Scripture Reference: 1 Samuel 17
Conflict With A GiantDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | July 13, 1997
Selected highlights from this sermon
“Where’s God?” We’ve all cried this at some point in our lives, and it’s usually when we’re faced with a giant problem that seems insurmountable. David faced a literal giant named Goliath. The shepherd boy acted with authority, faith, and courage in the face of what made the army quiver.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer reminds us that even our perceived giant-sized problems are dwarfed by the size of our God.
All of us, I believe, from time to time, come across obstacles in our lives that are at least ten times our size. Maybe it is a bankruptcy, maybe it’s a failed marriage, maybe it’s bad health and a diagnosis that you hope to God you would never have to hear. Some tragedy, some personnel difficulty, being laid off on a job. And you are going through that experience and you say to yourself, “Where is God in the midst of it and how do I combat it?”
Today we’re going to look at one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. It’s the story of David and Goliath found in 1 Samuel, chapter 17. It’s a difficult story to preach on for two reasons. First of all, because it’s so familiar! Many people who know nothing about the Bible, people who have never picked up a copy of the Bible or read a page, know that David, the shepherd boy, conquered the big giant Goliath. Everybody knows the story, and that means that it’s difficult to get across because people sit back and say, “I already know this one. I could preach this one.”
There’s a second reason, and that is I think sometimes we misapply the story. You see, we think that God is going to take our giants, and then we define them according to our own liking, and God is going to make sure that those giants are taken care of, and all that we need to do is to come to people or situations in the name of the Lord, and God will take care of them.
Maybe there is somebody here today who says, “You know, my Goliath is my boss. He’s a pagan. I don’t like him. Tomorrow morning I’m going to come to him in the name of the Lord and I’m going to watch God zap him.” (laughter) Well, your boss might zap you, but God might not zap him.
Now, if we can get by all that, if we can get by the familiarity and the misapplication of this passage, we can uncover a truth that I will be sharing with you in just a few moments. We can uncover a truth that will help us to never see any situation in life quite the same again. It can transform our attitude toward events and people, and transform our attitude about God, and we can learn a lesson that we can take with us until the day we die. All that from this passage of Scripture!
But before I lead you into that truth, I need to paint the picture. Here is Goliath on a hilltop, and if your Bible is open to 1 Samuel 17, I shall read a few verses beginning at verse 4.
“Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. (That means that the guy was nine feet tall if you can believe it.) And he had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was clothed with scale-armor which weighed five thousand shekels of bronze. (That’s about 125 pounds.) And he had bronze greaves on his legs and a bronze javelin slug between his shoulders. And the shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and the head of the spear weighed six hundred shekels of iron (That’s about 17 pounds.); and his shield-carrier also walked before him.”
Man, this guy was a walking tank. (laughter) There he is all dressed out in his armor. Someone said that he indeed was a scintillating mass of brass, glittering there in the morning sun. And for forty days he comes out and he defies God. He wants to make an agreement and says, “Rather than all of our armies getting involved, let’s do it this way. You find a representative man. I am representing the Philistines, and let us fight, and then whoever loses, it is their team that will become the servant of the other.” Verse 9, “‘If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will become your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall become our servants and serve us.’ Again the Philistine said, ‘I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together.’ When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.” Greatly afraid.
So, Israel was having difficulty finding a volunteer. No doubt they put notices in the bulletin, and they had conferences on volunteerism and its benefits and what it can do for communities and what it can do for armies, but nobody seemed to be showing up. Now Saul himself should have stepped to the challenge. He was, after all, the king, but he prayed about it and decided it was God’s will that maybe somebody else do this. And it’s in the midst of the story that we encounter David.
Four years had now passed since he was anointed to be king at the age of 15. He is now 19 years old and he is running back and forth between herding the sheep and playing the harp in Saul’s court. That’s what he was doing. And his dad said to him, “David, would you go see your brothers and find out what’s going on because there’s this Philistine there who is giving the people a hard time.” And so David does, and you’ll notice that the text tells us that David said in verse 26, “He spoke to the men who were standing by him, saying, ‘What will 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 taunt the armies of the living God?’” And last time we looked at the conflict within the family, the sibling rivalry, the fact that his brother chewed him out for this, the older brother Eliab. And some of you last-borns, you know how difficult that can be when your older brother gets on your case.
And David speaks to Saul in verse 32 and says to him, “Let no man’s heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul, who perhaps loved David at this time...later on he’ll hate him, but for now he loves the boy...he wants to talk him out of it because, in effect what he’s saying, if you can read between the lines, is, “David, don’t commit suicide. You don’t want to do this. You might want to rethink what’s going to happen.” And David says to Saul, “You know, actually I’m not as unevenly matched as you might think, because one day I was tending the sheep and a bear came and wanted to take one of the sheep, and I actually killed the bear. And on another occasion I killed a lion.” And David says, “Your servant (verse 36) has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And Saul says to David (in the last part of verse 37), “Go, and may the Lord be with you,” which is to say being interpreted, “We’ll be behind you, David. Really! We really will by about a thousand yards. God bless you.”
