Divine Opposition.

Desolate! Desolation and ruin!
    Hearts melt and knees tremble;
anguish is in all loins;
    all faces grow pale!
Where is the lions’ den,
    the feeding place of the young lions,
where the lion and lioness went,
    where his cubs were, with none to disturb?
The lion tore enough for his cubs
    and strangled prey for his lionesses;
he filled his caves with prey
    and his dens with torn flesh.

 Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard. Nahum 2:10-13 ESV

 

You don’t want to be on God’s bad side. You don’t want Him for an enemy. And the one thing no human being should ever want to hear God say is, “I am against you.” Any time we see that statement, it is usually followed by some very unpleasant circumstances. The people of Judah themselves would eventually hear God say those same words:

“Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley,
    O rock of the plain,
declares the Lord;
you who say, ‘Who shall come down against us,
    or who shall enter our habitations?’
14 I will punish you according to the fruit of your deeds,
declares the Lord;
    I will kindle a fire in her forest,
    and it shall devour all that is around her.” – Jeremiah 21:13-14 ESV

Babylon, one of the nations that God would use to defeat the Assyrians, would also hear those four words:

“Behold, I am against you, O proud one,
    declares the Lord God of hosts,
for your day has come,
    the time when I will punish you.
The proud one shall stumble and fall,
    with none to raise him up,
and I will kindle a fire in his cities,
    and it will devour all that is around him.” – Jeremiah 50:30-31 ESV

God would one day say of the great city of Tyre:

“Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock.” – Ezekiel 26:3-4 ESV

God makes a great friend, but He is a formidable enemy. And Nahum, speaking on behalf of God, makes it quite clear that the Assyrians had overstepped their bounds and exceeded the limits of God’s patience. The Assyrians had more than met their match. While they were known for leaving a wake of destruction in their path, God was going to completely annihilate them. Their fall would leave nothing but desolation behind. Their once great city would be reduced to rubble, their vast horde of plunder and treasure would be removed. Their citizens would be taken captive or scattered to the four winds. And even their infamous chariots would be burned to ashes.

People will be left wondering what ever happened to Nineveh. Comparing the Assyrian king to a lion and Nineveh to his den, Nahum sarcastically asks, “Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb?” (Nahum 2:11 ESV). In time, the rubble of the city will look like just another part of the landscape. It will be difficult to tell that it was once the great capital of the mighty Assyrian empire. There had been a day when the king of Assyrian had “filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh” (Nahum 2:12 ESV), but that was about to change. Because God was against him. He had made an enemy of the Lord of Hosts. That term, Lord of Hosts, is a title for God that refers to His military might. It “pictures God as the sovereign king who has at his disposal a multitude of attendants, messengers, and warriors to do his bidding” (NET Study Bible notes). God commands the hosts of heaven, a countless force made up of angelic beings.

There is a wonderful story chronicled for us in the book of 1 Kings. It involves the prophet Elisha. It seems that the King of Aram had been setting traps and ambushes for the forces of Israel, and Elisha was prophetically warning the King of Israel about these situations before they happened. Of course, when the King of Aram found out what Elisha had been doing, it enraged him, so he sent troops to capture Elisha. One morning, Elisha’s servant woke up to find they were surrounded by troops.

When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha. – 2 Kings 6:15 ESV

But rather than panic, Elisha simply told his servant, “Don’t be afraid!” Then he calmed his anxious servant with the news: “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” (1 Kings 6: 16 ESV). But he could tell that his servant’s sense of panic was not exactly assuaged by this announcement. Because all his servant could see was one thing: The armies of Aram. There was nobody else in sight. What was Elisha talking about? And then Elisha prayed: “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” (1 Kings 6:17 ESV). And we’re told that God opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire. In other words, he got a glimpse of the host of heaven.

God has more than enough resources to enforce His will and to accomplish His sovereign plan. In the case of Elisha and his servant, God used the hosts of heaven to rescue them. In the case of the Assyrians, God would call upon the Medes and the Babylonians to attack and destroy the Assyrians. God used the waters of the Red Sea to destroy the armies of Pharaoh. He brought down fire and brimstone to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is no limit to God’s capabilities. That is why it is a dangerous thing to find yourself on the receiving end of His wrath. In the case of Egypt, God sent a single angel to take the lives of all the first born males in the nation. God can use His heavenly host or He can utilize human resources to accomplish His will. But the bottom line is, once the Assyrians found themselves on the wrong side of God’s wrath, their days were numbered. Daniel reminds us:

