Sermon Discussion Questions:
- Briefly recap the three main points of the sermon. How does seeing rightly lead to feeling rightly and acting rightly? What did David see, feel, and do?
- What does it mean to “see rightly”? How did Saul and Israel see wrongly? How might you see wrongly? Can you think of appearances that you are easily deceived by? Think of what you are most easily impressed with, or what you are most intimidated by.
- “Your emotions follow what you value.” Do you think that is true? What did Saul value and what did David value?
- How do we grow in our zeal for the Lord? What is the “negative” and “positive” aspects of zeal that David had?
- If we see rightly, we feel rightly, and so act rightly. C.S Lewis warns us, “The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.” Was there anything that the Lord convicted you to act on?
- Read 2 Cor 4:16-18. How does this encourage us to take bold steps of faith, even if it results in us “losing” rather than “winning,” as the world defines it.
When you were a child, what made you think someone else was living “the good life”? When I was a kid I always thought “the good life” was found on the other side of what my parents sad was too expensive. So, if another kid got Lunchables or cups of chocolate pudding in their lunch, it wasn’t a sign that their parents were laxer with nutrition, it was a sign that they were in on “the good life.” Oh, my third-grade heart pined, what would it be like to have Fruit Gushers! When you are a child, you think like a child. Your standards are limited by the small circle of experience you have. So, you ascribe outsized significance to things that don’t deserve them. Just think of the anxiety you had on your first day of middle school or high school, how much you thought about impressing others with your looks, clothes, or your “I don’t care about impressing anyone” persona. One of the joys of growing older is the freedom to laugh at yourself for what you once cared too much about.
Another, more important, joy of growing older is a shifting of values. What “the good life” means in your 30’s, isn’t what it meant when you were a teenager. And in your 50’s, you probably look back at your 30’s with the same thought. Even more so in your 80’s. Like stepping onto a yet higher vista, your perspective grows with time, and perhaps how you define what “the good life” is changes too. The cheap pleasures of youth give way to the deeper pursuits of vocation and career, which finally give way to the lasting joys of family and relationships. But unfortunately, just as we are at our wisest, the grave comes and cuts us down. But what if we could have a perspective, a vantage that came from one who went beyond the grave? Well, that’s exactly what the Bible is. But the path that Jesus lays before us to “the good life” is a very odd one. It is a path that prizes weakness, not strength; humility, not fame; confession of lack, rather than boasting of fullness. Life teaches us that the inner circle of “the good life” is full of those who are one or two or twenty notches above us on the scale of wealth, popularity, education, etc. Jesus, however, teaches us that the good life is found below, in the low places of emptiness, need, and pain; on a path that leads to a cross before it leads to a crown.
Today, we are returning to the famous story of David and Goliath, a story that should recalibrate our values and cause us to reconsider our assumptions about what the path of faithfulness looks like, what the route to “the good life” will take us through.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’S anointed is before him.” Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart,” (1 Sam 16:6-7).
Last week, we examined how this story fit in to the wider message of Samuel and the Bible, pointing us to Christ. Today, we are going to look at how David provides a model of faithfulness, by looking at what David saw, what David felt, and how David acted, and contrast those with how the rest of Israel acted, felt, and what they saw. Seeing rightly, Feeling rightly, and Acting rightly.
What is the wrong way to see?
Circle back to Samuel’s first encounter with Jesse’s sons back in chapter sixteen. When Eliab, the firstborn, steps forward—tall and strong—Samuel thinks This must be the new king, he looks like a king! But God warns Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart,” (1 Sam 16:7). Man looks at what the eye alone sees: the appearance. But God says: don’t do that, look deeper.
We see people’s appearances, their stature, their strength, their looks, their class, their status. And in the Valley of Elah, Israel and Saul see two things: the power of Goliath, and the weakness of David. So, Eliab tells David, “Why have you come down?” (1 Sam 17:28), and Saul tells David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth,” (1 Sam 17:33), and Goliath tells David, “Am I a dog that you come against me with sticks?” (1 Sam 17:43). What is everyone doing to David? The same thing that Samuel did at first: judging by the outward appearance. And by the outward appearance, it seems foolish for David to go out to Goliath. David looks like a shallow-chested asthmatic being sent in to fight the heavyweight champion of the world.
