The Gospel According to David 4 - 1 Samuel 17:41-58
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Let me tell you about Boris Kornfeld. Kornfeld was a medical doctor in post-revolutionary Russia. His forebears were Haskalah- ‘enlightened Jews’ who accepted the philosophy of rationalism and cultivated an interest in the sciences. As was the case with many Russian Jews in those days, he supported the communist cause of Lenin, having suffered so much under a so called ‘Christian’ Czar. After Lenin of course, came the paranoid Stalin. It is not clear what crime Kornfeld committed, (not that any crime was necessary) for him to be committed to a Gulag. And it was in the hell of that Russian concentration camp, that he, as did many other prisoners, began to re-evaluate their previous beliefs. It was then that Kornfeld became a Christian.
Although a prisoner, Kornfeld’s life was better than most because he was a doctor and was assigned medical duties. It was while he was carrying out such backbreaking and hopeless tasks that he would often be found reciting the Lord’s Prayer, especially the petition: ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us’. The duties were backbreaking because the number of patients was endless; hopeless because the camps were designed for death through beatings, starvation and disease.
But things really went bad for Kornfeld when he reported on an orderly. Orderlies were drawn for prisoners who co-operated. They often stole food from sick patients and gladly killed anyone who ‘ratted’ them out. Well, one day Kornfeld was making his rounds and he saw an orderly stuffing his face with the food of the patients. So he reported him. The orderly was put in the punishment block for three days, and everyone knew then that the doctor had arranged his own execution.
Kornfeld wasn’t a particularly brave man, but he felt a tremendous freedom in Christ to do what he had done and he wanted to tell someone about it. So one grey afternoon he came across a young man who had been operated on for cancer, a melancholy looking fellow, reflecting a spiritual emptiness and misery that Kornfeld had not seen before. This is what he confessed to the patient: ‘On the whole, you know, I have become convinced that there is no punishment that comes to us in this life on earth which is underserved. Superficially, it can have nothing to do with what we are guilty of in actual fact, but if you go over your life with a fine- tooth comb and ponder deeply, you will always be able to hunt down that transgression of yours for which you have now received this blow.’ The patient knew he was listening to an incredible confession and although in excruciating pain, he pondered what had been said and then fell asleep. During the night, as the Kornfeld slept, someone crept up on him and delivered eight blows to the head with a plaster’s mallet. Now although Kornfeld was dead, his testimony lived on, for the patient who had listened to his confession was so deeply affected by it that he too became a Christian. The patient’s name was Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
What is the moral of that? It is this: that God can from the most unexpected people, in the most unpromising of situations, bring about his good and saving purposes; that he is a God who brings life out of death. It happened in a Gulag in Russia’s frozen wasteland, and it happened in Israel, in the deep Valley of Elah.
Now tonight we come to the climax of this well known, but frequently misunderstood, story. The fate of Israel as God’s people hinges on the outcome of this battle, and from a human point of view nothing could appear more futile and the pessimists would have had a field day as they saw this small boy, a mere youth, making his way down the hillside carrying nothing but a sling, a few smooth stones and a staff. And we pick up the story in verse 41: ‘Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David.’ Can you even begin to imagine that? It could well be that the reason Goliath drew closer and closer to David was because David was so small he had to get close in order to get a good look at him. And we are to recall that description we had of Goliath earlier in the chapter, this nine foot hulk of a man, if you could call him a man, with his impenetrable armour, his curved sword slung across his shoulders, carrying his spear with a special throwing apparatus, striding his way towards David, behind his man carrying a full length shield before him. This was the most frightening sight David had ever seen, in fact it was the most terrifying sight anyone had ever seen. But when Goliath sees David his reaction is one of utter contempt and incredulity: ‘He looked David over and saw that he was only a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him.’
