[Read 1 Samuel 17:40-51]
Jesus Is Your Goliath’s David
When Joshua, the servant of Moses, led the people of Israel into the land of Canaan after crossing the Jordan into the promise land and drove out the former inhabitants – the Jebusites and Hivites and Perizzites and so on – toward the end of Joshua’s life, when he was old and grey, God said there was yet another nation still to be driven out – the Philistines.
The Philistines would plague the lives of the Israelites for centuries to come. In today’s Old Testament reading, four hundred years after Joshua, David – not yet King – begins to drive out the Philistines with his own hand, starting with a sling and this giant of a warrior, Goliath.
The tallest man in modern recorded history, Robert Wadlow, of Illinois, was 8’11” tall and weighed 489lbs. Goliath likely stood even higher than this. Goliath was apparently one of the Anakim in Gath, a lineage of large-statured men producing great warriors for the Philistine cities.
The army of the Philistines was greater than that of Israel. Both armies stood at either side of a valley, lining up for war. And Goliath of Gath, the Philistine’s prize warrior on the scene, stands in the valley taunting Israel’s army for forty days. Taunting, and seeking to make a deal: Israel, send out your mightiest warrior. If Goliath prevails, Israel will be servants to the Philistines. If Israel’s warrior can slay Goliath, then the Philistines will be their servants.
Who knows if there was any intention to keep this deal. But the deal itself was vicarious. One soldier for the whole army. One wins or loses for all.
We know the rest. All of Israel is frightened. Yet David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, is confident. He has courage. Not courage in himself, but courage that arises from faith in God’s ability and willingness to prevail for His people.
David had experienced this before. God made him able to prevail over wild beasts which threatened his father’s flock. David says that Goliath will be like one of these. God, his heavenly Father, will give the victory through David, the shepherd-youth, to spare His human flock.
Without armor, without his own sword, but with a sling and five smooth stones, David approaches Goliath. Goliath mocks David, saying he will give David’s flesh to the birds and the beasts. David responds: “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. 46 This 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, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord's.”
The battle is the Lord’s. The Philistines and all the earth will see that Israel’s God is the true God. The assembly of Israel will see that the Lord saves not by man’s sword and spear. David will give the whole army of the Philistines to the birds and the beasts.
Running forward in the name of the Lord, David’s smooth stone sinks into Goliath’s forehead. Goliath falls. David slays Goliath, beheads him, using Goliath’s own sword. Then the victory march to Jerusalem – which was not yet possessed by Israel – but this was a warning that they too would soon be conquered by the God of Israel.
Brothers and sisters, what do we do with all this? This account of David slaying Goliath is NOT about what? It is NOT about the great things you can accomplish. It is NOT about the great problems that the small can overcome. It IS about the victory of God who has slayed a greater Goliath for you at the hand of another Shepherd, your Shepherd-Savior Jesus Christ.
God has now delivered, not Israel according to the flesh, but the Israel of faith – those citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem through faith in Jesus Christ – God has delivered this true and eternal Israel from a threefold Goliath: The threefold Goliath of sin, death, and the devil.
Our faith is this: That Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is the true David. He has conquered what is really your Goliath – the sin of your flesh, the resulting eternal death, and the false preacher, the devil. These three powers stand head and shoulders over us all, yet stand defeated, not by man’s sword and spear, but by the Good Shepherd. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” [John 10:11]
If you don’t see a Goliath towering over you, examine yourself – he is growing right up through you – look in the mirror of the Ten Commandments as explained, for example, in your Small Catechism. In the mirror of God’s Law, an honest heart sees the ugliness of its sin.
You haven’t loved your neighbor as yourself. You haven’t helped your neighbor in body, possessions, and reputation. You’ve looked to your own interest and not to that of others. You’ve been sexually immoral in thought and deed. You’ve complained and spoken ill about your neighbor and even about your brothers and sisters in the Church. What you’ve given for others is a speck compared to what you do for yourself daily. You give little thought of your neighbor, let alone your enemies, whom God has commanded that you love.
You haven’t loved God will all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength. Your mind is continually on yourself. Your worship has faltered and has been second priority to other ideals and desires. You haven’t treated God as a God. You haven’t heard His Word in such a way that you listen to it. His Word hasn’t been your love and desire.
Worst of all, brothers and sisters, we have not trusted God’s Word. We have not been a people of courage and confidence. In the face of every trouble, we doubt and deny God’s promises and love for us by fearing and shaking like the Israelites who didn’t believe that God was on the battlefield for them.
And, above all this, the greatest Goliath, for many of you, is that you don’t believe any of this about yourself – you don’t believe yourself to be a sinner. This makes God a liar – Because, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” [1 John 1:8].
But in the face of all this, we should have courage. There is a battle of sin in me. But it’s a battle I need not hide my eyes from. Because no matter how big of a Goliath my sin is, it is a Goliath that has already been slain – its head is already chopped off. And death is slain. And the devil is slain. They’ve lost their heads. The battle is won.
Jesus, your Good Shepherd, won the battle – one Soldier on behalf of all. The battlefield was the cross, and what Jesus did there was vicarious – it was on your behalf.
On the cross, Jesus took the Goliaths of sin and death right up into His own flesh. Your sin and death hung in His body and died there. And, in His hands and feet and side, just as David used Goliath’s own sword to behead Goliath, Jesus used the devil’s own nails and spear to destroy the devil. Sin, death, and the devil, God’s enemies and your Goliaths, defeated.
Sin still resides in you, but in your many battles with it, it is a headless, slain enemy. Its power is a mere façade. Because Jesus has forgiven it. His atonement has rendered sin powerless to condemn. Jesus, by His death, has forgiven you. Forgiven, you need not fear facing your sin. You can pursue it, run it down, just as the Israelites ran down the Philistine army.
What happened after the army of Israel saw their David slay Goliath? By faith in God who clearly had given them the victory, they gained courage and pursued and hunted down the remaining Philistine army.
This Lent, and always, because you see that your David, Jesus Christ, has defeated the true Goliaths, have courage therefore to face your sins and call them what they are. Even a whole army of sin in you is still defeated, atoned for, forgiven sin. Don’t be afraid, therefore, to face it for what it is. To admit it to yourself and to God. Confess sin to God as it truly is – name it and be forgiven – Because, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But, if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” [1 John 1:8-9].
Repentance and faith because we have confidence in the One who forgives. Jesus is victorious, and His victory was vicarious – one Soldier on behalf of all. Therefore, forgiven and free, be of good courage and do not fear what you must face. Amen.