1 Samuel 17:46-47
Sermon preached on May 3, 2009 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
A few years ago I read a story about a Christian who was fleeing from his enemies during a persecution in North Africa. His enemies were close on his heels as he tried to get away from them. He was pursued over a hill and through a valley until he was near exhaustion. In desperation he spotted a small cave and climbed into it exhausted. But he suspected that he would be caught because the entrance to the cave was visible, even from a distance. Awaiting his pursuers, he prayed that the Lord would protect him. Not long after he spotted a spider weaving a web. In just a few minutes the spider had woven its web right across the mouth of the cave. Just then the man’s pursuers arrived, but seeing the web across the mouth of the small cave, they assumed it was impossible for him to have entered it. They moved on and the man managed to escape from them. Later the believer is reported to have said,
“Where God is, a spider's web is like a wall. Where God is not, a wall is like a spider's web.”
I’m not sure that the story is true, for as I was checking that quote on the Internet last night, I found three different versions of that story, one was set in Scotland, and one had to do with a U.S. Marine. So the story may be an urban legend.
But it could be based on a true incident. If so, it shows how sometimes God can use something that is very weak and fragile, like a spider’s web, to protect His people. Saving through weakness is one of the strategies that God often uses.
We see that in our text. David said to Goliath,
“This day the LORD will hand you over to me,
and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.
Today I will give the carcasses
of the Philistine army
to the birds of the air
and the beasts of the earth,
and the whole world will know
that there is a God in Israel.
All those gathered here will know
that it is not by sword or spear
that the LORD saves;
for the battle is the LORD’S,
and he will give all of you into our hands.”
The great truth that we see here is that
God often delivers by means of weakness.
David made it clear that God didn’t give the victory with sword or spear, those instruments which represent human power with its might and strength.
Quite the contrary, God gave deliverance to Israel through a young boy, a boy that no one thought could be used to deliver them from the Philistines. David was so unimpressive looking that when his brother Eliab saw him on the battlefield, he rebuked him for even being there, implying that he should have been with the sheep rather than on the battlefield. (verse 28) David was so unimpressive looking that when King Saul first saw him he told David that he couldn’t go out and fight Goliath, because, (verse 33)
“you are only a boy.”
David was so unimpressive looking that when Goliath saw him he despised David. (verse 42) Goliath was incensed because he took it as an insult that they sent a boy out to fight him. He said to David, (verse 43)
“Am I a dog,
that you come at me with sticks?”
He then cursed David by his gods.
Those three incidents show that no one thought that David was capable of defeating Goliath. Yet God delivered Israel through this boy. God used someone who was weaker than anyone in Israel’s army to defeat Goliath. God used human weakness to give victory to Israel. God delivered by means of weakness.
This is a theme that we see repeatedly in the Bible.
Consider the story of Gideon. Again, God delivered Israel through means of weakness. Like the story of David, there are three things in the story of Gideon that show that God delivers through weakness. First, when God chose Gideon, (Judges 6:14) God said to him,
“Go in the strength you have
and save Israel out of Midian's hand.
Am I not sending you?"
But Gideon hesitated. He said to God, (verse 15)
"But Lord, how can I save Israel?
My clan is the weakest in Manasseh,
and I am the least in my family."
Gideon was one of the weakest and least impressive men in Israel.
The second thing that shows that God delivered by weakness is the fact that God whittled down the size of Gideon's army. When Gideon called for the men of Israel to join him against the Midianites, 32,000 responded. But even this 32,000 was unimpressive against their enemies. In Judges 7:12 we are told,
"The Midianites, the Amalekites
and all the other eastern peoples
had settled in the valley,
thick as locusts.
Their camels could no more be counted
than the sand on the seashore."
They were a great and impressive collection of armies. So Israel's 32,000 was tiny compared to the enemy.
But you'll remember what the Lord said to Gideon. (Judges 7:2)
"You have too many men
for me to deliver Midian into their hands."
Now, that the opposite of the way that we would normally think. Military commanders have historically thought in terms of force ratio. Jesus spoke about this in Luke 14:31-32. He said,
"Or suppose a king is about
to go to war against another king.
Will he not first sit down and consider
whether he is able with ten thousand men
to oppose the one coming against him
with twenty thousand?
If he is not able,
he will send a delegation
while the other is still a long way off
and will ask for terms of peace."
