One Little Boy Named David

Series: Israel 2022 – Valley of Elah

He’s singing to us.

We are standing at the edge a field of what looks to me like winter wheat. The bus had pulled off the highway and we’d all walked down the edge of the road and into the field. I was hoping that the farmer who owned the field did not come driving by and stop to run us out of his field lest we trample the crop. He didn’t and we didn’t – we stayed on the very edge and did no damage.2

And Dr. Yarbrough4 is singing to us – not what I’d expected at all. Since when do doctors sing to you? (I think I’ve been going on the wrong tours. I kind of like this singing thing.)

“Only a boy named David
Only a little brook
Only a boy named David
But five little stones he took.
Only a boy named David
Only a little sling
Only a boy named David
But he could pray and sing

And one little stone went in the sling
And the sling went round and round
And one little stone went in the sling
And the sling went round and round
And round and round
And round and round
And round and round and round
And one little stone went up in the air
And the giant came tumbling down.”
1

No sooner than he started singing that song than I was taken back maybe sixty years. I know that song! I cannot remember where I learned it (Sunday School?) but, in my head, I was singing right along with him. I imagined that everyone in this group was probably singing along too. Even if they did not know the song exactly, doesn’t everyone everywhere know the story of David & Goliath from the Bible? The song pretty much says it all.

We were in the Valley of Elah, named for the terebinth trees that grow there. And, like the Sea of Galilee, it doesn’t seem to have changed much over the past several thousand years….at least from where we were standing. It’s a long shallow relatively flat valley that lies between the low hills of Judah. In ancient times, this valley was significant in that the main road from the coastal cities and those in the interior of Judah – Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Hebron – ran right through the valley.

The Philistines controlled most of the valley leaving the Israelites with only a small portion at the northeast corner. Should the Philistines push through and conquer that small corner, then all of the interior of Judah would be open to them. King Saul and his men were all that stood between the Philistines and Judah.

Looking over to the side of the valley where the Philistines were encamped.

They met in this valley. On one hillside, the Philistines, and on the other, the Israelites.

This was created using Google Maps (Note 6) with my annotations to give you an overview of the battle.

For us, the Valley of Elah was a short stop on the way to Jerusalem.  We were driving up the highway heading towards Jerusalem and the bus pulls over. We all got off and walked down the side of the highway through a lovely area with quite a few pretty flowers – almost a garden by the side of the road.

Poppies growing in the Valley of Elah

At that point, I wasn’t quite sure where we were or why we had stopped there. But I figured it was something special…and I was right. We were led away from the roadway to a spot just at the edge of the field. And, as a gentle breeze rustled through the winter wheat, we listened to the story of the battle of the two fierce champions who engaged in a battle to the death.

Dr. Yarbrough took us through 1 Samuel 17 and the battle between the Israelites under King Saul and the Philistines with their champion, Goliath. Goliath, a giant from Gath who was well-versed in fighting and combat would take on a small untrained shepherd boy armed only with his trust in God, a leather sling, and five small stones he had taken from the nearby brook.

Somewhere down there is the Brook Elah. It is dry much of the year now.

Goliath was, indeed, a giant of a man. Standing somewhere between 6’9” (206cm) and 9’9” (297cm) depending on your source (Masoretic or Dead Sea Scrolls/Josephus/Septuagint), he wore armor of bronze with a bronze helmet weighing more than 5000 shekels (125.6 lbs./57kg). He had a javelin of bronze slung across his shoulders and carried a spear whose shaft was as large as a weaver’s beam (ok, big) and a point weighing in at 600 shekels (15.1 lbs./6.8 kg).3 No matter how you look at it, he was a BIG man, and a 15-pound spear point could do some serious damage. It was no wonder everyone was so frightened.

David? Not so much. He is described as a young shepherd boy, ruddy and handsome…but a boy, nonetheless… with not a lick of fear, it seems. He volunteered when no one else would. When he tried on King Saul’s armor, it was way too heavy for him such that he said he couldn’t walk in it and refused to wear it. So, he left the tools of a warrior behind and took only the tools of a shepherd, his staff, his pouch with the five stones he gathered from the stream, his sling….and, his trust in the Lord.

For 40 days, Goliath had challenged the Israelites to send their champion to fight him. Until David, there were no volunteers. David wanted to know, Just who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?3

Goliath was not amused when David came out to fight. Am I a dog,” he said to David, that you come at me with sticks?” “Come here, he called to David, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!3 Big words from a big man.

