Real Fear, Real Victory

Tom Burke

July 2012
© 2012 Scriptural Study Groups.  All Rights Reserved.

Have you ever felt intimidated by forces that seemed to be bigger and stronger than you? Have you ever engaged in a conflict in which your opponent appeared to have everyone’s support, while you stood alone? Have such situations ever tempted you to speak less than the truth, to do less than what was right?

You are certainly not the first to have been faced with such a challenge. God’s Word abounds with accounts of people like us in similar circumstances. One of these is recorded in I Samuel 17.

The army of Israel was engaged in a battle with the invading army of the Philistines. However, not much was happening in this battle. Not much was being done to eject this nation that was trying to steal the land that God, by covenant promise, had given to His people. Why? Because the Philistines had a “weapon of mass destruction.” Its name was Goliath.

Goliath was not a common soldier. In modern terms of measurement, he was nearly 10 feet tall. His armor, according to some scholars, weighed over 200 pounds (other scholars contend that it weighed only 125 pounds!). His spear-point alone weighed about 15 pounds.

In other words Goliath was both big and strong. He was also well trained in the arts of war.

To make things worse, Goliath would appear on the battlefield twice a day, offering to settle the conflict by means of single combat: one man of Israel facing one man of the Philistines. Of course the man representing the Philistines would be … Goliath.

This went on for forty days. What was the reaction in the army of Israel?

I Samuel 17:11
When Saul [the king] and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.

I have heard well-meaning teachers of the “positive thinking” school define fear as “False Evidence Appearing Real.” I suspect that the men of Israel might challenge that definition. Goliath was very real. He was also very big, very strong, and very scary. He was not the only real thing in Israel that day, but he was the only real thing that they observed.

Into this situation stepped a young boy named David. He was not there to make a name for himself. He was not there with a preconceived plan. He only came to the battlefield to bring some food for his brothers, who were part of Saul’s army. But David did love and believe the one true God.

When he heard Goliath’s challenge, David’s response was very different from that of the grown men around him. He simply asked, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy he armies of the living God?” David recognized a factor, an essential factor, that had heretofore been ignored: GOD.

David appears to have been genuinely surprised that, for forty days, no one had made a move to stop this foolishness. But he was not hesitant – he offered himself as the contender against Goliath. What was the basis for his confidence? The following verses tell us.

I Samuel 17:34–36
And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.

That’s it? You killed a lion and you killed a bear, so you think you can kill a giant, armored, Philistine warrior? This reasoning seems weak until we read the rest of David’s statement:

I Samuel 17:37a
David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.

David’s confidence was not based on his experiences; it was based on the fact that in those experiences, God had proven faithful. God had promised to protect His people, and God kept His Word.

Before we look at the outcome of David’s decision, there is one further point to be considered: having chosen to trust God, what kind of support did David receive from those around him? Two specific responses are recorded: his brother Eliab questioned his motives, and King Saul questioned his ability.

Imagine that! This record should speak loudly to the church today. All too often, when individuals have risen up to believe God, instead of loving support, they are given “counsel” like that of Eliab and Saul: “You’d better be careful … what if it doesn’t work? Have you read what the experts say about your situation?” Some will even attempt to back up this hogwash with Scripture! In simple terms what they are really saying is, “We won’t believe, so you shouldn’t either.” Because, after all, unbelief seems less painful when everyone is doing it.

Oh, Christians, we must support one another with the Word of God and with prayer. The challenges awaiting us in the unbelieving world are substantial enough; we must never allow the church to serve as an additional challenge to faith. Even if that individual is trusting God in areas where I have not yet grown to trust Him, their victory will serve as a glory to God, and a believing example to the rest of the church (even to me!).

Thankfully, David was not hindered by the views of his fellow-Israelites. He went out to meet the giant. Not wearing armor, but wearing his everyday work clothes. Not carrying a sword, spear, or shield, but just the simple tools of a shepherd. But he carried something else, something much more significant: the Word of God. David recognized that, though Goliath was very real, God’s promise was more real. Because, unlike Goliath, God’s Word is eternal, it is unchanging, it is the greater reality.

And so …

I Samuel 17:45–51
Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcasses of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD’S, and he will give you into our hands.
And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.
So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David. Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled.

This was no “pretend” victory. This was not some vague coincidence “dressed up” to look supernatural. This was victory indeed: true, complete and inarguable. And it occurred solely because one young man chose to cling to a reality beyond that of the five senses.

As you and I endeavor to be true to the Word of God, we will most certainly have to face “Goliaths” of our own. They will be big, they will be strong, and they will almost always have the support of the majority. These things are real. But those who know God’s Word have seen a greater reality. Ultimately, the reality that we choose to give reverence to is the one that will determine the outcome of our immediate circumstances, and of our lives.