Summary: Living victoriously has much in common with David’s victory over Goliath. The shepherd didn’t act in faith that hadn’t already been tested; he acted according to his consistent experience with God.
When I was young, I was a huge fan of the Walt Disney version of Zorro. I loved the idea of a person who would dress up in a costume, ride a beautiful horse, and cross swords triumphantly with the forces of injustice and oppression—though I would have defined those forces merely as “the bad guys” in those days. I loved it. Outwitting “the bad guys” and sometimes, even carving a “Z” for “zorro” or “fox” on the very fronts of their uniforms. And I also loved the fact that whenever “the bad guys” would try to find Zorro, they would run into his secret identity, ineffective and naïve Don Diego de la Vega.
Please bear with me. This does have relevance to our text for today. When I became a little older, I used to listen to old radio shows. One of the stations I could pick up at night was a station out of San Francisco that would broadcast two old radio shows every night after I was supposed to be in bed. Well, I went to bed and listened to tales of Hopalong Cassidy, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Orson Welles with Tales from the Black Museum, and the Scarlet Pimpernel. After I heard the adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel on the radio, I found the book in the library. What derring-do! Once again, a hero who was able to cross swords with anyone pretended to be an ineffective dandy in order to have a secret identity where he could challenge “the bad guys.” This time, though, the hero dressed up in lots of different costumes and had a whole team of helpers. The new French government, so quickly giving aristocrats to “Madame Guillotine,” were helpless when the Pimpernel decided to rescue their victims.
In the doggerel of the original book,
“They seek him here; they seek them there!
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
That demmed elusive Pimpernel.”
And yes, though it was spelled as pronounced in polite society of the time, that is a bad word that the poem puts in the mouth of the French citizens.
Both of these heroes had a secret identity, much like Clark Kent’s in the Superman stories, where they seemed to be ineffective, unthreatening, and totally unsuited to the task. But as the readers (or viewers), we knew a secret. We knew that they were going to be the solution. We knew that no matter how powerful “the bad guys” were, our secret hero was going to win. Now, the story of David in I Samuel 17 is a lot like those stories. If we’d never heard or read the story before, we’d wonder how anyone could beat the giant, how anything could happen to Israel except going into slavery to the Philistines.
I always liked this passage for much the same reason as I liked Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel, but it was when I saw a Broadway musical called “The Scarlet Pimpernel” that the messages of both the fictional story of the Pimpernel and the true story of David became merged forever in my mind. In the musical, the Pimpernel rallies his troops before a big operation by singing a song called “Into the Fire.” The song starts like this:
“David walked into the valley
With a stone clutched in his hand
He was only a boy
But he knew someone must take a stand
There will always be a valley
Always mountains one must scale
There will always be perilous waters
Which someone must sail.”
In the lyrics I just quoted, although they unfortunately emphasize David as a boy instead of as the teenager or young man he was, the words tie the ancient text together with the challenge that the heroes faced. More than that, the lyric says that there are always challenges or obstacles that we must face. Do you ever feel overwhelmed? Do you ever think that everything is stacked against you? Do you ever think there is no way out? Do you ever feel like life is full of “no win” situations? That’s the way everyone on Israel’s side of the battlefield in the Valley of Elah felt—everyone except for David.
Let’s read the first eleven verses of the chapter together, and let’s give them a title as though they formed the first chapter of a book. Let’s call this chapter, “An Incredible Challenge.” The chapter sets the scene with a giant. The giant is so big that we can’t imagine him. A cubit is roughly 18 inches. At six cubits and a span, we’d have to put Goliath at over 9 feet tall and approaching 10 feet. If Yao Ming, the center for the Houston Rockets is 7’ 6” and Shaq is 7’ 1”, Goliath must have had more than two feet on them. And he wasn’t as skinny as a stick! His armor weighed in at 150 pounds and his spearhead alone was 19 pounds. He was frightening, but he was facing God’s own and he didn’t realize that God specializes in overcoming what seems IMPOSSIBLE.