The Aftermath of Success (1 Samuel 17:55-58; 18:1-11)

Someone will always be better than you.  So long as you derive your worth from your abilities, your performance, your good looks, you will always live in fear of being shown up by someone more capable, someone more successful, someone more good looking.

In 2013, an article in Slate magazine published an article titled: “Is Facebook Making Us Sad?” According to new social research, social media only increases our natural tendency to compare ourselves to others:

“The human habit of overestimating other people’s happiness is nothing new, of course. … By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ heel of human nature. …Facebook is, after all, characterized by the very public curation of one’s assets in the form of friends, photos, biographical data, accomplishments, pithy observations, even the books we say we like. Look, we have baked beautiful cookies. We are playing with a new puppy. We are smiling in pictures (or, if we are moody, we are artfully moody.) Blandness will not do, and with some exceptions, sad stuff doesn’t make the cut, either. The site’s very design—the  presence of a “Like” button, without a corresponding “Hate” button—reinforces a kind of upbeat spin doctoring.”

How you respond to your neighbors’ happiness reveals the true god of your heart.

In short, we want to be just like our neighbors—but just a little bit better.  When we fail to “measure up” to these standards, we feel let down, disappointed—maybe even angry.

The slaying of Goliath marked a turning point in the life of David.  From this day forward he wouldn’t be merely a shepherd boy—this unlucky eighth son of a Bethlehem farmer.  No; this was a force to be reckoned with.

While David was on the battlefield, Saul was pondering who exactly this young man was:

55As soon as Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.” 56And the king said, “Inquire whose son the boy is.” 57And as soon as David returned from the striking down of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 58And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”

These questions are bizarre.  After all, Saul had met David before—he’d been the court musician.  Some think Saul is trying to gain a better understanding of his family history—but he’d met Jesse as well.  In his Handbook to the Historical Books, Victor Hamilton suggests that maybe Saul is asking a selfish question.

“Might it be that Saul, well aware of David’s prowess and hence usefulness to Saul in the future, is asking David to renounce Jesse as his father and proclaim himself Saul’s son?  After all, had not Samuel earlier predicted that Israel’s kings ‘will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots’ (8:11)?  That seems to be literally fulfilled in 8:2, where we read that ‘Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house.’”  (Victor Hamilton, Handbook to the Historical Books, p. 261)

David’s life would never be the same, but now we’d see the ways that the royal family—both Saul and his son Jonathan—would react to this rising superstar.  And the story reveals the ways our own hearts might respond to God’s anointed King Jesus.

DAVID AND JONATHAN

Jonathan was Saul’s son, and in every “natural” sense the heir to the throne.  There was just one problem: God had declared that the throne would pass to David.  The story of David and Jonathan picks up immediately after the falling of Goliath.

As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2 And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5 And David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him, so that Saul set him over the men of war. And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.

The story of David and Jonathan is one of the best-loved stories of friendship in all of scripture.  Jonathan’s love for David ran deep—and strong.  Yet for clarity’s sake, we should note that this love did not go beyond friendship (as some have historically suggested)—nowhere else do we hear the Hebrew word ahab being used to refer to romantic love.  No; this was brotherly affection—yet it’s impossible to be unmoved by the sacrificial nature of it. Jonathan strips himself of his own robe and armor, giving it to David.  The gesture is deeply symbolic: Jonathan is essentially abdicating his right to the throne.  By handing over these items, he essentially tells David: Here; these are yours.  And the throne goes with it.

DAVID AND SAUL

Saul’s response to David is less generous.  He’d essentially used David as a pawn in his army—ironically not that different from the way the Philistines had used Goliath.  But when David is successful, Saul is incensed.

6 As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments.1 7 And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,

“Saul has struck down his thousands,

and David his ten thousands.”

8 And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?”9 And Saul eyed David from that day on.

10 The next day a harmful spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day.  Saul had his spear in his hand. 11 And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David evaded him twice.

The people sang the praises of David.  “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”  Even our English translations capture the meaning of the original Hebrew: David had risen to a position of obvious superiority—and obvious popularity.  Earlier, Saul had seen David as an opportunity, a chance to further his empire.  Now, he saw only a threat to his position.

THE TRUE AND BETTER KING

Do you see the contrast in responses to David?  Jonathan and Saul form mirror images to the way God’s people might respond to God’s chosen King.  Saul responded in jealousy and anger.  Jonathan responded in sacrificial love.

