Sermon on 1 Samuel 17:1-11 – “A Giant Problem”

Sermon for Sunday, March 17th, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

 

Old Testament reading:

[1Sa 17:1-11 ESV] 1 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. 2 And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. 3 And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. 4 And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6 And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 7 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. 8 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. 9 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.” 10 And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

 

New Testament reading:

[Rom 5:12-21 ESV] 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned– 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Gospel reading:

[Jhn 10:7-18 ESV] 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

 

Introduction

The story of David and Goliath is one of the most well-known of the Scriptures. And its a big chapter here in 1st Samuel. So I’ve decided to break this down into three sermons.

Today we’ll look at the first 11 verses:
1 Samuel 17:1-11 – A Giant Problem

And, following a couple week break for Palm Sunday and Easter we will, Lord Willing, return to this series with two other sermons from this chapter:
1 Samuel 17:12-37 – David vs. The Giant, Saul
1 Samuel 17:38-56 – The Death of Goliath

But first, we have “A Giant Problem.”

That’s one of the more difficult things to hear. Someone comes up to you, knocks on your door, and says “We’ve got a giant problem.”

Oh no.

If you’re working in a factory, or an office, or a hospital or almost any job, you’ve probably heard that statement: we’ve got a giant problem.
That is what the astronauts on Apollo 13 probably should have said. But they didn’t want to alarm ground control too much, so they understatedly said “Houston, we have a problem.”

Back when I was at the University of Michigan, the Houston football team came up for a game. And in the stands one of the Michigan fans had a sign that said, “Houston, YOU have a problem.” Michigan, if you don’t know college football, is a bigger better team than most. A real problem to play against.

Well, I’ve had some giant problems in life, as I’m sure you have had also.

The Israelites have a giant problem with Goliath of Gath.

But he isn’t the first giant by any means. He is descended from other giants. And these giants have been in Canaan troubling the Israelites from the beginning of their time there.

Do you remember the Anakim? The sons of Anak?

Moses sent spies out ahead into the promised land.

And when they returned to him they said

“We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there.”

And they said,

“The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

So Israel was scared. And the same message that we learn in the story of David and Goliath is the message the Israelites should have embraced in their time. GOD IS BIGGER THAN THE GIANTS.

But they were scared.

[Deu 1:28 ESV] 28 Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”‘

The fear of man. What is the fear of man compared to the fear of God! What if you don’t obey God! What if you fight against God! THAT is a bad day. That is trouble. But Nephilim, Anakim, Rephaim; they’re just people. And people are mortal.

Well finally there is victory in the book of Joshua:

[Jos 11:21-22 ESV] 21 And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain.

Did you catch that? The only Anakim — the only giants — left in the land are in Gaza, GATH, and Ashdod.

Now we have Goliath of GATH.

You see, the Bible fits together. Goliath of Gath isn’t just some random giant that shows up. He is from a family of giants that have been noted in the Scriptures. Israel has long had a giant problem.

The Philistines have been a problem as well. They’ve been the most frequent enemy in battles in the book of 1st Samuel.
Back in chapter 4, prior to Saul coming on the scene, Israel fought with the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant was captured.
Then in chapter 13, Saul’s son Jonathan defeated a garrison of the Philistines causing the nation of the Philistines to rise up and attack Israel.
And in chapter 14 the tide turned and Israel won a great victory over the Philistines.

But the battles continue.

In fact, in 1st Samuel 14:52 we hear that “There was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul.” They were a giant problem.

You think of politicians today, and they have some major problem to deal with. Perhaps immigration, inflation, or crime. These are giant problems that keep arising. For Saul and Israel the giant problem was always the Philistines.

Now we find each side gathered for battle.

I. Gathered for Battle

On one side of a valley, up on a mountain is the army of the Philistines.
On the other side of the valley, up another mountain is the army of Israel.

Another battle is being prepared for.

When its an old foe, you know your enemy. Lining up again for battle.
And you have to KEEP FIGHTING!
You can’t give in.

Your old foe may be a sin of the past, a habit you can’t shake.
Your old foe may be a problem that won’t go away.

Our old foe, is, in some sense also Satan himself.

That is what Martin Luther said in A Mighty Fortress is Our God:

For still our ANCIENT FOE [our ancient foe is Satan]
And he “doth seek to work us woe.”

Sometimes it seems like an army lined up for battle against us.