I'm not sure what the exact ratios are, but I have a vague recollection that if a military commander is attacking an enemy in an entrenched position, he would ordinarily need at least two or three times as many men as the enemy.
But God turned that on its head when he spoke to Gideon and told him that he too many men. God told Gideon to tell his men that if any of them were afraid, they could go home. Twenty-two thousand left and went home. Then God said to Gideon, (verse 4)
"There are still too many men.
Take them down to the water,
and I will sift them for you there.
If I say,
'This one shall go with you,'
he shall go; but if I say,
'This one shall not go with you,'
he shall not go."
Gideon did as God chose those that lapped the water up with their hands. There were 300 of them. The rest of the men were dismissed. God took Gideon's men from 32,000 in number down to 300. Only then was He satisfied to let Gideon go against the great army of the Midianites.
The third thing in the story of Gideon that shows that God delivered by weakness is the fact that the 300 went against the Midianites armed only with trumpets, empty jars and torches. They didn't take any weapons. They left their swords and spears at home. Yet the 300 completely routed and defeated the Midianites. God delivered through human weakness. He made it clear that He was the One that delivered Israel.
We have another example of God delivering through weakness in 2 Chronicles 20. During the reign of King Jehoshaphat, Judah was weak. The beginning of chapter 20 tells us that the Moabites, Ammonites and some Meunites came and made war on Judah. They were trying to drive the Israelites out of the land that God gave them. (verse 11). In verse 12 Jehoshaphat said to God,
"O our God,
will you not judge them?
For we have no power
to face this vast army that is attacking us.
We do not know what to do,
but our eyes are upon you."
Israel was weak and in human terms, couldn't stand against the enemies that were arrayed against them.
But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel and he said, (verses 15f)
"Listen, King Jehoshaphat
and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem!
This is what the LORD says to you:
'Do not be afraid or discouraged
because of this vast army.
For the battle is not yours,
Tomorrow march down against them.
They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz,
and you will find them
at the end of the gorge
in the Desert of Jeruel.
You will not have to fight this battle.
Take up your positions;
stand firm and see the deliverance
the LORD will give you,
O Judah and Jerusalem.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged.
Go out to face them tomorrow,
and the LORD will be with you.'"
The next morning King Jehoshaphat and his men set out. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said,
"Listen to me, Judah
and people of Jerusalem!
Have faith in the LORD your God
and you will be upheld;
have faith in his prophets
and you will be successful."
Jehoshaphat knew that it was all about the Lord, that He was going to give them the victory. Jehoshaphat then appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise Him for the splendor of his holiness. We read, (verses 22-24)
"As they began to sing and praise,
the LORD set ambushes against
the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir
who were invading Judah,
and they were defeated.
The men of Ammon and Moab rose up
against the men from Mount Seir
to destroy and annihilate them.
After they finished slaughtering
the men from Seir,
they helped to destroy one another.
When the men of Judah came to the place
that overlooks the desert
and looked toward the vast army,
they saw only dead bodies
lying on the ground;
no one had escaped."
Judah was weak. Yet God delivered them. They didn't even have to fight. All they did was sing praise to God. God fought for them. God delivered them even though they were weak.
Now, the great question is:
Why did God give us those examples of Him delivering through weakness?
What does the Lord want us to learn from this? Why did God choose to deliver through weakness? The answer that David gave is in verses 46 and 47. He said to Goliath,
"All those gathered here will know
that it is not by sword or spear
that the LORD saves;
for the battle is the LORD'S,
and he will give all of you into our hands."
It was God who gave the victory. God used David to show that He can deliver without the things that we think are necessary for deliverance. That's what David wanted everyone to learn from his battle with Goliath. It was the Lord who gave him the victory. The battle is the Lord's. He gives His people the victory. It doesn't matter how weak we are, He is powerful enough to give us the victory. As the Lord said to Zerubbabel in Zechariah 4:6-7,
"'Not by might nor by power,
but by my Spirit,'
says the LORD Almighty.
What are you,
O mighty mountain?
you will become level ground."
The Spirit of the Lord gives victory. It's not by human strength or talent. The victory is totally from God.
This has great implications for your faith. It means that we need to be like David.
We need to be conscious of our own weakness and know that our deliverance comes totally from God's hand.