What does David see? When the soldiers are running in fear of Goliath, one of them grabs David and asks, “Have you seen this man who has come up?” (1 Sam 17:25a). Yes, David sees him; in fact, David sees more clearly than anyone else. He sees two things: the power of God and the weakness of Goliath. Remember back in 1 Samuel 16, Samuel saw Eliab’s stature and thought: his height and strength and age qualify him for greatness. Here, we see an inversion of that: just as Eliab’s height and strength didn’t qualify him as king, because the Lord looks on the heart, so too does Goliath’s enormous stature and strength not exclude him from the judgment of God, because the Lord looks on the heart. And David sees Goliath’s heart—more than he sees his appearance—and sees that Goliath’s heart is bent on mocking God. God didn’t look at Goliath and think: wow, how scary! He doesn’t care about that.
And because of these David’s weakness and inexperience and Goliath’s size and strength are entirely immaterial. It doesn’t matter that Goliath has been a man of war since he was a youth, and it doesn’t matter that about five minutes ago David was babysitting sheep. When my children make a tower of blocks, I may be impressed by its height, but I know that the taller it becomes, the more terrific will be its fall. It’s size doesn’t translate into permanence; it only takes the slightest nudge, and it all comes tumbling down in a great crash. So too does David view the leering Giant: the battle is the Lord’s (1 Sam 17:47), and He is bigger.
So, how can we see like this? An irresponsible way of interpreting this story would be: whatever stands in your way is going to fall! No, why did Goliath fall and David stand? Why was their relative size of no importance? It was because of their heart’s posture: one was proud, and one was humble; one was arrogant because of his strength, and the other was consumed with zeal for God. So, how do we see like David? We prioritize what God prioritizes: The heart. He isn’t impressed or fooled by appearances. So, we learn to put a greater emphasis on the heart than on outward appearances. Behind the veneer of outward appearances—be they strong or weak—lies something much more important.
We can be fooled by outward appearances when something looks very positive: The potential spouse may look attractive physically; the new job opportunity may look exciting and very financially secure. Or, we can be fooled when something looks very foreboding and intimidating: The non-Christian friend of yours is very intelligent and you feel as if you could never articulate yourself clearly enough to invite them to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. The prospects of being shunned professionally or socially by peers is just too intense to not at least tacitly go along with the sexual revolution underway. But the story of David here tempers us. There is something far more decisive and conclusive that lay beneath the surface. The path into sin may appear imminently wise and appealing and the path of faithfulness may seem terrifying. Do not look only to what can be seen.
What might you be deceived by? Ask yourself: what am I most easily impressed with? Or, what am I most intimidated by? How do we keep our vision clear-eyed and tempered by what God prioritizes? We build our lives upon the solid rock of God’s Word. We let God’s Word be the final judge and arbiter of all our opinions. We let it guide the innermost longings of our heart, channeling them into what they ought to long for. This is what Christ did, as the book of Hebrews tells us, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God,” (Heb 12:1b-2).
Jesus was constrained by the joy that was set before Him to look beyond the shame of the cross to what was beyond it. David was constrained by God’s promises to Israel, His history of what He had done for them, and what He had commanded. So, he did not look to what was seen, and this kindled within him a great energy of feeling.
Your emotions follow what you value. What did Saul and the soldiers value? Strength.
When Goliath steps out onto the field, what do Saul and soldiers feel? “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid,” (1 Sam 17:11). Saul prizes strength and power and sees that Goliath has far more of it than he does, so he is left terrified.
