Paralyzed by Fear

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1 Samuel 17:1-31 (Saul and Goliath)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is on David and Saul from the book of 1 Samuel, and today we come to the story of Saul and Goliath. Now you might say, “Wait a minute. Isn’t that supposed to be David and Goliath?” Well, yes, we’ll get to David and Goliath next week, but first we need to look at a less well-known story, the story of Saul and Goliath. We will be looking at verses 1-31 throughout the course of the message, but we will just read verses 8-11 right now as we get started. (Read 1 Samuel 17:8-11 and pray)

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So today we are looking at the story of Saul and Goliath. You might say, “I never heard the story of Saul and Goliath before,” and that’s exactly the point. The reason you’ve never heard it before is because it never happened.

This could have been Saul’s story. He was the king. He was the one who should have stepped forward and defeated Goliath. But instead of conquering by faith, Saul was paralyzed by fear. As a result, he lost out on being part of one of the greatest stories of all time, one of the most famous stories in the whole world.

Today’s message is basically one of those two-parters where the first part ends on a cliffhanger. We’ll get to David and Goliath next week. But first we need to look at Saul and Goliath and the problem of fear.

Fear is a problem that holds too many people back, and if we are going to move forward in our Christian life, we must deal with the problem of fear. So, we are going to look at the story of Saul and Goliath today and, in the process, we are going to take a good look at the enemy you face, we are going to discuss the problem with fear, and we are going to talk about getting past your fears.

I. You have a fearsome foe (1-11)

So, let’s begin with the enemy because the Bible tells us you have a fearsome foe. Remember these stories in the Bible aren’t just there to give us information. These are true stories of what God has done and still does for his people. We are meant to see ourselves in these stories and our own relationship with God.

   A. You are in a spiritual battle (1-3)
      – Ephesians 6:12

And the first thing you need to see from this story today is that you are in a spiritual battle. You will notice the story begins with the battle lines draw up between the people of God and the forces of the enemy. Look at 1 Samuel 17:1-3:

Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Socoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Socoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them. (1 Samuel 17:1-3)

So, you have both armies spread out on their respective hillsides with the valley in between. It was risky for either one to attack first. In each case the opposing army was in an elevated position. Whoever attacked first would be exposed in the valley. Perhaps this is why the Philistines challenged the Israelites to single man-to-man combat.

The Israelites were in a battle with a powerful foe, and you also are in a battle, not against people but a spiritual battle. Ephesians 6:12 says: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

   B. The enemy is stronger than you are (4-7)
      – 1 Peter 5:8

Not only are you in a spiritual battle, but the enemy is stronger than you are. Back to 1 Samuel, the Israelites are lined up for battle against the Philistines, but they are all at a standstill with the valley in between. Enter Goliath. Look at 1 Samuel 17:4-7:

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. He was over nine feet tall. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him. (1 Samuel 17:4-7)

1 Samuel describes Goliath as a champion. It is a word that literally means “a man in between.” The champion is one who fights for his people by entering into single combat. He is a “man in between” because the fight takes place in between the two opposing armies.

Goliath is not only a champion. He is bigger and stronger than anyone else. That makes sense, you want to pick your best man to be your champion, right? But Goliath is huge! He stands around nine feet nine inches tall. Yes, Goliath could dunk. Goliath could dunk standing up. Goliath could dunk without jumping, without even standing on his toes.

He’s not only tall but strong. Just look at the armor he wears and the weapons he carries. First of all, he is covered in metal from head to foot. His armor alone would have weighed close to 200 pounds. Have you ever gone hiking with a fifty-pound backpack? Can you imagine wearing two hundred pounds of armor? He carries a bronze javelin on his back. His spear shaft was thick like a weaver’s rod. The spear tip was made out of iron and weighed an additional 15 pounds.

Goliath also had a shield bearer who went in front of him. This shield bearer would have carried a full-length body shield to protect Goliath from any arrows shot his way.

So, this huge, imposing giant of a man comes out of the Philistine camp, and he is bigger and stronger than anyone in the Israelite camp. He is a fearsome foe.

Your enemy is also stronger than you are. He is a fearsome foe. That’s why God gives us warnings in Scripture like 1 Peter 5:8: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) You are in a spiritual battle, and the enemy is stronger than you.

   C. The enemy opposes God and God’s people (8-11)
      – Revelation 12:17, 13:6

Not only that, the enemy opposes God and God’s people. We certainly see that with Goliath in 1 Samuel. Look at verses 8-11:

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified. (1 Samuel 17:8-11)

So, Goliath issues the challenge to what is sometimes called “single combat” or “representative combat.” Single combat is hand-to hand combat between two champions to decide the fate for both armies. Whoever wins the single combat wins the battle for everyone.

Goliath not only issues the challenge. He is taunting the people. “Am I not a Philistine, and are you not just the servants of Saul?” In other words, “You don’t stand a chance!” Goliath says, “I defy the ranks of Israel.” That word “defy” is a term of scorn and contempt.

