Fear of man always diverts the godly to paths of dishonor.
The stage was set for one of the greatest battles of all time. On one hill, the Army of God, and on the other, the Philistines gathered, both surveying a great valley dividing the two. The Philistines sent out their champion, Goliath, to challenge Israel’s greatest soldier. Every morning for forty days, Goliath would leave his camp, stand in the valley facing the Army of God, and shout, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other”, with only silence birthed from shame as the response. While the Philistines stood firm, as if the victory was already theirs, the Army of God, led by the spiritually embattled King Saul, remained frozen on the opposing hill “dismayed and terrified” (I Sam. 17:11, ESV).
Four miles away, a young David had been called in from his shepherding duties, by his father, to pack and deliver food for his three older brothers who were serving in King Saul’s army. Upon arriving at the Israelite camp, David overheard Goliath’s daily challenge. Filled with confusion and anger, David said to his brothers, and all in earshot, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
I am sure you know the rest of this story, but let’s rewind a bit because I don’t believe this was a battle that ever should have happened. Every single commentary, Bible lesson, and sermon I have ever read, studied, or heard, overlooks verses one and two of this account and immediately rushes to the David and Goliath encounter. What if God has another nugget to be mined revealing a more powerful treasure?
According to I Sam. 17:1-2, “Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines.” King Saul had been abandoned by the prophet Samuel for his rebellion against the will of God. Probably hearing this news, the Philistines-one of the oldest enemies of the Nation of God-decided to take advantage of this weakness by launching an attack. Yet Saul seemed to regroup, and with courage marched to meet the Philistine army and “drew up in line of battle,” ready and willing for war.
Picture if you will a Civil War depiction of the battlefield; both armies facing off, ready for the trumpet to blow, calling soldiers to arms as they charged to meet their opponent. A much different picture than what we see by the time we get to verse 11, where King Saul and his entire army were marked with fear, cowering in the shadows with no hope. What happened? One large man with a loud voice of opposition. That’s it. One person struck so much fear into the hearts of God’s people; they even chose to follow his commands and change their direction. Just when King Saul was about to give the order to “charge,” Goliath shouts, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” Why didn’t King Saul shout “charge” anyway? Why did he listen to this smelly, large, blasphemous giant, instead of saying, “Who do you think you are?! Step aside or be trampled upon, God is on our side, and He never loses a battle!” I believe if King Saul and his army had the same attitude as young David, the Army of God might never have even known the name Goliath; as the moment he stepped out of the Philistine ranks, an arrow would have dropped him followed by the feet of a thousand soldiers stomping his flesh to the ground.
We must not be quick to judge, though; we also struggle with the same temptation that faced King Saul, having a fear of man over trust in God. And, frequently, it is usually only one loud voice of opposition that strikes fear into our hearts, ultimately crippling and rendering us useless in the Army of God. It happened with Elijah when Jezebel sent a letter. It happened when a few families filed a lawsuit to stop prayer in public schools in 1962. Or a year later, in 1963, when one parent complained about the Bible being read in the classroom. How many times in our history have the voices of a few struck fear into hearts that conformed to their commands?
I wonder what would have happened on the battlefield that day if Saul would have trusted in God more than he feared a man. I indeed wonder where we would be as a country today if more of us would have trusted God over our fear of man. Would we still be enjoying the Bible-based curriculum in our schools? Would our children still stand and say the pledge of allegiance followed by morning prayer in our classrooms? Perhaps we are struggling as a nation because we remain on a hill defeated in fear instead of in the valley fighting in the name of God.
Scripture: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” -Proverbs 29:25, ESV, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” -Psalm 118:6, ESV
Question: Have you allowed fear of man to dictate your actions or justify your inactions?
Prayer: Father, please open my eyes to your power. There are so many in our current culture that opposes you, your Word, and your people. They are attacking our beliefs, disputing the truth, and persecuting your children. Please give me the strength to stand firm in my faith, no matter how loud the opposition is or how strong they may be. May I rise every morning ready to put on the armor of righteousness and prepare for a battle that you have already won. Father, I want to be a faithful soldier that never cowers or retreats, but one that trusts your promises, relies on your power, and remains in your presence. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.