Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Facing Goliaths (I Samuel 17:1-11; 48-51) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Who is the tallest person you have ever met?  I remember years ago seeing this tall guy in San Diego.  I asked a friend who he was and my friend said that’s Bill Walton.  He is 6’11”.  He played basketball for the San Diego Clippers in the early 1980’s.  Now that’s tall.  Our son Matthew told me that years ago he saw Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq) in L.A.  He is 7’1” tall.  Now that’s really tall.

But do you remember a man by the name of Robert Wadlow?  He was an American from Illinois.  He was known of the Giant of Illinois.  He died in 1940.  He was 8’ 11”.   According to official records Robert is confirmed as the tallest human being to have ever lived.

Would you consider these people giants?  Do giants exist?  And I’m not talking about the San Francisco Giants.  No, giants don’t exist.  Giants are the stuff of folklore and legend.  They are an archetype, a universal mythic character of the collective unconscious, a product of the fantasy and superstition of ancient cultures.  Giants are the characters of stories like the English fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, the trolls of German literature, the Cyclops of Greek and Roman literature and Paul Bunyon of American literature. They are the myths of ages past when people personified evil or fear of the unknown or the unexplainable in the form of giants who walked the land.   In these modern sophisticated times we know that giants aren’t real or are they?

What is our traditional image of giants?  They are superhuman aberrations of prodigious size and power.  They possess extraordinary strength and physical proportions, they can inflict havoc and destruction at will, and it’s nearly impossible to stop them, which leads us to our story from I Samuel about a giant, Goliath.

Goliath, a Philistine, was a real person. He was an historical figure.   He was not a figment of the Jewish imagination.   In our story the armies of the Israelite tribes of King Saul, the king of Israel and their enemies, the Philistines, are lined up preparing for battle, each camped on a mountain with a valley between them in the area we know today as the Gaza strip.  The year is about 1000 B.C.

Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, we are told was 6 cubits and a span, a little over 9 feet tall.  A height that is believable.  Reaching a little over nine feet is not much of a stretch of the imagination.  A giant of a man, he was heavily armed, was a champion soldier, had fought in many battles, and was obviously a terrifying adversary.

Goliath shouts to the Israelites: “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.  If 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.  Today I defy the ranks of Israel. Give me a man that we may fight together.” The story says:  “When King Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.”  Can you blame them?

David, a boy and servant of the kind approaches King Saul and offers to fight Goliath.  Saul tells him he is just a boy and is no match for the warrior Goliath.  But David argues that as a shepherd who has taken care of sheep for many years, he had become skilled with the slingshot.  He tells Saul that over the years he has killed lions and bears with his slingshot to protect the sheep.  He says this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them.  David goes on to say:  “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.  So Saul said to David, Go and may the Lord be with you.”   David’s faith in God is strong.  He believes God has called him and is sending him for just such a time as this.   Saul has David put on a heavy coat of armor, but David says:  “I cannot walk with these, for I am not used to them.”  So David removes them.  Then he takes his staff in his hand, and selects five smooth stones, he puts them in his shepherd’s bag, takes his sling in hand and goes to meet Goliath.

Goliath begins to taunt David. “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?”  David replies:  “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 Israel, whom you have defied.  This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand.”  And David puts his hand in his bag, takes out a stone, slings it and strikes Goliath on his forehead, and the giant falls dead to the ground.

It’s a factual account, an inspiring story.  But that was a long time ago.  Are giants still a threat today?   Yes, they may take other forms, but giants do exist today.  I consider crime, where you or I can become a victim any time of a robber or mugger or murderer a giant.  I consider life-threatening illnesses giants which we must face with today.  I consider problems that we wrestle with, problems which seem overwhelming and insolvable, giants of today.  I consider fears which haunt you and sap your courage and energy giants of today.  I consider bullies as modern day giants; whether on the school playground or in the workplace.   I consider radical extremist Islamic terrorism a giant, a giant which continues to stalk, and wreak havoc and murder at will in America and around the world.  The attacks are increasing.  And if we are honest, people are afraid.  Governments are trying to figure out a way to come together and with their collective wisdom and strength defeat this terrifying giant.