Now, who is best suited to fight Goliath from a physical standpoint? It’s Saul! When Saul was chosen as king, Saul was described as head and shoulders above everyone else (1 Samuel 10:23). Saul is the biggest and strongest in Israel. He’s not as big and strong as Goliath, but with faith in God Saul could have defeated him. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. The story could have been Saul and Goliath!

But what do we read in verse 11? “On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” (1 Samuel 17:11) Saul and all the Israelites with him were terrified at Goliath and his words. They all got a case of what Eugene Peterson calls,
“Goliath terror” or “Goliath phobia.”

Goliath defied the ranks of Israel; Satan opposes God and God’s people. We read in Revelation 12:17: “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring – those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 12:17) We read in Revelation 13:6: “[The beast] opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven.” (Revelation 13:6)

By the way, as Christians we do have a champion who engaged in single combat for us and defeated the enemy. Jesus is our champion. Jesus was the “man in-between” who decided the fate for both sides when he won the battle for all of us.

The Israelites were in a battle, and we also are in a battle, a spiritual battle. The enemy is far stronger than you. The enemy opposes God and God’s people. You have a fearsome foe, and you need to be careful that you don’t give in to fear like Saul and the Israelites did.

II. The problem with fear (12-24)

Here’s the problem with fear. Our next section in the passage tells you three things that fear will do in your life.

   A. Giving in to fear will make you lose time and opportunities (12-16)
      – Ephesians 5:15-16

First of all, giving in to fear will make you lose time and opportunities. Look at 1 Samuel 17:12-16 where David now enters the story:

Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul’s time he was old and well advanced in years. 13 Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. 14 David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, 15 but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. 16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand. (1 Samuel 17:12-16)

The scene shifts now from the battlefield to Bethlehem. David has been going back and forth to Saul at this time. You remember he entered full-time service with Saul back in chapter 16. He was probably sent home when the Israelites went off to war. You had to be at least twenty years old to be eligible for military duty in Israel. (Numbers 1:3) So David’s three oldest brothers are off fighting with Saul, and David is home in Bethlehem tending the sheep.

Meanwhile the Israelites and the Philistines are in a standoff. For forty days Goliath comes out and makes his challenge. For forty days Saul and the Israelites do nothing. That’s forty days not at home with their families. That’s forty days not working their fields and taking care of business. That’s forty days of lost time and missed opportunities. During those forty days Goliath came out every morning and every evening. That’s eighty missed opportunities for Saul and Israel, all because they were paralyzed by fear.

How many opportunities have you missed out on in life because of fear? How much time have you let slip by? Ephesians 5 says: “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16) What’s the problem with fear? Giving in to fear will make you lose time and opportunities.

   B. Giving in to fear will leave you going through the motions (17-22)
      – 2 Timothy 3:5

Secondly, giving in to fear will leave you going through the motions. Back to 1 Samuel 17, look at verses 17-22:

Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.” 20 Early in the morning David left the flock with a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and greeted his brothers. (1 Samuel 17:17-22)

Jesse sends David to the Israelite camp with supplies for his brothers. I love what he says in verse 19. He says, “They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.” (1 Samuel 17:19) No, they’re not! Nobody’s doing any fighting. They’re just going through the motions.

David gets there just as the army is going out to its battle positions. They sound the battle cry. They draw up their lines facing each other. But nobody’s doing any fighting. It’s all theater. It’s all just a show. Both sides might as well go home.

When we give in to fear in the Christian life, we also can end up just going through the motions. When we give in to fear, we stop moving forward in our Christian life. We stop taking risks for God. We still go to church. We sing the songs. We bow our heads during prayer. We listen to the sermon. But somehow we’ve forgotten that it’s all real. We’re just going through the motions.

Paul speaks in 2 Timothy 3:5 of those “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5) You are part of a spiritual battle that is going on all around you. Your life and your prayers and your faith and your service matter. What you do today has eternal impact.

God calls you to move forward in your Christian life, and that causes some of us to fear. We’re afraid to move forward in godliness, in service, in witness, in giving, in faith. And so instead of moving forward, we end up just going through the motions, having a form of godliness, but denying its power.

   C. Giving in to fear will make you want to quit the fight (23-24)
      – Ephesians 6:13

1) Giving in to fear will make you lose time and opportunities. 2) Giving in to fear will leave you going through the motions. And 3) Giving in to fear will make you want to quit the fight. Look at 1 Samuel 17:23-24:

As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 When the Israelites saw the man, they all ran from him in great fear. (1 Samuel 17:23-24)

David watches in amazement as all the Israelites turn and run away from Goliath. They’re not only not moving forward; they’re not even standing their ground. They’re going backwards!

One of the problems in the church today is that too many people have quit the fight. We have too many sidelined saints. That’s true of some of you today. The enemy attacked, you got hurt, and somewhere along the way you said, “That’s it. I’m done. I quit.”