Of course Goliath, like the rest of the Israelite army looking on, was ‘seeing as man sees’, a significant phrase which appears in the previous chapter. But is that the perception that really counts or is accurate? Not at all, what matters is seeing as ‘God sees’ and what God sees is the heart. That was completely hidden from Goliath and so he expresses his disdain in these words: 43, ‘He said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods’ You can be quite sure that an angry Goliath would have been far more terrifying than the Goliath the people had been seeing so far, twice a day for 40 days. But in that curse, whether he realised it or not, Goliath was revealing the true nature of what was really going on there in that remote Valley of Elah. For this was not simply a battle between Philistine and Israelite, it was an encounter between the so called gods of paganism and the one true living God. And friends, so it is today. The real battle the church faces is not between Christianity and Secularism or Christianity and other religions; it is between the one true God who has revealed himself in the Lord Jesus and all other false claims. Just last week a young man came to see me who is considering the ordained ministry in the Church of England. He was alarmed at what he had been hearing in various churches in his city, including one sermon in which the Vicar said, ‘Well, you know, The Jews have Moses, the Muslims have Mohamed and we have Jesus but we all worship the same God’. You might as well say, the Israelites had Jehovah, the Philistines had Dagon, but they all worshipped the same God. It is frankly absurd to say that, let alone blasphemous. Do you remember how Paul described the nature of the real situation we face in Ephesians 6? He said this: ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood (however big), but against the rulers, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ (6:12). That is what David was about to do battle with in the form of the ‘man of the between’ from Gath- Goliath.
Having received no reply from David, Goliath describes with relish what he is going to do to him: v44, "Come here," he said, "and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!" And with those words it seemed to everyone, but David, that Israel’s destiny had been sealed: death and destruction were bound to follow.
But you have to ask the question: how did Israel get to this point, the point of potential annihilation or at best, slavery? Well, earlier in this book when the prophet Samuel was about to make Saul Israel’s King, he said this: ‘If you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers.’ (12:15). And that is exactly what happened. You read on in Samuel and you see that both Israel and her King actually deserved the death that Goliath was about to dish out, here of course what Kornfeld said to Solzhenitsyn about what we deserve had substance. Here they were to see the hand of the Lord raised against them because they had disobeyed God’s commandments. And if God was against them, then there was no hope. They had already been experiencing that for around six weeks, every time they came out, shouting the war cry, each time they went away cowered and afraid. Their bravado was just that- bravado, it had no backbone to back it up. I am sure that militarily speaking they had formed the ranks of their army according to the military wisdom of the day; the battle lines were no doubt very neat and the soldiers well turned out with sword in hand. But they were as effective against this giant as a Salome’s seven veils in a force nine gale. Not just because the man was big but because God was against them. And this is a lesson that God’s people have to constantly learn and re-learn. Can any church, including a denomination like ours, expect anything else but for God to be against them if they are flagrantly setting aside his commands and the Gospel, which is what is happening? Our problem is not a financial one, our problem is not one of bad communication-being relevant- our problem is spiritual apostasy and that has to be addressed. And while God’s kindness can be relied upon it is not to be presumed upon. Yes, God does act in mercy, as he does here, but that is meant to lead to repentance and a change in direction and lifestyle, it is not an excuse to keep on sinning, thinking: ‘Well, we can do what we want because God will clear up the mess anyway’.
So what was different about this day compared to all the other days? Well, what was different was that God’s chosen King was in their midst, the one upon whom, we were told in chapter 16, the Spirit of the Lord had come in power. And in a way David proclaimed his Gospel to Goliath which was made up of several strands. First, v 45, ‘David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty 9the LORD of Hosts), the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.’ Here David places this confrontation in its proper context. On the one hand there is the Philistine with his weapons of mass destruction bearing down upon little David. But on the other hand there is David who comes in the ‘name of the LORD of Hosts.’ Here David reaches back into Israel’s history to declare the news that the one true living God is a mighty God who delivers. But David also introduces something which is quite new and significant. He says that he comes ‘in the name of’ the LORD Almighty. There has never been an individual who has claimed to come in the LORD’s name, specially chosen, set apart, and as God’s representative. Goliath looking at this puny teenager would not believe in a thousand years that he was looking at God’s man. If Goliath in his massive hulk and armour was the embodiment of all that is ‘Philistine’ the proud warrior nation, (remember how at the beginning of the chapter Goliath described himself as the Philistine?) so here in this tiny youth, seemingly so vulnerable and weak is the embodiment of the one true God of the universe. For what matters to God is not the size of a man’s biceps, but the devotion of his heart. The only other occasion in which this telling phrase, ‘in the name of the LORD’ appears in the Old Testament is Psalm 118 v26, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD’, and the context is set by the previous verse, ‘O LORD, save us; O LORD grant us success.’ People need saving and so whoever comes in the name of the LORD to do that is a real sight for sore eyes. So David’s Gospel, in the first instance is about David, it is about a person, who he is and what he has come to do-save.