The truth is, most of us would prefer to be the king of our own worlds.  We become angry at anything that threatens our own sovereignty—which is partly why we feel threatened when we compare our happiness to that of others.  Christianity demands that we align our hearts with that of God’s, and that means we have to abdicate our thrones to the true King, Jesus.

Therefore, we will respond to Jesus as either a “Jonathan” or a “Saul.”  If I am accustomed to living life my way, then like Saul I will become enraged at the demands Christ places on me to follow him, to love my neighbor, to forgive others, etc.  But if I recognize the supreme value and authority Christ possesses, then like Jonathan I strip myself of my delusions of grandeur.  I lay my soul bare before him.  I express only gratitude and devotion.

Most of us will have days when we waver between these two reactions.  But over time we will become more accustomed to devoting ourselves to God’s true King, Jesus.  You may crown him as Lord, or condemn his intrusion.  But in either case, he cannot be ignored.  How will you respond?

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Your Goliath is too Small (1 Samuel 17:32-54)

The stage had been set.  David—at this point only a 17 year old shepherd boy—had vowed to face the mighty warrior Goliath.

David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” 34But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!” 38Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, 39and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. 40Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.

All along, God had been preparing David for this encounter—though in not quite the same way as boot camp.  As a shepherd, he’d spent time in the wilderness, perfecting his skill at keeping animals at bay.  This included some experience using a slingshot.

Do you remember the old movie Karate Kid?  The film featured Ralph Macchio, playing a young man determined to learn karate to beat the Cobra Kai.  He goes to Mr. Miyagi for training.  What does the old man have him do?  Wax the car.  “Wax on; wax off.”  Paint the fence.  Sand the floor.  Finally the kid snaps and confronts his mentor.  It’s then that Mr. Miyagi shows him the real import of “wax on; wax off.”  The repetitive motions he’d been making during all this manual labor?  They became the basis for defensive karate moves.  Waxing the car hadn’t been some arbitrary stunt; it had been a vital part of a warrior’s preparation.

David was no different.  God had used his past to prepare him for his future.  So much so that David declines the armor from Saul—weighty and a few sizes too big.  He faces Goliath instead with a bag full of rocks and a heart full of faith.

41And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” 45Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

48When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

50So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. 51Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. 52And the men of Israel and Judah rose with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron. 53And the people of Israel came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp. 54And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his tent.

David slew the giant not with sling, sword, and stone, but with confidence in what God could accomplish through him.

Here’s the danger: all my life I’ve heard this taught as an example of how you and I can “face our giants.”  That if we have the “five smooth stones” of faith then we can conquer our fears, conquer our temptations, emerge from our struggles victoriously.  So whether our “giants” are addictive behaviors, sexual temptation, prolonged suffering, childlessness, singleness, we have only to “stand and fight.”  Pray more, read the Bible more—you know, be a “better Christian.”  That actually preaches really well.  But there’s just one problem: you’re not David.  You can stand and face your struggles all you want, you can throw as many rocks as you’d like.  But you’ll miss every time.  Why?  First of all, David occupied a position you and I do not.  He was God’s chosen leader over Israel.  Perhaps you and I aren’t empowered to fulfill this same destiny.

But there’s another key issue.  Your Goliath is too small.  So long as we see our problem as merely an issue of circumstance—of singleness, of suffering—we miss the real Goliath that roams the horizon.

If we search the pages of scripture, we find a powerful theme of conflict that runs through the great narrative.  Peter, for example, tells his readers to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Years earlier, Isaiah had predicted that God’s true servant would “swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth” (Isaiah 25:8).  There is a greater Goliath.  He bears the names of sin, Satan, and death.  None of us can face these adversaries on our own.  We need a true and better champion.  We need Jesus.

Paul tells us that on the cross Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15).  So prominent was this theme in early Christendom it got its own Latin name: Christus victor—literally “Christ the victor.”

Therefore Jesus is the true and better David, who slays the greater Goliath of sin, suffering, and death.  And his victory has been imputed to our account—that is, by following Jesus we, too experience victory over sin and death.  But if that’s true, why do we still hurt?  If you’ll pardon the allegory, it’s because while the giant has been struck dead, we still wait for him to fall.  And so as we follow Jesus, Goliath’s shadow falls on our shoulders—but his spear can never touch us.  Goliath looms on the horizon—but his sword can never cut our flesh.  The gospel assures us there will be a day when even death itself will be “swallowed in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).  And until that day we wait for the giant to topple, we wait for God’s Kingdom to triumph.