And so we have the story, Now, I have to stop and ask this question. What is it that made David different from his contemporaries? Why was it that David was able to withstand the giant and willing to take him on when nobody else was? I’d like to suggest that the reason was because David had a God-sized imagination. Eugene Peterson in his book on David points that out, and I think that that’s a wonderful way to say it, he had a God-sized imagination. He knew that the size of your God determines the size of your giant. Small God, big giant. Big God, small giant.
You know, it was Tozer who said that what a man believes about God is the most important thing about him. If you believe that God is holy, you’re going to live a righteous life. If you believe that God is uncaring with the way in which you live, you aren’t going to trust Him, and you’re going to basically do as you please. What you think about God is that which is most important to you, and David had a big God. A big imagination because he had a big God. Where did he learn that? Well, I tend to think that it began out there herding the sheep and playing the harp.
Day after day, David played songs of praise to God. And the choir members who are behind me today will confirm this, that the more you sing about God’s greatness and His praises, and the more these lines get into your heart, the greater your faith. Unbelief oftentimes is squeezed to the edges of your life as you begin to focus on the Lord your God. And I believe that David, walking out under the stars and seeing God in nature, his faith was enlarged. And then, of course, he began even as a youth to write those psalms of praise to God.
David had many, many faults, and we’ll be uncovering some of them in this series of messages, and many more than people realize. It’s much greater than just the Bathsheba and the Uriah affair, but one of the things that he did do is he kept this desire for God. In fact, as I mentioned, it is the hollowness of his own life in the sense of failure and emptiness that kept driving him to God. And that’s what made the difference.
And so what I’d like to suggest to you today is that a God-sized imagination does several things for us. First of all, it gives us faith, faith with action. Notice that Saul tries to get David to wear his armor. It says in verse 38: “Then Saul clothed David with his armor and put garments and a bronze helmet on his head, and he clothed him with armor. And David girded his sword over his armor and tried to walk, for he had not tested them.”
I think if we do see videos in heaven someday, this is surely going to be one of the ones that the Lord is going to show us when we need a little levity in the midst of the celebration because this is really funny. Here’s a boy of 19 trying to wear the armor of a very tall experienced soldier, namely Saul. And David said, “I can’t wear them because I haven’t tested them.”
What does a God-sized imagination help us with? First of all, you’ll notice that David understood that the issue was not the size of the giant. It was ultimately the size of his god versus the size of David’s God. You’ll notice in verse 44 and verse 45... Well, let’s pick it up in verse 41: “Then the Philistine came on and approached David, with the shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he distained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, with a handsome appearance. And the Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. (And may I say that one of the gods would probably be Beelzebub, the Lord of Flies, and I will spare you the indelicacy of giving you a reason why their gods were called the Lord of Flies.) The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field.’ (But verse 45 is the key verse.) Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, a spear, and 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 taunted.’” And that is the key difference between David and everyone else who was running from the giant.
David said, “You are coming to me purely in human strength, and even though I am good at my sling, I’m not confident that I can overcome you.” In fact, David goes on to say that the issue is not really who has the best weapons in this case. He said, “The real issue is which God is going to prevail.”
You know in the Bible, the Lord of hosts is but one term among many. Jehovah Jireh, the Lord will provide; Jehovah Shalom, God is our peace; Jehovah Nisse (I believe it is), the Lord our banner. In fact, whole studies have been done to show that whatever you need for a particular situation, you have in God.
The Lord of armies, the Lord of hosts. This represents God as a warrior. One day when Elijah was there at Dothan he said, “Lord, open the eyes of the servant that he might be able to see all of your armies (that were surrounding Dothan, and these were angels).” Just this morning in my devotional reading, I was reading the Psalm that says, “The angel of the Lord encamps round about those who fear him,” and God protects them. So what David is saying is that because this is a battle, a spiritual battle, “What I will do is to trust a God who is the Lord of all battles.”
My dear friend today I want you to know that the invisible God was more real to David than the visible giant on the hilltop. And David says, “I am willing to have faith and action.” Faith and action. I know what I would have done. I’d have said, “Saul, I’m not volunteering, but I am going to pray, and I’m going to pray that the giant dies of a heart attack.” That would have been my prayer.
