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Overcomer: Finding New Strength in Claiming God's Promises
by David Jeremiah
Learn More | Meet David Jeremiah
You 'd have to search long and hard to find a more unlikely hero than Desmond Doss, the real-life subject of the 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge. And you 'd be equally hard-pressed to find a better representative for the theme of this book: how to live as an Overcomer.
Born in Virginia in 1919 to working-class parents, Doss volunteered for the army during World War II. Due to his deep religious conviction that God had called him to never carry a weapon, he trained as a medic and was assigned to a rifle company.
Imagine refusing to carry a weapon yet being determined to go to war! Doss 's convictions earned him ridicule, abuse, and contempt from his fellow soldiers and disdain from his superiors, but he never wavered. Terry Benedict, who filmed a documentary about Doss in 2004, said, "He just didn 't fit into the Army 's model of what a good soldier would be."
But all that changed in April 1945, when Doss 's company fought the Battle of Okinawa, the bloodiest battle of the Pacific war. The key to winning Okinawa was gaining a Japanese stronghold atop a four-hundred-foot sheer cliff the Americans called Hacksaw Ridge. A bloody battle raged, but the Japanese held their ground. Finally, Doss 's battalion was ordered to retreat.
But Doss could see American bodies strewn across the field, and he knew there were wounded among them. He stayed behind and, with machine gun and artillery fire bursting around him, ran repeatedly into the kill zone, carrying wounded GIs to the edge of the cliff and singlehandedly lowering them to safety in a makeshift rope gurney.
For twelve hours, he repeated this grueling task until he was sure no wounded American was left on the escarpment. By the time he finally left the ridge, Desmond Doss had saved the lives of seventy-five men!
Days later, the Americans took Hacksaw Ridge while Doss lay wounded in a base hospital. When his commanding officer brought him the precious charred and soggy Bible he 'd lost in the initial assault, he was told every able man in the company — the same men who once ridiculed him for his faith — had insisted on searching for his Bible until it was found.
For his incredible feat, Doss was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Years later, he was asked how he found the strength to continue that night. His answer was simple. Each time he finished lowering another wounded man to safety down the cliff, he prayed, "Lord, just help me get one more."
As Desmond Doss discovered, overcoming is a spiritual issue. But the idea of "overcoming" also has a military meaning: to conquer. As members of God 's kingdom, we 're called to conquer the barriers between who we are and who God wants us to be. Our goal is to "come over" from where we are today, and to flourish as the person God made us to be.
The obstacles we must overcome fall into three main categories: sin, the world, and the devil. Our own sinful nature is an obstacle; the temptations of the world are an obstacle; and the devil himself is an obstacle. Thankfully, in each case, God has equipped us to overcome every barrier in our path, as we 'll discover starting in chapter 2.
In my estimation, David is the Old Testament 's greatest Overcomer, and he is the poster child for the lessons we are about to learn. David fought a lot of battles during his life, but it 's his first we all remember best — the day he defeated the giant Goliath.
In this first chapter of Overcomer, I invite you to take a fresh look at this well-known story. Listen to it as if you 'd never heard it before, because I will use it to help you understand what it means to be an Overcomer. As you learn how David found the strength and courage to face down his giant, you 'll discover how to overcome the challenges in your own life.
THE OVERCOMER 'S CHALLENGE
In Israel today, there 's a place where a deep ravine lies between two tall hills. This is believed to be the site where the battle between David and Goliath occurred.
On one hill was the army of Israel. On the other was the army of the Philistines. Down in the valley between them was a plain about one hundred yards wide — the length of a modern football field.
In the middle of that plain, between these two armies, stood a huge man named Goliath. And from the side of the Israelites came a teenage boy named David.
The story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 is not just a story about a boy fighting a giant. It 's the conflict of the ages. It 's the story of the battle that 's raged since Satan first rebelled against God. The story of good versus evil; the challenge to the living God by the devil and his forces.
But first, how did these two unlikely opponents get there?
Let 's start with Goliath.
The Bible specifically calls Goliath the champion of the Philistines and tells us he came from Gath, a well-known Old Testament city. Gath is the place the spies referred to when they returned to Moses with an evil report about the promised land. It was in Gath, according to the unbelieving spies, that giants existed — giants so huge that next to them they felt like grasshoppers.