David’s response: You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand. This day I will strike you down, cut off your head, and give the carcasses of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the creatures of the earth. Then the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.  And all those assembled here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.3

Of course, you know the rest. David put the stone in the sling, slung it round and round (just like in the song), and the stone hit Goliath on the forehead and sunk in. Goliath came tumbling down…. or, as Dr. Yarbrough would sing, “went splat”.  The Philistines ran away, and the Israelites won the battle.

For Saul, it was the beginning of the end. For David, it was just the beginning.

For us, it was another opportunity to see a Biblical story through new eyes…now having seen the hills and the battlefield and the little brook where the stones came from, we will always remember the place and how it felt to be there and how peaceful it is in the valley today.

One of our guides from Sar-El Tours gives us a demonstration on how to use a sling.

The combat between David and Goliath way back in 1010 BC has come to mean any contest where the odds are greatly skewed against one opponent, the obvious underdog… in this case, Israel and its champion, David.  But I am reminded and, once again, quote Dr. Bremer5 who told us, where God is concerned,

“Numbers don’t count, and the odds don’t matter.

When you go into battle, as Paul said in Ephesians 6:14, you should gird up your loins and trust in the Almighty God of the universe.

As we left the valley, I collected a stone….a tiny memory of the valley where David & Goliath fought.

Scriptural Sources:

  1. 1 Samuel 17

Notes & Sources for Additional Information:

  1. https://www.songlyrics.com/gaither-vocal-band/only-a-boy-named-david-lyrics/ These are the lyrics that came closer to those I remember from my childhood and the song that Dr. Yarbrough sang that day in the Valley of Elah. I imagine there are many versions of the children’s song or, perhaps, our Sunday School teachers took a few liberties in teaching us back before the internet started documenting everything.  Or maybe, I just remembered incorrectly. In my memory, it is a “babbling brook” and the “play and sing” was not included. Also, in Dr. Yarbrough’s version, the giant “went splat” rather than “came tumbling down” which I like much better and I’m sure as kids, it was much more fun for the giant to go splat.
  2. Wikipedia (#14 below), since July 2019, the Israel Nature & Parks Authority has stepped up to ensure that treats from development and possible shale oil extraction would be alleviated and the valley preserved.
  3. 1 Samuel 17, BibleHub.Com
  4. Dr. Mark Yarbrough – Dallas Theological Seminary
  5. Dr. Stephen J. Bramer – Dallas Theological Seminary.
  6. Valley of Elah from Google Maps
  7. Valley of Elah – Wikipedia

Want More?

ICYMI (In case you missed it) – Previous blogs in the Israel 2022 series:

Israel 2022: Pinch Yourself – April 4, 2022

Israel 2022: Caesarea Maritima – April 11, 2022

Israel 2022: Contested on Mount Carmel – April 20, 2022

Israel 2022: In This Valley – April 30, 2022

Israel 2022: Sea of Galilee – May 9, 2022

Israel 2022: A Very Old Boat – May 31, 2022

Israel 2022: A Blessing & A Curse – Capernaum – June 20, 2022

Grace

Grace BaptistI am sitting in the sanctuary at the church waiting. It is during that short break between Sunday School and the morning service. I usually take this time to check out the program for the day, the weekly announcements & birthdays and to place bits of paper in the hymnal marking the songs we’ll be singing during the service. As the noise levels around me would indicate, it’s a time for smiles and hugs and catching up on what’s been going on all week, greeting visitors, making them welcome, and doing all sorts of odds and ends that need to be done before the service gets started.

I sit quietly listening to the pleasant hum of all this activity while pondering the morning’s Sunday School lesson and wondering what topic the pastor will choose for today’s sermon. It’s Missionary Month and I read that today we’ll have a guest speaker from the Prison Missions Program.  Thinking of missionaries, I notice Eric chatting with Kim over on the “Hallelujah” side about the latest news he has received from Mlachivka. For the past ten years or so, he has led a missionary group over to this small community in the Ukraine to help out a church and an orphanage there. A staff housing building was lost in a fire recently and funds are being raised to try to help re-build it.  He is deep into details about buildings and children and already making plans for leading another team next summer.

