In all my life, I have owned three things with my name on them. A college soccer warm-up shirt, a bullfighting jersey, and a belt buckle. All of them have come in the last few years. Growing up, however, I was certain that a shirt with my name on it would give me legitimacy in sports, and in life. I mean, major leaguers had their names on the back of their shirts. It cost an extra couple bucks and a certain amount of organization to put the name on the back of a shirt. I was kind of a shallow and ignorant individual.
Still as an adult I feel the need for that affirmation and identity, and still as an adult, just like Saul, I search for them in the wrong places. But the story of David and Saul, show what happens when we derive our identity from God as opposed to other things like victories, people, or titles.
The story of David and Goliath, is really a story comparing David and Saul. And before we get indignant about comparing one imperfect human being to another, their whole history has been one of comparison.
…The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command. (1 Samuel 13.14
The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors–t0 one better than you. (1 Samuel 15.28)
It is a comparison derived from the text.
This comparison not only showed through in their anointing, but I believe is even more clearly displayed in their identities. David found his identity in God and his purposes and plans, where as Saul found his in the title, the people, and his accomplishments. Rest assured, if a man was to find his identity in God and Him alone, it makes some things more clear.
It becomes clear what we are supposed to do. (1 Sam. 17.1-32) Saul was the King of Israel but he was not in a good spot with God. The battle lines had been drawn up and the Philistines were controlling a valuable territory both economically, geographically, and for National Security.* Who ever controlled these ridges and valley’s controlled commerce and security. Saul as the King was responsible for all of this. The victor of this battle would have the upper hand in all of these areas. Between the battle lines, a champion named Goliath would defy the armies of God, twice a day for forty days. (1 Samuel 17.16) When Israel asked for a King, it was clear that they wanted a man to go and fight their battles before them. (1 Samuel 8.20) This was what Saul was meant to do as King. Instead he and all the armies of Israel were “dismayed and terrified” at the giants words. (1 Samuel 17.11) Saul had gotten used to wearing the title without taking the responsibility; he wanted the buckle with out the beating. David, on the other hand, knew exactly who he was and what he was commissioned to do. He knew this giant was defying not just the army of Israel, but the God they served. (1 Sam 17.26) Someone had to do something and that someone would be him. “David said to Saul, ‘Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.'” (1 Samuel 17.32) Someone once said, “If we spent more time telling them who they are, we would spend less time telling them what to do!” David knew who he was and that came forward in his actions. Knowing your identity in Christ, will lead your feet to follow him, press your hands to service, and your heart to love.
It becomes clear what we are to avoid: trying to be something we are not. (1 Samuel 17.33-51a) David stepped up to fight and the first thing Saul did was to tell him he couldn’t. Goliath had been trained his whole life to fight (1 Samuel 17.33). Besides David doesn’t have the armor or the experience that Saul has. Saul tries to put his armor on David and it just doesn’t fit right. (1 Sam 17.38-39) The message from Saul is quite clear: “You need to become like me to do this”. Saul knows that David needs his resume of victories, his experience fighting, and his armor to defeat Goliath. But David has God’s process on his side. The battles with bears and lions over lambs, the heart of worship, the trust in God’s faithfulness, and the willingness to follow God (1 Samuel 17.34-37), was all the training that he needed. Instead of a kings sword, David, with sling and stone, would face the giant. Maybe that is what God was looking for the entire time. Even Goliath seemed confused that “only a boy” was sent to fight him with “sticks” (1 Samuel 17.42-43). Where Goliath and Saul missed it, David knew exactly who he was: “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.” (1 Samuel 17.45) David didn’t have to become something he wasn’t, change the man that God had made him to be, put on an image or keep up an act, instead, he was the man God had fashioned and empowerd. Shocking confession: sometimes, even in ministry, men can get jealous of others and try to be something they’re not. The first time I read a 17 page manuscript sermon, people hated it because that is not who I am. The first freestyle event I entered, I tried to jump a bull and he hit me in the midsection. I wanted to be Dusty Tuckness, but I am Travis Long. I beat myself up all the time because Daniel Unruh and Lucas Littles can make an extrodinary save, make a few rounds, and then get a way looking good. My saves are just that, saves with no flash. I catch myself constantly wanting to preach like Doug Aldridge, ride like Josh Rushing, the passion of Seth Reynolds, the compassion of Roger, or the steadiness of Chuck Harris. Their gifts, matched with their experience, made them who they are…so why cant that be true for me and for you?
It becomes clear when people let God determine their identity, others take notice. (1 Samuel 17.51b-58) David prevailed over Goliath and three entities took notice. 1) The Philistines took notice. They took an ran before this boy who killed their champion. (1 Samuel 17.51b) They came to watch a fight but ended up running for their life. 2) The Israelites took off after the Philistines. For forty days they cowered before Goliath, and now they surged forward and chased the Philistines from the valley because of the actions of one young man who’s identity was given by God (1 Samuel 17.52). 3) The King. Before David had killed Goliath, Saul watched him going out to meet him (55-56). He noticed the young man. After his victory, Saul again took notice of him (57-58). Saul had promised tax exemption for the family of the man who would kill Goliath. Saul probably knew David from his time serving him as a musician (1 Samuel 16.14-23), but most likely did not know his father Jesse. So he asks. But Saul’s interest in David did not stop there. His notice, would turn to envy and jealousy. Finally it would end in attempted murder and pursuit. There are men, some of whom are my best friends, who, when they enter a room, I become uncomfortable for this reason: NOTHING MAKES AN INSECURE MAN MORE INSECURE THAN A MAN WHO IS SECURE. A man who knows his identity and who God has created him to be and what he has been created to do, elicits fear, without trying, to any man who is unsure of his. David knew who he was and nothing bothered Saul more than that.
This story, told in VBS from days of old, is a little bit deeper than facing the giants in your life, it is about who is really in control and who gives voice to who you are. David’s identity in God achieved victory over the Philistine, kept him from contemporance, and challenged everyone that he would come into contact with to become better. That is the kind of man I want to be.
*a point which I am grateful for John A. Beck pointing out in his wonderful article “David and Goliath, A Story of Place: The Narrative-Geographical Shaping of 1 Samuel 17”