David says, “I’m not going to pray that. I’m going to go and I’m going to attack him with what I have (like the boy who brings his loaves and fishes to Jesus) and to see what God can do with gifts that I have honed and developed and used in different contexts. Now I am going to put them to use with one of the greatest challenges of my career, and I will come in the name of God, in the name of God, the Lord of armies.”
So what you have is: you have faith with action. You also have faith with authority. We pick it up at verse 46. “This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword of by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give it into our hands.”
And then comes the shock. Can you imagine the army of Israel off in a distance seeing this boy unarmed apart from his sling, who had picked up five stones? All kinds of symbolism. You know, Bible scholars sometimes have...on certain days of the week they don’t have enough to do and so they dream up various kinds of theories. Some people say, “Well, you know, the five stones must represent something. Maybe it’s half of the Ten Commandments.” I don’t know. (laughter) I want you to know that the five stones just meant that David knew that there was no chance in the world that he was going to get any more than five shots at this guy. If he doesn’t have him dead at five, he’s going to be dead meat. He doesn’t need any more.
And the armies of Israel are off in the distance, and they watch this shepherd boy run not away from the giant, which they had been getting good at for 40 days, but rather toward him. And David comes, and you know the rest of the story. David takes his sling and puts a stone in it and so far as we know, it’s the very first stone, and it hits the giant in the forehead, and something like that had not entered into his head before (laughter) and he is dead. He is dead out on the battlefield.
But folks, I want you to get the sense of authority with which David approached the giant. First of all, he was confident God was going to give him the victory. This was not presumption. It wasn’t, “Well, I’ll take my sling and I’ll try to shoot a stone in his direction, and we’ll see whether or not God will come through.” That kind of faith and David would have been the one whose head would have been cut off by the end of the day.
No. He says, “I come to you in the name of the Lord of armies whom you have defied.” Now, catch this. The giant had no right even to be standing on that land. That part of the territory had been deeded to the tribe of Judah. God had said through Moses and then through Joshua, “Every place that the sole of your foot steps I have given that to you, and it belongs to you.” And then the tribes had the land divvied up, and it belonged to them. What in the world was this pagan doing on soil that belonged to Jehovah? Well, the problem was the bluff was working. And so David comes, and of course he kills the giant. He takes his head and cuts it off, and undoubtedly later on they weighed all of his armor. That’s why it’s mentioned in the Bible as to how much it weighs.
And then I like this part of the story. You’ll notice that God directed the stone, and God had the giant be in the right position so that the trajectory would work exactly as David had hoped, and even though he was good at the sling, no doubt this was very much God-directed, and finally when it’s all over this is what we read in verse 51: “And the men of Israel and Judah arose and shouted and pursued the Philistines as far as the entrance to the valley and to the gates of Ekron. And the slain Philistines lay along the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath and Ekron.”
Now, David stands over Goliath. He cuts off his head. Everybody can see that it’s game over. The big man has been taken care of, and he does more actually than just bite off his ear, which has been done in different contexts. He actually cuts off his head, and he brings it to the people. And now everybody says, “Oh, let’s go for them. I want to kill me a giant too.” Can’t you just see it? And lo and behold, they do kill Philistines. The Scripture says that the landscape was littered with them.
Could we pause for a moment and help you to understand the power of one courageous act, the power of one courageous person? David, by winning one victory, changed the whole mood of the Philistine army into fear, and changed the mood of the Israeli army into one of triumph and victory and courage and faith. One person can make that big of a difference. That’s what leadership really is.
You know, I look at this and I also see in it a picture of Jesus who, once He triumphed over Satan and won that great battle for us and took care of the devil, now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out, that you and I can now courageously pursue the enemy, knowing that we are victorious because the citadel of strength has been broken, having stripped him of his weapons, Colossians, chapter 2, verse 14.
How do we summarize a God-sized imagination? How do we come to terms with a giant that is so much bigger than we are, but not, of course, bigger than God? Let me suggest, first of all, as we think about the lessons that come to us, that no giant is bigger than God. No giant is bigger than God.
And write this down. Notice that our giants are as big as we believe them to be. As long as Israel believed that there was no way that they could fight against the giant and win, they could not fight against him and win. As long as you think that your problem is beyond God’s ability to heal, and to take care of, and to help...as long as you think that, you do not receive the healing and the help that you need.
You see, Satan is not nearly as strong as people give him credit for. Not nearly as strong. But he is as strong as people are willing to give him credit for. You see, what I mean to say is that if we think of him as being invincible, someone who cannot be won against because he is so powerful and the behavioral ruts are so deep...if we think of him in that way, why then indeed, he is all that we think him to be.
My dear friend, your giant is not bigger than God. It’s not bigger than God. A layoff you experience this week, the disappointment, the heartache...even the sin that you committed is not bigger than God, because He can forgive it. No giant is bigger than God.
