This week we’ll continue reading the story of David. That’s Chapter 12: The Trials of a King. For those reading along in your own Bible, the reference is: 2 Samuel 11-12; 18-19; 1 Chronicles 22; 29; Psalms 23; 32; 51. Look for this week’s reflection/s on Monday Morning. In the meantime, make comments or ask questions here. Or on the facebook group page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #apcthestory
We are all familiar with the David and Goliath story. I remember the story from my Sunday School lessons as a preschooler. It has all the makings of a great young adult movie franchise … the story follows the formula for a blockbuster: 1) a teenage hero or heroine, 2) faces a giant challenge, 3) a beautiful, handsome, and extremely “buff” star, and 4) as the hero comes of age, they find that the power they have is enough to overcome the giant or super-villain. This is the basic story arch for Harry Potter, Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Hunger Games.
David, the youngest of a large family of brothers, was ruggedly handsome and a shepherd boy who loved music and poetry. He was chosen by God, yet he was still just a kid. He had ambitions, ideals, and a strong faith. He lacked brawn, skill with a sword, military experience and rank. When the king’s army was faced with a warrior like Goliath — large, well-armored, and with a reputation for winning — little David, who was only there because he was bringing supplies to his brothers, steps forward out of teenage bravado (add a touch of foolishness), and, with no armor but the power of The Lord God, slays the giant.
Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, poses another explanation. It wasn’t a fluke that David won this battle; it was his advantage. David changed the rules of the game. There were three methods of warfare: hand to hand, horseback, and the “slingers”. They each have different advantages. The slingers throw things, often using the leather pouch on a rope. David wasn’t equipped for a sword fight, but he was a practiced slinger. So when he tells Saul that he has fought and killed many animals as a shepherd, he is proposing that he fight using his strengths … by slingshot. Then Saul places the armor on David, and he takes it off … the chain mail would be good for most of the soldiers there, but not for a slinger. David knows he needs to be quick, agile, and accurate. The advantage, of course, is that he never gets close enough for Saul to even raise his sword. David takes him down from a distance, then moves in for the kill. Rock crushes scissors.
The typical underdog interpretation underscores the need to trust and follow God’s commands, even if they are foolish. Gladwell’s take says, sure it might look foolish by one set of assumptions, but David is working from the skills and talent he has been given and has developed as a shepherd. David never assumes that he’s going to wrestle and sword fight. David’s assumption is he’s going to win in whatever way he can … and his strength is in slinging stones. He’s a sharp shooter with a slingshot.
Does this interpretation make God less powerful? No, I don’t think so. It does, however, show us a great example of one called by God to a specific task using his energy, intelligence, imagination and love in living into his call. God calls each one of us … if not to be king, to be teacher or parent or co-worker or spouse or … and God equips us for the task. Our expectations are often that God should give us the “armor” to do the job the way it’s always been done. God calls us, however, as we are, with the gifts and skills and talents and perspective that is uniquely ours. Using all our energy, and all of ourselves, we follow Christ … and when we do, God does miraculous work through us.
This week, my thoughts are focused on one little sentence in the chapter. 1 Samuel 18:10
The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully on Saul.
This seems pretty unequivocal. It was an evil spirit, and it was sent by God. So what’s going on here? I’m reminded of the Exodus story, where God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Is God using evil to accomplish God’s plan? And, if so, why? Saul goes on to torment David over and over again. Was God testing David as a “side effect” of working to eliminate Saul? I’m not at all sure that I like this God!
I guess it really comes down to the source of evil in the world. The New Testament shows a strong dichotomy between Good and Evil, with God and Satan being the eternal opponents in that struggle. But I don’t see that separation in the Old Testament. In this chapter, we see God sending the “evil spirit” to Saul. In the book of Job, we see “the adversary” being authorized, by God, to torment Job to test him.
In general, I feel more resonance with the God of the New Testament, but I actually see value in this Old Testament perspective. I’m not saying that I think that God is inherently evil. Rather, it’s more a sense that it’s an over simplification to breaking things down into “good” and “evil.” That “good” and “evil” are more human constructs than divine. I realize that this is a very controversial position, and I’m not sure about it. I’d love to hear other perspectives on this.
This week we’ll be reading the story of David. That’s Chapter 11: From Shepherd to King. For those reading along in your own Bible, the reference is: 1 Samuel 16-18; 24; 31; 2 Samuel 6; 22; 1 Chronicles 17; Psalm 59;
The people of Israel have been told all along that they are a chosen people, set apart by God for a special purpose. However, in this chapter, we find them wanting not to be separate, but to blend in. They want a king, so that they’ll be like the other nations around them. Samuel tells them that this is contrary to God’s will, because God is their only king, but they won’t listen. So God tells Samuel to go ahead and give them what they want, provided that they understand just what it is that they’re getting. Samuel rattles off a series of things that the king is going to expect of them, and the people happily agree.
The thing that really struck me about this is that the things the king was going to expect, e.g., service of their sons and daughters, the best of the harvest, etc, is not different than what God was asking in any substantive way. So they’re trading in their allegiance to the God who saved them from their enemies, and getting in return a mortal man, and then asking him to take the place of God.
That sounds like a very bad deal, and Samuel would agree with that. The thing is, I can understand it. Of course, God can do things for them that no mortal could accomplish, but I think a key to understanding this comes earlier in the chapter, during the call of Samuel. 1 Samuel 3:1b reads
The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
Visions were not widespread. The people didn’t SEE God. They could SEE Saul, the chosen king. He could inspire the people. Of course, I’m not suggesting that the people made the RIGHT decision. Only that I can understand WHY they did what they did. I think that we, today, would probably do the same. That visible symbol (one might even say idol) gives is something to focus on. Something to rally around.
For years I suffered with infertility. The pain is just as real for women today as it was for women like Hannah. I remember the prayers, the tears, the cramps, the depression, the futility, the bargaining. For me, the culmination of all that grief was one particular night of yelling at God. It was, actually, during my pregnancy, while lying in the hospital in an inverted position with my feet raised high and my head lowered; my doctor had told me not to expect to carry my baby through the night. If I had lost that pregnancy after 10 years of trying … infertility drugs, surgery, hormones, basal temperature charts, daily blood tests, ultrasounds, injections, and a previous miscarriage … I couldn’t bear it. I lost all hope. I was done. I cried, I wept to God … even more to the point, I offered an ultimatum to my God. If God ever wanted me to be a mother, this child would have to survive, because I was not going to go through the pain of trying again. In a situation in which I was totally out of control, I had to take control of something … I made a deal with God … we came to an agreement … and, after another 13 weeks of bed rest and two more hospital stays with medical intervention, our daughter was born.
I guess that’s why the story of Hannah is so real, so raw, so true for me. Hannah, too, cries and weeps to God; she takes control of the one thing she can when the pain and futility of barrenness overwhelms her … She makes a deal, a promise, with God. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross names “bargaining” as one of the five stages io grief … we all do it … we make promises to God when we face great loss, in the hope that God will be lured by our offer.
But, God doesn’t bless us because of the deals we make … In this case, Hannah’s pain was so real, and her prayer so deep, she appeared drunk … out of her mind … to Eli. I think it’s out of compassion for her, out of respect for her honest relationship with God, that Eli offers her the blessing of God, and Hannah conceives. When Hannah gives up her child, Samuel, to the work of God, she shows that her faith in the providence of God is greater than her own needs or her own fears …
When have you made bargains with God? How did God respond? What have you learned about God from that experience?