Right Over Power

1 Samuel 17:32-49

 

Remember, last time we gathered together, the Hebrew people were demanding that Samuel find them a king. And he did. And that king was Saul. Saul was young and strong and well liked. He appeared a good choice. God told Samuel to choose Saul and give the people their king. Samuel wasn’t happy about it. Neither was God. But God finally gave in to the people and gave them what they wanted …

And not surprisingly Saul wasn’t working out. He needed to be in control. He would listen to Samuel and understand the directions he was receiving from God. He would try to follow through. But when God – or Samuel – was not moving along fast enough or Saul had some other idea, he would take matters into his own hands and deviate from God’s instructions. God eventually reached the point of rejecting Saul. Samuel was given no more instructions for Saul.

Quietly God sent Samuel to Jesse’s house and there God revealed that his son, David is to be the next king. David was the youngest – a teenager. His older brothers were rejected. Quietly Samuel anointed him King – and David returned to keeping his father’s sheep.

But now as our story opens Saul and the Philistines are at war. The two armies are facing off across a valley. The Philistines are on one ridge and the Hebrews on the ridge across the valley from them. Saul’s army is facing a powerful, well-equipped army. The Philistines were “technological” superior to the Hebrews. They used iron weapons and the Hebrews had only the old bronze weapons.

Saul was looking at a very likely defeat … possibly a final defeat. A defeat would not only be military, but cultural. Without establishing their culture as viable, it was only a matter of time before the Hebrew people would be absorbed into the Canaanite culture.

Saul was alone in his leadership. God had forsaken him … and therefore Samuel had forsaken him. But God did not forsake the unruly and oft times ungrateful Hebrews. God had anointed David as king to eventually replace Saul.

Now Saul suffered from some sort of emotional or mental problem. He would fly into horrendous fits. Finally, his servants suggested that music may sooth him through the fits – the first documentation of music therapy. Saul agreed to this. One of his servants had heard that a young shepherd, named David, a son of Jesse, was a great musician. And so David arrives in Saul’s camp, where three of his own brothers were fighting in Saul’s army. His music soothed Saul and Saul came to be dependent on David’s music.

We don’t know much about how the Philistine army was ordered. We do not know to what extent it was a professional army or army gathered from the local people to wage a specific battle. But apparently they were concerned for their own survival as well as victory. The ordinary soldier would be happy if he didn’t have to fight.

So it was an advantage to have Goliath. Maybe he could win the war for them and they could just go home. Goliath was strength and a bully and huge and very hard to ignore. And he was very well armed with a powerful spear and protected by armor from his legs to his head. He steps out and challenges the Hebrews. This was to be a battle of honor … could the Hebrews find his match. He was also a good excuse for not starting the real battle  -- a battle that the leaders of neither side seemed anxious to begin.

But there was no one among the Hebrews willing to fight him. Day after day, Goliath came out and the battle was postponed. But it could be postponed for only so long … after all if the Hebrews were not willing to send a champion to fight Goliath, then they would have to be destroyed … or at least enslaved … in battle. These strange people with their invisible God had brought too much disruption to the Canaanite culture. It was time to get rid of them one way or the other.

Then David, who was not a soldier, decided he would challenge Goliath. He was different from the soldiers. They were afraid of Goliath. They could only see strength against strength, weapon against weapon. Saul and his troops, as I reported last time, had succumbed to much of the Canaanite religion and culture. The gods of the local pagan religion were cold and brutal and warlike. A warrior was in favor of a god if he were strong, powerful, and a mighty warrior. Such attributes made him a good candidate to defeat the god’s enemies. The god would endow him with the power to control all of the people around him so to keep order in the name of the god. Power and control were the fundamental and basic abilities of a leader.

And after generations, the Hebrews had also begun to adopt this same belief. Saul needed to be in control … and that’s how he lost favor with God. God doesn’t require us to be in control. Indeed God usually will undermine our control. And though Samuel repeatedly warned Saul to be patient with God and follow God, Saul had to be in control. And now he was trapped: he was on his own to defeat the Philistines. His control needs had in fact put him in a position of being out of control.

