Posted on February 21st, 2013
I get slightly nervous when I see a group of teenage boys unsupervised. That’s because I remember being a teenage boy, an exhilarating combination of strength and recklessness, intelligence without experience, testosterone über alles.
David’s confident stride onto the battlefield to face the Philistine champion Goliath would seem to be just such adolescent recklessness. David is strong, having worked in the fields as a shepherd. David is courageous, having hunted lions and bears raiding his father’s sheep.
But David is still a boy. He has come to this battle simply to bring food for his older brothers in the army, and a gift of cheese to their commander. And there David hears what has happened. The champion of the Philistines, a magnificent, enormous warrior named Goliath has emerged from the army encamped against Israel.
Goliath was approximately nine feet tall, which seems preposterous, although the tallest man in modern recorded history is 8’ 11”, so it’s not out of the question. His armor weighed about 125 lbs, roughly twice what a Navy SEAL carries into combat. This champion challenges Israel to send forth their champion in single combat to the death. The loser’s side would then surrender and be enslaved, a way to avoid the carnage of both armies fighting.
Saul, Israel’s king, should have gone forth as their champion, but he was afraid. Now when David heard the news, he was indignant: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” This is neither recklessness nor pride speaking, but zeal for the Word and promises of God. This is not two men or two nations at war, but a contest where God’s honor, God’s name, God’s Word is called into question.
So David steps forth and insists he will fight the champion. The king clothes David with chain mail, but David cannot move. Now I haven’t seen the new Hobbit movie, but ever since the Lord of the Rings movies came out I always think of David here like Gimli the Dwarf at the Battle for Helm’s Deep. The dwarf is given a coat of mail that drags the floor, and this fierce, rotund dwarf looks like a little boy next to the men going to war. That’s what’s happening here. David is brash, strong and courageous, but he’s still a boy, and not trained for combat. He can’t even wear the armor. He’s going to lose. That’s obvious.
But the Lord doesn’t rank warriors the way athletic scouts do, measuring height, weight, 40 time, speed of the fastball or completion percentage. Goliath’s clear advantage on the battlefield now stands against something that would appear utterly powerless: a word—the name of God. Goliath laughs that David only has a slingshot, curses the God of Israel and growls at David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” But David responds, “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. (…) This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand … 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.”
Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. That’s what David appears to be doing. He has religious talk against the cold steel of a great warrior. But David has something greater than any weapon of war: “I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts.” God who made the world from nothing by His Word, who drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh in the Red Sea, can defeat this giant. He who wields the Name wins the battle.
We are as Saul, Israel’s king, cowering in the tent. On our own, we cannot stand against the giant. The devil is the giant, dominating our desires. The world is the giant, overwhelming our will. The flesh is the giant, manipulating our feelings.
Even great David will later be overcome by these giants, when he abandons the Name for deeds of shame: adultery with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband Uriah. Without the Name, David is vulnerable as any man. Without the Name, we all fall.
Adam fell to the giant of desire. Cain fell to the giant of wrath. Peter fell to the giant of fear. Judas fell to the giant of despair. What giants dominate you? What sins enslave you?
Behold, onto the field strides another Champion. Our Lord Jesus goes into the arena against our ancient foe. These forty days of fasting, from which we derive our season of Lent, these forty days of fasting Jesus undergoes immediately follow His Baptism. What Penelope received this morning, what you received in your baptism, is the Champion fighting in your place. Jesus, baptized for sinners, goes out to fight for sinners in the wilderness. He faces the greater Goliath, the tempter, who offers to Jesus all the enticements that appeal to man: food, fame, power, riches.
Where Adam fell, where every man falls, the second Adam, great David’s greater Son succeeds. He strikes down the giant not with weapons of war but with the Word of God. “It is written,” “It is written,” It is written.” This drives back the demons. The Scripture slays the giant. The Name of the Lord turns back the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life.
During Lent, we face again more intensely our foe. Fasting challenges our flesh. Prayer challenges our faith. Almsgiving, works of mercy, challenges our love. Our achievements in these areas are weak, even pathetic.
But for us fights the valiant One, a great Champion, Jesus Christ. Behind Him we confidently stride again into Lent. When we face the giant alone, we will surely die. But when we stand behind our own Champion, and let Him fight for us, His victory benefits us all.
Two times already this morning we have prayed the Our Father: once at the Baptism, again in the Litany. A perfect Trinity we shall have at the Consecration. Do not grow weary of this repetition, for this is your shield and armor when you face the giants in your life, be it loneliness or despair, rage or envy, greed or lust. The Lord’s Prayer is your weapon, your light in the darkness. For you pray it never alone; it is always Our Father, where Jesus gives His Father to us, making Himself our brother, our elder Brother who protects us from the would-be giants who would bully us, abuse us, desecrate and violate us.
So with Penelope, we all renounced again today the devil, and all his works, and all his ways. It is madness to do this alone. But it is sheer joy to ride into battle knowing that the Champion goes before us, and even death cannot defeat Him. The battle is His. Hide behind Him, dear friends, and He will fight for you.