When Israel went to war with the Philistines in 1 Samuel 17, they gathered on one mountain and geared up for battle. The Philistines, their perpetual antagonist gathered on the other mountain and the battle was to take place in the valley between them. This time however, there would be a twist introduced in the form of Goliath.
Goliath stood apart from the Philistines and challenged Israel to send one man to fight him in a winner take all contest. All the champion from Israel had to do was to defeat Goliath. While it is never a good idea to put one’s fortune at risk in a “winner takes all contest”, this seemed an especially bad idea considering Goliath’s stature.
And a champion went out from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs and a bronze javelin between his shoulders. Now the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his iron spearhead weighed six hundred shekels; and a shield-bearer went before him. (1Sa 17:4-7)
This man was well armored but more than that, he was very tall. If each cubit is 18 inches, this man stood over 9 feet tall, probably closer to 10 feet. It is hard to actually picture Goliath as anything other than a serious war machine and to take him on in battle would be an certain suicidal endeavor.
Of course, Israel promptly choose it’s champion and sent him out in order to fight and defeat Goliath, right? Wrong! When Goliath challenged Israel, they cowered in fear:
When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. (1Sa 17:11)
This should surprise us since Israel had a long history of defeating the Philistines. From their beginning, their whole existence is owed to one amazing victory over another. It started with the defeat of Egypt, progressed through a conquering of the land of Canaan, continued with the beating back of oppressors during the times of the Judges, and even a recent victory under Saul over the Amalekites. (I Sam 15)
What went wrong? Why the fear and dismay?
There was a subtle change that had recently taken place that might explain that. Really, it might be better to say that it was the final straw in a change that was already underway. Saul had left God and God had let him go.
When Saul disobeyed God by not following through on the utter destruction of the Amalekites and their posessions, God decided to find a new King for Israel. After that day, we read:
And Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul, and the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel. (1Sa 15:35)
God had withdrawn his favor from Saul and the kingdom of Israel, slowly, started to turn into a secular kingdom. It didn’t get far, certainly not as far as those Paul describes in Romans 1, from whom God also turned away, but the process was starting. Their reaction to Goliath’s challenge shows that their focus was on the present reality of this life. The “sword and the spear” was all the assembly knew about. They had forgotten, or at least had lost trust, that God would fight for them.
When you find yourself facing Goliaths in your life and the fear begins to overwhelm you, ask yourself a question: Am I trying to solve this with man’s wisdom and methods, or am I going to rely on God’s ways to help me overcome this fear?
Next blog: David’s response.