One scholar claims that the portrayal of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 is the most detailed physical description of any man found in Scripture.
THE SIZE OF GOLIATH
"And a champion went out from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span" (1 Sam. 17:4).
During a time when the average man 's height was about five feet tall, the measurements of Goliath are astounding. He stood "six cubits and a span," which means he was somewhere between nine foot six and nine foot nine.
That would make him at least two feet taller than the biggest players in professional basketball. And more than a foot taller than the tallest human alive today, Sultan Kösen, who measures eight feet three inches tall. But Goliath wasn 't just tall and skinny. He was a huge man who probably weighed between four and five hundred pounds.
THE SIGHT OF GOLIATH
In his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, author Malcolm Gladwell describes Goliath 's armor in detail:
To protect himself against blows to the body, he wore an elaborate tunic made up of hundreds of overlapping bronze fishlike scales. It covered his arms and reached to his knees and probably weighed more than a hundred pounds. He had bronze shin guards protecting his legs, with attached bronze plates covering his feet. He wore a heavy metal helmet. He had three separate weapons, all optimized for close combat. He held a thrusting javelin made entirely of bronze, which was capable of penetrating a shield or even armor. He had a sword on his hip. And as his primary option, he carried a special kind of short-range spear with a metal shaft as "thick as a weaver 's beam." ...
Can you see why no Israelite would come forward to fight Goliath?
To make matters worse, Goliath did not offer a one-time threat. Oh no. He came twice a day for six weeks, standing in the valley and shouting out his challenge every morning and every night.
THE SHOUT OF GOLIATH
Imagine this unnatural, huge beast of a man stomping to the middle of the plain in front of you and bellowing threats.
Then [Goliath] stood and cried out to the armies of Israel, and said to them, "Why have you come out to line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us." And the Philistine said, "I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together." (vv. 8–10)
What does the voice of a man the size of Goliath sound like? A bellow to shake your soul, is what I imagine. A sound to strike terror into the hearts of the Israelites, as if his size hadn 't already done that. He roared loud enough to be heard on both sides of a plain the size of football field, demanding that one man, just one, come and face him in single combat.
And not one man among the Israelites could bring himself to answer.
Single combat was a common practice in the ancient world. Rather than wipe out the enemy and lose all those potential servants, the Philistines preferred to settle their fights economically. Each side sent one man to fight, and those two men fought to the death. The winner 's nation was declared victorious.
The loser 's nation was enslaved, brutalized, and worse.
Who can blame the Israelites for not responding to Goliath 's invitation? Their choice was certain death or certain slavery, and they all understood this. Who among us, doubting our skill and strength, lacking the power of the Lord, would want to be the man who faced that fate?
THE OVERCOMER 'S CHARACTER
It was going to take some kind of warrior to confront Goliath. No one in King Saul 's army was prepared to accept the job. But then, here came David.
David was the youngest of Jesse 's eight sons. Although he had been anointed by the prophet Samuel as the next king of Israel, his time to rule had not yet come and he was still home with his family. Meanwhile, his three older brothers had followed Saul to the battle.
One day Jesse told David to go and check on his brothers, and to take them and their captain provisions. A wise father, Jesse not only wanted to ensure his sons had food, but also that their captain viewed them favorably. And, like any concerned father, he wanted news of how they were doing: "See how your brothers fare, and bring back news of them" (v. 18).
When his father sent him on this errand, it must have been thrilling for the boy to run off and see the armies. But, as excited as he was, he did something significant before he left that morning. He tended to his responsibilities and made sure someone would be caring for the sheep (v. 20).
That 's an important point, a small but telling character trait. Overcomers concentrate on details that go unnoticed by others. They do what needs to be done, even when no one is watching.
THE CONVICTION OF DAVID
When David got to the camp, he dutifully found the supply master and gave him the supplies he 'd brought. Then he ran to the army and greeted his brothers. As they were talking, Goliath strode out on the field below and shouted his challenge.
David seemed shocked that no one answered. He asked the men around him, "What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel?" (v. 26). The soldiers answered that the king would give that man great riches, his daughter in marriage, and exempt his father 's house from taxes.
That was quite an incentive.