Giants are things that appear beyond our ability to control alone, they overwhelm us, they are powerful.     Giants make us feel small and insignificant.  And giants can be real or imagined.  They may exist in reality or in our minds as irrational fears, delusions, but if we believe them to be true, they are real to us.   Are there giants you are dealing with in your life?

Dr. David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church writes: “Listen, can you hear them coming?  You can run, but you cannot hide.  You might as well come out and fight.  Yes, the giants are abroad.    They cast their long shadow over everything we aspire to do, every new land we seek to inhabit, every dream we hope to pursue.  They have long intimidated us.  There are other kinds of giants that lurk around every corner to bring ruin and destruction in the land of our lives?   If we think a little more carefully, if we think a little more deeply, we might begin to identify some modern day giants in our lives.”

Giants may be real or in our minds.  Like the bus driver who was driving along his usual route.  Everything was going well.  And them at one stop this large burly man boarded the bus.  He was built like a wrestler.  He glared at the bus driver and told him, "Big John doesn't pay money!" Then he sat down at the back of the bus. The driver was a short slender man, so he didn't argue with Big John.  But he wasn't happy about it.

The next day big John boarded the bus again, said he didn’t pay money, and sat down. It happened day after day. The bus driver began to lose sleep over the way Big John was taking advantage of him.  He felt Big John was intentionally intimidating him and taking advantage of him.

Finally, the bus driver couldn’t stand it any longer. The next Monday, Big John stepped onto the bus and declared, "Big John doesn't pay money!" Enraged, the driver stood up, got into Big John’s face and bellowed, "And why not?"  With a surprised look on his face, Big John replied, "Cause Big John has a bus pass."   Yes, some fears and problems aren’t real, but become giants in our minds.

Dr. David Jeremiah writes about emotional giants in his book: Facing the Giants in your Life. He identifies 12 of them: Fear, Discouragement, Loneliness, Worry, Guilt, Temptation, Anger, Resentment, Doubt, Procrastination, and Failure.  Yes, giants do exist in different forms today.  They still pose a threat to our existence.  They are still a menacing presence.  I think there are lessons to be learned from our O.T. story.

First, like David, face the giants in your life.  Don’t deny them, or try to run away or hide from them and hope they will magically disappear.  No, it isn’t easy that’s true.  Denying or trying to escape always seems like the best path.  But I believe God is saying in this story that we need to stand up and stand tall and face those giants which threaten our lives today.

Second, practice self-discipline, stay in regular training, intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually for you never know when a giant will appear.  David had years of training as a shepherd in using the slingshot and staff to defend and protect sheep before God sent him to face Goliath.  God desires that we continually prepare ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ.  We must be forewarned and forearmed.

That can mean to prepare ourselves physically in terms of regular exercise and eating a healthy diet.  It can mean preparing ourselves spiritually in terms of regularly practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, reading the Bible, growing and developing and maturing in our faith.  It can mean facing little challenges, mini-giants in life, addressing them and gaining confidence for the larger challenges to come.   It can mean making close and trusted friendships, people whom you can count on for support, love, strength and encouragement in a time in which you will face a giant.  What else comes to your mind in terms of training and preparation for the giants of life?

Third, like David, fully and completely place your trust and confidence and future in God.   Remember this.  God himself makes you and me two promises.  God is with you when you face a giant.  God goes with you.  You will never walk alone.

Hear again this promise from the letter of Romans: “What are we to say?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else.  In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, and I would add giants, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God will empower you. You will never walk in weakness.  Jesus says:  “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”  Jesus says: “Be of good courage.  I am with you.”  God has the strength and will give you the strength you need when you must face a giant.   You are not alone.  The church, the family of God surrounds you and will support you in a variety of ways.

Do you need to confront a giant in your life?   Have you put on the helmet of salvation and the shield of faith?    Or perhaps you are carrying a slingshot?  Yes, giants are real.  But so is God.  And our sovereign God is greater than any giant that you or I will ever face in life.  Amen!

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