He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding… – Daniel 2:21 ESV

The Assyrians were no match for God. And those who would set themselves against the people of God will always find themselves as the enemies of God. It is one thing for God to sovereignly choose to use a nation to accomplish His divine will and mete out His just judgment on His own people. But when a nation independently assumes the right to attack what rightly belongs to God, they will find themselves opposed by Him. There will always be nations like Assyria to wreak havoc and demand their way in the world. Wicked nations will rise up and force their will on others. Their will be dictators and tyrants. There will be always be despots and megalomaniacs who use force to build and maintain their empires. And from our human perspective, it will always look to use as it did to Elisha’s servant. We will see ourselves surrounded by the forces of evil. We will feel like the odds are against us, and we will cry out to God, “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” But God would have us remember that we have the Lord of Hosts on our side. He is in control. As bad as things might appear, our God is still on His throne. He is still the Lord of Hosts and has the resources of heaven at His disposal. Not only that, He is in full and ultimate control of all that goes on around us, whether it seems like it or not. Nothing happens outside of His sovereign will. No king, president, or dictator ascends to power without His permission. We may not understand why God does what He does, but we should never question His motives. All those who stand opposed to His will eventually find themselves hearing those very same words the Assyrians heard: “I am against you.” And the apostle Paul would have us remember: “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31 NLT). Not only that, but, “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Radical Surgery.

After this David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and David took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines.

And he defeated Moab and he measured them with a line, making them lie down on the ground. Two lines he measured to be put to death, and one full line to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute.

David also defeated Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to restore his power at the river Euphrates. And David took from him 1,700 horsemen, and 20,000 foot soldiers. And David hamstrung all the chariot horses but left enough for 100 chariots. And when the Syrians of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobah, David struck down 22,000 men of the Syrians. Then David put garrisons in Aram of Damascus, and the Syrians became servants to David and brought tribute. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went. And David took the shields of gold that were carried by the servants of Hadadezer and brought them to Jerusalem. And from Betah and from Berothai, cities of Hadadezer, King David took very much bronze.

When Toi king of Hamath heard that David had defeated the whole army of Hadadezer, Toi sent his son Joram to King David, to ask about his health and to bless him because he had fought against Hadadezer and defeated him, for Hadadezer had often been at war with Toi. And Joram brought with him articles of silver, of gold, and of bronze. These also King David dedicated to the Lord, together with the silver and gold that he dedicated from all the nations he subdued, from Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, Amalek, and from the spoil of Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah.

And David made a name for himself when he returned from striking down 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. Then he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became David’s servants. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went.– 2 Samuel 8:1-14 ESV

Chapter five ended with the words: “And David did as the Lord commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer” (2 Samuel 5:25 ESV). And chapter eight begins with the words: “After this David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and David took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines” (2 Samuel 8:1 ESV). It is believed by many commentators that chapters six and seven are parenthetical and not chronological in nature. They deal with more religious-oriented aspects of David’s reign, while chapters five and eight deal with his military conquests. Chapter six describes David’s efforts to bring the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem. Chapter seven covers God’s giving of His covenant to David. And chapter seven opens with the words: “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies…” (2 Samuel 7:1 ESV). It is that second half of the sentence that leads most Old Testament scholars to believe the covenant was given to David later in his reign, after he had ceased from war with the enemies of Israel. Therefore, like chapter six, chapter seven is out of chronological order. These two chapters were placed where they are in the story because they provide a spiritual context to David’s reign. They reveal his zeal and dedication for the Lord, a key motivating force in his military efforts. They also shed light on the real source behind David’s military success: God. And that point is made clear in chapter eight.

And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went. – 2 Samuel 8:15 ESV

Chapter eight picks up where chapter five left off. David, as God’s hand-picked king, was finishing what Joshua and the people of Israel should have done when they entered the Promised Land years earlier. They were to destroy the inhabitants and take over the land that God had provided for them. God had told Joshua:

“Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you— from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.” – Joshua 1:2-5 ESV

God had clearly told Moses what the people were to do when they entered the land He had promised to Abraham and his descendants. And Moses had passed the words of God on to the people.

“In those towns that the Lord your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing. You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the Lord your God has commanded you. This will prevent the people of the land from teaching you to imitate their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 20:16-18 ESV

But the people of God had disobeyed and failed to purge the land of its inhabitants. They had been half-hearted in their efforts and had allowed the majority of the nations that occupied the land of Canaan to remain. And, just as God had predicted, the people of the land ended up infecting the people of God with their idolatry, immorality and “detestable customs.” This is what led to the period of the judges. In fact, the opening chapters of the book of Judges reveals exactly what had happened.