Secondly, and this is why we need to interpret this story very carefully, God is not obligated to kill all of our giants. He’s not obligated to kill all of our giants. That’s important because you know what? This is the easiest battle that David ever had. From here on it’s going to get very, very difficult. This was a piece of cake. This was really a piece of cake. I mean, sure, it took a lot of courage, but let’s face it. Once the stone was let go of the sling and landed in the temple of the giant, I mean, that was the end of the game. It was quick. It was easy.
Do you know that later on, God is going to give another giant to David, a giant who is going to pursue him for ten long, interminable years, namely Saul? And David is going to pray, and he is going to yield, and he’s going to submit, and he’s going to ask, and God is just going to allow the struggle to go on and on and on. And that’s why the next sermon I preach in this series is so incredibly important. It could be entitled, “How to Respond to People Who Throw Spears at You,” because Saul is going to be throwing spears at David. And David gives us tremendous insight on what to do when somebody who hates you and is jealous of you and wants to kill you and begins to throw spears at you... And you know, David is going to have to live in caves and in dens, and he won’t have a home. For ten long years he’s going to be pursued, and there’s nothing that he could do to take care of it because he kept committing it to God. And God would not take care of that problem for a long time. God is not obligated to take care of all of our giants. I’ll tell you what He is obligated to do. He is obligated to walk with us through the experiences, the events, the circumstances, but He does not change. That He is obligated to do with His people, and that He does with His people.
Now, there are some giants that God wants to take care of. When we pray for purity, when we pray for the restoration of a marriage, when we pray that an adolescent who is rebellious might come back to faith, those are the kinds of miracles that God wants us to believe Him for, and those are the kinds of giants we have to keep hanging in and beseeching the Lord, that we might be able to see victory over them. But there are some circumstances that will just drag on and on and on and on. God is not obligated.
You know that this is the only time in David’s whole life, as I mentioned, that he won a victory so quickly and so easily. From here on out it’s tough news all the way. And that’s why I want to conclude today by saying that we must identify our giants correctly, because sometimes the giants that are in our heart are far greater than the giants that even might come across our path. The dragon within must be slain. Maybe, as I mentioned earlier in my report, there are those who need to deal with their whole issue of sexuality, and to them it is an incredible giant. It is just too big. Well, I want you to know that if you have a God-sized imagination... And how is that acquired? You take the Psalms. That’s a good place to begin. You get on your knees. You lie before the Lord one half hour a day, reading His Word, crying out to Him that you might see God, that you might see God, because if you do that, you will discover that God will reveal Himself to you. And once you see Him, you finally see the giant for what it is.
The size of your God will determine the size of your giant! All of the Israelites said, “Lord, there’s a giant out there. He’s too big to hit.” David took a look and said...glanced in God’s direction and he said, “God, you know, I think the guy’s too big to miss.” It’s all a matter of perspective. And that’s why you heard me pray in the pastoral prayer, and I will continue to pray it (not every Sunday), that we might see God, because there is no pit that is so deep but that God is deeper still. There is no mountain that is so high but that God is higher still. There is no river that is so swift but that God is greater and swifter than the river. And once we see God, the fear that we have in our hearts towards all those giants dissipates. The bottom line at the end of the day is to see Him. A God-sized imagination.
For some of you, the giant within is your sin that you have never even confessed before God. Perhaps some of you have never received Christ as Savior. You’ve never believed in Him, and you see this great barrier. I remember a man telling me, “I will accept Christ as Savior when my mother dies because she’s of another faith and I can’t hurt her.” I want you to know today that that is a giant that God can take care of. Your responsibility to God is greater than to your family, to relatives or to anyone else.
Blessed are those who behold God. For them the giants hold no fear.
Let us pray.
Our Father, today we do marvel at the story, and thank You for it, and thank You for its drama, even its humor, but for it’s great lesson because there are giants in the land. People have come with giants in their homes and in their businesses and at work, issues of sin, issues of broken relationships, issues of disappointment and heartache. And we pray today, Father, that we might not spend our time analyzing the height of the giant, the weight of his armor, keep reweighing the weight of his spear. But we pray, Father, that we might know that that’s not the issue. That is not the issue. The issue is whether we have seen You, and whether we approach that problem in the name of the Lord, God of armies, and that we take all of our giants and lay them before You. Father, we pray, come to control our minds through Your Word. Help us to expand our knowledge of who You are, and through Your book, Lord, look at life differently because we belong to You.
Father, there are some who are here today who are filled with fear because they see the giant so clearly. Would You fill their hearts with Your promises, and remember that those who fear the Lord need fear nothing else? Come to this congregation that You might reveal Yourself to us we pray in Jesus’ name.