The Gospel according to David 3 - 1 Samuel 17:31-40
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At our recent Carol Service, as the choir was singing a wonderful song all about the glory of Christ and I looked around at all the people gathered to worship him, I thought to myself, ‘Not bad for someone who used to hang doors and mend wobbly tables!’ It is remarkable when you think about it, that here we are 2,000 years on, worshipping as God someone who for nearly thirty years quietly worked away with his hands and would have used those hands to wipe his nose, as they did in that culture. We are so used to Christianity being part of the cultural air we breathe that the shear audacity and scandal of its message is simply lost on us. Just how do you explain it- except in its own terms? How do you account for the fact that here in this most unassuming of men –Jesus-we have God in our midst, doing God’s work for needy humanity? It is quite a preposterous claim on the face of it. But that is the nature of the Gospel, God’s Good News- that our greatest need, rescue from the big three- death, sin and the devil, comes not by God engaging in celestial pyrotechnics, but by dying as a man on a cross on a lonely hillside outside Jerusalem. And so as we turn to our third time in 1 Samuel 17, we see the same pattern being prefigured in the person of David as he gets ready to do battle with the enemy of God’s people then in the person of the giant from Gath- Goliath.
When we turn to the first page in the New Testament, Jesus is introduced to us by these words: ‘A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David.’ Here is his identity- Jesus, a name which means The LORD saves; he is specially commissioned as the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one, and he is specifically the descendent of David. And so we should not be surprised to find that we have a strong comparison and contrast between David and his greater son, Jesus. In fact, as we shall see, it is the similarities which are particularly striking, because the way David goes about defeating God’s enemy, or to be more precise, the way God through David sets about defeating his enemy, is like the way he has done it in Jesus. So we can legitimately talk about the Gospel according to David. So let’s turn to 1 Samuel 17:31-40 and see how this works itself out.
We have seen over the last few weeks that in the person of Goliath- ‘the man of the between’ we have a specific instance of God’s enemy which threatens God’s people. And he appears to be unbeatable. Likewise the three great enemies of all humanity- sin, death and the devil also appear unbeatable. But then God surprises us by raising up his own champion, his ‘man of the between’ who appears anything but a champion- he is a small youth, a shepherd boy from the least of the Israelite tribes and the least of the towns-Bethlehem. His name is David. But the one thing David has which all the others, including his brothers and the King lack -is passion- a passion for the honour and glory of God. He is beside himself with outrage at the way this Philistine mocks and derides the God of Israel who is the one true God. And here we see what that holy passion causes him to do.
Eventually David’s antics of moving amongst the troops, ill at ease and causing dis- ease reaches the ears of Saul which is where we pick up the story in verse 31: ‘What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.’ What was it that was overheard and reported back to Saul? It was the words of David asked the men standing near him, "What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" There are four things which are striking in what David says.
First, that the God of Israel was the living God. He is not a tin pot idol- like the god Dagon which the Philistines worshipped- is living, active, like Aslan he is not a tame lion and so should be taken seriously by everyone, including this uncircumcised Philistine, no matter how big he is. To mock this God is as dangerous as walking into a blast furnace.
Secondly, David is quite clear whom Israel belongs to- the living God. These are the ‘armies of the living God’ and it follows from this that they should trust their God, which they are singularly not doing at this point in their history.
Fourthly, David saw who was the real target of the taunts of Goliath- not just Israel, but Israel’s God. He was than one who was being derided and shamed- his reputation was at stake if you will. And David could not abide that thought.
And so as a result, in the fourth place, David saw the speaker of this blasphemy as beneath contempt, not worthy to be taken seriously, let alone feared: ‘Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy (deride) the armies of the living God?"
The contrast between David and the troops, and, dare I say many modern day Christians, could not be greater than at this point. Each day the troops may have lined up on that ridge, but they might as well have stayed in bed for all the good that they were going to do. Their concern was their own safety; David’s concern was God’s glory. Think of today’s church in the West and its main concern. If the truth be known it is exactly the same- its safety and survival. How can we keep the show on the road, attract people in, survive against the taunts of secularism and the new atheism? But what is lacking, as far as I can see, is any sense of passion for God’s honour. Where is the concern that Jesus is not being worshipped as Lord and Saviour? Where is the passion for the lost, rather than for which songs were prefer to sing or not sing? In fact, some of us might ask: where is the passion full stop?! There is a story of a young cub reporter of a local paper that was sent to interview an elderly couple who had been married for sixty years. When he arrived and sat in their living room, rather brashly he asked the question: ’60 years is a long time. Tell me in those sixty years did you ever think of divorce?’ And the husband with a wistful look in his eye shook his head and said, ‘No, of course not- not divorce- murder yes, but never divorce’. You see, every relationship worth its salt will have passion; emotions will be engaged and will drive us to do things about the things we care about. That is what we see here with David. He is not content to sit back at home in the fields composing songs to Yahweh on his harp; he wants to get out on the battle field to defend Yahweh with his life. Someone like that is likely to make a difference, someone like that is likely to get noticed.
