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there was no sword

Last Sunday I read the story of David and Goliath to the kiddos during our service. I read from “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones, complete with the proper voices (I didn’t make the voices up; I just read what she wrote, with her intended sound effects and/or inflections). It is a story worth considering.

Saul was king over Israel, though he had been rejected as king by God, on account of his disobedience (see 1 Samuel 15). Young David was then chosen by God and anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king. David was young, however—probably 16 years old or so. Being the youngest son of Jesse it was his job to care for the sheep while his older brothers did more manly work—like fighting in wars.

The Philistines had lined up in battle against Israel. They were separated by a valley. Every day for 40 days the Philistines sent their champion to the front. Goliath was an enormous man (interestingly, Scripture never calls him a giant!) who towered over everyone else. He was extraordinarily strong: his spear’s head weighed more than 15 pounds (1 Samuel 17:7)! That is nearly the weight of an Olympic shot used in shot put! The world record in the shot put is just shy of 76 feet while Goliath’s size and strength enabled him to thrust an even heavier spear (with the shaft) in combat and even throw it at an enemy. (For comparison, imagine attaching a bag of flour to the end of a broom and waving that around. Your bag of flour probably weighs less than 10 pounds!)

Due to his enormous size and strength, the Philistines would present him in battle as a champion. In the ancient world single combat was often used to decide the outcome of a battle. Each army’s god or gods (or God!) would determine the outcome. The god (or God) of the winner was greater and therefore the defeated army would surrender to the victors. For 40 days Goliath presented himself and shouted insults at the Israelite army, yet no one would challenge him.

One day young David left the sheep behind and went to the front line to deliver some food and get news from his brothers. He arrived just as Goliath was issuing his daily challenge. The men of Israel were again afraid, which shocked David. Then we read this:

And 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?”

1 Samuel 17:26 ESV

David’s faith—and youthful bravado—are on full display here. He’s essentially asking what he will get for defeating Goliath through God’s power. We know this because his brother got angry when he heard David speak this way (see 1 Samuel 17:28). Word of David’s “faithful swagger” is passed on to the king who is desperate for a champion of his own.

We need to recognize something here. Saul was supposed to be that champion. When he was first anointed king Samuel told him his responsibility:

Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the LORD anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the LORD and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies. And this shall be the sign to you that the LORD has anointed you to be prince over his heritage.”

1 Samuel 10:1 ESV

Samuel goes on to say that he will be given a message about his father’s lost donkeys and then he will go to “the oak of Tabor” where three men will be traveling, one of whom will be carrying three young goats and another three loaves of bread and the third a skin of wine. They will greet him and give him two loaves of bread and then he will arrive at a Philistine garrison. Those are pretty specific details! Samuel then tells him to do the right thing—”do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you” (1 Samuel 10:2–7). The right thing is to rescue his people from the hand of their surrounding enemies yet when those exact things happen Saul does not attack the garrison, anymore than he is willing to face Goliath on behalf of the Lord.

As the story goes young David rushes into battle against Goliath, who is deeply offended at this “champion” sent to face him. David’s response is quite the opposite of Saul’s response to Goliath.

Then David said to the Philistine, “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. 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, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’S, and he will give you into our hand.”

1 Samuel 17:45–47 ESV

We know the story. And one little stone went into the sling, and the sling went round and round. And round, and round, and round, and round, and round, and round, and round. And one little stone went up in the air, and the giant came tumbling down. Something like that. What I find amazing about this story is this little statement tucked near the end:

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.

1 Samuel 17:50 ESV

David was “armed” with a weapon used to scare off animals that may attack his sheep. When David approached Goliath there was no sword in his hand! What was David’s back-up plan? What would he do if Goliath had blocked these stones with his shield, or simply dodged them, or if they simply had no real impact on him? He had no back-up plan! Here we see the real difference between Saul and David. Saul had no plan for faith, and David had no back-up plan to faith.

We see the difficulties in following the Lord, and so, like Saul, we often fail to act. We should see them as God sees them, and this divine perspective should compel us to enter into the battle with no back-up plan. This doesn’t mean we don’t approach life with wisdom; we should still save up for a new water heater, for example. When God calls you to do something, however, you should “do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you”.