It has become so well-known because it is such a compelling story. The unlikely combatant rises to the challenge and defeats the undefeatable. At least, this is the popular interpretation of this story. However, the popular interpretation of a story is not necessarily always the correct one.
Many of you have no doubt heard sermons about David’s prowess with a sling. As the young lad spent many hours and days tending sheep, he had honed his ability to hit the mark exactly as he hurled his sling around his head and let the stone fly at just the right moment. And there is no doubt that David was no coward in confronting wild beasts. It is a fact that God had given David previous life experiences that would enable him to do the task that he would one day be called upon to do. I do not deny that to be true.
He told king Saul, “Whenever a lion or a bear came and carried off a lamb from the flock, I went after it, struck it down, and delivered the lamb from its mouth. If it reared up against me, I would grab it by its fur, strike it down, and kill it” (1 Samuel 17:34-35).
How many of us would dare to seize a lion by the beard and strike him until he was dead? I think that I would tend to say, “Let the lion have just this one lamb.”
Who would have guessed that this young shepherd lad could kill a giant trained in warfare? It is so unlikely. The only reason that David was allowed to try it at all is because the entire Israelite army trembled in their sandals at the sound of Goliath’s boasts.
I do not want to diminish David’s skill or bravery, but the main point of the story is not David’s skill and bravery, or even the preparation that the Lord had given him. But the greater point of the story is found in David’s own words to the giant Goliath before the young shepherd killed him.
As the young shepherd approached the giant Goliath, David calls to him, “You come to me with a sword, a spear and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts…that this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:45-47).
“The battle is the Lord’s.
Moses at the Red Sea
There is another incident in the Bible that has a lesson very similar to this one. The year that this event takes place is not known exactly, but let’s just say it was about 1400 BC. The nation of Israel had been in captivity and in slavery in Egypt for about 400 years. After all these years, the time had come for God to fulfill his promise to lead them out of that captivity and to return to their own “promised land.” The person that he put in charge of this task was Moses, a man with his own interesting history.
Moses went to Pharaoh on numerous occasions with the message from God. “Let my people go.”
This is another well-known story, and I will not go into details at this point, but I bring you to the place in the event where Moses is standing on the banks of the Red Sea. He has following him perhaps a million Israelites, and perhaps many more. They had managed to leave Egypt proper, but they had not yet escaped completely. Bearing down upon them was the Egyptian army. This was the greatest military force in the world at that time, complete with horses and chariots. These were the state-of-the-art fighting units in that era, the equivalent to our modern-day Blackhawk helicopters.
There seemed no escape for Moses and the Israelites. Because of the sea in front of them, they could not flee this army, and they had no army of their own to fight back. The Israelites had just left generations of slavery. All that they knew was mixing straw and clay to make bricks. And now, all the forces of Egypt were bearing down upon them. The Red Sea lie before them. The Israelite people could already see themselves being slaughtered on the banks of the sea.
As Moses stood at sea’s edge, he himself did not know what to do. The only thing that he could do was to express his faith in God.
“Do not fear!” he shouted to the multitude. “Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent” (Exodus 14:13-14 NAS).
“Stand and see the salvation of the Lord.”
Of course you know what happened, and we shall return to that point in a moment.
However, I would first like to tell you of another incident in the history of the people of Israel – more specifically, the nation of Judah. Again, I don’t want to get specific with the dates, but this incident took place sometime in the 9th century BC.
The king of Judah was a man by the name of Jehoshaphat. The only thing that most people know about this king is that the editor of the Daily Planet newspaper from the Superman comics, Perry White, used to say as an expression, “Jumping Jehoshaphat!”
But there is more to say about Jehoshaphat, who was one of ancient Judah’s better kings. However, at one point in his reign, Jehoshaphat was threatened by some very powerful nations. In fact, it was reported to him that a large force from three nations had allied themselves with one another, and even at that moment were amassed on Judah’s border, poised and ready to attack.
Jehoshaphat knew that his army would be no match against this threat. He was afraid of what looked as if it would be a devastation to his people. In desperation, he turned his attention to seek God, proclaiming a fast throughout all Judah.
The king prayed to God, “O Lord, the God of our fathers, are You not the God in the heavens? Are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You…And now [these nations] are coming to drive us out from Your possession which You had given to us as an inheritance…O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who is coming against us; nor do we know what to do. But our eyes are on You” (2 Chronicles 20:6-12 NAS).
It was after Jehoshaphat had prayed this prayer of utter dependence upon God that he was visited by a prophet of God, man by the name of Jahaziel. The prophet said these words:
Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s.
Tomorrow go down against them…You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.”
Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the LORD is with you.
2 Chronicles 20:15-18 (emphasis added)
“Stand and see the salvation of the LORD.”
