Sermon for North Hill Adventist Fellowship
Sabbath, February 25, 2012
Text: 1 Samuel 17:44-47
Summary: When God needs something done, he usually calls on a human being to do it. (Humans in contrast to angels, animals, direct action by the Holy Spirit, robots.)
The February 27, 2012, Newsweek cover features a picture of a group of huge 20-something year-old men with crewcuts charging toward the camera. They're dressed in dark pants and T-shirts, clothes and combat boots and some faces dirtied with sand. It looks like a picture taken during Hell Week. The caption under the photo: The Seals: How Obama Learned to Use his Secret Weapon. Inside the magazine, the article begins with the story of the rescue of Richard Phillips, the captain of the American container ship Maersk Alabama from pirates off the coast of Somalia.
In April, 2009, pirates stormed the ship. The American crew fought back and the pirates fled the ship, taking the captain, Richard Phillips, with them in one of the ship's life boats.
There was a happy ending to this story for Captain Phillips. The president of the United States rescued him. How did the president accomplish this? By using his “Secret Weapon” (in the words of the article).
Of course, the President did not aim any weapons. He did not fly an airplane or helicopter. He did not parachute into the ocean. The President remained in Washington, D. C. dressed in a suit and tie. He accomplished this dramatic rescue by authorizing Navy Seal Team 6 to take action. In this case, deadly action.
This is, of course, how the world works. Presidents don't do much of anything, in terms of actual physical action. Generals don't aim rifles or even artillery pieces. They don't pilot bombers. They don't patch up wounded soldiers. They don't provide counseling and support for soldiers struggling with the body- and mind-warping consequences of combat. All of this is done by a myriad of largely nameless and faceless individuals. Presidents and generals are responsible for making the plans for military actions and for the care and support of their soldiers. But the actual, down-to-earth action is performed by “nobodies.” By “nobodies” I mean simply that these individuals are not likely to be famous. Their specific actions are not likely to end up on the front page of a newspaper. They are not the subject of blogs and news features.
Presidents and generals are famous. They set strategy and make executive decisions. But the implementation of those strategies and executive decisions are carried by regular people.
It works that way in the spiritual realm as well.
One of the pictures of God used by the Bible writers is God as the Great King. God as the Great General. The Bible is clear that God has plans. There's stuff he wants accomplished here on earth. While there are stories of angels and miracles, most of the time, in fact, almost all of the time, when God has some mission he needs accomplished, he calls on some human to do the job.
Consider the story in 1 Samuel 17.
The nation of Israel had been invaded by the Philistines. Saul, the Israelite king, had called the army together and they had stopped the advance of the Philistine raiders. But for six weeks they had been locked in a stalemate, the Philistine army entrenched on one ridge line, Israel across the valley on another ridge line. The Philistine's prime weapon was a giant named Goliath. Every day he would swagger out onto the hillside over on the Philistine side of the valley and taunt the army of Israel.
“I defy the armies of Israel. What are you, a bunch of little girls? Come on out and fight. Send your best man. We'll fight it out. He wins, we'll all become your servants. I win, you guys belong to us.”
The king of Israel, Saul, was himself exceptionally tall, at least a foot taller than anyone else in the Israelite army. But he was no match for the size of Goliath who was between seven and nine feet tall (depending on which ancient manuscripts you consult). Just the head on Goliath's spear weighed 15 pounds!
Every day for six weeks Goliath the Giant, marches out and hurls insults, taunts and challenges at the Israelites. For six weeks the Israelite soldiers cower in their defensive positions, terrified that Goliath and the Philistine army will bring the fight to them.
Then a kid shows up. David. He was a shepherd. His father had sent him to the army to bring some supplies for his brothers who were with army. He hears the Philistine giant hollering and insulting the Israelites and their God. He is outraged. How can the Israelite army tolerate such blasphemous effrontery? The soldiers explain the situation to David. That guy who looks so small over on the opposite ridge is actually a giant. He's nine feet tall! The king has offered all kinds of rewards to anyone who can take out the giant. But it's impossible. The guy is huge.
David asks for details. He learns more about the giant. He learns the actual rewards the king has offered—the hand of the king's daughter in marriage, permanent exemption from all taxes.
