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Monday, June 25, 2012

A Story Full of Evil

            When Lehigh beat Duke in the NCAA tournament, commentators said “David beat Goliath.”  The Bible is full of incredible stories and David’s victory, a teenager defeating the giant, is one of the most known and retold and referenced.  A basketball team from a small school beats a perennial powerhouse – David beat Goliath.  An individual wins a court case against a massive corporation with a high priced legal team – David beat Goliath.  We know what this means.  We know this story.

            Do we hear it as God, through the story, reaches into our lives?  Imagine, God of the heavens reaching into you, penetrating your heart, taking personal interest in your life.  The Bible is great drama, but more than that, it is God’s word to us.  What is God saying in this story?

“I know the presumption and the evil of your heart,” Eliab said to his younger brother David.  He was wrong about David.  David’s heart was not full of evil.  In fact, he was the man whose heart was most like God’s.  But evil is in the David and Goliath story – it is a story chock-full of evil; evil in various forms that locates in individuals or groups of people.

            For 40 days, Goliath taunted Israel …

            This giant won the psychological battle over his enemy without unsheathing his sword.  They saw his size and heard his voice and that was all it took.  His power was obvious to him, to his fellow soldiers, and to the enemy.  Because of this Goliath was arrogant and mean.

            This evil, the evil of arrogance arises whenever people exploit a power advantage and keep others under heel.  An older brother pushes his brother around, occasionally punching the younger for no reason other than to let him know who’s boss.  A street gang forces a small storefront business to pay them 30% of their prophets.  If the business owners, an immigrant family, don’t pay, the gang will break the father’s legs and smash the business’s windows out.  Power leads to arrogance – evil arrogance.  This evil distorts the vision of everyone.  The victim senses he or she is worth less than he or she really is.  The power-holder sees himself as being much greater than he really is. 

Neither the victim nor the bully can see that they are both small and weak before the holy God.  In fact, when this evil of power and arrogance is running wild, God is not seen or worshiped at all. 


            “When the Israelites saw [Goliath], they fled from him and were very much afraid” … (17:24)

            As arrogance is evil, so too is fear.  FDR was wrong – we much more to fear than just fear itself.  There are things to be afraid of.  I’d be afraid of jumping in pool of hungry great white sharks.  Sometimes when I hear a noise at night, I wonder if someone has broken into my house.  If someone ever did in fact intrude, I’d be afraid.  Fear is not a bad thing.  In scripture we are to have an appropriate fear of God.

            But, giving into fear gives fear power it’s not supposed to have.  The Israelites were the people of God – the God who created the Heavens and the Earth.  Goliath was big and bad and scary and mean.  Rather than turn to their God, the Israelites succumbed to their fear and it became the prevailing force which they could not overcome.

            Our enemy, the devil, will use all means to drag us away from God and to assault our faith.  Fear is an evil that is a great tool to control someone.  The Philistines were on the verge of dominating Israel and fear was an insidious means of achieving that domination.  The evil of fear took the Israelites’ focus off trusting in God.

            Eliab, David’s oldest brother and one of Israel’s terrified soldiers, expresses a third evil, one that is born in his jealousy of his youngest brother.  He thought David was bored with sheep-keeping and came to see some bloodshed on the battlefield.  He though David was insensitive to the sacrifices of real soldiers.  He thought David just wanted a show.  So, he accused David of bearing an evil heart.

            Eliab’s evil was an evil of ignorance.  He didn’t know David’s heart or God’s heart.  In his ignorance, he spouted off, said things, spoke on matters in which he knew nothing. 

I have participated in evil of this type.  As a young man, I got in arguments with people over issues of race and issues of poverty.  My problem was I spoke from the privileged position of being white, being male, and being middle class, which is wealthy by the standards of 99% of the world’s population.  It’s not that white, rich men cannot have opinions.  But, I acted as if it did not matter that I didn’t know the perspective of a minority or underprivileged person.  In my ignorance, I spoke authoritatively and judgmentally, and when that happens, it more than just insensitive.  It is more than just brutish and conversationally clumsy.  Insensitivity that ignores another’s suffering and even ignores another person’s reality leads to evil.  Notice that ignoring as opposed to listening and considering leads to ignorance.  Eliab’s evil, one often overlook but one as damaging as arrogance or fear was ignorance.

The final evil I see in this story comes from King Saul.  He was the king and thus had the responsibility of leadership.  He wasn’t just accountable for his own conduct or even his own household.  The safety, wellbeing and flourishing of his people was on him.  Where was he when Goliath was shouting his taunts?  It says Saul tried to outfit David with his armor.  Why wasn’t Saul out there wearing his own armor, confronting this uncircumcised Philistine?