But David had not yet succumbed to this belief and this need to control. His faith in God was strong and he sensed he was called to do God’s work, not his own. So he saw in Goliath not a mighty undefeatable warrior, but a sad, overblown bully… with no real weapon and new real armor … for he was not with God. David’s faith was in God who was his weapon and his armor… something that Saul had lost along the way.

And because David trusted in God’s presence and support, he was not terrorized by Goliath. He could see clearly what needed to be done – something simple that no one else could see through the fog of war and fear. … And he defeated Goliath so fast that I suspect it took a moment for the armies to have seen what happened.

 

But there is a conflict in this story, a deep conflict with our beliefs as followers of Jesus.  We have to ask what would Jesus do in this situation?  What if God sent Jesus instead of David to fight Goliath?

These questions in some ways are unfair. It’s always been hard to reconcile the wars and violence sanctioned by God in the Hebrew scriptures with the nonviolent and sacrificial teachings and life of Jesus. They are diametrically opposed and trying to understand why God condoned such terrible violence and indeed at times demanded it with the sacrifice of Jesus in the Gospels is almost impossible.

What we do know is that the Law God gave to the Hebrews contained many revolutionary expectations. As I mentioned previously, the Hebrews were expected to welcome the stranger among them and to care for the least among them. They were also to let go and let God, that is; have faith in God and let God be in control. These ideas were alien to the Canaanite religion and were threatening to them.

Those expectations Jesus would expand on and take to their logical conclusions which for all intents and purposes abolish war and violence. So what would have happened if it had been Jesus instead of David confronting Goliath? Jesus would not have had a sling shot or any other weapon of violence and death.

But yet it’s hard to imagine that Goliath would have any patience or sympathy for Jesus’ preaching and street theater. Goliath’s age was as brutal if not more so than the age Jesus lived in and the age we live in. Goliath would have laughed at him and either sent him on his way or kill him.

So what’s the point? How does it apply to us in our current age?

We in this place and this time cannot look at this confrontation from the viewpoint of David. The Philistines were the dominant tribe at that time. Whereas, the Hebrews were attempting to establish themselves as the dominant tribe in Canaan.

If this were happening today we would be the Philistines. We are the most powerful country and people in the world. We are used to being in control of our social and political affairs. We believe that we, Americans, our exceptional and have a model country that others should emulate. Our power comes not just from our culture, but from having the most expensive and trained military in the world, scattered all over the world. In our case, we can claim that might makes right. We are the bully in the valley challenging those nations and peoples who are not our allies. We are Goliath.

We often behave this way with good intent. We think we can help other people.
We think we can liberate other people. We think we can make other peoples’ lives better. We have so much wealth, so much technology and so much power we just do as we think is right and only occasionally involve others in the decisions. Our success and our might make us right. We are the Philistines.

So as we stand in the valley between our might and the attempted might of another tribe, be they Iranians, al-Qaeda, or Mexicans, what must we do when we are confronted by Jesus who stands between us and them?

Last time we talked about who spoke for God. And I challenged those public figures who call themselves Christians. I claimed they did not speak for God. Indeed, some if not many would have encouraged us to be standing in the valley waiting for the opportunity to defeat the enemy.

But now the time for talk and speaking is done. Now is the time for action as the armies of one great power stands against lesser powers, who themselves are just as desirous of  being conquerors and being in control. And Jesus stands between us and them..

Do we continue to ignore Jesus … that one lone man who cries out in the desert of divisiveness and exclusion and embraces both armies? Or do we at least as a people, as a tribe, as a nation finally realize that the way of the Philistines – and the Hebrews – is a dead end? Do we continue the evil cycle of war after war, age after age, life after life, escalating generation after generation until the whole world is swallowed up in blood and fire?

Or do we finally stop dismissing or ignoring the teachings of Jesus. Do we finally cease claiming that Jesus’ way is unrealistic and out of step with reality? In this valley between us and them what would Jesus have us do?

He would have us, the dominant and most powerful force, to lay down our weapons, both guns and words that hate. He would have us kneel in prayer, praying for forgiveness and redemption. He would have us be the first to stretch out a hand to the enemy. He would challenge us to cross the valley naked and embrace the other. And let go and let God lead …

 

Think about it …

God’s grace and love be with you …

Amen.