Fall Goliath, Fall.

Facing the Giants (1 Samuel 17:1-31)

Every heart is a battlefield, and every lifetime a war.  The story of David and Goliath has become so familiar as to provoke disinterest, but in truth the story tells us everything about the way we handle life’s inevitable conflicts.  If we peel back the layers of our own modern “twists” on this ancient story, we find a fascinating story that initially smells of fear yet in the end screams of victory.

1Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. 2And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. 3And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. 4And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 7The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him. 8He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 9If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” 10And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

What’s going on here?  The ancient world observed a practice known as ish habbenaym—literally “the man between two.”  A battle would begin with a one-on-one battle between two chosen “champions.”  Why?  Because the ancient world saw their victory as not merely their own, but the blessing (or judgment!) of their respective God/gods.  The winner of this initial “grudge match” would have an enormous impact on troop morale—which helps us understand why armies would actually turn and flee if their champion was defeated.

Goliath was one such champion.  Later Hebrew manuscripts tell us that he was “four cubits and a span,” making him over 6 feet tall.  But earlier Hebrew manuscripts tell us that he was “six cubits and a span,” making him somewhere between nine feet and nine foot nine.  His armor alone weighed roughly 150 lbs—the head of his spear weighed an additional 15.  And notice the blend of bronze and iron weaponry.  Historians have been quick to note that Goliath’s armament was a blend of a variety of different cultures, which only serves to highlight Goliath’s backstory.  His impressive height, his array of weaponry—this was a hired gun.  He had probably traveled extensively, sort of a mercenary hired out to win battles.  He’d killed before—probably many times.  And judging by his raucous speech, he truly had come to believe himself untouchable.

The irony?  There truly was one man in Israel “head and shoulders” above the rest.  Saul.  Of all the people in Israel, this would have been the man you’d expect to face the giant.   But no.  The text is clear: Saul was no different than the rest of the men: weak in the knees, weak in the heart, weak in the soul.

The truth is, most of us will never face physical combat.  But we each have a giant that looms over us on the horizon.  For some, it’s a Goliath of temptation.  For others, it’s a Goliath of trials and suffering.  For all, it’s a Goliath that presses us toward the question: Is God in this? 

While Saul was the most likely candidate for a warrior, the true warrior would come through David.   Now mind you, roughly five years had passed since David’s anointing.  He was now a 17 year old boy—yet despite his anointing he remained a shepherd until his time of succession.  When he arrives at the battlefield, he comes not as a soldier, but as a delivery boy.

 12Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. 13The three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. 14David was the youngest. The three eldest followed Saul, 15but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. 16For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.

 17And Jesse said to David his son, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers. 18Also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See if your brothers are well, and bring some token from them.” 19Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.

 20And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper and took the provisions and went, as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the encampment as the host was going out to the battle line, shouting the war cry. 21And Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22And David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage and ran to the ranks and went and greeted his brothers. 23As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

 24All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid. 25And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.”

 26And David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” 27And the people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done to the man who kills him.”

 28Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” 29And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” 30And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again as before.

 31When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him.

Once again we see a contrast.  Two men.  Two kings.  Saul hid in fear.  David stood in faith.  The truth is most of us are more like Saul than David.  When trouble looms ahead, I’d much rather hide—sink myself into career, into entertainment, into hobbies, even sin.  Men especially can flee from their responsibilities as men.  How?  Video games—whose players extend well beyond teenagers these days—give me a false sense of accomplishment.  Pornography grants me a false sense of intimacy.  Why focus on being productive when I have Call of Duty?  Why focus on marriage when I have an internet connection and no one’s watching?

It takes a man like David to step up in faith and say that I’m willing to do the unthinkable, and with God accomplish the impossible.  And if our faith is placed in God alone, then we are reminded that it is not the purity of our faith that saves us—it is the object of our faith.  Your impossible circumstances may only be a matter of perception.  Are you focusing on the problem, or are you focusing on the Solution?

We need to give a “to be continued” today.  Tomorrow we’ll come back and finish this story of David and Goliath, to answer how Jesus is the true and better David.