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Obstacles: A Different Look at David & Goliath

(This is a message I preached at CrossRoads of Arlington the weekend of 11/27 & 11/28.  You can listen to it here.)

INTRO

I have a story that up until right now, I have only told Angela.  And it is a story that I never planned on telling anyone.

A few months ago, I took part in the Hotter’N’Hell bike ride in Wichita Falls, which is a 100 mile bike ride that takes place on the last Saturday in August, when it is usually near or over 100 degrees.  Riding 100 miles on your bike is a challenge, but it is something I had done before without fail and without problem.  So when someone asked me to do the Hotter’n’Hell, my thought was not can I finish this or how badly will I feel, but how good am I going to do.  How well can I top my previous time?  How awesome will I be?

I spent the summer training and planning and preparing for August 28th, and when the day arrived, I was ready.  The first 54 miles went incredibly well.  I even remember thinking, I could do this all day, a statement that would prove more true than I realized.

Around this time, I noticed that my ears began to clog up, like when you have a bad cold or allergies.  After the ears clogged up, then nausea and tiredness set in.  Almost immediately, I went from feeling super great to super terrible.  And I went from terrible to awful to miserable.  I slowed way down.  I began stopping every few miles, hoping that my energy would return or that I would stop feeling so sick.  My hopes of setting a best time passed and I concentrated just on finishing.

As I got a mile or so from the finish, the course went over a short overpass before dropping into downtown Wichita Falls.  I wasn’t sure I could make it up this overpass because because my thighs were warning me of impending cramps.  But, I thought, I can fight through this.  As I made it to the top, my legs did begin to cramp, and so I came to a stop on this overpass.  And these cramps were intense.

At this point, it seemed like a good idea for me to sit down, so I let the bike fall to the ground while I ungraciously sat down on the side of the road.  Then, I thought, it would probably feel even better if I laid down.  With my helmet still intact, I laid down on the side of the road in the gravel.  People continued by on their bikes, and most of them asked, as they rode by, if I was all right.

“Doing fine,” I answered.

I laid there on the ground thinking, this is not how I thought my day would turn out.  This is not what I was expecting.  I thought that if I had put in the training and planning and all that effort, then the result would be way different.  I didn’t expect to have allergies or whatever was happening.  I had been expecting to relish and bask in the glory of my accomplishment, not lay here on the ground, beaten and battered with the obstacle of making one more mile still ahead of me.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

At times, I think we all have similar moments.  We have a problem or obstacle in front of us.  We think that if we do “x,” then the outcome will be “y” and the problem will be solved.  So we do “x,” but we don’t get the expected outcome, and then we still have the problem in front of us.

For example, a person might say, we thought that the holidays would be different this year if we had everybody over to my house.  That didn’t happen and we still have Christmas ahead.

Or, a person might say, I thought marriage would be different than this.  I thought if we took that marriage seminar together or even went to a counselor, then things would improve.

Or, I thought being a parent would be different than this.  I thought that if I loved this child, then they would love me and listen to me, and we would be a happy family.

I thought the ‘shake a weight’ as advertised on tv would help me tone the muscles around my arms.

I thought if I poured my life into my business or my work, 60-70-80 hours a week, then it would succeed.

I thought if we got on a budget, our finances would turn around.  I thought if we took that Dave Ramsey class then we could have financial peace instead of financial chaos, but it seems we are now worse off than when we started.

I thought God would be the answer to all my problems, and if I read my bible and prayed and helped people and gave money, then my problems would go away.

We might think, I have an obstacle in front of me.  If I do “x,” then the outcome will be “y,” and the obstacle will be overcome.  But that didn’t happen, and I still have that obstacle before me.

And in those situations, we may find ourselves thinking, “What was I thinking?  Why did I even bother to try?  Now what am I going to do?  Because I still have this problem, this obstacle, in front of me, and it’s not going away.”

In the Bible, we find stories of people in situations similar to ours.  We find people facing overwhelming situations and immense obstacles, which caused them to wonder how they would get through it.  One such story is found in 1st Samuel 17, a story that many of us know as the story of David and Goliath.  Yet, the story involves more than David and Goliath.  There’s also a king named Saul as well as the army of Israel.  Sometimes, when we look at this story we wish that we had the faith of David, when we really identify more with Saul or the people of Israel.

THE STORY OF DAVID AND GOLIATH

Before we look at this story, let’s get a grasp of the broader context.  Just prior to this event, the people of Israel had expressed their desire to be like other countries and have their own King.  They told the prophet Samuel, who went to God, and God agreed to allow Israel to have a King.  Saul would be the first King of Israel.

