Along the remains of an ancient highway, traveling west from Bethlehem toward the Mediterranean Sea and meandering through a large valley, lies a seasonal waterway known as the Brook of Elah. In the summer months the water recedes exposing a bed of small, smooth stones, reminding all generations of the battle fought there that forever proved the insurmountable arsenal of one willing soul in the hand of Almighty God.
It was here that the Philistine army once encamped along the southern side of the valley, mortally imperiling Israel and leaving them dismayed and confused. The Philistines had only recently defeated Israel in the battle of Eben Ezer and now they stood defying and challenging Israel to what looked like another defeat. Their odious champion Goliath was no ordinary warrior, but a giant who taunted Israel and blasphemed the name of God for 40 days without a single rebuke. But alas, David, a cautious young man, empowered and anointed by God, temporarily laid aside his shepherding duties to come to the front lines. Armed with five small stones, a slingshot and a consecrated life, he easily defeated the giant and put to flight the entire Philistine army.
As time passed and the next generation of young men grew up around Israel, there is no doubt that stories of David’s life abounded. Stories of how he had killed a lion and a bear with his own hand, how he had fled from Saul, and how he had led countless battles against the enemy would have been common talk around dinner tables and amongst little boys at play. Likewise, the gossip surrounding the disorder in his home, the rebellion of his sons and his failing with Bathsheba would have likely been familiar chatter around the grinding mills and water wells. But, I believe that to the next generation, above his fame as a hunter, statesman, prophet, or sinner, he was David—The Giant Killer.
First generation churches are often full of powerful stories of God’s deliverance. From the local body here I have heard numerous testimonies of men and women whom God has delivered from formidable strongholds. Everything from hippies, corporate executives, soldiers, businessmen and Catholic priests, as well as those from dark religious forms and traditions, stand together and proclaim how God saved them from their giants. Many times, as these men have given their testimonies, I have observed their children filling in gaps and nodding along with them at the exciting places. Just as the children that would have passed along David’s stories by word of mouth, I watch these modern Israelites grow inspired by the war stories of their parents.
As our second and third generations emerge, it becomes evident that many of the old battles must be remembered. But, unless they are applied and taken to heart, these inspiring stories of our forefathers will not prepare our next generations for real battle. Our past victories will not ensure spiritual peace or safety for our children. In fact, the appearance of peace after a victory is won may place them at an even greater disadvantage, if they cease to be mindful of our enemy and his devices. Moreover, if the next generation becomes lax and indifferent to the battles and trials of the past, they will inevitably be taken by surprise when those besetting giants descend once again to do battle with them.
Church history is full of examples of second and third generations being overtaken by the very same giants that their forefathers had defeated in times past. The history of Israel was no exception. A casual reading through the books of Kings and Chronicles will reveal numerous situations of second-generation failures. But in II Samuel 21 (and I Chronicles 20), God preserved a record of a second generation of men that were ready for battle. From this account I believe that we could glean three important qualities that these mighty warriors possessed: they were prepared to serve, able to persevere, and ready to adapt. Below is the Biblical account of the battle scene as it is recorded in II Samuel 21:15:
“Moreover the Philistines had yet war again with Israel; and David went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the Philistines: and David waxed faint. And Ishbibenob, which was of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of brass in weight, he being girded with a new sword, thought to have slain David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah succored him, and smote the Philistine, and killed him. Then the men of David swear unto him, saying, Thou shalt go no more out with us to battle, that thou quench not the light of Israel. And it came to pass after this, that there was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob: then Sibbechai the Hushathite slew Saph, which was of the sons of the giant. And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.. And there was yet a battle in Gath, where was a man of great stature, that had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number; and he also was born to the giant. And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimeah the brother of David slew him. These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.”
Prepared to Serve
Where did these men come from? They certainly did not just appear. They were with David all along waiting for their opportunity to serve. The first man to the front line was David’s nephew, Abishai. Since the time David was fleeing Saul in the wilderness, Abishai was right by his side looking for opportunities to serve wherever he could. When Saul came against David at the wilderness of Ziph, David asked for volunteers to sneak into the camp while Saul and his armies slept. It was only Abishai who agreed to go with him. Even on this daring mission he was begging David for more service. With impetuous zeal he asked David if he could kill Saul while he slept. David rebuked him harshly, but through it all he learned to submit to authority and to wait for God’s timing (I Samuel 26:5-12).
After Goliath was slain by David, the enemy did not just give up and go away. Instead, they now prepared to seek vengeance. Goliath had been the champion of the Philistines, proven in battle. He was from a large Ammonite city named Gath, which had contended for years as Israel’s mortal enemy. So confident were the Philistines in their strength, weaponry and gods, that their hero Goliath stood blaspheming God without remorse. His death might have been an end but he had a son named Ishbibenob and a group of young giants who purposed to continue his cause. How the news of his father’s death must have tormented them. From the time the news came to young Ishbibenob that a shepherd boy had killed his father, he must have put himself to prepare for the day when he would settle the score.
