1 Samuel 17.48-51
We all love a good story.
Big bad wolves.
A wooden puppet who becomes a real boy.
Cinderella and her prince.
And, of course, David and Goliath.
Stories teach us valuable lessons:
Believe in ourselves, and we can do anything.
No matter how big the problem, we can solve it.
Use what we have, and if we have only a stone and a sling, use them with all our might.
Courage conquers every enemy.
Truth wins out.
All of this and more.
In one of the greatest stories of the Bible.
David and Goliath.
But if read it only as a story, we miss the big picture.
David and Goliath is a somber reflection on the price of victory.
Much of what we have in the Old Testament was compiled during the Babylonian Captivity …
586 years before Jesus, Babylon’s armies swept down upon Judah and Jerusalem like a Tsunami - destroyed everything … tore down the Temple, stone-by-stone … carried off to faraway Babylon Judah’s teachers and leaders.
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
The people in Babylon try desperately to put together the shattered pieces of life and hope.
Why are we here?
Why were we defeated?
Why has this heathen nation prevailed over the Holy City and it’s Temple?
Where is God in all of this?
Who are we?
What shall become of us?
Did we go wrong somewhere?
Before we go any further, let’s turn to Jesus.
The Garden of Gethsemane … the mob in the night, led by Judas, to take Jesus away.
A disciple draws his sword and strikes the High Priest’s slave, cutting off his ear …
Jesus says, Put your sword away.
And then tells the world a truth the world never wants to hear: Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
In Babylon, the people try to figure it out.
I’m sure they remembered what Samuel said to the people when the people cried out for a king.
Do you want a king? Samuel asks.
Let me tell you how kings behave!
And when the people hear it, they still cry out in one voice, Give us a king!
We want a leader who will lead us in battle and secure our safety.
We know what we want, and we want what we know.
God says to Samuel, Give them what they want!
There will be blood, but give them what they want!
For nearly a thousand years, Israel lived by the sword … from the Battle of Jericho to Jerusalem’s defeat at the hands of Babylon … a thousand years of triumph and sorrow, life and death … good kings, bad kings … treaties signed and treaties broken … constant warfare to expand the boundaries of the nation, protect what had been gained, and regain what had been lost!
The power of the sword is mesmerizing.
I don’t know about you, but when I see a display of military might, I get goosebumps.
Donna and I were driving through the upper reaches of Death Valley a few years back, when, in the distance, a small speck on the horizon, and it wasn’t long before the speck became a plane, flying fast and low toward us, and suddenly it veers toward the road, right over the car, mighty and roaring … it passed us quickly and then beyond us …
The power of the sword … humankind mesmerized by the sword … ever since Cain kills Abel … humankind strives against one another for dominance and power … vast armies on the move, great ships on the high seas … in the modern era, the latest technology, weapons of unimaginable power, weapons of mass destruction.
The power of the sword!
David’s first entry into Israel’s life - by the sword.
Goliath was no lion threatening David’s sheep.
No bear growling in the night.
Goliath was a man.
A large man, to be sure.
Well-trained and ready to fight.
But a man, nonetheless.
A human being.
Did Goliath have a family back home?
A mother who loved him?
A father proud of him?
Brothers and sisters who honored him?
Fellow soldiers who admired his bravery?
What about the Philistine soldiers?
All of them, human beings.
Families back home.
Families who loved them.
The sword is blind to all of that.
The sword doesn’t care.
The sword kills without regard.
The sword knows only two words: Friend or Foe?
1500 years later, Jesus says to the people of his time, descendants of David and the people of Judah: Love your enemies … pray for those who harass you … so that you will behave as children of your Father in heaven.
What does Jesus mean by love?
Something emotional? Sentimental? Mushy-gushy?
Jesus means right behavior, fairness, even kindness.
Jesus makes it clear when he describes his Father’s behavior: God makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.
Jesus offers us weapons of the soul, not a sword for the hand!
The sword fails …
Those who live by the sword, live by the sword only for a time … and, then, death catches up … whatever the purpose, high-minded or mean-spirited, those who live by the sword die by the sword.
David’s kingship was soaked in blood.
It’s all there for us to read … the folks in Babylon have done us a great service in telling the whole story.
Was David a man after God’s own heart?
Yes, David loved the LORD, and served the LORD.
But David was a king, and kings go off to war, kings wield the sword, kings love power, and power always loses its way.
Those who live by the sword … die by the sword.
Israel lives by the sword, and then falls to the larger sword of Assyria.
Judah survives by the sword, and then falls to the larger sword of Babylon.
Babylon lives by the sword, and then falls to the sword of Persia.
Then comes the sword of Alexander the Great.
To be replaced by the Caesars, Pontius Pilate and their legions - the Roman Empire.
Then the Byzantine Empire … then the Holy Roman Empire of Northern Europe … the great seafaring empires of Spain and Portugal and The Netherlands and Britain … the Ottoman Empire throughout the Middle East and North Africa … Empires have come and gone in every part of the world … Russia, Africa, India, China, Japan - in various times and ways, kings and queens, rulers and potentates … and now, for a time, the burden and blessing of Empire has fallen upon the United States of America.
Empires live by the sword.
Our military spending is highest in the world - 711 billion dollars in 2011 … China at 143 billion … Russia at 71 billion.
Some months ago, I said to you, “The greatest challenge facing Christians around the world is violence.” Violence against women and children … school-bus bullying … road-rage … the spirit of vengeance … dissing the poor … and war … violence wears many faces.
Especially violence in the name of god!
Empires always use god, or the gods … every nation believes in god, in some form or other … the divine is invoked to bless the sword and bless the hand that wields it.
Every soldier fights for god and country … every soldier prays … while the people at home pray for victory.
Christianity, as we know it, comes out of 1800 years of Empire and war … Christians fought Christians … Christians colonized and enslaved peoples around the world, … Christians cheered the sword and sent their children off to war … and there stood the clergy, with holy water and prayers … all for god and country …
There will be blood … David begins his journey to greatness with blood … and blood flows across the pages of Israel’s book.
In Babylon, now, defeated and dispirited, God’s people search for meaning … and ask hard questions:
Was there too much blood?
Too many swords?
The love of war and conquest?
A telling review of David’s life from the Book of Chronicles - it’s right here; in the Bible: God forbids David to build the Temple … and why?
God says to David: You’ve shed much blood and waged great wars. You won’t build a temple for my name because you’ve spilled so much blood on the ground before me.
God closes the book on war and conquest when Jesus is born … the Promised Land reaches its final chapter when angels sing to shepherds in the field.
A savior is born in David’s City, they sing … but no David is he; David’s story comes to a close … a new story birthed in Bethlehem.
We have much to learn from King David, no doubt.
Even more from Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Amen and Amen!