From the time we were two, we sang about “only a boy named David” and the giant who “came tumbling down.” A lot of sermons have been preached on David and Goliath and rightfully so.
It’s a pretty cool story…a teenager defeating a nation’s greatest enemy with a slingshot. He faced his giant with the most primitive of weapons, an awesome God, and tremendous courage that let him do what no other man in his nation would do. A lowly shepherd boy became a national celebrity overnight. Clearly, God was working to defeat the Philistines; but it was also good PR for David— to help him gain the respect of a nation that he would one day rule as king.
But while fame can be acquired in a day, character cannot. Not in a day, a month, or a year. Perhaps that is why David’s greatest victory became a thorn in his flesh when a jealous Saul forced him into a life of running and hiding. One thing I did not know until this recent sermon series on David is that the running and hiding act of David’s life lasted approximately ten years. That’s a long time.
The day David faced Goliath may have been one of his fondest memories, but I doubt it was his most difficult. And even if it was, a day is just…well…a day.
I remember when I was seventeen—I was coaching debate teams, teaching piano lessons, and starting law school. I thought I could do anything. And the more likely I was to fail, the more determined I was to succeed. I wanted to be against the odds. I wanted to do what no one else had ever done before or would ever do again. It is a good thing I was not dared to fight Goliath because I would have done it. And considering my sling shot skills, I would have died trying. And I probably would have been glad that I died a remarkable death instead of an ordinary one.
Not to undermine acts of courage, but they can sometimes be accomplished without a whole lot of character. If you don’t believe me, go to Niagara Falls and look at the museum of people who have gone over the falls in a barrel. On purpose.
But ten years in the wilderness, that’s another story. Ten years of running, hiding, waiting. Three things men—especially the type of men that fight Goliaths—hate. Surely David would rather have had one big fight than ten years of running. Just face Saul and duke it out. At least it would be over with once and for all. I would rather face the meanest, ugliest, biggest, baddest giant that I can fight and be done with it than struggle with a situation that I have no control over and that just drags on and on. Wouldn’t you?
One thing that struck me in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 was the heading. “David spake unto the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul.”
I found it interesting that David distinguished Saul from his enemies. Most of us would consider someone that chased us for ten years, threw spears at us, tried to kill us in our beds, and forced us to live like an animal in the wilderness for ten years– as an enemy. Shoot, even Goliath didn’t try to kill David in his bed. Yet despite all the dirty tricks, Saul was God’s anointed and the sling shot was off limits. This was a giant David could not kill; David would have to wait for him to kill himself. Not nearly as climactic. And it would take ten long, long years.
But the fact that David did not even label Saul as his enemy—that is remarkable. Despite the frustration of ten years of waiting, being falsely accused and distrusted, David looks back over his life and has the maturity to see Saul as something different than an enemy. Saul was an instrument of God to build character in David that Goliath could never have built.
The wilderness seems to be the Ivy League of God’s training grounds. God turned boys into men in the wilderness. Some got ten years, some got forty. God taught forgiveness, endurance, patience, joy, and humility. God took absolutely everything of value away from some of his most beloved servants and taught them to rely solely on Him (See 1 Samuel 30, especially verse 6).
The times that David bypassed the opportunities to kill Saul, both in the cave and in the camp may have been David’s true greatest moments. The days the giant did not come tumbling down. The days that a giant-killer recognized that discomfort and distain is not necessarily an enemy—and waits patiently for the same God that delivered David from Goliath to deliver him out of the hand of Saul.
2 Samuel 22 / Psalm 18