by Omar C. Garcia
Posted from the Negev in Israel
Wow! What a day. It’s hard to explain, but being here has helped a lifetime of Bible study to come alive for me. We spent most of today hiking in the Shephelah and then made our way to the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the face of the earth. Shephelah is a Hebrew word that means “lowlands” or “foothills.” It is the area that separates the coastal plains to the west and the Mountains of Judea to the east. Perhaps the best-known thing that happened in the Shephelah was the battle between a young shepherd boy named David and a Philistine giant named Goliath. Here are a few of the things I thought about as we stood atop Azekah and surveyed the Valley of Elah where this famous battle was fought.
S = Strategic | The Shephelah was a strategic region that separated the pagan Philistines, who lived along the coastal plains, from the Israelites, who lived in the Mountains of Judea. This is the area where worldviews collided in the days of Samson (Judges 13-16), Saul (1 Samuel 17), and others. The Shephelah was the piece of real state where two cultures met – God’s people and the pagan Philistines. Whoever controlled this region shaped the culture of this part of the world. When you think about it, there is a Shephelah in each of our lives. And, whoever wins the battles fought there shapes our lives.
H = Helpless | The Shephelah is a place where we often feel helpless. The challenges are great and there seems to always be a giant to contend with. Goliath had defiantly taunted the Israelite army for forty days (1 Sam. 17:16). Forty is a number that represents testing in the Bible. Goliath’s psychological warfare was so effective that nobody wanted to face him. His imposing presence weakened the resolve of the Israelites and sent them scurrying for cover (1 Sam. 17:24). Who or what weakens your resolve, frightens you, and makes you feel helpless in your Shephelah?
E = Expectations | The Shephelah is a place where we can expect opposition, not just from the enemy, but from family and friends as well. Eliab, David’s oldest brother and a soldier in King Saul’s army, was angry with David for leaving the family’s few sheep to “come down only to watch the battle.” He called his little brother “conceited” (1 Sam. 17:28). Those who do not understand us may raise demoralizing objections and insults. However, like David, we must not lose heart.
P = Perspective | The Shephelah is a place where we can easily lose perspective. For forty days the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. …” (1 Sam. 17:25). Saul’s army referred to Goliath as “this man.” However, David referred to Goliath as “…this Philistine … this disgrace … this uncircumcised Philistine …” (1 Sam. 17:26). David’s perspective was entirely different. He saw the nine-foot-plus sized giant as an enemy that should be cut down to size. Ask God to help you keep things in proper perspective in your Shephelah. Don’t allow the giants to frighten you away. While the giants you face may be bigger than you, God is bigger than the giants.
H = Hero | The Shephelah is the place where heroes are made. Goliath was the Philistine’s champion but David became the Israelite’s hero. Had he returned home because of his oldest brother’s objections, this story might have had a different ending. What battles do you need to win in your Shephelah? How will the outcome of those battles change if you refuse to fight? Ask God to give you the courage to heroically face your giants and win the battle.
E = Equip | The Shephelah is a place where you must decide how you will fight. Saul tried to dress David in his armor (1 Sam. 17:38-39), which would have exposed David to greater danger because Saul’s armor did not fit him. David preferred to fight using only his sling and “five smooth stones” (1 Sam. 17:40). David intentionally “chose” the stones because something very great was at stake. This morning, we hiked to the stream where David had selected his stones and then selected our own stones. Looking out across the valley I tried to envision what David might have seen. I don’t know what battles you face in your Shephelah, but make sure you have the proper equipment.
L = Language | The Shephelah is a place where positions and intentions are defined. Goliath used language to define his position (1 Sam. 17:8-10) as well as his intentions (1 Sam. 17:43-44). He cursed David and threatened to feed his remains to the birds and beasts. David also used language to define his position and intentions (1 Sam. 17:46). Both Goliath and David knew what was at stake. What is at stake in your Shephelah? What will happen if you choose to act or to walk away and how will your decision impact you and the next generation?
A = Action | The Shephelah is a place of action. You cannot remain passive in the Shephelah and hope that things will get better. You have to take a stand and make a move. As Goliath moved to attack David, the young shepherd boy “ran quickly to the battle line to meet him” (1 Sam. 17:50). David trusted in God but was also prepared. I once heard someone say that success happens when preparation meets opportunity. Are you ready for action? Be prepared to take your stand and make your move in defense of what is worth fighting for in your Shephelah.
H = Honor | David’s actions honored God and inspired the troops. David revealed his motivation for facing Goliath. He wanted the whole world to “know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Sam. 17:46). David was not interested in making his own name famous. He was interested in God’s honor, in making God’s name famous. And, his actions inspired Saul’s demoralized troops. These once fearful soldiers “surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines” (1 Sam. 17:52). Just imagine what God might do through you if you will face the giants in your Shephelah.
We ended our day by floating in the Dead Sea. As my tired body bobbed effortlessly in the water, I could not help but think about shepherd boys and giants, mountains and valleys, and the difference one smooth stone in the hands of a determined individual can make. What’s going on in your Shephelah and what are you willing to do about it?