How are you my finances going to come together against all these bills?!
How am I going to have any friends with all these accusations coming at me?!
How can I find time for the Lord when all I do is work, work, work?!

The battle lines are drawn.

And there is a strategic reason for the position of the armies. The high ground is valuable. A solider is stronger swinging his sword downward rather than upward. And the opposing army gets tired if they charge up the hill.

II. A Representative

And out of these battles lines come a representative.

Out from the Philistines comes Goliath of Gath.

You almost have to say his name in a low pitch to get the full effect. GOLIATH OF GATH.

This the “problem of problems.” Of all the enemies aligned against you, out comes the biggest! And you think “not today.” Could you, Lord, bring me a smaller problem today! Maybe a 5 footer or a 6 footer, but not a 9 foot problem!

Goliath is said to be “6 cubits and a span.” That is 9 foot 9. If he stands on his tiptoes his head hits the basketball rim.

Probably his “helmet of bronze” hits the rim.

We’re not told the weight of the helmet, but his bronze chain mail coat weighed 5000 shekels. (125 lbs) And his iron spear point weighed 600 shekels. (16 lbs)

Plus he has an untold weight of bronze armor on his legs and whatever else he was wearing or carrying.

There is some thought that Goliath wasn’t 6 cubits and a span tall (9 ft 9) but only 4 cubits and span (6 ft 9). The shorter version is the way in reads in the Dead Sea Scrolls and other texts. But if a man has hundreds of pounds of armor, it makes more sense to me that he is a full 9 ft 9.

So he comes out from the ranks of the Philistines as their representative. And it makes you wonder how many other soldiers are just like him. I’ve always figured he was the biggest of the Philistines. And maybe he was. But maybe they are also trying to get an idea across the Israelites – we’re all this big. Are you sure you want to fight?

Warfare – both ancient and modern – is a lot of posturing. Actually fighting battles is a bad strategy. More often armies would line up and the smaller army would capitulate, sign a treaty, and live to fight another day.

So maybe there is some benefit to this representative approach. Not only to scare Israel, but to say “let’s just have a one-on-one competition to find the victor.”

So Goliath speaks:

8 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. 9 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.” 10 And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.”

We find out later in the chapter that Goliath does this each day for forty days or more.

Yet no one comes out to fight against him.

III. Greatly Afraid of our Problems?

In fact, we hear,

11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Is this where we are as well? Afraid of our problems. I think it would be disingenuous to say otherwise. It is of our nature to avoid our problems, or procrastinate, or maybe even we are unable to solve them.

Our problems are all around us, like an army. It can be overwhelming.

And your same problem calls out for 40 days, or 40 years!

I really should … fill in the blank.
I really should … lose 10 lbs.
I really should … finish up that project I started.
I really should … get back to that old friend.

But for 40 days or 40 years, nothing happens.

Maybe the Israelites were hoping Goliath would go away.

Occasionally that works. I remember coming back from a week or two vacation on one of my jobs and reading my email. The first day “there is this giant problem you need to solve.” Oh no. And its like Smokey the Bear “ONLY YOU can solve this problem.” Then, a few days later, another email “Oh, looks like you’re on vacation … we solved it.” That happens occasionally, but that’s not usually the case.

The problem is only solved if it is addressed.

IV. Comfort in Our Representative

Goliath is called a champion. This doesn’t mean that he wins lots of fights, though he may well have. The Hebrew actual means “a man between two” or “a person, who, on behalf of his on people, sought to determine a national quarrel by engaging in single combat with a chosen warrior in the opposing army.”

A champion is a “stand-between,” a representative who risks his life rather than whole army risking theirs.

The Bible often has a representative approach. That is the way it is with us and Christ. He is our representative.

This isn’t to say that Goliath is a type of Christ, but it is to say that this is the Hebrew, Biblical thinking. Representatives are common.

And to our GIANT PROBLEM, we have an even bigger solution.

A representative. Not David, but Christ.

And he not only defeats Satan, but our other giant problem, Sin.

The key text is Romans 5:12-21.

It is a text that explains that Adam is our representative in sin. When he sinned, we sinned. But the good news is that life comes through Christ, our representative, or federal head of salvation.

[Rom 5:12-21 ESV] 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned– 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

And if God can conquer Sin and Satan — these giant problems — what does that make our other daily problems look like? Our giant problems suddenly look quiet small. Quite manageable. And with the Lord, all can be conquered.

Even our giant problems.

The Lord is bigger than our giant problems. Let us trust in him. Let us pray.