For forty days the Philistine champion took his stand and issued his challenge to the army of Israel: “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 become your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall become our servants and serve us… I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together.” (1Samuel 17.8-10) The Philistine champion was such an imposing figure (vss. 4-7) that his name, Goliath, has echoed through the centuries representing many dreadful foes. A corresponding champion was not to be found in the army of Saul, not a one of them would stand to face this giant (vss. 11, 24). But we remember this story from when we were kids. The hero, young David, was about to come on the scene; He would save the day!
But at that time, no one thought of David as a hero. In fact, the expectations for David were exceedingly low! His father, Jesse, sent David to the battlefield not as a warrior, but as a messenger boy who could take provisions to his brothers and report back on their welfare (vss. 12-19). Jesse had no thought of his youngest son facing, let alone defeating, the Philistine champion. David’s brothers had an even lower opinion of their youngest sibling. Eliab, the eldest, accused David of neglecting his duties at home so that he could come and witness a bloody battle (vs. 28). Saul, the king of Israel, had been waiting forty days for one of his mighty warriors to accept Goliath’s challenge, but they all wilted in fear. But when David came forward ready to face the giant, Saul’s first words were, “you are not able to go against this Philistine…” (vs. 33). And what about Goliath? He had been waiting for a challenger, but when David appeared he only scoffed: “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” (vs. 43). No one expected much of our hero.
And that leads to why this story we loved as children should still resonate with us. We live in a world of pathetically low expectations. It is assumed that our marriages won’t last, that our children won’t respect us, that temptation cannot be avoided (nor should it be). And too many of us have bought into these low expectations. We may not look to divorce our spouses, but we settle for something far from the “one flesh” union God purposed. We allow all manner of filth to infiltrate our homes, while being satisfied that we aren’t as bad as “the world”. Most tragic of all are the expectations we have for our kids, often times equating their faithfulness with good church attendance. Abounding in good works? No. Talking with their friends about the gospel? Not a chance. We’ve set the bar terribly low.
Yet God sets the bar exceedingly high! His expectations for us are that we be “holy as He is holy” (1Peter 1.16), that we “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5.48). God had high expectations for the army of Israel as well, that if they would be faithful to Him, “one of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the Lord your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you” (Joshua 23.10). And this is why David is known to us as the hero of the story, because his expectations were high knowing that the Lord “who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1Samuel 17.37). And when expectations are raised, actions will correspond to meet them. David still had to go face the giant, and he would do so with a sling and five smooth stones. He still had to step onto the battle field, alone and against an opponent far more powerful than he. But he acted in faith that “the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into my hands” (vs. 47). Let’s allow God’s expectations to shape our actions. Let’s practice submission in marriage (Ephesians 5.21-31) trusting that God will truly sanctify our marriages. Let’s flee from temptation trusting that what God has in store for us is far greater. Let’s encourage our children to be examples in “speech, conduct, love, faith and purity” (1Timothy 4.12) believing that they can be true children of God.
Finally, when we allow God to set our expectations and begin to act on them, we become known for what we are rather than what we are not. Why do we remember David and not Eliab? Was his brother Eliab a terrible person? I doubt it, but he didn’t trust in his God enough to act. We remember David because he acted on his faith. He was praised for what he did! (1Samuel 18.7). What defines us? The fact that we don’t smoke, drink, curse, gamble, etc.? Too many Christians are defined by the negative, by what they don’t do. Let’s be defined by what we do, as a people who trust in their God so much that they strive to meet His expectations in all things!