But Satan hasn’t quit. He’s at it every day. He’s relentless. He’s like Goliath coming out every morning, every evening without fail. When the Israelites saw Goliath, they all ran away. But God tells us to stand. Ephesians 6:13 says: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13)

Have you given up ground to the enemy? Some of you need to stand your ground and get back in the fight. We need you. God’s kingdom needs you. That’s the problem with fear. Giving in to fear will make you lose valuable time and opportunities. Giving in to fear will leave you going through the motions. Giving in to fear will make you want to quit the fight.

III. Getting past your fears (25-31)

So how do you get past your fears? Our passage today points us to three important truths.

   A. Remember the benefits of following God (25)
      – 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 103:2-4; Revelation 3:21

First of all, remember the benefits of following God. Look at 1 Samuel 17:25:

Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his father’s family from taxes in Israel.” (1 Samuel 17:25)

King Saul offered substantial rewards to the person who defeated Goliath. King Jesus offers substantial rewards to the person who defeats Satan. Here’s the difference. King Saul wasn’t going to help you. H might loan you his armor. But you had to defeat Goliath all by yourself. King Jesus will not only help you. He has already defeated the enemy, and now he just asks you to join him in his victory.

Remember the benefits of following God! Psalm 103 says: “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.” (Psalm 103:2-4) Those are pretty good benefits! Jesus says in Revelation 3:21: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)

God offers substantial rewards to the person who overcomes. And not only that. He also helps you overcome. He helps you win the battle. 1 Samuel 2:10 says this: “Those who oppose the Lord will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth. ‘He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.’” (1 Samuel 2:10) Now that’s a verse King Saul should have remembered. The enemy opposes God and his people. But those who oppose the Lord will be shattered! It’s God who gives strength for the battle.

How do you get past your fears? First, remember the benefits of following God.

   B. Be zealous for God’s honor (26-27)
      – Psalm 4:2-3, 119:53

Secondly, be zealous for God’s honor. Let your zeal for God outweigh your fears. Look at 1 Samuel 17:26-27:

David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” 27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.” (1 Samuel 17:26-27)

David saw things differently than those around him. He had learned and applied the lessons of 1 Samuel 16:7 where the Lord said, “Do not consider his appearance or height.” David had learned to see things from God’s perspective. He was neither impressed nor intimidated by Goliath. No matter how big Goliath was, David knew God is bigger.

But most of all David was zealous for God’s honor. David understood that Goliath wasn’t simply defying the Israelites. He was defying God. That’s why David says: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” In David’s eyes Goliath wasn’t an invincible champion. He was just an uncircumcised Philistine. Uncircumcised means he was not in a covenant relationship with the one true God. Goliath and the Philistines served Dagon – a dead god, a false god, a no-god – represented by dead statues and idols. But David and Israel served the true and living God.

A key step to getting past your fears is to be zealous for God’s honor. The psalmist writes in Psalm 4:2-3: “How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” (Psalm 4:2-3) He is indignant over those who disdain the true God and follow idols of their own making. We read in Psalm 119:53: “Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law.” (Psalm 119:53)

How do you get past your fears? 1) Remember the benefits of following God. 2) Be zealous for God’s honor.

   C. Don’t let others discourage you from following God (28-31)
      – Numbers 13:30-33; Joshua 1:9

And then 3) Don’t let others discourage you from following God. Look at 1 Samuel 17:28-31:

When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” 29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. 31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him. (1 Samuel 17:28-31)

We finally get a glimpse into Eliab’s heart here, and it’s not pretty. Now we know why God rejected Eliab as king. This is what God saw in Eliab that Samuel couldn’t see. Eliab hears David talking with the men and immediately puts David down. He verbally attacks his own brother and falsely accuses him of wrong motives. David just moves on and talks with someone else. It’s a matter of choosing your battles wisely. You don’t get into it with Eliab when you’ve got a giant to fight! You don’t get caught up in friendly fire when there’s a real enemy to defeat.

Eliab tries to discourage David, but David keeps asking around. Word gets to Saul, Saul sends for David, and … that’s where the first part of this two-parter ends – with a cliffhanger! Goliath is still out there, but David is on his way to Saul.

Don’t let others discourage you from following God. Remember the twelve spies who spied out the land of Canaan? Ten brought back a bad report of the land – “They’re too big for us!” By the way, that’s what Saul and the Israelites said about Goliath. But we read in Numbers 13: “Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’” (Numbers 13:30) Later God told Joshua in Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

How do you get past your fears? 1) Remember the benefits of following God. 2) Be zealous for God’s honor. 3) Don’t let others discourage you from following God.

CONCLUSION: And so that’s the story of Saul and Goliath. It’s a sad story of fear and loss and missed opportunities. You’re going to like next week’s story so much better. But before we move on to David and Goliath, let’s make sure we learn from Saul’s mistakes.

2 Timothy 1:7 says: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Don’t be paralyzed by fear when you’ve got God! God is with you. Jesus has defeated the enemy. You do not need to be afraid.

Don’t miss out on what God has for you because of fear. Ask God to help you get past your fears, so God can use you for his glory.

© Ray Fowler

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