Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle…Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. …And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armoured with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The 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. He 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. 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.’ And the Philistine said, ‘Today I defy the ranks of Israel! 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.
Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons… David was the youngest; the three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening. Jesse said to his son David, ‘Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers; also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See how your brothers fare, and bring some token from them.’ David rose early in the morning, left someone in charge of the sheep, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, 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. All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid. The Israelites said, ‘Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. The king will greatly enrich the man who kills him, and will give him his daughter and make his family free in Israel.’ 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?’ The people answered him in the same way, ‘So shall it be done for the man who kills him.’… When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him. David said to Saul, ‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’ Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’ But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.’ David said, ‘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!’ Saul clothed David with his armour; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armour, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.’ So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.
The Israelites were terrified. Apart from physical size, Philistines were a sophisticated race who had settled on the coastal plain of Palestine around 1200 BC. They were politically astute, technologically advanced and fierce warriors, and for 150 years they had advanced across the Land.
Now there was a potential battle situation as armies faced each other, yet it was acceptable for ‘champions’ (selected individuals) to settle the conflict and prevent unnecessary waste of lives. That’s why the Philistines sent Goliath, a fearsome sight with his massive body armour and heavy weapons shining in the sun.
By contrast, David was a boy with a busy life serving as musician and armour-bearer in the palace, he also carried out duties at home, and tended his father’s sheep. Unlike Goliath, David wasn’t a trained warrior, so Saul didn’t want David to face Goliath.
The image of the boy trying to walk in borrowed armour is comical, but David was confident; he was going out in the name of God. As a shepherd David practiced using his sling. He knew he was a good shot. He was not afraid.
This happened a thousand years before Jesus, yet I see parallels for us as Jesus’ disciples today.
We’re called to share our faith in a largely secular society, like facing a sophisticated, politically astute, technologically advanced, fierce warrior giant. Maybe we try on some armour, but it doesn’t fit and stops us moving.
Like David, we have the equipment, but do we know how to use it? David had practiced long and hard, and so he had confidence.
These days we have prayer, caring for others, looking after creation, sharing resources, social justice, being radically inclusive… just some of the slingshot stones for sharing faith in 21st century life. Have we practiced enough? Are we – like David – prepared, confident and ready to go?
Lord, Help us be ready to share our faith, as we face the giants of today. All too often we don’t know what to say, or can’t think how to tell about the love of Jesus in a way that people outside of Church can understand. So, we keep quiet. Help us be prepared, honing our skills and practicing using all the slingshot stones available. Help us go confidently and remember that you are with us always. Amen
Linda Rayner, is an Elder at Bramhall URC and URC Coordinator for fresh expressions