On June 28th, 1914 an assassination took place in which the Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand, was killed by a political extremist while riding in a parade. This single event is credited as the lynchpin that set off the first World War, one that would last over four years and forever change the course of history. Armies from around the world prepared themselves to enter into this conflict, whether or not they truly were ready is the question. WWI is thought to be a “transitional war” where the technology of the day had far surpassed the capabilities and strategies of the armies themselves. One example of this was the uniform that the French military wore during the first year or so of battles. The last true war France had fought in had been nearly fifty years previous to this one and had been one where you simply lined up in front of your enemy and shot. No need for any type of camouflage. Now, fast-forward fifty years, France entered WWI with a uniform that consisted of a feather cap (note: not a helmet), bright blue coats, and bright red trousers. To say that they were both easily and quickly seen on the battlefield by the enemy is an understatement. The result of this was devastating for France. France’s military, technically speaking, were prepared for war, but they were nowhere near ready for it. We can see this very thing happening in 1 Samuel 17 with the children of Israel as they march out to meet the Philistines.
Samuel tells us in 1 Samuel 17:2-4, “Saul and the men of Israel were gathered and camped in the valley of Elah and drew up in battle array to encounter the Philistines. The Philistines stood on the mountain on one side while Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with the valley between them. Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.”The two armies of these constant and fierce enemies had prepared themselves for battle. Israel’s army, led by King Saul, was riding a wave of back-to-back-to-back victories over all their adversaries including the Philistines in previous battles (1 Samuel 14:47-48). This battle though, thanks to a giant named Goliath, would prove to be one that halted this ongoing victory streak. In verses 8-10 we have Goliath’s challenge of sending one man to fight him to decide the result of the face-off. Israel’s response is both sad and confusing, “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.” How could Israel, a nation who was constantly and consistently shown the power of their God who fought for them, be afraid of a 9ft man with a big sword? Had they not seen God working through them and for them throughout past battles? Did they think God’s people could be stifled by the power of a simple man? Sadly, they forgot the power of their God and the amazing fact that He fought for and with them. This image of Israel’s army being afraid and intimidated only gets worse when we keep reading, 1 Samuel 17:20-21, 24 “And he [David]came to the circle of the camp while the army was going out in battle array shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up in battle array, army against army….When all the men of Israel saw the man, they fled from him and were greatly afraid.” Not only does no one stand up and fight for Israel on the first day but also on the second they allow Goliath to defy God! The day after first encountering Goliath and his challenge Israel’s soldiers woke up, prepared themselves for battle, and marched to the rally point (chanting war cries along the way) just to turn around in fear and run to safety again. Israel’s men were prepared for war, but were nowhere near ready for the fight itself.
Thankfully, this is when David steps onto the scene and decides to lend a helping hand. David has been prepared for this battle by relying on God to help him in previous battles with lions and bears (oh my!). David then, in turn, takes these past preparations and is able to become ready for this present battle. David never lost sight of what God had done for him in the past and this helped him move forward with his future.
When we face battles today in our lives who do we more resemble from 1 Samuel 17? Are we like the army of Israel who shrunk back in fear when faced with a challenge? Times when our faith is put to the test by worldly circumstances that add tension to our spiritual walk, times when temptations seem to be too large to overcome, or even just the daily battle some of us fight to not be lethargic in our relationship with God. When faced with challenges like this do we forget just how great our God is that we serve and how He has helped us prevail over countless obstacles before? Or do we act more like David in 1 Samuel 17 who never lost sight of the power of God and how He had saved him multiple times before?
This question, how will we handle life’s challenges, is an important one due to the promise we are given in the New Testament. Jesus guarantees His apostles will face challenges in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Christ is promising His followers two things in the encouraging passage, (1) you will most definitely find challenges and hardships in life and (2) don’t lose hope though for I, who goes before you and walks with you, have already overcome the world! When we look to the persecution of Jesus later on in John we see that most of the apostles handled their first big tribulation much like the Israelites in 1 Samuel 17, they ran away. Then as we transition into the book of Acts, you see the apostles start handling their challenges and trials more like David, standing up and marching forward. As they mature so does how they handle problems.
What challenges do you face today? What Goliaths are in your life at the moment? Most importantly, how will you respond to these – like David or the Israelites in 1 Samuel 17?