NOT BY SWORD AND SPEAR
TEXT: 1 Samuel 17
I cannot tell you how much I love this story. Of course it is one of the great Sunday School stories, and the drama of it captures the attention of even the smallest child. But I’ve found that as an adult, this story means more every single year, as I find myself faced with the true giants of life.
Over these last weeks, we've been looking at different Bible characters who have left home for a variety of reasons, and with David, we find a boy who leaves home to run an errand for his father. You can just imagine what is going on in David’s mind. He’s the youngest of eight sons…the runt of the litter…and while his older brothers get to do exciting things like going off to battle, David has to stay home and tend the sheep. Now he's sent on an errand, but his errand is to go take supplies to his brothers in the battlefield, and you can bet David is jumping at the chance to go and be where the action is, like his brothers…and if we had read the entire chapter, you would have seen that his brothers resented having him around. Some things never change.
David had been home tending sheep, but I don't mean to imply that it was an easy job. I’m not sure how much you know about shepherding in Biblical times, but if you have the romantic, pastoral notion of sitting in a field and playing the flute while clean, fluffy sheep graze peacefully beside you, I’m going to have to burst your bubble. For a few years I had just three sheep to care for, and even that wasn’t the peaceful glamour that you might imagine.
In Biblical times, it was a despised but necessary profession. Since the main assets of the wealthy were often in flocks and herds, it was important to protect those assets. But it wasn’t a pleasant job, and anybody who could do anything else did so. The shepherd lived in the field with the sheep—day and night—and in time you tended to look and smell like the sheep. Nobody took shepherds seriously, and their testimony didn't even count in a court of law.
And it wasn’t a cake walk. Sheep, I can tell you from experience, are stupid. They are sweet, and I loved my sheep to death. But they are not the brightest lights in the harbor. While I was in
We see this in the story of David as he describes his confidence to King Saul. Listen to this statement by David to Saul: “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears.”
Shepherding was a dangerous business. I used to go into the woods with a stick when I heard coyotes howling near my sheep, but I’m not sure I would have been doing that with lions. And if I did, I’m not sure I would live to tell about it. David is both brave and tough. BUT…and this “but” is the heart of the story…David does not claim that it is his courage and strength that did it. Listen to what comes next:
“Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God…The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” Even as a strapping teen, David did not boast of his own exploits. He boasted of God’s exploits.
We don’t know what his father Jesse taught him at home, but somehow David had come to learn the truth…the battle is the Lord’s. It doesn’t matter whether the threat is a lion, a bear, or a champion named Goliath, whose height was six cubits and a span. (A cubit is about 18 inches…makes him over 9 feet tall.) They are all nothing when compared to the power of the living God. David has learned not to try to fight his own battles. He meets the giant with the power of God. Listen to what he says when he confronts Goliath:
“You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of
That paragraph is what this whole story is about. I can’t tell you if it really happened this way or not. There’s another place in Scripture (2 Samuel 21:19) that claims somebody else killed Goliath. It doesn’t matter. The truth that the writer of 1 Samuel wanted us to get is right there in that last line I just read, “The Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”
We know that is the point because it appears throughout the story. David makes the point in his speech to Saul about the lions and bears, he makes it again in his speech to Goliath, and it appears again at the end of verse 50: “There was no sword in David’s hand.” It is emphasized in choosing a shepherd boy rather than a warrior to take on the champion, and in David trying on Saul’s sword and armor and then casting them aside. It is not by sword and spear…it is not by human strength and weaponry…or as Zechariah 4:6 puts it: “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of hosts.”
That is the truth of this story and if you get hung up on whether it was a historical event, you’ve missed the point. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. Ancient Hebrew writers weren’t really concerned about whether they had the historical facts right. They were concerned to tell a story in a way that told a deeper truth about the God of Israel. In this case, the truth is that when we find ourselves facing a giant, God is there to fight the battle with us and for us. The giant is toast.
This is a critical piece of information, because when we take the courageous step of leaving home…either physically or spiritually…we find, as David did, that there are giants out there. Ancient maps used to write a message on unexplored territory that said, “Here be dragons.” And that is certainly true. When we step into the unknown…when we move out into life and fully live it, there are dragons, there are giants, there are lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!
We look and think that we can’t possibly win the battle. We know the giant is bigger, with better armor and a sharper sword. He is trained and we are not. It’s a boy with a rock against a tank. We haven’t got a chance. Fear gets the better of us and we cower like the armies of
Jesus points out that it is the children who will show us the way into the Kingdom. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that in God’s kingdom we will all be led by a little child. This story is David living that out. The boy with the slingshot shows the way to the mighty army. It is not by sword and spear. You’re right, Army, you don’t have the strength or the equipment or the training to deal with this…it’s too big. But if you will quit trusting in weapons and start trusting in God, the giant will fall in an instant.
If we went around the congregation this morning, and asked what giants people were facing in their lives right now, I think you would be amazed. This is a tough world…a land filled with giants and dragons…and sooner or later we’ve all got them threatening us. There are financial giants that threaten to take our jobs and our homes. There are grave illnesses and the threat of death. There are emotional giants that try to drive us to suicide or abuse or that try to keep us locked inside so that we cannot get out and enjoy the lives God has given us. There are the giants of addiction, eating disorders, and disabilities. There are people who are giants in our lives, who threaten to take away our safety, our children, our sense of worth. There are the systems of economics or justice or government or even religion which make it seem impossible to get what we need.
I don’t know what or who your giants are this morning. I don’t know the lions or bears that are lying in wait down the road. But I do know that it will not be by sword or by spear that you beat them. God stands ready to fight our battles by our side, but first we have got to quit trusting in other things. We take off the bulky armor, and put down the giant sword and put on our faith in God.
That’s not an easy thing to do…and the bigger the giant, the harder it is. That’s why it’s helpful if we practice in the smaller areas of life first. David had confidence in God in the big battle because he had seen God at work in the smaller ones. So often we only go knocking on God’s door when the problem has overwhelmed us. God is who we call as a last resort.
God is not the EMT. God is our partner for life…the one we are invited to bring into all aspects of our lives…the happy, the sad, the easy, and the overwhelming. If we could only practice doing that. If we could only learn to live with God, day in and day out…to pray without ceasing, to place our lives in God’s hands well before the giant ever appears on the field to challenge us…if we could do that, we would find that we could approach Goliath with David’s confidence…not confidence in himself, but confidence in the God who has already saved him from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear.
Do you need to place your confidence in God? Do you need to give up the sword and spear and take up the rock of your salvation? In a basket here at the front, I have some rocks. As Ann plays, I invite anyone who would like to come forward and take a rock as a reminder of the God who fights our battles and slays our giants. It’s not always easy to trust in a sling and a stone when you’re facing a nine-foot giant with a spear like a weaver’s beam, but maybe if you hold the smooth stone and pray, you might remember that the battle is the Lord’s. And the giant will fall. Amen.(c) 2005, Anne Robertson