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we you hungered, and fed you? or thirsty, and gave you drink? When saw we you a stranger, and took you in? or naked, and clothed you? Or when saw we you sick, or in prison, and came to you? And the King shall answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-39)

Little Kelly comes running up to Pastor Mark with something important to tell him. He sweeps her up into his arms…up to his level… and she chatters away, using every one of her ten fingers to emphasize the information that she needs to tell him…probably some wonderful thing she might have heard in Sunday school this morning that the Pastor should know.  Just as quickly as she arrived, she is out of his arms and chasing down the aisle after Sammy and Delia who are most assuredly trying not to see their mama’s stern look reminding them that it is time to settle down and find their seats for church. But they’re off…totally ignoring mom……streaking by the Pastor’s wife, Sarah, who comes in loaded down with two oversized tote bags filled to overflowing with pencils and crayons and books and construction paper and hand sanitizer and crackers and all the other bit and pieces she’ll need at one point or another throughout the day. Three more little ones trail behind her like wayward ducklings first going this way and that before heading to their seats up on the second row with the other kids where James is waiting patiently for them and handing out quarters and dimes so that they too will have coins for the offering plates. I find myself thinking about the special memories children will have who are raised in church…how all their lives they will remember the stories about Jesus being born and the verses they’ve memorized….. and they will know that overall feeling of acceptance that every father and mother, grandmother and grandfather, uncle and aunt in the whole congregation somehow also belonged to each of them.

“But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said to them, Suffer the little children to come to me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:14)

More and more people are starting to drift into the sanctuary and the noise level, though still pleasant, increases…..lots of talking and catching up going on today.  A rousing rendition of “Power in the Blood” is coming from Michele at the organ over on the “Hallelujah” side of the sanctuary. In the meantime, Marlene sits over by the piano over on the “Amen” side silently fingering the notes on her flute for the special song she will play for us right after the morning’s announcements. She studies the music sheet in front of her and nods her head in rhythm and as she mentally practices at getting everything just right. Karen moves past her and sits down at  the piano so she can spend just a few minutes going over the hymns for the songs the congregation will sing today. She stops for a moment to smile and wave at someone at the back and then gets right back to the task at hand. The music I hear provides a lovely backdrop to all the chaos and I find myself humming along as Michele changes to Because He Lives”.

“I will praise the LORD according to his righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the LORD most high.” (Psalm 7:17)

I see one of the deacons heading up front to check to make sure the offering plates are where they’re supposed to be. His wife stops by the communion table to straighten up the autumn floral arrangement making sure all the yellow, orange, and golden chrysanthemums are arranged just so and looking their best. Her hand lightly moves across the linen table runner pulling out any wrinkles and then settles on the open Bible to smooth down the pages that have curled up in the breeze of someone just passing by. She gives the flowers one last smoosh and heads back to her seat towards the back. She stops on the way to say hello and get hug from Inez who has made a double-sized batch of cranberry conserve for Thanksgiving dinner and is busy passing out pint-sized jars of the sweet tangy relish so that others might also enjoy it with their turkey and dressing this year.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…”  (Philippians 2:3-5)

Steve heads up towards the pulpit with a hymnal in hand and I know we must be very close to the time to get things started.  As I look around at all the activity going on, I am filled with thankfulness for this joy, this love, this congregation, and above all, the shared beliefs that have brought us together on this Sunday to this place. I bow my head and reach for that still quiet place deep down inside that I know will always be there and I whisper a little prayer that all these ordinary but wonderful things going on around me, all the chaos, all the noise, all the hugging and smiling and chattering…will always be the same and that we will always come together like this in thanksgiving to remember the gift that was given and the price that was paid. And I am thankful for this grace….this very ordinary but amazing grace.

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…..was blind but now I see.”

Notes:
  1. Victory in Jesus”, Words and Music by E.M. Bartlett, © 1939 – Administrated by Integrated Copyright Group, Inc., All rights reserved; Lyrics – http://www.popularhymns.com/victory_in_jesus.php
  2. Amazing Grace”; Words by John Newton; 1779; Music by Virginia Harmony; Lyrics – http://www.popularhymns.com/amazing_grace.php
  3. Because He Lives”; Songwriters – Matt Maher, Jason Ingram, Ed Cash, Chris Tomlin, Daniel Carson, Bill Gaither, Gloria Gaither; © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Essential Music Publishing, Capitol Christian Music Group;1971; Lyrics – http://jesus-is-savior.com/sounds/Hymns/because_he_lives.htm