Goliath stood nine and a half feet tall. We’re talking a surefire NBA lottery pick. He was covered head to toe in polished bronze and carried a spear the size of a pole-vault pole and a shield that looked like a piece of aluminum siding. And he walked before the army of Israel every day and said, “Send me your champion. If he defeats me, we will serve you. But if I win, you will become our slaves. Give me a man that we may fight together!” But though he issued his challenge day after day, no one from Israel had the courage to accept it.
This time, however, there was a fresh face among the crowd, a teenager named David. He’d been sent to the battlefront by his daddy, Jesse, to check on his older brothers. “David,” said Jesse, “take this care package to your three brothers and to the officers over them. And bring me back a token from each of them, so I’ll know they’re all right.” So David left his job as a shepherd to comply with his daddy’s wishes.
Now it would be easy to skip over these simple verses, but they contain a valuable truth. I have some disturbing news for you graduating seniors. You’ve reached the pinnacle of your preparatory career. You’ve enjoyed a year of being “top dog,” lord of all you survey. But high school commencement does a cruel and unexpected thing: it dumps you at the bottom rung on the stairway to adulthood. As you enter college and the workforce, you’re about to be regarded as the youngest, the most immature, the least experienced person in the system. You become “freshmen pond scum” in the eyes of many. But you can rise quickly if you can demonstrate one simple but invaluable talent, the ability to listen to instructions and obey them. David starts out as a shepherd boy. So what? The pathway to greatness often begins in obscurity. He’s delivering cheese whiz to his brothers, not a very important job. Yet his road to success begins by giving attention to mundane responsibilities. David ascends to greatness by first demonstrating the simple ability to receive orders and obey them. I will tell you plainly: there are executives across this country who will pay you a king’s ransom if you can do the same — simply master the talent of listening to instructions and following them. I would only note in passing that father Jesse’s desire to find out how his elder sons are doing is a typical parental reaction. When you go off to school your parents are going to want to receive tokens of your well-being — tokens besides dirty laundry and requests for money. Keep in touch with them. And know that the road to greatness begins with the humility to do small jobs well.
Young David arrives at the battlefront just in time to hear Goliath talking trash, ridiculing David’s faith and country: “Hey, cowards! Don’t you think your Almighty God will give you the victory? Are you afraid that I’ll slaughter you and feed your carcass to vultures? You know, don’t you? Your Almighty is no match for a giant of bronze!”
David expects an Israelite warrior to rush out and silence this bully and blasphemer. Alas, instead, people hang their heads and shuffle their feet. David’s innocence is shattered. Frankly, this, too, is a painful lesson of maturity, learning that under pressure people often compromise their ideals and surrender their virtues. But it is important to know that compromises of integrity aren’t inevitable. David, for example, has the courage to view this situation with fresh eyes and to speak his mind. “Isn’t someone going to confront this guy? Are you just going to let him dishonor the living God? If no one else will meet his challenge, I’ll go.” And everyone laughs at the bravado of this ignorant, naive kid.
Everyone except Eliab, David’s oldest brother, who is embarrassed by David’s outburst. “Get outta here, you little twerp,” Eliab says. “You know nothing about the business of war. I know your little scheme: you’re just trying to get away from those boring sheep. You think you might hop into a battle and gain a little glory. You don’t belong here. Go back home! You’re a nuisance!” (Fortunately, none of you ever talk to your friends or siblings like that.)
But David does not go home; he does not back down. He realizes that there are few things resisted harder in this world than a fresh perspective. New ideas seldom gain an immediate positive reception. David recognizes that new ideas always incite conflict, and learning to deal with conflict is a skill of adulthood, too. Yet the world needs your fresh perspective, your fresh passion, your new ideas, your unique insights, and if you fail to offer them, you will fail individually and as a generation. We need your new ideas, even when we resist them. Your new ideas will spark controversy, sure, but you can weather any conflict as long as you know your motives are pure. David does not defer to his brother, because he knows that his words come out of loyalty to God and not from an evil heart. You can weather any conflict as long as you know your motives are pure.
Saul, Israel’s commander, calls David into his tent for a conference. He quickly realizes that the fight would be a gross mismatch and refuses to give David permission to fight. “Son, I can’t let you go fight Goliath,” he says. “You’re a boy, and he’s a warrior. To let you fight him would be murder.” David says, “Hey. I’m not too young to be used by God. When I was a young shepherd, a lion came and threatened my flock. I wasn’t as big or strong as the lion, but God’s Spirit gave me the power to conquer him. A bear attacked my flock, and I defeated him, too. Now I’m not as big as Goliath. But I believe that the God who delivered me from a lion and bear can deliver me from this Philistine, too.” And Saul said to David, “Go with God!”
Listen carefully to David’s words, because you can learn from them. I think you are about to enter the hardest year of your life. You make more adjustments and adaptations your freshman year in college than you will make in any other single year. Nothing in your life will ever be quite the same. There will be times when you doubt yourself, times when you doubt the wisdom and ideals of your parents and teachers, times when you doubt God’s reality and God’s relevance for your life. But when you find yourself struggling through periods of doubt don’t forget to remember the past goodness and providence of God. When Saul doubts David’s ability, David responds, “I believe God will deliver me this time because God has delivered me in the past.” Occasionally, all of us must remember the same thing. Whenever we find ourselves pressured, when we find ourselves uncertain and overwhelmed, we do well to think back to those times when God delivered us from difficult circumstances. We do well to think back to when God lifted us out of despair, when God made a way out of no way. For the God who has provided for us in the past will also provide sufficient grace for us in the future. On that we must depend. So, in the face of an uncertain future, never forget God’s past goodness.