 The Lord was with the people of Judah, and they took possession of the hill country. But they failed to drive out the people living in the plains, who had iron chariots. – Judges 1:19 ESV

The tribe of Benjamin, however, failed to drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem. So to this day the Jebusites live in Jerusalem among the people of Benjamin. – Judges 1:21 ESV

The tribe of Manasseh failed to drive out the people living in Beth-shan, Taanach, Dor, Ibleam, Megiddo, and all their surrounding settlements  – Judges 1:27 ESV

The tribe of Ephraim failed to drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, so the Canaanites continued to live there among them. – Judges 1:29 ESV

The tribe of Zebulun failed to drive out the residents of Kitron and Nahalol, so the Canaanites continued to live among them. – Judges 1:30 ESV

And the list goes on and on. It got so bad, that God ended up sending an angel to give the people of Israel some bad news:

“I brought you out of Egypt into this land that I swore to give your ancestors, and I said I would never break my covenant with you. For your part, you were not to make any covenants with the people living in this land; instead, you were to destroy their altars. But you disobeyed my command. Why did you do this? So now I declare that I will no longer drive out the people living in your land. They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a constant temptation to you.” – Judges 2:1-3 ESV

So by the time David had become king, the nations surrounding Israel had become far more than just thorns in their side. They were a real threat to the future existence of Israel as a nation. So, David, as the king and commander-in-chief of Israel]s armies, determined to finish what Joshua had started, but the people of God had failed to carry through.

David defeated the Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Edomites, Amalekites, Ammonites, and the armies of Zobah. And the author makes it clear that David’s military successes were the result of God’s blessing on him. God was giving David victories over his enemies. The very fact that David was forced to fight so many battles reflects just how unsuccessful the Israelites had been in their efforts to rid the land of its inhabitants. Their disobedience had allowed these nations to not only survive, but thrive. They had grown in numbers and strength. They were no longer just an irritant to the people of Israel, but a real threat to their existence. But David was doing everything in his power to subdue and destroy them.

It’s almost impossible to read this chapter and God’s words found in Deuteronomy 20 where He commanded the complete annihilation of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, and not be shocked at what appears to be God’s callous and seemingly capricious outlook on human life. How can the loving, creator-God call for the destruction of entire people groups, including men, women, and innocent children? This question has caused many to doubt the veracity of the Old Testament. It has led others to reject the very idea of God Himself. Richard Dawkins, a proudly professing atheist and staunch opponent of Christianity has described the God of the Bible as, “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion).  He goes on to say, “The tragi-farce of God’s maniacal jealousy against alternative gods recurs continually through the Old Testament.”

For someone like Dawkins, the issue has less to do with the destruction of the people of Canaan, than it does with his desire for proof that the God of the Bible is a farce. He simply uses the Old Testament record of God’s call for the destruction of the inhabitants of Canaan as proof that this so-called “God” of the Israelites, even if He did exist, would not be worth following. But he misses the whole point of the story and the true nature of mankind’s tragic situation. The Bible makes it painfully clear that all men (women and children included) are sinners and stand before God as guilty and worthy of death. Because of sin, they are in rebellion against a holy God. And His holiness, which consists of justice, must deal with the sins of men. He cannot simply overlook them. And God recognizes that sin, like an infectious disease, is contagious and capable of spreading from one person to another. Sin contaminates and destroys, like cancer cells in the human body. Sin is non-discriminatory and without mercy. God’s call for the destruction of the inhabitants of the land was based on His understanding of the true danger of indwelling sin. Left unchecked, the sinful dispositions of the inhabitants of the land would gradually infect and influence the people of God. And that is exactly what happened. Slowly, but surely, the Israelites became just like the nations around them. The cancer of sin spread among them, destroying their relationship with God. And the same thing happens to believers today, as we allow the sins of the world to contaminate our lives. Rather than doing radical surgery and removing the sin that so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1), we embrace it, welcoming it with open arms. We end up loving the world and the things of the world (1 John 12:15). We become friends of the world, failing to recognize that the world hates us (John 15:18-19).

The removal of the sinful influences in our lives is difficult. Sometimes it is painful. It may cause us to lose friends who have a negative influence on our lives. It may demand that we pull away from those individuals whose influence in our lives is unhealthy and potentially destructive. David knew just how dangerous sin could be, both externally and internally. And he was willing to whatever it took to remove both. In Psalm 139, he offers a compelling and heart-felt prayer to God.

O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
    Get out of my life, you murderers!
They blaspheme you;
    your enemies misuse your name.
O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
    Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
    for your enemies are my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:19-24 NLT

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A King to Come.

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. And the men of Israel and Judah rose with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron. And the people of Israel came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp. And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his tent.

As soon as Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.” And the king said, “Inquire whose son the boy is.” And as soon as David returned from the striking down of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.” – 1 Samuel 17:50-58 ESV

David had just conquered the enemy of the Lord. He had slain Goliath and cut off the giant’s head with his own sword. As a result, the Philistines ran rather than face the prospect of becoming slaves to their much-hated enemies, the Jews. It had been Goliath who had set the conditions for the battle, guaranteeing the enslavement of the army of the losing combatant; but his troops, never expecting him to lose, were unwilling to keep the terms he had established. They turned and ran. But David’s unexpected victory gave the troops of Israel new life and the boldness to pursue the Philistines, all the way back to Goliath’s home town. One man’s faith in God had revealed the power of God, and provided the people of God with the incentive they needed to fight the enemies of God.

