SUNDAY SERMON: David & Goliath

By Rev. Stephen Baldwin

OLD TESTAMENT READING: 1 Samuel 17.4-9, 11-23, 32-49

*There is no video of today’s sermon. Sorry!  

Everybody knows that David defeated Goliath.  Everybody.  People in the church and people who’ve never been.  This story is so deeply engrained in our culture that everybody knows what happens.  David defeats Goliath.  What happens, though, isn’t as interesting as why.  

When I just finished coaching a baseball team, and after every game I asked the boys what they’d learned? Did they learn how to handle stress?  How to play as a team?  I asked because I cared less about what happened in the game than why it happened.  I cared less if they made a mistake than if they learned how to improve in the future.  I asked because everybody knew what happened during the previous game, but only those who take time to figure out why will be prepared the next time.  

It’s the same reason you ask for feedback after a job interview; you want to learn from your experiences.  It’s the same reason you try a recipe seven times before having someone over to your house; you want to get it right when it matters.  Asking “why” helps us learn from the past and be prepared for the future.   

Everybody knows that David defeated Goliath.  Very few know why.  If you read the text closely, the answer is there.  Why did David defeat Goliath?  In a word, innovation.  He chose to play by his own rules rather than Goliath’s.  Let’s read the story together.

In verses 4-7, we learn all about Goliath.  He’s tall, strong, fully outfitted with the best armor, and equipped with the latest weapons.  He conquers everyone and everything in his path.  Goliath is the ultimate warrior…and a warrior needs an Israelite opponent. 

Saul would seem a likely choice.  While he is no longer the king, he is the fiercest Israelite warrior.  If someone, like Goliath, were to pick a fight, surely Saul would be the one to stand up and defend his people, right?  Wrong.  This guy Goliath is so bad not even Saul will face him. 

That leaves David, the new king.  The sheep herder.  The pretty-faced kid.  Like Goliath, Saul thought David had no chance, but David had the heart of a king. 

You know what happens.  David defeats Goliath.  But remember, what happens isn’t as important as why it happens.  Why does David defeat Goliath?  

They tried to equip David for battle in the same way Goliath was equipped.  They strapped heavy armor and swords over his chest.  They gave him a shield bigger than his body.  And David couldn’t even walk!  So he innovated.  He took off the armor, and he took stock of his surroundings.  There happened to be some stones from the riverbed lying on the ground.  He picked them up, and held onto them.  

When Goliath saw David, he couldn’t help but laugh.  Not only had the Israelites sent a young man, but he didn’t even wear armor!  He held no sword!  Goliath assumed he’d already won.  And that’s precisely why David defeated him.  David refused to play by Goliath’s rules.  Hand to hand combat with armor and swords meant certain death for David.  He knew that as well as Goliath, so he innovated.  He introduced a new idea that played to his strengths rather than Goliath’s.  He threw a rock.  The underdog won, because the underdog changed the game.  

An illustration from a mid-19th century copy of Grand Catechisme des Familles (Christian Doctrine for Families). (Photo by Stefano Bianchetti/Corbis via Getty Images)

Most people think of David’s victory as an anomaly—a once in a lifetime accident.  But David’s defeat Goliath’s all the time.  I read a report last week written by a political scientist who studied every war fought over the last 200 years.  The Goliaths—the ones with bigger armed forced and better weapons—won 70% of the time.  Sounds like a lot at first, but that means the tiny tribes who throw rocks win 30% of wars.    

David defeated Goliath with innovation.  He minimized his opponent’s strengths and maximized his own.  He made speed more important than strength, and he defeated the feared giant.  The political scientist wondered what happened when underdogs did something similar and adopted an innovative strategy?  What do you think?  Still 70/30 in favor of Goliath?  Nope.  When the underdogs innovated, they won 65% of the time!  When they engaged in non-traditional strategies, they won 2 out of every 3 wars with the most powerful groups and nations in the world.  “Even when everything we know about power says they shouldn’t (win),” said the political scientist, they did.  Even though they had no weapons.  Even though they faced armies ten times larger.  Even though they had no planes or submarines.  David succeeds when he innovates.    

David had a problem.  Anybody know what that feels like?  David had a problem named Goliath, who was bigger, stronger, and ready to fight.  David’s problem made him feel awfully small.  Anybody know what that feels like?

David could have responded in a number of ways.  He could have run away.  Anybody ever wanted to do that?  It’s awfully tempting to run away from our problems, but David didn’t do that because he knew Goliath would catch him.  Our problems always catch up to us if we run away.  

He could have stayed and fought, hand to hand, armor to armor, sword to sword.  Ever wanted to do that–go toe to toe with a giant?  Sometimes we think if we try hard enough we can do anything, but going toe to toe with Goliath would’ve been a mistake.  David knew he couldn’t win that way.  

Instead, he innovated.  He didn’t run away.  Didn’t fight like Goliath wanted to fight.  He dealt with the problem face to face, in a creative way.  

Everybody knows the story of David and Goliath.  Everybody knows what happens.  Few know why.  David solves problems by dealing with them in innovative ways.  Next time you face a problem, and you’re not sure what to do, do what David did: Drop the armor and the sword and the shield.  Look around.  Deal with what’s in front of you.  And innovate.  Amen.   


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