The second element in his Gospel appears at the end of verse 45, ‘the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied’ or better translated, ‘mocked’. It is an indictment. Goliath’s mocking of the living God is the stupidest thing he has ever done because of the third aspect of his Gospel, the news of what will happen as a result- v46, ‘This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth…’ In other words- this is judgement day and he should be afraid for it is now too late. And what is the bigger purpose of all of this? We see it in the fourth strand of David’s Gospel- ‘the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands." This is the point of all of God’s might acts of power in dealing with his people- not to give them a experiential pick me up- but so that they and ultimately all the nations will know there is a God in Israel.
And when you think about it, this is not all that far removed from the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is it? On his way into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday, the crowds looking on didn’t see a mighty conqueror entering God’s City, but a man riding a donkey. But still hopes were high that this was God’s anointed and so some in the crowds used the very term David used of himself and which was taken up by the writer of Psalm 118, for we read in Matthew 21: 9, ‘ The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ The Gospel is about Jesus-his person and his mission, his identity and his task. If you get those two things wrong, which includes putting Jesus alongside other religious leaders, you don’t have the Gospel. What is more, he came to deal with that ridiculous self-posturing of man which shakes his puny hand at God and says, ‘I will be King of my life’- it is called sin. Such self aggrandisement effectively mocks the living God. But thirdly he came, died and rose again so that the whole world would know there is a Saviour and that people from every tribe and language group would come from the four corners of the earth to worship him. It also makes it clear that if people are saved it is not because they have contributed anything to their salvation, for the battle is the Lord’s and the Lord’s alone. That is the invitation which goes out, but it does so with the warning of the dark side of the Gospel of what happens if that gracious invitation is refused. This is how Paul puts it in 2 Thessalonians 1: 7: ‘This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ That is why the CU events week and Identity courses are so vital for they offer the opportunity for people to be rescued from such a dreadful destiny. And how dreadful God’s judgement is we see in what happens next, v48, As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. 50So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. 51David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine's sword and drew it from the scabbard. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.
Did you notice how Goliath fell? It was facedown, very much like what happened to the Philistine god Dagon in their temple in 1 Samuel 5 as it fell down in front of the captured Ark of the Covenant. The symbolism is profound. People will bow down to the Living God one way or another, in salvation or in judgement but bow we must. Then David drew the large scimitar sword of Goliath’s and severed his head. We don’t know how many times it took to do it, but you can be sure that the sword was sharp and heavy and would do the job effectively. But it is important to note that he was not struck down by a sword, just as David had promised earlier, he did not come with sword or spear in hand, it was the Lord who gave the skill to David to use that sling in so deadly a manner. The victory was the LORD’s from beginning to end.
And so much for the deal of Goliath that if he were to be defeated the Philistines would be Israel’s slave-they reneged and fled, chased by the Israelite army which suddenly found new courage. God’s
King had come to do the work of a king and defeat his enemies. But his name was not Saul, it was David.
However, there is one further detail I want to draw your attention to which may be significant in pointing to David’s greater son, Jesus, as he came to defeat God’s enemies, and our enemies, the enemies of sin, death and the devil. It is the way David used Goliath’s own weapon to slay him. That is precisely what God did with the big three enemies through the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the sinful actions of men who conspired to take this innocent man, who had done nothing but good and nail him to a tree. It was death by crucifixion that laid him in a cold borrowed tomb. It was the devil whom we are told in John’s Gospel that had entered Judas leading to Jesus’ betrayal. The three great enemies working together to get rid of God’s anointed. And that is when God turned all of these things around on themselves in order to defeat them. Sin was punished on the cross, as Jesus the great sin bearing substitute died in the place of sinners fulfilling God’s law that all who sin should die, so removing the guilt of all who would put their trust in God’s champion. It was by dying our death that Jesus broke death’s icy grip, so that while we may still die physically it is not the end, for a new body and a new life awaits us. The devil’s great power over souls lay not in his ability to tempt, but to accuse, to drag men and women before the bar of God’s throne and say, ‘They are mine, deserving hell for they have broken your law and should be condemned.’ But he can’t do that for those who trust in God’s ‘man of the between’ Jesus, for they have no guilt to pay for since the ransom has already been paid. By Jesus death, we have the death of death- the enemies’ own weapons have been used against them to defeat them. So David was right after all when he spoke his Gospel to Saul, saying ‘Do not lose heart’ or ‘Don’t be afraid’. If you are a Christian here tonight- you don’t have to be afraid because Jesus is your champion. But if you are not a Christian, then you do need to be afraid, that is unless you turn to him who extends his loving hand to be your ‘man of the between’. Let us pray.
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