“Who backs Goliath?” The question kept coming back from time to time as I drove. Knowing the popular Bible story of David and Goliath where God, once again, raises up the most unlikely person to be a champion of Israel, I wondered why this question kept demanding my attention. I went back to the story told in 1 Samuel 17.
Goliath was the champion of the enemy’s army, which faced Israel’s army on the opposite mountain. Goliath would swagger down into the valley wearing armor and bearing weapons meant to intimidate. He would yell taunts at the Israelites. He wanted an Israelite to come down and fight him on his terms, winner’s side takes all. Goliath was big. He was strong. To the soldiers, he was the very image of power. His enemies responded as they were supposed to—they were dismayed. They were terrified and hopeless.
Jesse had three sons in Saul’s army. One day he called his youngest son David to leave the sheep he was minding in another’s hands and take a care package to his older brothers. David was good-looking, but young and small. When he took the food to his brothers at the army encampment, he saw Goliath come down and issue his daily challenge. David asked so many questions that someone finally took him to Saul, the king. David, the scrawny shepherd boy, told Saul he would go up against Goliath, the powerful and well-trained warrior, in the name of the Lord. David assured him he was used to killing lions and bears as he protected his sheep.
Saul apparently had run out of options and put David in his own armor to go fight. Notice Saul assumed the terms that Goliath had set, even as he sensed God moving in David’s presence and faith. David couldn’t move in Saul’s armor and took it off. God apparently can use our vulnerability more than our self-protection. David took his light-weight sling and five smooth river rocks and went out to meet Goliath—whom we can imagine doubled over in laughter or throwing insults in righteous indignation at the affront. David made it clear he came in the name of One way more powerful than Goliath. He got off one shot with his sling—a rock to the forehead—and the man seen as powerful fell.
Are we questioning our assumptions about power yet? The Bible asks us to do so over and over and over. We’re pretty attached to our images of biggest and strongest and wealthiest when it comes to power. But we don’t have to be intimidated by them.
God uses the willing with what they have at hand. God calls us with the varieties of tools and gifts we know how to use and provides us with anything else we need. The God who can turn all things into good even uses our failures and our fear and shame when we offer them. God always seems to call and side with the underdog, with the vulnerable, with the overlooked ones.
But who backs Goliath? When we know the end of the story, it’s easy to trust that God will give David all he needs to prevail. Faith is about not knowing the end of the story and trusting God anyway. Don’t most of us, most of the time, put our trust in the Goliaths? Don’t we put our faith in the images of power portrayed all around us? Until David showed up, Saul’s army trusted Goliath and his brute strength more than they trusted God—and did they even then think there was any hope? We may secretly hope God will raise up a David to save the day, but don’t we want him to look like Goliath? In the meantime, in our fear we do our best to appease the Goliaths around us. How does that work for us really? David didn’t let Goliath define him. His strength was in being his real self, centered in God.
What are the Goliaths before whom we shake in terror? Are we praying God will raise up Davids and Davidas of all shapes and sizes for today’s needs? Or do we dismay? Do we believe and speak and act as if God is powerless to change anything? Do we give the Goliaths power by the ways we speak of them or by accepting the situations around us on their terms?
What if God is calling us to turn from the Goliaths we might look to for protection and have faith that here and now God is doing a new thing? What could happen if we offered God our fears and our weakness along with our gifts and the tools we use every day?