Monday, June 15, 2015

Dancing with David: David and Goliath

June 14th, 2015    “David and Goliath”    Rev. Heather Jepsen
Summer Sermon Series: Dancing with David
1 Samuel 17
          Today we are continuing our summer sermon series; “Dancing with David”.  Last week we read about David’s anointing at the hand of Samuel.  You may remember that the people of Israel had been asking for a king.  They wanted to be like other nations around them.  Saul was chosen to be the first king of Israel, but he began to interpret the commands of the Lord to serve his own ends.  God was displeased, removed Saul from his favor, and sent Samuel to anoint a new king.  Despite the fact that he was the youngest of 8 brothers and the least qualified to rule, God has chosen David, the son of Jesse from Bethlehem as his new king. 
          This week we are looking at the Bible’s most famous story about David, the story of David and Goliath.  This is one of the few Biblical stories that has transcended the life of the church, and become a part of our everyday culture.  Even people who have never read the Bible or attended church know the story of the shepherd boy who defeats the giant.  As we study the text today you will notice that this is a different kind of Biblical storytelling.  In fact, this is one of the most epically told stories in all of our Scriptures.  Let’s look at it together . . .
          (Read verses 1-11)
          Clearly we have a battle scene on our hands.  The Philistines, a constant enemy of Israel are on one side of the valley.  The king of Israel, Saul, and his troops are on the other side.  Every day Goliath heads out into the valley to taunt the armies of Israel.  The text says Goliath stands six cubits and a span which translates to almost 10 feet tall.  Clearly, this was a big guy!  A lot of time is spent describing Goliath’s armor.  He is meant to be seen as un-impregnable force.  This guy would have been impossible to take down so it is no wonder that the armies of Israel cower away in fear.
          (Read verses 12-16)
          It is interesting to note here that it appears the writer has no previous knowledge of who David is.  In fact, there will be no mention in this story of the episode we read last week when he was anointed to be the new king.  What we are looking at here is another one of those stories in the Scriptures where we have multiple story lines all woven together.  You may remember that from last summer when we looked at Genesis and studied the two different creation stories. 
Scholars think that there are actually three different introductions to David found in our Bible.  The first is the story we read last week, the second is the story of how David came to court to play his harp for Saul, and this is the third introduction to David.  We will find that not only does this narrative of David not demonstrate any knowledge of his anointing as king, it also does not actually work with the story in the chapter before where he comes to the court to play harp.  In this story, Saul has no prior knowledge of who David is, which wouldn’t make sense if he had been playing harp for him at court. 
In fact, the Scriptures don’t even agree on whether or not it was David who killed Goliath.  In 2 Samuel 21:19 we read “Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.”  Clearly, this account of David and Goliath is not meant to be a historical rendering.  It is more important to the Biblical authors as a tale of moral and religious significance giving us insight into the heart of our hero David.
(Read verses 17-30)
So this is the story of how David comes to the court of Saul.  His brothers were already fighting in the armies of Saul.  David is sent out to the battle field by his father Jesse to bring rations to his brothers and provisions for the troops.  He is also asked to return with word of his brothers’ well-being so that his father knows they are “ok”. 
David comes to deliver the meal and hears Goliath and his taunts against the nation of Israel.  David is astounded that the Israelites have such little faith in the promised deliverance from the Lord.  He asks about to find out why the armies of Israel are so hesitant and afraid.  Do they not believe in the power of the Lord to save?
David’s oldest brother Eliab sneers at his audacity to question the battle strategies of the king’s army.  David doesn’t know the first thing about fighting and probably only wants to see bloodshed anyway.
(Read verses 31-37)
News comes to Saul that David is criticizing his army and so he asks after David.  David makes it clear right away that he is willing to go to battle against the giant Goliath.  Saul points out the obvious, that Goliath is a huge seasoned fighter and David is just a young shepherd boy.  David then launches into a bit of grandstanding about is ability to fight off wild animals when he works with the sheep.  As we follow his story, we will find that a lot of David’s success is due to his charisma and confidence and this is certainly no exception.