Saul’s evil is an evil of limitation.  This evil is painfully common among Christians in our day and it grows with each new accomplishment of science.  Each new invention and each new discovery is so wonderfully impressive, we begin to trust in science.  What science declares to be reality becomes what we accept as reality.  We then relegate faith to the sideline, an unimportant issue, and we have smaller and smaller views of God. 

Saul’s view of God was sinfully limited.  He could see swords and spears, helmets and shields.  He could see 500,000 Philistines across the valley from his army. He could see the 9-foot tall Philistine shouting and taunting his nation.  But he couldn’t see God and didn’t bother looking.  Even when David came and expressed bold, irrational faith, Saul kept looking through a small lens.  Though he was in the role of leader of God’s people, he didn’t have God-sized vision, not of himself or his task or anything else. 

Four evils – the arrogance of Goliath, which was a failure of vision and led to abuse in relationship; the fear of the people, which was a failure to focus on God and led to surrendering to fear; the ignorance of Eliab, which was a failure of perspective that led him to miss God at work in his brother; and the limited view of Saul which was a failure to live by faith and led him to reduce his view of God – these evils mark this story.

Perhaps the conclusion should be we all need to have a faith like David so we can avoid failure and defeat evils like these. 

Before we say that though, we need to acknowledge evil.  We must name the evils present in this story and in our lives.  Evil is all around us conspiring with our own sinful natures to drag us away from the eternal life we are promise.  The enemy will use all forms of evil to lead us to a death apart from God.  We need to acknowledge evil.

We also must look a bit a David’s life.  When did he defeat Goliath?  It wasn’t when he fired that stone from his slingshot.  It wasn’t when he ran to face Goliath on the battle line.  David’s moxie didn’t unnerve Goliath.  It simply elicited more insults.  It wasn’t when David spoke of his faith to King Saul. 

David defeated Goliath on those lonely nights when it was him, his flock of sheep, and the unforgiving dangers of the wilderness.  He said to Saul,

“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; whenever a lion or bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it.  Your servant killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them since he defied the armies of the living God.”

            His experience as a shepherd readied him for this.  He may have been physically too small to wear Saul’s armor, but even as an adolescent, he was a fearless, agile warrior.  More importantly, as the Psalms show, David spent the lonely time out on the pastureland in constant prayer.  He wrote songs – great, artful poetry that expressed every emotion that lives in the human heart.  In those Psalms, David praised God no matter the circumstances.  David did not write all the Psalms, but the one attributed to him reveal a faith that was deep, emotional, real, and unwavering.

            Before we say, “We’ve got to be like David,” we have to live like David lived when no one was watching.  He didn’t pray and fight wild animals so he could be ready to defeat a 9-foot tall Philistine or overcome spiritual evils like arrogance, fear, ignorance, and limited perspective.  He prayed because nothing mattered to him more than God.  He put his life on the line for the sheep because tending them was his duty before God and because it was a duty before God, it matter to David more than his own life.

            I believe he was chosen to be king because God saw his character.  I don’t think God predetermined before his birth that David would be Israel’s greatest king and the Messiah’ ancestor.  I don’t believe the story was written ahead of time.  Did God know how it would go?  I am sure he did.  But I believe many shepherd boys in Israel could have become the king.  I believe David did because God arranged it that way.  I believe God arranged it that way because God saw the hearts of all the shepherd boys and young carpenters and tailors and fishermen – God saw all the hearts in Israel and chose the one most attuned to God’s ways.

            Each one of us can have that heart.  It comes as we are ridiculously honest and open with God in our prayer life.  While we won’t all be poets like David, we can pray with passion and desire and need.  We can pursue that relationship with God relentlessly, deciding we would prefer death over life without God at the center of it.  The way for you and me to overcome the evils of arrogance, fear, ignorance, limited vision, and any other evils we might name is to focus on God, long for God, reach for God.  This was what Jesus meant when he rejected the ultimate evil, Satan, by saying “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).

            If we want to resist evil and defeat the giant obstacles in life, we will live like faith is everything and to be away from God is to slowly, agonizingly starve to death.  David’s desperate prayer, later in his life, after he had sinned horribly, was “Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11).  He could think of nothing worse.  With God, he wasn’t arrogant; he was confident in God’s power.  He wasn’t afraid; he knew God always wins.  He wasn’t ignorant; he knew God would give him all he needed to know.  His vision wasn’t small; he saw what God showed him. 

            Later in that prayer, he said, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).  Those words are an appropriate for us as we meet together as forgiven sinners who receive God’s grace as we put our trust in Jesus.  The world today is full of evil.  Our story in this fallen world is a tale of evil defeated and faith victorious when we thirst for God and put all our life energy into our relationship with God.


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