, self-chosen way” (pp. 9-10). Popular worship today is “as much designed to make people feel comfortable as it is to fill them with the majesty of God” (p. 16).
One-third of Americans subscribe to the proposition that “people have God within them, so churches aren’t necessary” (p. 38). The day of denominational loyalty is largely over. Now people join a church that meets their needs—whatever they are, whatever the church is.
Here’s an example. Gwinnett County, in suburban Atlanta, was for many years the fastest-growing county in the United States. In 1929, a town in that county named Dacula was 65.8 percent Baptist and 31 percent Methodist. Now its denominations include Christian and Missionary Alliance, Anglican, Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Christian Science, Episcopal, Nazarene, Presbyterian, independent Full Gospel fellowships, Southern and Independent Baptist, United Methodist, and African Methodist Episcopal. Not to mention the Eastern Orthodox, Unitarian, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Hindu residents of the town, nor parts of a Wiccan coven or feminist spirituality groups (p. 112).
A group of church members were surveyed regarding the purpose of the church; 90 percent of the members said the purpose of the church is to meet members’ needs—10 percent said it is to fulfill the Great Commission. Only 25 percent of self-described evangelicals knew the Great Commission (p. 205).
We want to meet the needs of our members and community, of course. Jesus always started with felt need and moved to spiritual need. The woman at the well came for water, so Jesus started there and led her to spiritual water.
The problem comes when our faith becomes more about us than our Lord. When we ask God to help us solve our problems in our strength. When we want him to bless our decisions and our actions. When he becomes a means to our end, serving us. When we go to battle with our weapons and strategy, our strength and soldiers, and ask him to help us succeed. He is God and we are not.