Saul happened to be an impressive looking man.  In 1st Samuel 9.2, he is described as “man without equals, a head taller than any of the others.”  Saul looked the part, and in the early days, he acted the part, which allowed the country to enjoy success.  They won battles, the economy did well, and they held great celebrations.

As things went well for Saul, the success went to his head.  He began to offer military instructions that didn’t make sense, he began to disregard the guidance of the prophet Samuel, and then he began to assume the role of the priest by offering sacrifices.  In short, Saul began to go against God.

In 1st Samuel 15, Samuel is given the instructions by God to tell Saul that his continual disobedience has cost him the kingship.  At some point, God would replace Saul with another king.  It wouldn’t be that day, but it would be happening at some point in the future.

Saul thought that if he had done certain things, then all would be well, but he was wrong.  Israel thought that if they had a king, then all would be well, but this king keeps making poor decisions.  As much as they both want to feel sorry for themselves about this problem, they have another problem.  This philistines want revenge for a previous battle, and this leads us to 1st Samuel 17.

The two armies assemble for war (verse 1-3).

1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.”

On one hill, we have the Philistines and on the other we have Israel with a valley in between them for battle.

But, the Philistines have a new weapon in their battle plan.  (verses 4-7)

4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.”

In English terms, Goliath stood between nine and ten feet tall. His armor weighted 126 pounds and the point on his spear weighed 15 pounds by itself.  This was a pretty good weapon.

And this is how the Philistines planned to use this new weapon (verses 8-10)

8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.”

A one on one challenge.  It would certainly save a lot of bloodshed.

Here is Israel’s response (verse 11).

11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.”

For Saul, can it get any worse?  The King who was once described as a head taller than any Israelite is no match, or so he believes, for Goliath.  Is this going to be the end of Saul?

For Israel, can it get any worse?  The king, who was supposed to be the answer to their problems, is of no help.

The story changes scenes briefly to introduce a young boy named David, who is sent to check on his brothers by his father.  The story then goes back to the battle (verse 16).

16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.

40 days!!  Every night for 40 days they went to bed hoping for a miracle and every morning they got up hoping that something had change.  Maybe Goliath would have a heart attack during the night.  But nothing changed.  Nobody did anything different for 40 days.

Next, we have David on the scene of the battle (verse 17-24)

17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.” 20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

David witnesses what is taking place.  He sees the army try to charge themselves up emotionally with their war cry, but as soon as Goliath steps out, every one runs in fear.

And that fear gives place to rumor (verse 25-27)

25 Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.”26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.”

If you can kill Goliath, you get a wife, loads of money, and you’ll never have to pay taxes again.  But all you have to do is kill a nine foot giant who wields a spear tip that weighs 15 pounds.

David’s brothers are not happy to hear what David is up to, possibly because of their past experience with him, but someone is more than happy to pass this info along to Saul (verse 28-31)

28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?”30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. 31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.

So David has a conversation with Saul (verse 32-37)

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.”

David’s confidence is based on his experience in battle.  But his experience in battle is founded on his faith in God.  The living God.  Faced with a tremendous obstacle, David sees it the same.  No matter how high or difficult, God can do it.

Saul, on the other hand, can’t see past the obstacle.

And if you are Israel, what do you think of your King now?  He’s putting your future in the hands of a young boy.  Do they want a do-over on that King thing?

The scene then takes on comic proportions.  A desperate Saul is willing to send out a young boy to fight Goliath, and in order to help that young boy, Saul offers his very own equipment (verse 38-39).

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.”

Thank you Saul.  Instead, David has a different approach.

40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David.

David is now ready for battle.

42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 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. 47 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.”48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

David slays the giant.

2.  TAKEAWAYS

How does a story about a depressed king, an imposing giant, a fearful army, and a young boy have any relevance to the obstacles that I face?  What am I supposed to take away to help me?

Does this mean that I need to get a slingshot and 5 smooth stones and take out everyone of my problems?  Hey Visa, stand up, I’m taking you down.  Hey Friend, stand still so I can get a good aim.  Hey boss, look up from your computer.  No, these would create more problems.

But there are some things we can take away from this story that can help us in our situations.

Takeaway number oneAn obstacle may appear to be the end, but that obstacle may actually be the beginning. For Israel and Saul, they saw impending defeat, destruction, and slavery.  They saw no way that they could take Goliath down.  They were just delaying the inevitable.