It means that you do not depend on secondary things for your safety and deliverance, but that you look directly to God and know that, although He can use secondary things to save you, you are ultimately saved, not by these secondary things, but by the Lord.
Israel wasn't saved by David, but by God. That should have been clear to everyone. It is the Lord Himself who delivers us and that He doesn't do it through human strength.
Yet, as remarkable as it seems, even after David's speech, many in Israel didn't get it.
The Israelite women who greeting the returning army after their victory over the Philistines got it totally wrong. They came out from all the towns of Israel with singing and dancing. As they danced they sang, (1 Samuel 18:7)
"Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands."
They got it wrong. They were not praising God like they should have. They praised Saul and David. They totally missed the lesson that David wanted to make clear. Their praises of David galled Saul and made him jealous of David. Because many in Israel missed the lesson that God tried to teach them—much suffering came.
This is a hard lesson for us human beings to learn. It seems it is so easy to go astray here. We must not focus on secondary things but on God. Secondary things are nothing.
But we tend to focus on them. In 1 Corinthians some Christians said they were of Paul, some of Apollos, some of Peter. But Paul insisted they were nothing, that God was everything. In 1Corinthians 3:5-7 he wrote,
"What, after all, is Apollos?
And what is Paul?
through whom you came to believe—
as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
I planted the seed,
Apollos watered it,
but God made it grow.
So neither he who plants
nor he who waters is anything,
but only God,
who makes things grow."
Today people pray to some saints, to Mary, or they look at other human things instead of looking directly to God and giving Him all the glory. Make sure that you don't make that mistake.
The great lesson here is that
you are not to put your faith in yourself or in other things.
Why did God tell Gideon he had too many men? Judges 7:2,
"In order that Israel may not boast
against me that her own strength
has saved her..."
In 2 Chronicles 16 King Asa of Judah was threatened by the northern kingdom of Israel. He put his hope in the Syrians and got them to attack Israel from the north.
At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: 2 Chronicles 16:7-9
"Because you relied on the king of Aram
and not on the LORD your God,
the army of the king of Aram
has escaped from your hand.
Were not the Cushites and Libyans
a mighty army with great numbers
of chariots and horsemen?
Yet when you relied on the LORD,
he delivered them into your hand.
For the eyes of the LORD
range throughout the earth
to strengthen those whose hearts
are fully committed to him.
You have done a foolish thing,
and from now on you will be at war."
Don't trust in other things. Your faith is be directed to God, not anything else.
Again, don't misunderstand. For example, if you're sick, I'm not suggesting that you just pray to God and not seek medical treatment.
In September 1853 Hudson Taylor set sail for China to be a missionary. Not long after his ship left England it encountered a terrible storm and they thought the ship was going to be lost. Hudson was offered a life jacket. He refused it. He thought that using a life jacket would indicate a lack of faith in God, and remove him,
"from the direct and immediate leadings of God."
That's nonsense. God uses means. When Jesus wanted the disciples to catch some fish, he told them to go out in the boat and let their net down. I'm sure that Jesus didn't have to have the disciples use the net. he could have had the fish just jump in the boat. But He didn't do it that way. He had them use a net.
Hudson's thinking reminds me of the old joke about a guy who was shipwrecked and was swimming after his ship went down. Out on the lonely sea he prayed, "Lord, save me." A little while later a helicopter appeared and dropped a cage to him. But he refused and again prayed for the Lord to save him. Soon a ship appeared and they threw him a line but he refused it and prayed for the Lord to rescue him. But he drowned. When he got to heaven he asked God why he hadn't saved him when he prayed to be saved. God replied,
"I sent the helicopter and the ship."
So we are to use means because God uses means. But we are not to trust in the means. As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 20:7,
"Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name
of the LORD our God."
Secondly, this means that
if your faith is in God you can be extremely confident and sure.
Dale Davis writes, (p. 188)
"What matters is not whether you have the best weapons but whether you have the real God. In fact, your 'inadequacy' may be precisely your qualification for serving God; for his strength shines most brightly behind the foreground of your weakness."
As the apostle Paul told of God's response to him in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when Paul asked to be delivered from his thorn in the flesh. God said to him,
"My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness."
As Philip Hughes writes, (Hebrews, p. 510)
"human weakness is precisely the opportunity for the manifestation of divine power."
As Paul continued in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10,
"Therefore I will boast
all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ's power may rest on me.