The word for “dismayed” literally means “to be shattered”—they aren’t just worried, they are broken to pieces, utterly paralyzed by fear. This dramatic word picture draws us back to Hannah’s song (the only other place that this word, חָתַת, is used in 1 Samuel 2), “The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces (חָתַת); against them he will thunder in heaven,” (1 Sam 2:10a). What does God give to His enemies? Thunder from heaven that leaves them shattered, broken to pieces. But here in 1 Samuel 17 it is Saul and Israel (following his lead) that are shattered. Saul has become God’s enemy, and so he is emotionally crippled. In the Bible, courage is a moral virtue, it is not based on competency (i.e. I am brave because I know I am strong). Rather it is the righteous who are bold as a lion, while the wicked flee even when none pursue (Prov 28:1). Integrity means that your life is a whole; there is no part of you that is fractured from another part. Hypocrisy, on the other hand, means that you are divided internally. Thus, the wicked are shattered, while the righteous stand strong.
What does David feel? The other half of verse 10 of Hannah’s song tells us that God gives strength to His anointed (1 Sam 2:10b). When David first comes to the battlefield, Goliath walks out and taunts Israel, and all the soldiers run in fear (1 Sam 17:24), but what melts the others hardens him. “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26). David has a sense of righteous outrage at what is being done (see also 1 Sam 17:36). This Philistine is mocking the God of Israel and thinks that his god is mightier, and every day that ticks by, Goliath is more and more confident that Yahweh is small compared to Dagon—and maybe even some of the Israelites start to wonder that too. Your emotions follow what you value. Saul values strength, power most; so when Goliath, the epitome of strength, mocks the God Saul claims to believe in, he doesn’t have a wave of courage come over him—why? Because God is just as small to Saul as He is to Goliath. But what does David feel? Well, what does he value most? David cannot stand by while Goliath continues to belittle and blaspheme the God he loves and worships. So he is charged with a holy zeal, a Christ like consuming zeal that overturns tables and drives out money changers (see John 2:13-17).
I wonder if you ever struggle with feeling rightly about the Lord. Did you know that the Bible commands you to be zealous? “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord,” (Rom 12:11). Do not be slothful in zeal. What is zeal? It is a fervent eagerness, willingness, and earnestness. What is slothful? George Herbert, the Puritan poet, when describing the sin of slothfulness, charges Christians: “Spit out thy phlegm, and fill thy breast with glory.” Slothfulness is like having your lungs full of mucus, and Herbert exhorts us to expel it, and fill our chests with the fresh wind of glory. And Paul hits that note, but explicitly with the fervency and zealousness of our service to the Lord. Meaning, we should consider emotional indifference to the reputation of God as something to be repaired within us.
In Good Will Hunting, we see a picture of zeal when the young Matt Damon goes to visit the therapist played by Robin Williams. Damon has visited several therapists and finds them all to be ridiculous or push-overs, so he assumes Williams is one as well. But when Damon, who isn’t aware that Williams’ wife is deceased, begins to flippantly insult her, Williams suddenly pins Damon against the wall and says, “If you ever disrespect my wife again I will end you.” That’s zeal. Now, of course, as Christians our zeal isn’t manifested through threats of physical violence, certainly—I am not advocating that. But what do you feel when God is mocked? When Paul walked through Athens and saw their rampant idolatry, are we not told that he was provoked in his spirit at the sight? (Acts 17:16). Was not Lot’s righteous soul tormented day after day at the lawless deeds of Sodom and Gomorrah? (2 Pet 2:8)
John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, wrote: “A dog barks and stands at bay if he sees any one assault his master. I should be indeed remiss, if, seeing the truth of God thus attacked, I should remain dumb, without giving one note of warning,” (Calvin, Letter 130, To the Queen of Navarre, 1545).
But David’s zeal isn’t only negative (outrage at Goliath) but it is also positive: David wants to use this opportunity to proclaim a message of the power of God: “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear,” (1 Sam 17:46b-47a). David is not just motivated by a “how dare you” anger, but a “God is worthy” zeal. God is worthy to receive Israel’s trust, even in the face of Goliath; God is worthy to be honored and praised, even by Goliath; God is worthy to receive all praise, and honor, and glory, and power forever and ever. He is worthy! You don’t need to be born again to be outraged at people who disagree with you. You don’t need the Holy Spirit’s anointing to want to fight fire with fire. But if you have seen that the Lord is good, then you are jealous for His glory to be seen and savored, you are zealous to see imposters and mockers see the power and goodness and grace of God. Godly zeal isn’t only negative, but has an expansive, evangelistic, and totalizing view of God’s beauty and goodness being seen for what it is.
