Thursday, September 23, 2010

Goliath ©


Remember the story of Sleepy Hollow?  In Washington Irving's legend, Ichabod Crane, a schoolteacher was wooing the belle of a small New England community...but so was another man.  In their community there was a legend about a headless horseman who rode around the countryside at night.  Ichabod's rival for the affections of this young woman dressed up as the fabled ghost and late one night lay in wait for Ichabod. As Ichabod rode by, the headless horseman gave pursuit.  Poor Ichabod was so frightened he spurred his horse and was never seen again.  If only he'd turned and faced the object of his fear rather than fleeing in panic, he would have discovered the truth.

If fear is allowed to have full reign, it can disable a person physically.  Panic is an admission of powerlessness...and this is where the people of God found themselves in I Samuel 17.

In this passage Saul is still the king of Israel, but David has already been anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next King. Saul has been disobedient to direct instructions from God.  They were clear, understandable instructions and easily accomplished.  Saul simply decided to do it his God rejected him.

David is an interesting replacement.  Even Samuel the prophet of God was a little surprised.  He was sent to Jesse's household to select the next King.  Jesse brought forth his eldest son and Samuel was very impressed, "Here's my man," he thought.

God spoke an important lesson at that moment.  He reminded Samuel that the human way is to evaluate by appearances.  People still measure their leaders by their physical attractiveness, by their size, their social rank, and the value of their monetary worth.

God measures the heart.  Unfortunately, when men value the wrong things it becomes detestable to God.  Jesus said in Luke 16:15, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.  What is highly valued among men (money) is detestable in God's sight."  Detestable is a strong word.

This "reverse value system" is what Jesus was trying to get across when he made a comment that so often seemed like a mystery without a key: "The one who is first will be last and the one who is last will be first."  If you try to apply that when you are standing in line at a buffet it does not make sense. It has more to do with values and priorities than a place in line.  More often than not, what we think is very important is last place on God's priority list...and the issues of high priority to God are of little concern to us!

Even David's father saw only minimal value in "the runt of the family."  He gave David the servant's job when a  VIP was in the house.  Unstated but culturally implied: "Samuel is coming for the most important feast of our life. David, you go take care of the chores so that your brothers can be here for the big event."  Even Jesse missed the God stuff going on in David's heart.

Heart transformation is of ultimate concern to God.  What does God see in your heart that the rest of us have missed?  The prophet Jeremiah said the human heart is "desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9).  But Peter spoke of hearts that had been "purified by faith" (Acts 15:9).  That is a wide open field for your heart to find a home in...and with the importance of a pure heart so high on God's priorities, it makes sense to connect up with a church family that prioritizes growth in Christ's likeness as its top goal.

We get a glimpse into David's heart when we hear the account of how he chased down a lion and a bear to lamb.  Where did he learn the value of one lamb?  Where did he find the courage to tackle a lion?  Somewhere in the hills of Bethlehem David was learning to trust God and love the things that mattered to God.

Faith is a battlefield.  Should I trust God, depend on my own abilities, or just run screaming into the night like Ichabod?  Flesh and blood can not overcome the devil.  Goliath is not the devil, but the devil used him to rattle the faith of the people of God.  To an outside observer, this could be a humorous scene.  For 40 consecutive days this giant comes out and hurls insults at Israel...and the men respond by running back to their tents and crawling under their beds.

The number 40 appears frequently as a period of testing: the flood rains lasted 40 days and nights, there were 40 years of wandering, and 40 days of temptation.  These 40 days for Saul's army made it easy for everyone to see the impotence of the King and his army.  By the way, where was Saul every morning and evening?  Where was Abner?  For that matter, where was David's older brother?  He could've collected the reward of wealth, the king's daughter, and tax exemption.  Of course you have to live through the battles to collect the rewards.

Another question worth considering is, in the mind of Saul and these other men, "Where is God?"  They are, after all,God's covenant people.  Why did these men feel they were on their own?

Somehow this "runt of the family" had learned that God's resources were available by faith.  Somewhere in his own wilderness, David had learned to walk with God.  Chapter 16 indicates that David was already well known as a poet/musician.  Perhaps Psalm 23 comes from this period in his life.  With the Lord as his shepherd, he learned to face the lion and the bear.  Goliath was not his first test of faith.

This does not take away from the powerful presence of God in this scene.  Technically this story is not a miracle story.  Next weeks is a textbook illustration of a from a clear blue sky.  What happened in this David and Goliath story is more what happens to people of faith on a regular basis.  God providentially involves Himself in and through the person of faith to accomplish a great feat.  Of course the involvement of God is much more obvious because it is a boy defeating the giant, not Samson!  Even so, a committed unbeliever (cynic) watching the battle, could say that, "David lucked out!" A normal person with the least bit of objectivity, though, will recognize that God powerfully blessed David's confidence in Him.

When the battle between David and Goliath was over, the men of Israel recognized that once again they were on God's side.  God had come to their rescue!  David's faith in God became contagious in the reverse way that Goliath's panic had caused before he lost his head.

One of the reasons that God allows adversity into our lives is to teach us to depend on His resources instead of our own.  Panic can serve as a reminder that we have recognized our resources are depleted, but that we have not yet turned to God.  Panic is a spiritual's time to wake up.

From God's perspective and for our character growth, it is more important to experience the power of His Spirit than to live in a neighborhood without a single giant.  Do you have any lions or bears in your resume of faith?  God is looking for people who would be willing to tackle some Goliaths and take on the challenges over our heads.

All this is to say that God is far more interested in you developing the quality of dependence on Him than confidence in your natural abilities.  No matter who you are, your natural abilities have limits.  Eventually, you will get in over your head, but be without God.  A Goliath will show up and in your panic he will kill you, or chase you under your bed.

The way you and I live is in direct correlation to the size we see God.  Are you convinced that you are safe (whether you live or die) in the hands of a fully competent, all knowing, always present God?

I'm not suggesting that you start playing with loaded guns or sharp sticks, I'm not saying you should only look one way when you cross the street or stop wearing your seat belt.  What the Bible is saying is that when giants of adversity attack, we can face them depending on God.  In the mean time, in order to prepare, His word tells us how to behave so that our character is strong enough to face giants.  For example, don't be mean, be honest, stick up for the disadvantaged, love your neighbor.  That is a lot to work on in one week...maybe you could start with trying not to be mean.  Don't use your mean face to get your way!

The Bible also tells us that the struggle or battle belongs to the Lord.  If you are fighting "for Goliath" then you can expect to lose your head, at least.  But as a follower of Jesus, whether you live or die, you will win.  And some of us, just by crawling out from under our beds and getting into the struggle of holiness and evil will win some gigantic victories.  I know this because, "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.  God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27)."

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