That is why, for Christ's sake,
I delight in weaknesses,
in insults, in hardships,
in persecutions, in difficulties.
For when I am weak,
then I am strong."
Phil Hughes writes, (2 Corinthians, p. 451)
"The great the servant's weakness, the more conspicuous is the power of his Master's all-sufficient hand."
As the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13,
"I can do everything
through him who gives me strength."
Now we have to guard against misunderstanding here. There's a false teaching in some Christian circles that totally misunderstands this doctrine. They basically teach that we are to make ourselves weak. But they are wrong.
This does not mean that we are to seek to be weak, in the sense of neglecting the means of grace.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't read the Bible, that we shouldn't meet together for Christian fellowship- that we should deliberately make ourselves weak.
It doesn't mean that we don't work hard. For example, what approach should I take to my sermon each week? Should I say to myself,
"I'm going to totally rely on the Lord. I'm not going to do any reading, I'm not going to do any study, I'm not going to do any concordance work, or work on the Greek or Hebrew text, I'm going to make myself weak so that the Lord can be strong in me."
Is that what God wants us to do? No not at all. The point is that we don't need to make ourselves weak, the point is that we are weak.
We need to use the means of grace. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit tells us that we are to press on. (Philippians 3:12,14) We are to study to show ourselves approved, correctly handling the Word of God. (2 Timothy 2:15) We are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Remember what Paul said about himself when he compared himself to the other apostles? (1 Corinthians 15:10)
"No, I worked harder
than all of them —
yet not I,
but the grace of God
that was with me."
John Murray writes on sanctification, on our growth in holiness. (Collected Writings, Vol. 2 Systematic Theology, p. 312)
"This process of conformation to the image of Christ does not take place by quiescent passivity on our part. It is only by concentrated application to the data of revelation that we come into this encounter with the glory of the Lord. And all the energies of our being are enlisted in the exercise of adoration, love, obedience, and fellowship."
Growing in godliness is hard work. It requires strenuous activity. In Philippians 3:12-13 Paul referred to it as 'pressing on,
"to take hold of that for which
Christ Jesus took hold of me...
one thing I do:
Forgetting what is behind
and straining toward what is ahead,"
The point is not that we shouldn't work hard at using the means of grace. The point is that we are weak. The point is that we can't do anything on our own no matter how hard we work. The point is that we must continually draw close to God and draw upon His power.
But getting back to our main point. We are weak, but God's strength is made perfect in weakness. That's what we see in David.
The next lesson we should take from this passage is that
God will enable you to do what He calls you to.
You can be confident in God even when things seem hopeless. Hebrews 11, that great chapter about faith, says of David (among others) (verse 34)
"whose weakness was turned to strength;
and who became powerful in battle
and routed foreign armies."
What God asks you to do or go through something that is very difficult and you wonder how you could ever do it—don't doubt.
The other evening I was at the nursing home visiting an elderly lady that used to attend a Bible Study I had there. She's in her 90's and she's dying. She's suffering terribly and it broke my heart to see her in such a state. While I was there she said to me,
"I don't know why God allows me to suffer like this."
It was like it was too much for her to bear.
At times it can seem like we're facing a Goliath that is too strong for us. But what does God tell us. I read the first part of
"But now, this is what the LORD says
— he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
'Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious
and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give men in exchange for you,
and people in exchange for your life.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
I will bring your children from the east
and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north,
'Give them up!' and to the south,
'Do not hold them back.'
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters
from the ends of the earth
— everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made."
You were created for God's glory. He will enable you to do what He calls you to. Be confident of it. Don't waver.
Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, what this passage says to you is that
you are to stop your defiance of the Lord.
The battle is the Lord's. What that means is that He is the ruler of all things. He cannot succeed against Him.
All your plans, your hopes, your dreams—they are going to be dashed.
Psalm 2 tells of the futility of resisting God and His will. He tells how God is going to exalt Jesus and give the ends of the earth to Him as His possession, and how He will rule with an iron scepter and dash His enemies to pieces like pottery. The psalm concludes with these words,
"Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry
and you be destroyed in your way,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him."
Your only hope is to kiss the Son, the Strong One who became weak in order to save us. In weakness He took our sins and suffered for them. In weakness He embraced death, and died for us. You need Him. Go to Jesus now. Ask Him to save you.