[The following is a complete excerpt of Day 7 from Feet to Follow, Eyes to See]
The area of Israel known as the Shephelah is a line of foothills between the coastal plain and the Judean highlands. A series of narrow valleys run east and west through the Shephelah, providing important avenues for trade and troop movements. Among these is the valley of Elah, the site of a famous standoff between the Philistines and the Israelites:
Saul and the men of Israel gathered and camped in the Valley of Elah; then they lined up in battle formation to face the Philistines. The Philistines were standing on one hill, and the Israelites were standing on another hill with a ravine between them.” (1 Samuel 17:2–3)
Looking at these hills today, it is easy to picture the Israelites lined along the near hill, facing off against the Philistines on the opposite hill. At the base of the Israelite hill is a wadi, or seasonally dry river-bed, which they would have had to cross to enter the valley.
Tensions were high as each force waited for the other to make a move. Then a Philistine named Goliath stepped forward to issue a challenge: let the fate of the battle be decided by representative combat. He would face any champion the Israelites chose. He shouted, “I defy the ranks of Israel today. Send me a man so we can fight each other!” (1 Samuel 17:10)
Ancient peoples saw the outcome of their own battles as a reflection of a battle between their deities. The side that won was the side whose god proved stronger. The idea behind having individual champions fight instead of whole armies was that the gods could just as easily determine the outcome of a single contest as they could a clash of armies.
It was an attractive idea, unless of course you thought your champion didn’t have the remotest chance of beating his opponent. In that case you were betting your own fate on a hopeless contest. That explains why the Israelites “lost their courage and were terrified” when they heard Goliath’s challenge (1 Samuel 17:11). He was, after all, a giant who was armed to the teeth!
In the absence of an Israelite champion, the stalemate continued. Then a teenage boy named David came to the battlefield with supplies. He arrived just in time to hear Goliath’s challenge, and he reacted with teenage passion and religious fervor:
“Just who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)
Somehow, all those experienced soldiers had never thought to ask that question. Who was Goliath? To them he was an object of terror. To David he was simply that “uncircumcised Philistine.”
David accepted the challenge. As he crossed the wadi he armed himself with five smooth stones. Then he walked out and stood before Goliath.
Insulted that the Israelites would send an unarmed boy rather than their best soldier, Goliath spewed insults and curses. David answered him in kind:
You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, 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.” (1 Samuel 17:45–47, NIV)
When David backed up this boast by felling Goliath with a stone from his sling, the Philistines were in shock. For that matter, so were the Israelites! But David had known it all along: “the battle is the LORD’s,” so the outcome is certain.
Do you have that kind of confidence when it comes to the battles you face? Do you see them as the LORD’s battles, or your own?
[If you enjoyed this devotion from Feet to Follow, Eyes to See, please share it with someone you know.]