Sunday June 2nd: No service in Lausanne. Join us at the church retreat in Leysin!

A Giant of Comparisons

The story of David slaying Goliath is filled with comparisons. David hears the taunts of Goliath hurled at the men of Israel, and responds, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26).

What is David doing? On the face of it, he is comparing Goliath to Israel’s army - one man compared to so many, surely this is no competition. But it’s more than that. He’s comparing Goliath’s power to God’s. Goliath is an ‘uncircumcised Philistine’ - meaning, he’s not a member of God’s covenant people, he’s fighting in his own power, and the power of his pagan gods, who have no power.

In contrast the army of Israel is ‘the armies of the living God’. Does the plural armies suggest that David understands, as Elisha did, that ‘those who are with us are more than those who are with them’ (2 Kings 6:16)? That as the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him (Ps 34:7), so his angelic armies are camped around the army of God’s people? Maybe. Or maybe David is simply using the plural for the armies drawn from all the different tribes of Israel. Regardless, they are the armies of the living God. And God’s power is infinitely greater than Goliath’s. So why fear him? All David and the people of Israel have to do is make the right comparison.

Saul, however, was not making that comparison. But he did make another. David came to him saying he would fight the giant, to which Saul replied, incredulously, “You are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth” (1 Sam 17:33). He’s making a comparison of experience: ‘that giant’s been fighting and winning fights for as many years as you’ve been alive, sonny.’ But that prompts another comparison from David. He recounts the wild animals he’s killed and then declares, “This uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them” (1 Sam 17:36). David too has been fighting and he compares Goliath to the lions and bears he has already faced, and beaten. He knows that Goliath will soon be like one of them.

But where does David’s confidence lie? Goliath’s lay in himself - “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” (1 Sam 17:43). David’s lay in God - the God whose armies Goliath had insulted (1 Sam 17:36). And the battle had hardly begun before the giant fell dead.

It was such victories that prompted the women of Israel to greet the returning heroes with singing, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam 18:7). A comparison that did not endear David to Saul. In fact, ‘Saul was very angry and this saying displeased him… and Saul eyed David from that day on.’ (1 Sam 18:8-9). And the eye with which he eyed him was the green eye of jealousy. It was the destructive result of comparison.

David compared threats and enemies to God and faith and courage flourished. Saul compared threats and enemies to seemingly meagre human resources and fear and disbelief and inaction flourished. Goliath compared himself to others, favourably, and died. Saul heard himself compared unfavourably to another and it ate away at him.

The lesson is clear: to what and how you compare yourself and others matters. Your life and your sanity depend on it.