In my last post, we looked at the Hebrews as they stood outside of the Promised Land and saw (real or imaginary) giants who threatened their entry. In this post, I want to take a look at two times when Israel faced giants, and make a few observations about how they handled the challenges that were before them.
Our first giant has one of the best names in scripture. This giant is the king of Bashan, Og. (I told you it was a great name!).
I’m not sure if you’re technically supposed to say his name, or if it’s really more of a grunt – but I do know that Og was one of the obstacles the Hebrews faced in the wilderness. We read about him in Numbers 21:31-35
31 Israel settled in the land of the Amorites. 32 Moses sent spies to Jazer. They captured its villages and took possession of the Amorites who were there. 33 Then they turned and ascended the road of Bashan. Og, Bashan’s king, came out at Edrei to meet them in battle, he and all his people. 34 The Lord said to Moses: Don’t be afraid of him, for I have handed over all his people and his land. Do to him as you did to Sihon the Amorite king who ruled in Heshbon.
35 They slaughtered Og, his sons, and all his people until there were no survivors. Then they took possession of his land.
That’s not a lot to go on, is it? Numbers doesn’t have much to say about Og. He was Bashan’s king, the Hebrews defeated him, and that’s pretty much the end of the story. But Og becomes more interesting when we read Deuteronomy’s account of the story. In Deuteronomy 3:11, we read that Og happened to be a really big guy. We’re told that his bed was made of iron (read: reinforced!) and the dimensions of the bed were 13 ½ feet long by 6 feet wide.
For reference, Og is roughly twice the height of an NBA player. Unless you imagine that he rolled around in his sleep, 6 feet wide is 2-3 times the width of an average person’s shoulders.
That’s a lot of Og.
But remember – the book of Numbers doesn’t even mention his size. And when Deuteronomy mentions it, it’s an after-thought (it literally starts with the words by the way – his size certainly isn’t the focus of the passage!). Take a look at the passage where Og is described, which is right after the defeat of Og and his army:
“11 By the way, Bashan’s King Og was the last of the Rephaim. His bed was made of iron. Isn’t it still in the Ammonite town of Rabbah? By standard measurements, it was thirteen and a half feet long and six feet wide.”
So Israel stood before an army led by a giant, defeated them on God’s promise that they would be okay, and hardly gave a second thought to the fact that King Og of Bashan was enormous.
Where does that strength come from? It comes from trust. It comes from perspective. It comes from faith in the God of Israel. Most of all, it comes from focusing our attention in the right place.
If we turn forward a few pages in our Bible we come to another giant; Scripture’s most famous giant: Goliath. Goliath is described in 1 Samuel 17. Unlike Og, this account begins with a description of the giant.
4 A champion named Goliath from Gath came out from the Philistine camp. He was more than nine feet tall. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore bronze scale-armor weighing one hundred twenty-five pounds. 6 He had bronze plates on his shins, and a bronze scimitar hung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was as strong as the bar on a weaver’s loom, and its iron head weighed fifteen pounds. His shield-bearer walked in front of him.
And he shouts at the Israelites “I am the Philistine champion!” He shouts threats and insults and mocks Israel. For 40 days, he dared the Israelites to fight him! But the people were terrified of Goliath.
Goliath cursed their God, and the people were frozen in fear.
Now keep in mind – Goliath is a whole lot smaller than Og. Goliath is a mere 9 feet tall, compared to Og’s 13 ½ feet! And the promise of God that he would keep Israel has not changed. What has changed?
Israel has lost perspective. Israel has lost trust. The giant of Bashan was an afterthought – the promise of God had their attention. But the giant of the Philistines pulled their attention from the promise of God.
When Israel faced a larger giant, their eyes were on God. But when they faced a smaller giant, their eyes were on the giant. And they were terrified.
While the Israelite soldiers were shaking in fear, a child whose trust was in God defeated Goliath with a sling and stone.
In 2017, it’s hard for us to imagine giants. When we think of giants, we probably think of magic beans and beanstalks. But it’s hard to deny that all of us face giants from time to time.
We all face difficult situations. We all wrestle with how to navigate impossible options. There’s stress at work, or there’s stress at home, or both. Some of us have or will hear a medical diagnosis that we have feared. Some of us look at the political landscape of our nation and are filled with fear and anxiety. Some of us wrestle with how to care for elderly family, or how to pay the next bill, or how to manage stressful relationships. Regardless of what your giant is, your well-being will be greatly affected by where you place your focus.
If your focus is on the giant, it will seem larger than it is. You will stand before it and feel like a grasshopper.
But if your focus is on God, you will begin to discern how he is working in and through the obstacles and challenges you face. You will see him working provisionally, and you will also see him working to bring about redemption.
And of course, all of this points to Christ. When humankind was faced with a giant it could not overcome, God worked for the ultimate provision. Because when humankind was lost to the brokenness of sin and death, Jesus took death upon himself, claiming victory over all forces of death and darkness, and making provision for life. No giant has ever towered so high, nor fallen so hard. Death itself, which was once believed to be the final word in the human story, was unexpectedly undermined through the humble but prevailing power of self-sacrificial love.
The world still has its eyes focused on death, believing the lie that death remains victorious. But you, Christian, must focus your eyes on the truth of Christ. Only then will you know victory! Only then will you share in the proclamations of the early church: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”