While it was hard for David to understand why no one had taken up the call to defend Israel, it was even more appalling to David that Saul had not risen to the challenge himself. Saul stood head and shoulders above all his soldiers, and he was their king; he should have been the one to respond to Goliath 's threat in the full power and strength of the Lord.
But Saul 's relationship with God had deteriorated so much that he was operating in the flesh. He 'd lost his ability to trust in the Living God.
So David volunteered!
THE COURAGE OF DAVID
Before David declared he would fight Goliath, something happened that reveals the human side of overcoming — a side that hasn 't changed since biblical times. When David 's oldest brother, Eliab, heard him asking about the reward, he was furious.
"Why did you come down here?" Eliab demanded. "And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle" (v. 28).
David responded, "What have I done now? Is there not a cause?" (v. 29).
This was a brilliant answer. David both deflected Eliab 's anger and brought the focus back to the matter at hand. "Don 't be angry at me," he basically said. "Isn 't there something more important for us to be thinking about?"
When a man or woman decides to be a champion for God, they set themselves up for a lot of heat and criticism. But like David, we can stand firm in our convictions when we are following the Lord and His calling.
THE CONFIDENCE OF DAVID
Then David declared that he would fight Goliath. Imagine the response! There must have been derision, laughter, and disbelief slowly turning to consternation and anger. Or would there have been awe? Surely some of the soldiers felt dread — both for the terrible fate this boy would face and for themselves, with what seemed to be their inevitable fate finally at hand.
When Saul heard of it, he summoned David. At first he tried to talk the boy out of it, reminding David of his youth and inexperience, and that Goliath was an experienced and trained warrior — "a man of war from his youth" (v. 33).
But David was steadfast. He knew his power was in the Lord. His courage was truly a product of his faith in God. Without God, David was powerless against that giant; but with God, he could overcome the fiercest man alive.
Unable to talk David out of the battle, Saul offered him his armor. But when David put it on, he couldn 't walk. So, he took it all off. It was the king 's own royal armor, surely the best in the whole army, but David knew he shouldn 't wear it. If he couldn 't walk, how could he fight?
THE OVERCOMER 'S CONQUEST
Let 's stop here and note that the three terms describing Goliath are all physical: size, sight, and shout. But the three terms describing David are all spiritual: conviction, courage, and confidence.
This is a key observation as we witness what happens next.
DAVID 'S SLING
David headed for the plain. On the way, he stopped in a brook, gathered five smooth stones, and put them in his shepherd 's pouch. With a sling in his hand, he approached Goliath.
It 's worth taking a moment to understand the importance of the sling in biblical times:
Ancient armies had three kinds of warriors. The first was cavalry — armed men on horseback or in chariots. The second was infantry — foot soldiers wearing armor and carrying swords and shields. The third were projectile warriors, or what today would be called artillery: archers and, most important, slingers. Slingers had a leather pouch attached on two sides by a long strand of rope. They would put a rock or a lead ball into the pouch, swing it around in increasingly wider and faster circles, and then release one end of the rope, hurling the rock forward.
Slinging took an extraordinary amount of skill and practice. But in experienced hands, the sling was a devastating weapon. ... In the Old Testament Book of Judges, slingers are described as being accurate within a "hair 's breadth." An experienced slinger could kill or seriously injure a target at a distance of up to two hundred yards. ... Imagine standing in front of a Major League Baseball pitcher as he aims a baseball at your head. That 's what facing a slinger was like — only what was being thrown was not a ball of cork and leather but a solid rock.
DAVID 'S STRATEGY
When Goliath saw David, he was insulted, even outraged.
"Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" he said, and cursed David by his gods, probably using the name of Dagon, whom David knew to be a false god. This was an insult to the Living God of David.
Then Goliath goaded the boy even more. "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!" (vv. 43–44).
Imagine what Goliath must have thought. He 'd been coming to that valley every day for six weeks, waiting for somebody brave enough to meet him in battle, and all he ever saw were Israel 's terrified soldiers. Then he saw a boy with no armor, no shield, and no sword.
Verse 42 says that Goliath "disdained" David, which literally means "he curled his lip."
You come to me with a sword, 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 and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord 's, and He will give you into our hands. (vv. 45–47)
This was the moment of truth. David had just infuriated the biggest bully on the block, and if God wasn 't who David said He was, David would be history. David purposely intimidated Goliath, and in doing so set himself up to win the battle.
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