And we must have both halves of that zeal, the positive as well as the negative, lest we fall into error. If we are not motivated in our zeal by a positive picture of God’s glory, we may actually unwittingly motivated by a concern for our own glory. If someone criticizes our faith, we may be outraged, but not because God is being dishonored, but because we are—how dare they talk to me like that. And then our zeal devolves into silly vanity and ego, and we become the parody that is internet outrage culture. Jonathan Edwards warned: “There is nothing that belongs to the Christian experience that is more liable to a corrupt mixture than zeal,” (Jonathan Edwards, Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England, 1742).
How do you feel rightly? What do you do if you don’t feel zealous for the Lord?
Emotions are not simple. Keeping your heart’s affections turned to the Lord is a continual discipline, a vitamin not a vaccine. But you can start by asking yourself: what do I look to most? What do I value? Look at your emotions now and chase their tail up to the heart, and you’ll find what you value most.
I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
Look to Christ set forth for you in the gospel, more full of grace than you are of sin. He is at your right hand, He is with you, and He is for you. He has removed your sins as far as the east is from the west.
David sees rightly, and it is his correct sight that kindles his zeal, and so he feels rightly, and this leads him to act rightly. The exact opposite is true for all of Israel and Saul. They see only Goliath’s strength, not God’s, so they feel only fear, not courage, so they run away, instead of standing and fighting.
David, however, has lofty ambitions. David tells Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine,” (1 Sam 17:32). Isn’t that kind of arrogant for David to say? Eliab, his older brother, certainly thinks so. David thinks he can go out and do what no one else can do. When Goliath taunts David, David responds with serious confidence, threatening to cut off Goliath’s head and slay the entire Philistine army (1 Sam 17:46). Is this wild, narcissistic, megalomania? No, David has just seen rightly, and felt rightly: “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied,” (1 Sam 17:45). David sees God looming over Goliath, and he burns with righteous zeal at Goliath’s impudence and the shame he has heaped on God’s name. So, he acts.
Faith produces works. If we say we have faith, but no works, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. It is entirely possible for someone to see rightly and even feel rightly, but when it comes to implementing, to actually taking action, we hesitate, we push it off, we make excuses. C.S. Lewis, writing as the senior demon, Screwtape, to the junior demon about how to keep his patient from growing in repentance, explains:
“As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about his new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it…No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will…The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.” (Lewis, Screwtape, Letter 13).
What is God asking you to do, right now? Do it. Today. Don’t let the zeal wither on the vine of indecision.
But, you might think, what if I lose? What if I take the step of faith and do what God has convicted me of, and I fall flat on my face? What if Goliath won? What if while David was giving his bold speech, Goliath just hurled his javelin through David’s chest?
Well, that actually happens often in the Bible. The Bible is not a fairy tale about good guys always being victorious in this life. Often, it is a story of suffering, persecution, and death. Think of Stephen, the proto-deacon, full of the Spirit and wisdom. In Acts 7 he is accused of blaspheming the temple by the religious authorities, and so he launches into an incredibly sophisticated biblical exposition of God’s dealing with His people across the Old Testament, demonstrating God has never been limited to the temple, and God’s people have always struggled to follow Him, before courageously concluding by accusing the religious authorities of resisting the Holy Spirit. And what do they do? They kill him. They drag him outside of the city and throw large stones at him until he stops breathing.
But what about I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me? Well, we have to read that promise in light of the verse that precedes it:
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” (Phil 4:12-13)
I can do all things through him who strengthens me…like starve. What if God’s will for your life isn’t to win, but lose? What if you are Stephen, not David? And what if that is God’s blessing for you? Our aim in life isn’t limited to success and victory as the world defines it. The path of faithfulness sometimes—often—takes us down to the low place of shame and pain. But it is there that we find our joy. That is what Stephen found. As he is being stoned to death, he looks up and what does he see? Christ, standing, waiting for him. His joy! And we can see that too, even as we may go down, even as our life may mirror Stephen more than David.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal,” (2 Cor 4:16-18).
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