David is interested. People bring him to the King. David tells the king, “No worries. I can take out this heathen. I have fought both a lion and a bear. I killed them both. This giant will be no different. God rescued me from the mouth of the lion and the paw of the bear. He'll deliver me from the spear of this nasty man who is spewing insults against God's people.”
The king tries to talk David out it. He looks like a kid. Goliath is a battled-hardened giant. It's hard to imagine a more uneven fight. But Saul has run out of options. He needs someone to go after the giant and no one else is volunteering.
The king offers David his armor and sword. David tries them on, then gives them back. I can't fight in this stuff. I'm not used to it.
David takes his sling and heads off for the giant wearing no armor of any kind.
The giant sees him coming and is outraged. Goliath is outfitted in the latest armor of the period. A massive helmet, a breast plate, greaves on his shins, a coat of mail. He has a shield bearer in front of him. And here comes this kid, wearing only shepherd's clothes.
David stops and picks up five rocks from the stream bed at the bottom of the valley then advances up the other side toward the giant. The giant shoves his helmet back. What's the use of all this armor when all he's dealing with is a kid shepherd who has rocks as his weapon?
As David gets closet the two men get into a shouting match.
Goliath curses David in the name of his Philistine gods. Then beckons him. “Come on little boy. I'm going to feed your flesh to the vultures and jackals.”
David retorted, “You stand there armed merely with a sword, a spear, and a shield, but I come at you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, the God you have defied. I'm going to feed you to the vultures and jackals so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.”
David went on, “Then this entire crowd, Philistines and Israelites, will know that the LORD does not need a sword and spear to save his people. Indeed, the battle is the LORD'S, and he will give you into our hands.”
Goliath began to swagger down the hill toward David. David began running up the hill. As he ran, he reached into his bag, pulled out one of the five stones he had picked up, then still running, he placed the rock in his sling and whipped it at the giant. It smacked in the forehead, knocking him unconscious.
Of course, everyone in both armies had been watching. When Goliath went down, the Israelites roared and poured out of their trenches and fox holes headed for the Philistines. The Philistines also made a lot of noise, but it was the noise of astonished horror. They also emptied out of their positions. But instead of heading down toward the Israelites they fled in retreat.
Notice a couple of phrases in David's speech to Goliath.
“I come at you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel.” This phrase, “the Lord of Hosts,” is a common name for God in the Old Testament. “Hosts” here is a euphemism for army. The “Lord of Hosts” is God as a general. He is Commander-in-Chief of the angels of heaven conceived of as God's army. He is commander-in-chief of the armies of Israel—seen as the army of God. David is going against the giant as a soldier in the service of the Great General. This is no freelance operation. It's no isolated, individual action. David is on mission for the Great General.
A second phrase: “The LORD does not need a sword and spear to save his people. Indeed, the battle is the LORD'S, and he will give you into our hands.”
David says, “The battle is the Lord's.” However, if you and I watched a movie of the action that day, we would not have seen God. We would have seen David. We would have been impressed with David's courage as he started out to face the giant. We would have been astonished at David's physical strength. After crossing the stream bed in the bottom of the valley, David charged UP the other side toward the giant. Have you ever run up hill? Up a really steep hill? Not on a trail, but cross country? That takes truly impressive strength and cardio conditioning. Then, while we are still gasping about David's strength as he is running up the hill, he reaches into his bag, grabs a rock and slings it at the giant—all while still running up hill.
The rescue of Captain Phillip from the pirates involved truly impressive marksmanship. Three Navy snipers on a rocking boat simultaneously shot three pirates who were on another rocking boat some distance away. But at least they had rifles with sophisticated scopes. David took out Goliath with a single rock whipped from a sling while he is running up hill.
David said, “The battle is the Lord's.” You and I watching could not help thinking, it was a good thing God had David on his side. David was not a robot in this operation controlled by God. God did not aim the rock. It was an incredibly skilled and practiced shepherd who loaded a rock into his sling and whipped into the giant's forehead.
You could not properly say that God could have used just anybody. God needed David. God needed someone with courage, yes. Someone with guts. Sure. God also needed someone with skill, a skill honed through hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of practice.
Just as a human president or general cannot accomplish important missions without the skill and training and courage and discipline a whole host of nameless soldiers, so God has tasks he wants done that call for the courage, skill, training and discipline.
God needs you.