Iron of Culture
Azekah overlooks the Valley of Elah, a strategic passageway from Israel’s coastal plain, through the foothills, and into the Judean Mountains beyond.
Tel Azekah is a five-acre site overlooking the Valley of Elah%u2014the place where David killed Goliath. The Judea Mountains stand to the east. The Mediterranean Sea, located about twelve miles to the west, can be seen from the tel. Located in the Shephelah, Azekah guarded an important gateway to the mountains. The Valley of Elah provided access to Bethlehem, a mere twelve miles away, and Jerusalem. For that reason, the Philistines and other pagan cultures often tried to capture and hold Azekah.
Even the great empires of the east, Babylon and Assyria, used the Valley of Elah to enter the Shephelah. After traveling down the coastal plain and into the valley, Assyrian King Sennacherib destroyed Azekah. Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar also destroyed the city on his way to Jerusalem in 587 BC. Today, most of ancient Azekah lies buried. But the tel stands as a reminder that defense of the Shephelah was critical to the Israelites’ survival.
A Giant and a Shepard boy
Somewhere near Azekah, the famous battle of David and Goliath took place. As he confronted Goliath “a living symbol of evil” David showed the world the only true God.
Philistines and Israelites often battled for control of the Shephelah. The Bible records numerous fights between them, particularly during the time of the judges and King Saul.
A famous confrontation between Philistia and Israel%u2014the battle of David and Goliath%u2014took place in the Elah Valley during the reign of King Saul. Both armies faced each other somewhere near Azekah. And Goliath, a giant Philistine warrior, taunted the Israelites every day for forty days (1 Sam. 17:16).
The scriptures describe Goliath in detail (1 Sam. 17:4-7). He stood over 6 cubits tall (over nine feet), carried a spear shaft weighing 600 shekels (about 15 pounds), and his scaled armor weighed 5,000 shekels (6,000 in some translations, about 125 pounds).
To the Hebrew reader, this description told of more than Goliath’s size. Many scholars believe the repeated use of number six clearly identified Goliath with evil. And by describing his armor as “scaled,” the writer compared Goliath to the serpent, Satan, who tempted Adam and Eve.
By contrast, David was an insignificant shepherd boy, herding sheep in the wilderness near Bethlehem. Shepherd boys were very young at that time, and David was probably only eight or ten years old. But despite his lack of strength and weapons, David had an unshakable faith in God.
Goliath’s Iron Advantage
Coming into battle, Goliath and the Philistines had a tremendous technological advantage; the use of iron. By contrast, only two of Israel’s soldiers had a sword or a spear.
Coming into battle with Israel, Goliath and the Philistines had a tremendous technological advantage%u2014the use of iron.
Goliath was equipped with the latest weapons. He carried a sword, a javelin, an iron-tipped spear, and wore a suit of armor. His people were iron-working masters, an ability that allowed their culture to dominate the area in warfare, material prosperity, commerce, and other areas of technology as well.
It is likely that the Philistines introduced iron-making to the Middle East. But instead of sharing their iron-making secrets, they used their technology as an advantage in battle.
The Israelites, on the other hand, didn?t know how to work with iron. In fact, the Bible says, “Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel”(1 Sam. 13:19). The Israelites couldn’t even sharpen their own tools; they had to bring them to Philistine blacksmiths and pay high prices.
On the day of David and Goliath’s battle, only two Israelite soldiers%u2014King Saul and Jonathan%u2014possessed a sword or a spear (1 Sam. 13:22). It is no wonder that the Israelite soldiers would not come forward to answer Goliath’s jeers.
David’s Godly Advantage
Humanly speaking, David had little to offer. But he did what shepherd boys were equipped to do; threw a rock, and because he did it for God, he triumphed over Goliath.
As David walked toward Goliath, he had no sword or spear. He couldn’t even wear King Saul’s armor because it was too large for his small body. Humanly speaking, this little boy had little to offer the Israelite army.
But David still had an amazing advantage over the powerful Philistines. He had a powerful faith in God. And he also had a correct motive for entering battle;so that “the whole world would know there is a God in Israel” (1 Sam. 17:46).
After proclaiming his faith in God before the giant Philistine, David did something he was gifted to do: He threw a rock. As a shepherd boy, David had probably hurled rocks from his slingshot hundreds of times. This time, David’s stone knocked the giant to the ground and allowed him to kill Goliath.
David “who had little to offer from a human perspective” simply did what he was gifted to do. And because he did it for the right reason, God gave him the advantage over evil.
Iron in Israel
Seizing the technology of his day, King David used iron to expand Israel’s borders and their witness to God
After triumphing against Goliath and going on to win other battles against the Philistines, David’s popularity grew. King Saul became jealous and violent, so David and his men fled.
David knew that he must remain well hidden. So he carefully thought out a plan: “The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel?” (1 Sam. 27:1).
David and his men fled to Achish, the Philistine king of Gath. And because they found favor with him, Achish gave David the Philistine city of Ziklag.
Years later, at about the time David became king of Israel, the Israelites learned to work iron and thus became the dominant culture in the region (2 Sam. 5:17-25). After the advantage of iron was taken away from them, the Philistines lost power and influence over the land.
It is possible that David uncovered the Philistine secret of iron technology while living with the Philistines. But even if he wasn’t responsible for actually bringing iron technology to Israel, it is clear that King David used it to advance their witness to God.
Law, education, politics, entertainment;if we combine these tools with our God-given gifts, there’s no telling what impact Christians can make for God.
In today’s world, sin and godlessness seem like a giant Goliath%u2014impossible to defeat. And some Christians are so scared or cynical that they withdraw from the world altogether.
But Christians shouldn’t run away from the battle. We have a God that can use anyone-even those who seem insignificant and weak; to defeat giants. He asks each of us to use our particular gifts and skills, no matter how simple or advanced they may be, to influence culture for him.
God also challenges us to use every resource available, including the tools and technology of our culture, to impact our world. Like Israel, we may win occasional battles without “iron.” But as long as cultural advancements are guided by nonbelievers, secular values will dominate in the culture “war.”
Law, education, music, politics, the Internet; these are just a few of today’s “irons.” If Christians will seize these tools and combine them with their unique God-given gifts, there’s no telling what kind of mark we can make on our world.
What kind of iron will you take hold of?
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