(1 Samuel 17:32-49)
Few stories capture the imagination like the story of David and Goliath.
We have two armies facing off. They put forth their most fearsome warriors for battle that will decide which side will serve the other. Honestly, the bad guys put forth their fearsome warrior – a giant. The good guys put forth, well, at first, ….. no one. I mean, come on, giant! Finally a fearsome warrior steps forward … a shepherd boy? But we know how it ends, as David the unlikely hero, armed merely with a slingshot and river stones, brings about the demise of the terrible Philistine.
But the theme of the encounter between David and Goliath continues in the same vein as last week: what really matters. In our world, age matters. Size matters. Strength matters. Physical ability matters. When it comes to war, weapons matter. Military expertise matters. But not to God.
So this story of David as the underdog is familiar because we have countless modern-day versions of it. Rudy. Hoosiers. Rocky. Hidden Figures. The Karate Kid. Bad News Bears. Google “underdog movies” and you will find hundreds of examples. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, aka March Madness, is one long drama of the underdog.
One of the most recent underdog stories in this event happened in 2018 when the University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers came into the NCAA Tournament as a 20.5 point underdog to No. 1 seed Virginia. The game was tied at the half though the Retrievers led the No. 1 Cavs by as many as 20 points several times during the contest. They shocked the world and took down the Cavs by that same 20 points margin. They were the first 16-seed to ever beat a 1-seed since the tournament expanded to 64.
Perhaps my favorite March Madness story, however, happened in 1983 and continues the be immortalized every year since. And it almost never occurred since, the tournament run was nearly over before it began for Jim Valvano’s sixth-seeded Wolfpack that year. Only a last-second tip-in by Cozell McQueen forced OT in NC State’s first-round win over No. 11 seed Pepperdine.
The Wolfpack then knocked off No. 3 seed UNLV and Ralph Sampson’s top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers en route to the Final Four.
NC State capped their astonishing run when Dereck Whittenburg’s missed jumper turned into Lorenzo Charles’ buzzer-beating put-back dunk, shocking Akeem Olajuwon and the Houston Cougars team he led; making the Wolfpack the first of two No. 6 seeds in history to capture the national title. Video of Coach Valvano running crazy circles around the court as he looked for someone to celebrate with can still be seen during the introductions to each day’s March Madness broadcast.
Why do we love the underdog so much? Theories about it abound: We root for it because of schandenfreude (the bizarre enjoyment of others’ misfortune). All of us are a “little guy” to someone else and we get a vicarious victory when the “big guy” falls. We want the world to be fair. And the list goes on.
By any earthy standard, the outcome of this contest between David and Goliath would be a “sure thing.” Visualize any Sunday school picture of the start of this story, and you know the obvious winner. However, when God enters the picture the entire outcome becomes quite different because of faith. It is interesting that David chose five smooth stones from the brook when only one was needed. Why did David do this? There is no reason given in Scripture. Consequently, whatever answer would be given would be purely conjecture.
The important aspect is that when it came time to fight Goliath, David took just one stone from his shepherd’s bag (1 Samuel 17:49). Therein lies the true test of faith. When it came time to act according to faith, David – though he had five – took one, single stone rather than having several in his hand to re-load if he missed. As you read the story, this remarkable event becomes an extraordinary expression of faith because David attacked Goliath. He hurled the stone while at a full run! Think of the logistics of aiming and throwing a stone while both parties are rapidly approaching each other. By faith, David knew one stone was all he needed for Goliath. James tells that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (2:17-18). David showed his faith by using just one stone when he had a bag full of stones. Why the other four stones? David told Goliath, “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
We could say that David took four extra stones to either attack or defend himself while the Israelite army joined the battle. This seems more reasonable, but please understand that even this is conjecture. Yet, since we are in the realm of conjecture, I would like to offer another possibility. I am paraphrasing from material by David L. Baker: *************
What was going through his mind as he selected those five stones. How much faith did David really have? David knew that God was going to deliver Goliath into his hand, didn’t he? Was he thinking that he might miss with his sling shot and have to try again? He only had one chance, David knew this. We all know the outcome of the story, David killed Goliath with one stone and one throw of his sling shot but there is a reason for the other four stones and why David picked five stones specifically.
Take a look at the Old Testament book of 2nd Samuel Chapter 21, verses 16-22. Here we find the armies of Israel, now under King David’s command, battling the Philistines yet again and that there are other giants involved, one of which had six fingers and six toes! In verse 19, we read that Elhanan son of Jair slew the brother of Goliath. There are four giants mentioned in this passage and the Bible lists them by name; Isbi-Benob (found in verse 16), Saph (in verse 18), the brother of Goliath the Gittite (verse 19), and a giant with six fingers and six toes! (verse 20). The verse even says, “– twenty-four in all” in case you can’t do the math. Verse 22 concludes with “these four were descendants of the Raphaites in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men.” The Raphaites were a race of giants.
Goliath was not the only giant living in the land of the Philistines. He had four brothers. David knew that families stick together and that Goliath’s brothers would either come to Goliath’s aid to avenge him or he knew that he would have to face them in other battles, which he eventually did. Those five stones each had a name of one of those giants on it. David was ready to defeat his enemy and his whole monstrous family if need be and he had both the faith and the skill to do so.
Looking at the story of David and Goliath, let me ask you to reflect upon this question… “what are the giants in your life?” What is the one problem or problems facing you that challenges you each day that may seem too big and too much for you to conquer that comes and picks a fight with you like Goliath when he challenged the Israelite army? Whatever that problem is, rest and stand still, knowing that the battle is not yours, but God’s. The victory is won already. David said it best when he told Goliath, “the battle is the Lord’s.”
The same is true for you and your giants, problems, trials and difficulties. Do not run from your problems, stand still, hold your ground and watch the Lord fight for you and slay your giants. If you run from the giants in your life, they will defeat you. Walking in defeat is never a part of God’s plan for your life.
Put your trust in God and let Him lead you into the deliverance of the Lord. There is nothing like seeing God’s deliverance. All of us who have asked Him to be the Lord of our lives have already witnessed God’s deliverance. Each of us have seen Him rescue us from all our sins and lead us away from an eternal death. Now stand, wait and watch Him deliver you again from life’s challenges and difficulties. In doing so, your confidence, your faith and your walk with Him will grow and you will mature in Christ so that during both good times and bad, your faith will be unwavering, focused and consistent and the devil will no longer be able to defeat you but run from you as you claim the authority of Christ and stand in the victory that is already won.
The story of David and Goliath is more than another underdog story. Here we have a fresh picture of bold and courageous faithfulness; of God as reflected in David’s character. When someone’s life is so integrated with God’s life then the leading is the living out.
But this is what happens when God leads us. It is often astonishing and remarkable. Sometimes it is in the form of the least expected. More often than not, it is through the child, whether a shepherd boy or a baby in a manger. But whatever it is, we are able to accomplish more than what the world might say to us, because the one who ultimately matters is with us and guiding us.