25 October 2015

The Battle is the Lord’s: Where are the Men? Part 1

In the book of 1 Samuel, we have probably one of the most well-known stories in the Bible; that of the battles of David and Goliath. It has been portrayed in movies, cartoons, children’s books, and is one of the most frequently told Sunday school lessons around. 

I would like to take a look at the story in a bit of detail, as well as some other verses, as we touch on courage, fear and the sovereignty of God. Let’s take a look at 1 Samuel – which I have slightly edited in arrangement to focus on relevant points:

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.

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. 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.

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. (v 1-4)

So, we can envision the scenario: two armies, each on a hill, with a valley between them. Then, from out of the enemy’s camp comes this giant – whose height is six cubits and a span. They say a cubit is the measurement of distance from the tip of the middle finger down to the elbow, and can be anywhere from 17 to 22 inches in length. A span is roughly 9 inches – and is the measurement from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the pinky. So, Goliath stood in height somewhere between about 9’3” and as high as 11’9” based on the biblical text. (Yes, I am familiar with the fact that other manuscripts, including the Septuagint, have a different height listed, making him a bit less "giant" than that - but also understanding the history of giants from Genesis 6 on, it is not hard to understand this as being a larger than average person.)

This surely sounds pretty crazy to us these days, but back then it was not so out of the ordinary. Even secular historians back in the day, like Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Pliny, and other, write of persons as high as seven cubits; making them pretty much twice the height of normal men. 

Now, as the leader of the armies of Israel, the description of Saul places him as a very tall man himself. We are told in 1 Sam. 9:2:

Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people. (1 Sam. 9:2 ESV)

So Saul was not only one of the most handsome of men at the time, but was tallest among them, with some commentators guesstimating him to be just under seven foot tall. So even as the tallest of the men, he was still at least more than two foot shorter than Goliath, and possibly even shorter. Still, you would think of all the men of the army, Saul was still the best option to fight Goliath. 

The verses continue telling us more about this giant:

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. And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 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. (vs. 5-7)

So, we are given a description of what his armor was like, and we find it pretty impressive indeed. A bronze helmet, and a coat of mail armor, which weighed about 78 pounds. Because of his height, his legs would have been the most likely target for those of shorter stature, so his legs were covered with bronze armor too. 

Strapped on his back, between his shoulders, similar to a quiver of arrows, he had a spear that was the size of a beam, with a head on it that weighed about 17 pounds. And with all of this armor on, and his great size, the narrative continues:

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. 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.” 

And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening. (vs. 8-11, 16)

Now, we leave the battle lines for a moment to travel over to another part of town, and we meet David, the son of Jesse:

Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. The three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest. The three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. (vs. 12-15)

So, we find that David has been somewhat of an errand boy, running things back and forth from home to his brothers in battle. Now, in another, not so unusual trip, he is about to do so again.

And Jesse said to David his son, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers. Also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See if your brothers are well, and bring some token from them.” (vs. 17-18)

And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper and took the provisions and went, as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the encampment as the host was going out to the battle line, shouting the war cry. And Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. (vs. 20-21)

And David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage and ran to the ranks and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him. (vs. 22-23)

All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid.  And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.” (vs 24-25)

So, they assume the positions on the battle line as they probably did each day, and again, Goliath comes out, and the men scatter like mice. This time, David is there for his brothers, and he overhears the words of Goliath. Here is a boy, too young for war, and in the face of such a great danger, his response is:

Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (vs 26)

When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” (vs. 31-33)

From here, we all pretty much know how the story goes. David makes a case about how he has fought and killed a lion and bear to protect his sheep, and that he is confident he can take down this giant. I am still a little shocked that Saul would agree to let him, even after his explanation about bears and lions, but I guess the thrust of the words that helped convince Saul was when David said:

Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” - “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!” (vs. 36-37)

It seems a bit shocking that here we have King Saul, the largest man in the company, with the very freedom of the nation on the line, yet he felt it satisfactory to put all that was at stake into the hands of this young boy.

The story continues as David finds no armor suitable for his stature, so he takes his staff, a sling, and five smooth stones in his pouch. Goliath approaches, laughs, mocks and curses at David. Then, it is David’s response that should be the battle cry of us all when we’re faced with overwhelming odds:

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.” (vs. 45-47)

And of course, we know he was triumphant in battle, and indeed took down the giant. 

So here is a young boy, who takes on this overwhelming obstacle, based solely on a faith and trust in the power and protection of the Lord. He knew that if the Lord had given him victory as he stood up along against a lion as well as a bear, in a situation where the name and reputation of the Lord were not even under attack, that surely he would bring the victory when it was under attack.

I am sure David grew up hearing the tales and becoming well versed in the writings on YHWH from his forefathers, and their battles in earlier times. Like the story in Duet. 20:

“When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the LORD your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.’ (Duet. 20:1-4 ESV)
This is the first story we will examine, and just the laying of the foundation of the topic at hand, which we will reume in the next section.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4