And so the King gets to hear of this and David is sent for. Now it may well be that this is the first time that David and Saul have met. It is possible that the account we have at the end of chapter 16 with David being sent for by Saul in order to calm him down with his music playing is a flash forward. It is a devise we often see being employed in films; well it is used in literature too. If that is the case then Saul has no idea who David is and certainly has no idea that here is the future King ready to replace him. So what happens when the future King meets the failed King, the King who was meant to save Israel from the Philistines? Verse 32: ‘David said to Saul, "Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him."
As those words were spoken, did you not hear at least an echo of the Gospel? Here is David, the tiny fellow from Hicksville, meeting the King and effectively taking charge of the situation. And the words he speaks to the King are, when you think about it, quite preposterous and, to be frank, offensive. But they are preposterous and offensive in exactly the same way that the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is preposterous and offensive. First, we have an imperative, a command- ‘Let no one (including the King) lose heart on account of this Philistine.’ What an outrageous thing to say. Down in the Valley of Elah is a nine foot, one man army, that no power on earth can defeat, and David commands, not suggests, commands that the people should not be afraid. Who does he think he is? How dare he say such a thing to the King, because the implication is as obvious as it is offensive- that he is a coward? But is that any less offensive than for the Christian to say, ‘Do not fear death because while all the other philosophies and religions in the world have no answers to this- Christianity does. There is no salvation, other than in Jesus name.’ That is offensive. Who are we, any more than little insignificant David, to go around commanding and imploring people, to put their trust totally in Jesus and in no other? But that was the message given by the angels you will remember on that first Christmas morning, Luke 2:10, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.’ And what kind of saviour? Not much to look at really, ‘You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Yes, David, was proclaiming to Saul the Gospel which he was meant to believe.
But then comes the indicative, the description of what is going to happen so that the King and all the others need not fear: ‘Your servant will go out and fight him’. I am sure that would have put Saul’s mind at rest don’t you? Hardly! If he, Saul, the one who towered head and shoulders above all the other Israelite men couldn’t do it, what chances did this tiny youth have? The answer would have been: not much. And so it is with Jesus. If the great intellectuals like Socrates and Plato, and the great religious leaders like Buddha and Confucius, had no answers to mankind’s great enemies of sin, death and the devil, who did this odd job man from the North who had no formal religious training to his name, think that he was in claiming not only to be the true revealer of God (‘If you have seen me you have seen the Father’), but the only one who could face these enemies head on and triumph (‘Do not be afraid, I have overcome the world’)? Our Gospel is as absurd as David’s Gospel, but, as we shall see, for all its absurdity and offense it is true. Let me say that if you are here tonight and are in some measure searching- searching for meaning, searching for purpose- searching for God-then your searching can now end, because the One who embodies all the answers in his person is foreshadowed here in his ancestor- the Christ, the son of David.
Then we see Saul’s reaction to David’s Gospel, which is the reaction of many people today to Jesus Gospel, one of incredulity: v33, ‘Saul replied, "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." Saul saw before him a mere youth, but over the last few weeks he had been looking at someone day in, day out who had been a fighter since his youth-Goliath. So in many ways on the basis of what he could see, Saul’s unbelief regarding David’s Gospel was well founded. You had to be a complete imbecile to think that David was in any way a match for Goliath. But of course, Saul was not taking into account what he couldn’t see, and so David fills him in on what that is, v34But David said to Saul, "Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37The 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."
