"We Need a Shepherd Who Protects Us" 

A message based on 1 Samuel 17:34-37

Delivered on the Fourth Sunday of Easter  -  May 3, 2020

by Pastor John Derme

Government officials have compared the coronavirus pandemic to a war. People die in wars, and people have been dying from COVID-19. Soldiers fight in wars, and health care professionals have been fighting the coronavirus. People shield themselves with armor in wars, and people shield themselves with masks and other personal protective equipment in the pandemic.

Do you trust a mask to protect you? That might depend on what mask you are using. Different masks are appropriate for different situations. Do you trust health care professionals to protect you? That might depend on the person to whom you are listening. Different health care professionals have different levels of expertise and opinions on how to handle the pandemic. If you are going to be confident in the soldiers and armor in the war against the coronavirus, you need to be sure they are qualified to protect you. 

Sometimes that's easy to figure out. An N95 mask is a better shield than a cheap, flimsy dust mask. But sometimes it's hard to know whether one health care official is more qualified than another. That's the way it is in war, too. You might be sure that one kind of armor is a better shield than another. But you don't always know the qualifications of a soldier who fights to protect you.

On the day when David fought Goliath, nobody thought he was qualified to protect God's people. David lived about a thousand years before Jesus was born, and became the most famous king of Israel during the Old Testament period. But before he was king, he was a shepherd. And when he fought Goliath, he wasn't even a soldier.

For a long time, the Philistines were the enemies of the Israelites. And on the day of the battle between David and Goliath, the army of the Philistines was lined up on one hill, and the army of the Israelites was lined up on another hill. There was a valley in between. Actually, they had been lined up this way for 40 days. And every one of those days, Goliath came out to challenge the Israelites to send someone to fight him one-on-one.

Goliath was not exactly a giant, but he was a very large man. He stood at over nine feet tall. He wore armor that weighed about 150 pounds. He carried a spear whose head was 20 pounds. I know that the details about Goliath make this story sound like a myth. But there was actually a tribe of Canaanites whose people were extremely large, and that's probably where Goliath got his size.

He was so big and strong that he could be well armored and well armed, a combination that made him look invincible. So there was no way for the Israelites to stop him from shouting his disgraceful words. Every day he insulted Israel's army and blasphemed their God. King Saul was the tallest and best-armored soldier in the Israelite army, so he was the obvious choice to face Goliath. But he was weak, and the Israelite army was weak, which made God look weak to the Philistines.

David was the least obvious choice to fight Goliath. His oldest three brothers were soldiers in the army, but he wasn't one. The only reason that he was at the Israelite army camp was that he was bringing food to his brothers. But while he was talking to them, he heard Goliath taunting the Israelites and speaking disgraceful words against the Lord. He couldn't let those words go unchallenged. Since nobody else would do it, he volunteered to fight.

Of course, King Saul thought that David was completely unqualified to fight. So David told him about his qualifications: David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you” (1 Samuel 17:34-37).

Goliath was much bigger and stronger than any other person that any of their soldiers had ever fought. Fighting him was far closer to fighting a lion or a bear, and David, though he was younger and smaller than the soldiers, was the only one who had any experience fighting and defeating the wild beasts. The Israelites needed a shepherd to protect them.

There was such bravery in David's words! He expressed complete confidence that the Lord would give him the victory. His confidence came from the victories the Lord had given him in the past. So David faced Goliath without any armor. He took only his staff, his sling, and five smooth stones. Goliath was so well armed that he needed another guy to hold his shield for him. Why did David think he could go so poorly armed and armored against the man who was invincible? He knew that he was never going to win by virtue of arms and armor. His hope of victory was in the Lord to protect him.

Most people think that the story of David and Goliath is a story about an underdog who defied expectations and defeated his opponent who had been favored to win the battle. That's what sports commentators are describing when they talk about a game as David versus Goliath: for example, the basketball team from a smaller college defeats a team that was expected to win the NCAA tournament. But that's not the point of this account.

If you've only read or seen children's adaptations, open a Bible or search online for 1 Samuel 17 and read the entire chapter for yourself. It has drama as David's brother falsely accuses him, and suspense as David and Goliath talk trash to each other. Most of all, you see the point of the story, that the victory was the Lord's doing. David recognized that and explained it to everyone else.

Since David took five stones, it appears that not even he expected to defeat Goliath in one shot. But when he slung that first and only stone through the air it hit the only place on Goliath's body that wasn't armored, and he fell dead. That is how completely the Lord rewarded David's confidence. The Philistines fled in terror. The people of God needed a shepherd to protect them. But David's greatest qualification was that he trusted that the Lord was his Shepherd.

If you had to fight a nine-foot-tall warrior, would you go without armor and armed only with a few stones? Fortunately, none of us have to fight any wars like that. But there are other enemies in this world that could cause our death. Right now the one that is on everybody's mind is coronavirus. Would you go to face that enemy without the modern-day armor of masks and gloves? I wouldn't recommend that. Just because David decided to fight without armor doesn't mean that God doesn’t want us to protect ourselves.

Not only do we have armor that we can physically wear. We also have weapons with which we've been arming ourselves, like quarantines that are aimed at starving the virus and ventilators and medicines that that are intended to rescue those who have already gotten sick from it. I know there are differences of opinion about what weapons we can use to best protect ourselves, but I'm not qualified to debate that, nor do I want to during an online service. But I do want us to learn from the example of David and Goliath that we do not trust in these items to save us.

Again, I'm not saying you shouldn't use them. My children have been sewing masks to give away to help people protect themselves. But neither this nor any other virus is our biggest problem. Our problem is death. No matter how careful you are, and no matter which health care professionals you listen to, none of those things can protect you from eventually dying. Nobody is qualified to do that, except for one person. We need a Shepherd who has actually fought and defeated death, because only he can protect us.

Jesus is the Shepherd who faced death completely confident that he would defeat it. He willingly died, because he knew that by dying in our place and rising again from the dead, he would protect us from it forever. Now you are safe, because even though death will one day come through some disease or accident or old age, Jesus will attack death on the last day when he raises all people from death. And we don't have to wait until after we die for the Shepherd's protection, because he protects us right now. We can't know how many times he has protected us from death during our lives. But we can trust him, because he has protected us in the past, and he will keep us safe until he brings us through death to heaven.

In Psalm 23, David wrote, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4). Like David, we live in danger of death. That's why we need a Shepherd who protects us. The Shepherd who protects us is Jesus.