(Read verses 38-40)
Saul agrees to let David enter the battlefield, and really it is of little concern to him.  If David dies, it is no loss for Saul and if he manages a miracle and wins will that can only be good.  Saul clothes David in his own armor, probably because it was the best available on the battle field.  The writing is meant to be comical as the armor is too big for young David.  He decides to enter the battlefield armed only with his slingshot.  The emphasis on David’s vulnerability is important here.
(Read verses 41-51)
After a lot of trash talk the battle commences and there is relatively little action.  The two men charge and David’s rock somehow manages to sink into Goliath’s head.  The reader is meant to understand that this is a miracle due to David’s great faith in the Lord.  The story is not about his fighting ability or even his heroics.  Instead it is about David’s faith in the God of Israel and the triumph that the Lord promises over his enemies.  In a gruesome turn of events that the Children’s Bible often leaves out, David manages to remove Goliath’s massive sword from its sheath and he cuts off the giants head just to be sure he has finished the job.
(Read verses 51b-58)
After Goliath is defeated, the armies of Israel chase the Philistines out of the area and plunder their camp.  In gory triumph, David drags the head of Goliath all the way back to the city of Jerusalem. 
There is a bit of political intrigue at the end of the story when Saul asks who David is.  Just a few verses ago the two had a lengthy discussion, so how is it that Saul suddenly doesn’t know who David is?  Scholars think that what Saul is actually asking about is David’s allegiance.  When Saul asks, “whose son are you?”, he is really asking where David’s allegiance lies.  Is he faithful to Saul and his kingship or is he his own man?  David’s response is evasive and gives nothing away “I am the son of Jesse.”
This is one of our favorite Bible stories for good reason.  It is well written, it is exciting, and it is the classic underdog story.  In many ways this is the entire story of our faith; the triumph of the weak over the strong.  Throughout the Scriptures we read promises of the righteous weak succeeding in overcoming the unrighteous powerful.
As many of you know, I have been extremely busy this week completing our family’s move.  Lucky for me a perfect illustration of the David and Goliath story fell out of the sky and hit me on the head.  Well, at least it felt like that.  I was busy driving back and forth between the houses this week when I happened to hear an interesting story on NPR’s morning edition.
It is a story about the Goliath of our time; Islamic terrorism and its extreme violence.  The David in our story is Karim Wasfi, the conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra.  Karim lives in a well off neighborhood in Baghdad called Mansour.  Terrorists waged an attack in the area and bombed out a street in his neighborhood.  In response to the violence, Karim took his cello and sat amid the wreckage playing a piece he composed entitled “Baghdad Mourning Melancholy.”  His friend filmed the event and the video has gone viral.
I love this piece as a parallel to David.  Like David, Karim chooses to approach Goliath with no armor.  We will see in the video that he is wearing his performance attire.  Unlike the United States approach of great armor and strength, Karim approaches in weakness, much like David refusing the armor of Saul.  Karim has no rock to throw, but what he does have is the power of music.  It will certainly not defeat an enemy like ISIS, but it does strike a blow in the name of peace and beauty in the world.  And it seeks to break down the biggest weapon that terrorists have, which is fear.
Karim says "This was an action respecting the souls and the spirits of the fallen ones due to terror around the world — and, of course, Baghdad, because we're living the reality over here.  The other side chose to turn every element, every aspect of life in Iraq into a battle and into a war zone.  I chose to turn every corner of Iraq into a spot for civility, beauty and compassion.   I was connecting everything: death, spirits, bodies, life.  People were supportive.  They were appreciating the fact that someone can still at least lead their emotions and spirits towards something beautiful, to rise above the intimidation of improvised death.  Unlike what people think, we have a choice of fighting back.  We can't just surrender to the impending doom of uncertainty by not functioning. But I think it's an awakening for everybody to make a choice and to choose how they want to live, not how they want to die."
If that’s not a story of David and Goliath I don’t know what is.  Let’s watch the video of Karim Wasfi as he plays Baghdad Mourning Melancholy amid the rubble of the streets of Baghdad.

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