1 Samuel 17:31-50

In the story of David versus the Philistine giant, Goliath, we’re made sure to understand that David did not defeat his enemy with the normal implements of war. We’re told, for example, that David tried on Saul’s armor and sword, but it just wasn’t working for him. As Goliath approaches, David announces that the Lord does not save by sword and spear, and at the end of the battle we’re reminded again that there was no sword in David’s hand. No, unlike Goliath, armed to the teeth with sword, spear, and javelin, David had picked up five stones from a nearby stream to use with his humble sling.

Besides David’s notable lack of appropriate weaponry, what also caught my attention was the number of stones. It seems oddly specific to say David chose five stones. With a little research I found, as you could imagine, all sorts of theories on what the five stones represent. One of my favorites is that the number five symbolizes the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and in a more general sense the entire set of teachings and law considered the foundation of Jewish identity and culture.

This led me to consider the foundation Jesus gave us, his summation of Jewish law: love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself. And, in light of today’s story about David and Goliath, we’ll add: love your enemy.

For Jesus, defeating your enemy had nothing to do with swords or armor. No, the only true way to defeat an enemy, even if the enemy is just an idea or way of thinking, is to accept the enemy, in love and compassion, until we stop seeing an enemy at all.

So, back to those five stones David used to defeat Goliath. Another promising theory is that the number five refers to five personal attributes or gifts of the spirit. After some prayer and consideration, and in keeping with Jesus’ core teachings, I came up with five gifts of the spirit which would prove helpful on the spiritual battleground: love, compassion, wisdom, courage, and grace.

First of all, we have love, and by love, I mean God’s Love with a capital “L,” not just the pleasant emotion. God’s Love means accepting something, just as it is, with our whole heart. This happens on a level below our run-of-the-mill desires and fears, so, for example,  we can capital “L” Love something while not condoning it or while feeling called to act in opposition to it. God’s Love simply means we start from a place where our hearts accept that things are the way they are, and recognize the inherent goodness in this.

Second, we have compassion which means to suffer with. Assuming we’re gazing upon something, say an enemy, in Love, then compassion easily follows. In accepting someone fully as they are we not only see the story we create about their role in our pain and suffering, but we see their pain and suffering as well. This kind of Love is really a kind of participation, and so we suffer with them, often being motivated to act on the suffering we see.

Third, there’s wisdom. We often think of wisdom as particularly sound advice or a very helpful insight. But, wisdom if often more about a kind of perception, seeing God’s truth in the world whatever the source. With wisdom we see that we could be doing a lot better practicing the Love and compassion of Jesus. With wisdom we see clearly and humbly our need to fully accept ourselves, Love ourselves, and have compassion for ourselves. That would be a good place to start, as we move towards seeing our neighbors and enemies with wisdom.

Fourth, we have courage. It takes courage to follow wisdom wherever it leads, because wisdom will bring to light unpleasant or painful shadows, within ourselves and others. It takes courage to Love our enemies when hate can be deceptively attractive. It takes courage to feel compassion for our neighbors, leaving our hearts open to their pain.

And the last of the five stones is grace. This one is cheating a little, really, since God’s grace isn’t a personal attribute. Still, it might be the most important stone, because it’s only by God’s grace that we can hope to see the fruit of those other four. All we can do is admit our reliance on grace, and thus let ourselves be open to God’s gift.

So in a world which can seem filled with various sorts of enemies, we should pray not for implements of war or towering strength. Instead, following the way of Jesus, we pray for Love, compassion, wisdom, courage, and grace, eventually defeating those enemies by not seeing them as enemies. This is the only true path to peace, and to real transformation for ourselves and the world.

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  1. Jason Hays on August 13, 2020 at 18:07

    You are such a wise preacher, Br. Nicholas. Thank you for this sermon!!

  2. Bill Burke on July 25, 2020 at 02:45

    This is a profoundly beautiful reading and analysis. Thank you for helping me see the story of David in this way!

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