The prophet’s words are echoes of young David’s words when he stood before Goliath. “The battle is the Lord’s.”
These also are the very words that Moses, as spoke to his people standing on the banks of the Red Sea. “Stand and see the salvation of the LORD.”
Jehaziel said, “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s.”
Moses Cries Out
Returning now to the story of Moses, I am not sure that his strong statement of faith and confidence fully revealed what was in his heart, for the next words that we see in the account of the Red Sea crossing are those from God. God told Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. And as for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land” (Exodus 14:15-16 NAS).
This is the account that we have of the Red Sea crossing. God required Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea to cause it to part, but there is no doubt what the real cause was. It was no power that Moses possessed. The staff that he held in his hand was no magical staff. The power came from God.
Jehoshaphat Cries Out
In the case of Jehoshaphat and the Israelite army of his day, when the day of battle came, the king addressed the army and all the people, “Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the Lord your God, and you will be established.”
It is interesting to see how this battle played out. Jehoshaphat stood up and said, “Hear me, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be upheld; believe in His prophets, and you will succeed.”
Then Jehoshaphat appointed singers to begin singing praise to God, instructing them to go before the army, giving thanks to the Lord and singing, “Give thanks to the LORD, for His loving devotion endures forever.”
Please take note that these songs of praise were not sung after the victory was won, but even before it began. In the name of the LORD, they did what Jehoshaphat had told them, “Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be upheld; believe in His prophets, and you will succeed.”
Amazingly, when the people began singing praises to the Lord, God sent ambushes against the enemy forces, routing them completely. There were three nations that had been in alliance with one another and against Judah, but as it turns out, all was not well within the alliance. At the appropriate time, God caused there to be discord within this alliance, and two of the nations turned upon the third, completely destroying it.
But the job was not yet complete. After the third nation had been annihilated, the two remaining nations began fighting each other, now destroying each other.
It was clear that the battle was the Lord’s. As the prophet had earlier told the king, “Stand and see the salvation of the Lord.”
In all three of these cases, that of David, of Moses, and of Jehoshaphat, the lesson was clear to them that it was the Lord that gave the victory. I am not saying that they, as men, did nothing at all, for each was involved with an activity of some kind. Each did as they were instructed, but each understood well that it was God who provided the salvation from their situations.
John the Baptist
The people in all of these situations were thinking mostly about salvation from their immediate and severe circumstances. But when God speaks of the salvation that he brings, he has more in mind merely than our present difficulties.
When John the Baptist came to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, he spoke of this. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah referred to John as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight…the crooked shall become straight, and the rough roads smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:4-6 NAS emphasis added).
Giants, Oceans and Armies
In our own lives, we all pass through difficulties of one kind or another. Perhaps none of us as severe as these examples in the Bible. Nevertheless, some struggles that we pass through can be quite severe indeed. Like the people in these Biblical accounts, we also seek salvation from our troubles and help with our needs. The most important lesson that we can learn from these examples from the Bible is that, although these men did their tasks as they were instructed by God, they looked completely to the Lord for the salvation.
Some of us have difficulties in our lives that perhaps have even become chronic and debilitating in one way or another. Maybe you have some situation that you have been dealing with for years. Perhaps it even seems as though this problem has been with you for your entire life. You have been seeking for relief, freedom or salvation by various means, only to find yourself still entrapped.
What these lessons from the Bible show us is that there is no true salvation apart from God. We can try what we want, but only God can give freedom. But it does not come automatically. It often takes desperation on our part.
If your relationship with God is merely just one of many aspects of your life equal to other things that you do, then you will not know freedom in this life. If you worship God only when you have time or when it is convenient to you, you will not know relief from your situation. The Red Sea will be before you and will not part, the giant will not fall, and you will be routed by the enemies that oppose you.
We need to learn that our relationship to God is ultimately the only important aspect of our lives.
It is amazing to me that when people make God the only aspect of their living that is of ultimate importance, the things that have plagued them their entire lives often just seem to go away. They just disappear. This does not happen to those who merely give God a polite nod once in a while. It does not happen for those who simply read the Bible on occasion and gather to worship with other believers at church sporadically a few times a year.
Freedom comes only to those who realize that they are nothing without God. It come to those who are desperate for God.
We need to learn to cry out to God. Moses did. Jehoshaphat did.
Pick almost any of the Psalms written by David, and you will see him constantly crying out to God. It was God who delivered all of these men.
It is my great privilege today to tell you that the message of God has not changed. Here is what the Lord says and here is why I count it a privilege to tell you:
From the prophet Isaiah:
How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift
up their voices, they shout joyfully together; for they will see with their own
eyes when the LORD restores
Break forth, shout joyfully together, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:7-10 NAS emphasis added)