Ishbibenob and this group of young giants acted as if they had a cause. They wanted to avenge Goliath’s death. Scripture states that Ishbibenob made himself a new sword purposefully with the “thought to have slain David.” They also made their spears just like Goliath’s with the rod the size of support beam and the tip 300 shekels in weight.
When these new giants surfaced the Israeli army quickly called for their old giant-killer. Without hesitation, David ran to the front lines to fight these giants, just as he had done with Goliath decades before. It is inspiring to see that David did not choose to participate in the war from the safety of some distant citadel, but instead he was right there in the midst of the battle, even though he was by this time an aged old man. I was reminded of some of history’s more recent giant-killers: saints like John Wesley, Menno Simons, Hudson Taylor, or George Whitefield, who once said of himself not long before his death, “Had I strength equal to my will, I would fly from pole to pole. Though wearied and almost worn out, I am not weary of my blessed Master’s service.”
Nevertheless, it was in this battle that the battle-worn David finally grew weary. For a moment the fate of Israel languished precariously until the front-line generals commanded him to draw back so that he would “quench not the light of Israel.” But right into his place proceeded this second generation of warriors, trained and prepared for battle. They did not parley with the enemy, but with unmitigated commitment, first rescued David and then quickly defeated the giants. These men were not the types to wait around on the sidelines drawing straws to see which loser was going to have to go out to do battle. They were jealous for battle. They trained for it—they dreamed of it.
God uses willing vessels. Newly devised systems and policies did not save the next generation. It was the men who prepared their lives for battle that saved Israel. Just the same, it will be the prepared and consecrated men and women of prayer that God will use in the Church today. E.M. Bounds said, “What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men—men of prayer.”
Able to Persevere
After the first giant was defeated the enemy did not retreat but with persistence attempted to wear out Israel by multiple attacks. Goliath’s other son came to battle and after he was defeated they sent Goliath’s brother. Both giants were quickly overthrown by this second generation of men. This new generation of Israelites showed that even after enduring many battles, they still had the perseverance to continue taking on more attacks.
The annals of history reveal that the prosperity of successful nations has been decided not by their ability to sprint, but by the depth of their tenacity. When Napoleon Bonaparte was speaking to his men before his Piedmont campaign, he did not candy-coat the task that was before them, but spoke in plain words: “You have gained battles without cannon, passed rivers without bridges, performed forced marches without shoes, bivouacked without strong liquors, and often without bread. Thank you for your perseverance! But soldiers, you have done nothing—for there remains much to do.”
Likewise, the captain of our souls, Jesus Christ, demands not just a momentary decision, but the entirety of our lives. It was Jesus who said, “he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” A soul will not stand if it can only endure temporary attacks. The conspicuous fruit of longsuffering is a virtue that is nearly impossible to fake. We can deceive others and even ourselves by pulling up enough gumption to accomplish momentary victories in the flesh. However, Satan does not just attack in public or at special events. As these giants continue to descend on us, our lasting fruit will be exposed. “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not (Gal 6:7-9).”
Ready to Adapt
The first three attacks were, for the most part, all copies of David’s original giant, Goliath. They were able to easily recognize them and defeat them just as they had been trained. But the last attack was different. The last giant was a mutation. There were things about him that looked different. Scripture states that he had great stature and that he had six fingers on every hand and six toes on every foot. There is a reason why this detail was given. I don’t believe it is there simply as trivia or even to record the first orthopedic case of polydactyly. The enemy came back as before, but this time he was mutated and more formidable. I believe the message here is that when the enemy changes its strategy, simply mimicking the old battle plans will not prove sufficient. To meet this challenge, our strategies and tactics will have to be modified as well.
Likewise, our next generation must be trained in biblical principles and not just in avoiding lists of our old sins. They must be taken beyond mere imitation to actualization. Simply guarding against the sins which had afflicted us in times past will prove insufficient when those sins mutate into different forms. For example, the worldly and sensual rock music we defeated in the past now comes back mutated in the form of contemporary ‘Christian’ music. The battles we fought to free ourselves of religious darkness and tradition now show up in the disguise of theological debate. The pornographic magazines we fought to avoid at the convenience stores can now come to us mutated through telephone lines known as the Internet. When it comes to our enemy one thing is certain: he is still steadily working to overthrow our souls. Peter warns us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (I Pet 5:8).”
The good news is that Jesus has overcome the world. Because of Him, all provisions have been given to us that we need to conquer our giants. Our provisions may at times only seem as mighty as those five small stones, but looking unto Him by faith, we—like the lowly shepherd boy—can put armies to flight. Hallelujah! “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph 6:10-12).”
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