On the face of it, it may seem that David is displaying his credentials as a deliverer of some kind. He has saved many a sheep from various prey and as far as he is concerned, Goliath is no different, he has killed lions and bears and he will kill this Philistine. Now let’s not underestimate this. When we were at Big bend National Park in Texas we were warned about bears and mountain lions. Instructions were given of what you were to do if you encountered one. For bears you had to make yourself look large and you didn’t run away. For mountain lions you never looked them in the eye, that would be taken as a challenge and again you never ran away. I am glad I was told that because my natural inclination is to do just that- run. So to stand up to these creatures and what is more kill them, takes some courage and skill. But let’s face it; killing a bear is one thing, killing an unbeatable, frightening monster like Goliath is another. But if you look carefully, you will see that it wasn’t his own prowess that he was talking about at all- it was God’s, verse 37, 37The 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." This is the first time anyone has even mentioned Yahweh’s name- the LORD- the covenant name of God. It was not David who did the delivering it was God- and so far in this story people have been behaving as if God doesn’t exist. Oh, I am sure that had Saul been taking part in a religious questionnaire, and had been asked: ‘Do you believe in Yahweh?’ he would have said ‘Yes, of course’. But here he was displaying what Christians can too often display when the chips are down- practical atheism. So that for all our affirmations in our creeds, we deny God in our deeds. If there is fear it is because it has replaced faith. Now by fear I don’t mean that there are no fearful feelings, but rather that fear is all that there is, God has been excluded from the picture. This especially shows itself in our attitude to prayer. There is the story of a well to do lady who was on a cruise and the ship entered a fogbank, the navigational system broke down and she happened to ask the Captain what was he going to do? He replied that they had better pray. She said, ‘Are things really that bad?’ Prayer is seen as the last option when all else fails. But even that was absent with Saul. And so he says to David in v 37, ‘Go, and the LORD be with you’ or, as it could be translated, ‘Go and the LORD will be with you’- Saul was saying far more than he realised- that is precisely what would happen.
But still, Saul hasn’t got it and has failed to understand David’s Gospel for just look at what he does next, v38, ‘Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.’ Doesn’t that sound familiar? It should because it is very much like the description we had of Goliath back in verses 5-7. In other words, Saul saw this as a matching like for like. But it was a disaster, David could hardly walk and therefore if he made it down into the Valley at all, which was unlikely, he was going to be dead meat within seconds- the battle would be over before it began! And notice it is Saul’s own armour that he gives him, not that this is an act of kindness on Saul’s part, but in effect he is abdicating his responsibility, he is Israel’s king and should be doing the fighting, but instead hands it over to David. So this is a profound act of symbolism, whether he realises it or not, Saul’s days as King are numbered and he will soon be giving way to a new King- David.
Again is there not a temptation for Christians and the church to behave like Saul? In the face of opposition either we simply sell out the Gospel, not believing it can bring about change or we decide to fight the world’s ways with the world’s weapons. The world is captivated by entertainment and having a good time, and so we make the Christianity into a form of entertainment so people can have a good time, and so some churches take on the features of a theatre. Preaching is replaced with politics by our church leaders, so all that the world hears are echoes of its own message dressed up in Christian garb. And the temptation to do this is no doubt strong, especially when the going is tough and it seems that little fruit is being borne by telling the ‘old, old story’. It may seem obvious to get quick adherents to Christianity by giving the punters what they want as it must have seemed obvious to Saul that if David was to defeat Goliath he must be given a suit of armour, how else is he going to do it?
Well, about a thousand years later, David’s greater son, Jesus, was to face exactly the same temptation. You may remember that the devil tried to sidetrack him by taking the political way or the signs and wonders way instead of the way of the cross in the wilderness. But had Jesus done that, he would have been as powerless as David would have been weighed down by Saul’s armour. Similarly, there were people urging the apostle Paul to change his ways, to make his message more attractive with some zap, but he refused for he followed the way of Jesus, and the way of David, ‘For though we live in the world we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.’ (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). And so we see in David God’s way, which will make it clear that at the end of the day it is only God who could deliver the victory-"I cannot go in these," he said to Saul, "because I am not used to them." So he took them off. 40Then he 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’
And many years later we shall see another figure going out to fight God’s foes, enemies far more formidable than even the one David had to face; and we see him looking rather pathetic, as beaten, tired, and bedraggled he carries a cross. We then go on to see him being nailed to that cross, looking even more pathetic, his body wracked in agony, brow covered with sweat and blood as he bears away your sin and mine, shutting the accusatory mouth of the devil once and for all, and robbing death of its terrible power. That, my friends is the Gospel.
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