No doubt about it words are powerful. They can invigorate, refresh, fortify, defame, wound or destroy. And that’s just a beginning list.
Recently I was stunned by the power of words in a passage that I usually think of in terms of high action: David and Goliath (I Samuel 17). When I think of the David and Goliath incident, I think ACTION. I think stones and slings and spears and shields. I think of manly arts, of a hairy giant and a muscular lad. But have I overlooked a more significant element: the power of words?
You know the story: two armies are gathered for battle, the Philistine army on one mountain and Israel’s army on the opposing mountain. Every morning and evening, Goliath, the Philistine champion, struts into the valley and bellows, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we might fight together.” Goliath issues the challenge over and over: “Send out a man to fight me. If he kills me, we will be your servants. If I kill him, you will be our servants.” The terrible timber of these words travel through the Israeli army and men go weak in the knees. Words alone terrorize and immobilize.
Sent by his father to check on the welfare of his brothers, David, the youngest son of Jesse, comes to the encampment. When Goliath swaggers out again and issues his arrogant challenge, David is puzzled and deeply troubled. God is dishonored—and the armies of the living God do nothing.
David circulates through the ranks of the army talking with the men, sizing up the situation. The soldiers verbalize the challenge, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.”
David identifies the core issue in his own mind: God’s honor is at stake.“For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
David speaks these words to others, but the words fire his own soul. David listens to Goliath’s words. He listens to the assessment of the soldiers. He listens to his own words. The issue becomes clear and his soul is roused.
So far, everything is just words. But evidently David’s words are strung through with such power and conviction that he is brought to King Saul. It is on the resume of words that David goes into battle with a giant.
Finally, he speaks words to Goliath, words that ring out to the armies of Satan and to the armies of God.
“You come to me me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to 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, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hand.”
I think of the power of words. Goliath spoke the same words morning and evening. Repeated words burrow deep. It seems David was repeating words, too. Goliath’s words dishonored God; David’s words elevated God’s honor. Words can emasculate or invigorate. Words can dismay or stir faith and courage. David’s words, uttered as he moved among the army, it seems, moved him more than them. Others repeated David’s words to Saul and brought him into the king’s presence. Do you sense as I do that the battle was won before David’s stone ever felled the giant? I hear David’s words and know victory.
Father, I live in a world that seems more and more hostile to You. Help me to “walk among the troops” as David did, seeking to understand what’s going on. Help me to weigh, sift, and seek to clarify the issues in terms of Your glory and purposes. Please help me to choose words that ennoble and enable some action for Your glory.
What worthy words are you repeating? Live the mystery.