Actually, this was the introduction of David, who would be their greatest king.  This was not the end of Israel, but the beginning of a great period of time for Israel.

This is why people can sometimes look back at the obstacles they faced and say, ‘it was the best thing to ever happen to me.  I thought it was all over, but I learned so much about myself and who I am and God.  I would not be who I am or in the position I am, if I had not gone through that obstacle.’

That obstacle and getting through it may be the beginning of the greatest part of your life.  So, perhaps our perspective needs an adjustment.  From the end to the beginning.

Takeaway number two. Although that obstacle appears to be the end, hold on to whatever glimmer of hope you can muster and keep showing up. For 40 days and nights, the army got up and took their position on the battle line.  Every morning, they took their position and yelled their battle cries.  They didn’t have any idea as to what might change or could change, but they held out hope and kept showing up.  They had heard all the stories of how God had acted in the past, of how he had delivered and rescued people, and they held on to that.

We are not wrong to have the desire for things to be better.  We are not foolish or stupid to hope, desire, expect, want, or even believe that things can be be better.

In the shadow of that obstacle, hold onto that glimmer of hope and keep showing up.  It may be tough and difficult, but keep showing up.

Takeaway number three.  Most of us will need other people to help us get through that obstacle. Saul and the entire army of Israel needed David.  Saul didn’t slay Goliath, nor did the army.  David took down Goliath.  They didn’t know they needed David in particular, but they knew they needed somebody.  We’ll need other people to get us through that obstacle.

Sometimes, we do need to have the faith of a David.  But at other times, we need a David to help us get through that obstacle.

We may need to make sure that we have the right people.  There will be people around you who will be of no help.  They will tell you it can’t be done.  The problem is too big or too far gone or too hopeless.  You may have friends working against you.  You may have family who want you to give up and quit.  In this story, when David showed up and started asking questions, David’s brother burned with anger against David.  He called David conceited and accused him of having a wicked heart.  Those people we don’t need.

But we need to find the right people to help us get through that obstacle.  Right now, we may not know who those people are.  We don’t see those people in our lives.  In that case, we need to ask God.  Send that person into my life, like you sent David to Saul and Israel, like you sent Moses to Israel, like you sent Philip in the book of Acts to that Ethiopian eunech who didn’t understand what he was reading, like you sent Ananias to Saul, like you sent Cornelius to Peter, and so on and so on and so on.    God, send those people to me, and then give me the eyes and the ears to recognize them.

There may already be someone in your life, someone that you respect and someone that you trust, you may know them real well or you may not, but you need to go to that person to ask for their help in getting through that obstacle.

Takeaway number fourTo get through this obstacle, we may need a new approach. Saul wanted to send David out in his own armor.  Fight the battle like I would fight the battle.  Instead, David took 5 rocks and a sling shot.  He took a different approach.

Sometimes, we think, I just need to try harder.  If I try harder, then it will work.  So, we try harder and harder and harder, and the only thing we accomplish is banging our heads harder and harder into a wall.  Trying harder is not always the answer.

You may need wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.  All those things that will give you a different approach to your obstacle.

For example, if a relationship isn’t working, perhaps we need to try a different approach and establish boundaries and stick to them.  Perhaps we need to raise expectations or lower them.  Maybe we actually need to release our grudges and forgive that person.

With your finances, maybe we need to try a different approach.  Part of the genius of the financial Peace University class that we’ve offered is that it provides a different approach to handling your money.

Takeaway number five. We need God. We need God.

The other four are good, but we should recognize where they come from;  they come from God, and we need this God.  The ability to see that obstacle as the beginning of something good, that comes from God.  The strength to hope and keep showing up, that comes from God.  To have other people around you, supporting you through that obstacle, that comes from God.  A new approach, that comes from God.  At our core, we need God.

David could be optimistic in the face of a huge obstacle because of his core, life-altering belief that God cared, that God loved, that God rescued, and that God delivered.  Because in the end, David knew that it would be God and God alone who would get him through this giant obstacle.

We have one reason to be thankful, the God who rescued David, Saul, and Israel, still rescues people today.  But Jesus also rescues me from the obstacles in this life.  He rescues and delivers, and maybe we need to embrace God to get through the obstacle that we are facing.

CONCLUSION

What obstacle or obstacles are you facing today?  I can’t possibly list every possible obstacle that someone might be facing.

But, in the shadow of your obstacle, do you need to embrace the living God to help you get through your obstacle?

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