And don’t try to wear somebody else’s armor: don’t try to be somebody that you’re not. You’re going to be tempted to do that. Anytime you leave a familiar world and go to a new environment there is pressure to conform to somebody else’s expectations. Somebody will always be wanting you to wear armor that doesn’t fit you. Don’t do it. Have the courage to live your life your own way. Have the courage not to worry too much about what other people think. Saul tries to outfit David in his own fighting suit and equip him with his own sword, but David has sense enough to obey this basic principle. Rather than clunk about in Saul’s armor he says, “Let me do what I do best. If I try to look like Goliath, dress like Goliath, and fight like Goliath, I’m a dead man. I’m a shepherd boy — but I’m a pretty good aim with a slingshot.” David doesn’t try to mimic somebody else’s strengths – he plays to his own. So David goes to the brook and finds five smooth stones. Note that, five stones, not just one. David is confident, but he’s no fool. He accepts the fact that he can make mistakes and prepares for every contingency. That, too, is a sign of greatness.
Two people walk into the valley. One of them is very big; the other is a giant. For all of his size, there is nothing giant-like about Goliath. People look up to him physically but not figuratively. He’s feared, but not respected. There is nothing in his heart but bravado, pride, hatred and hubris. The giant in the valley is David. David goes into the valley with a clear sense of mission: he goes to battle in behalf of the living God. Ultimately, this is the measure of anyone’s stature. I have no doubt that all of you will enjoy some measure of professional advancement and social esteem, some measure of financial security – maybe not as much as you want, but as much as you need. But if you do not live your life with a sense of mission, if you do not live in behalf of the living God, your accomplishments will prove hollow. True giants are distinguished by how they transcend their self-interest to pour themselves out for others. True giants are distinguished by how they live their lives in behalf of a higher ideal, empowered by God. In behalf of the living God, David runs to meet Goliath.
Yes, David runs! David sprints toward Goliath. David is no timid believer who won’t confront problems until they overwhelm him. David runs toward his challenges — because you can’t become a giant hanging back in the shadows of fear. The only way to grow as a person and as a believer is to run toward the Goliaths in your life in the name of the Lord. I promise you, over the course of your career there will be no shortage of Goliaths to confront. Goliath will challenge you in the form of daunting disappointments, enticing temptations, paralyzing failures. Goliath will challenge you in the guise of hatred, greed, cynicism, prejudice, immorality and selfishness. Goliaths will confront you in the form of people who demand that you surrender your ideals and your faith in the interest of profitable expediency. You may even come to worry that the mendacious, immoral Goliaths of this world have conquered it. Do not despair! True giants eventually triumph. True giants eventually succeed. True giants don’t always win, but they learn to live by the power of hope in the power of God. And the hope of a true giant cannot be quenched.
So David runs toward Goliath — until the time is right. Then he stops, loads his sling and lets loose. The stone flies true, hits Goliath in the temple and topples him like a rotten tree. David keeps running, running until he reaches Goliath’s fallen body and finishes his job, beheading him with his own sword. The Philistines run, the Israelites pursue them, victory is assured. The public career of a true giant has begun.
Popularly understood, the story of David and Goliath is an account of the ultimate upset, the victory of a no-chance underdog over a seemingly invincible opponent. I hope you understand that this cliché couldn’t be more false. Goliath only appears to be a giant; in reality he’s a blustering fool beaten by a kid with a slingshot, felled by a single rock. From the outset all the advantages are David’s. For David has mastered the talent of obedience, he has the courage to see situations with fresh eyes, he is fueled by purity of motive that enables him to weather conflict, he is bolstered by the memory of God’s past goodness, he refuses to conform to others’ expectations, he lives with a clear sense of mission, and he runs eagerly toward his challenges in the name of the living God. David’s hurling of the rock is but the logical conclusion of a whole series of right decisions. From the outset David shows he has what it takes to become a giant.
Each of you has been uniquely gifted by God. Each of you now embarks on your own particular pilgrimage. I have been privileged to be your pastor for six years, and I know that each of you has your own God-given potential to become a giant. Master the talent of obedience, have the courage to see situations with fresh eyes, be fueled by purity of motive and hold to the memory of God’s past goodness. Don’t try to wear somebody else’s armor, be yourself and live with a clear sense of mission, running toward your challenges in the name of God. Most of all, always retain your sense of being special unto God. God intends you to use your gifts to do great things, to become a giant in your own way. David’s greatest virtue was that he lived aware of God’s imprint upon his life and could declare, “The Lord is my shepherd!” To live each day with the knowledge that the Lord is your shepherd will empower you to sense God’s imprint upon your life and let you live with a keen sense of God’s will for you. There are many people who along their way in life lose their sense of being special unto God, which is why they don’t become giants. But each of you has the potential to go off and become giants for God. Know that we are rooting for you. You go with our love. And you go with God, empowered to use your own slingshot to the best of your ability!