David, fresh off his victory, still carrying the severed head of Goliath in his hand, was brought before King Saul. It seems that, while David was already in the employment of Saul, acting as his armor bearer and court musician, the king knew little about him. Neither Saul or his commander, Abner, knew who David’s father was. Which is interesting, because chapter 16 makes it quite clear that Saul had been well-informed about David before he conscripted him into service.

One of the servants said to Saul, “One of Jesse’s sons from Bethlehem is a talented harp player. Not only that—he is a brave warrior, a man of war, and has good judgment. He is also a fine-looking young man, and the Lord is with him.”

So Saul sent messengers to Jesse to say, “Send me your son David, the shepherd.” Jesse responded by sending David to Saul, along with a young goat, a donkey loaded with bread, and a wineskin full of wine. – 1 Samuel 16:18-19 NLT

But enough time had passed so that Saul had forgotten all about how David had come into his service. And it would seem that Saul was not in the habit of concerning himself with the life details of the men who he forced into service as his soldiers. God had warned the people of Israel just what kind of king Saul would become.

The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. – 1 Samuel 8:11-13 NLT

So it’s not surprising that Saul had no idea who David really was. But it was important that he learn the name of David’s father so that he could fulfill his promise of the reward.

The king has offered a huge reward to anyone who kills him. He will give that man one of his daughters for a wife, and the man’s entire family will be exempted from paying taxes! – 1 Samuel 17:25 NLT

When Saul asked David who his father was, he responded, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite” (1 Samuel 17:58 ESV). In answering Saul’s question, David was revealing something even more significant. This young shepherd boy was from the village of Bethlehem. This somewhat obscure and insignificant spot on the map would one day become the most important destination in the world. It is there that the future Messiah of the Jews would be born.

And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. – Luke 2:4 NLT

The prophet Micah prophesied regarding the village of Bethlehem:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. – Micah 5:2 ESV

While David’s defeat of Goliath seems to be the central focus of the story, there is far more going on than initially meets the eye. God is actually paving the way for a much greater victory over a much greater enemy. He is setting the stage for not only David’s kingship, but also that of His Son, the future Messiah and the King of kings and Lord of lords. David slew one man and provided his people with temporary relief from slavery. But Jesus Christ would defeat sin and death, providing men and women with the means by which they might be free from slavery to both. David’s victory breathed new life into the Israelite army. But the victory accomplished by Jesus brought eternal life to all those who place their faith in Him. David defeated Goliath. Jesus defeated Satan. David’s victory was temporary. Jesus’ victory was permanent. The victory David accomplished required the life of a Philistine. The victory Jesus accomplished required His own life. Goliath died for his own sins, having defied the armies of the living God. Jesus died for the sins of others, so that He might become the propitiate or satisfy the just demands of a holy God.

The story surrounding the life of David is intended to foreshadow and point towards the life of Jesus. The young shepherd boy from Bethlehem serves as a representation of the Good Shepherd who was to come.

David was about to find out that his victory, while good news to many, was going to end up creating bad news for him. His conquering of the giant, Goliath, was going to make him a household name and a hero among the people of Israel. And his growing reputation was going to result in a growing rift between he and King Saul. David’s greatest conflicts were ahead of him, not behind him. And his most formidable enemy would prove to be none other than the king of Israel, Saul himself. David’s victory would produce in Saul a growing jealousy, resentment and animosity.

The Battle Is the Lord’s.

And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord‘s, and he will give you into our hand.”

When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground. – 1 Samuel 17:41-49 ESV

As usual, it would be so easy to make this passage about David. And while he is the central character of the narrative, he is far from the central focus. Even David himself will not allow us to make him the leading man. He goes out of his way to place the attention where it rightly belongs: On God. Repeatedly, the author, Samuel, draws the reader’s attention to the word’s of David as he stands to face the giant, Goliath:

“I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” – 1 Samuel 17:45 NLT

Today the Lord will conquer you…” – 1 Samuel 17:46a NLT

“…and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! – 1 Samuel 17:46b NLT

And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people…” – 1 Samuel 17:47a NLT

This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us! – 1 Samuel 17:47b NLT

It is so easy for us to focus on David, his sling and the five smooth stones. We could even spend time trying to conjecture why he chose fives stones when only one was needed. Was this a sign of a lack of faith? But while the details provided to us by Samuel are important, we should not allow them to overshadow what is going on in the narrative. David, the man after God’s own heart, who has been anointed to be the next king of Israel, has stepped into a situation where he has found the armies of Israel in an awkward stalemate with the Philistines. They have been offered a challenge by the Philistine champion to send out a warrior to do battle with him, man to man. But Saul, who has been rejected by God as king, is gripped by fear and unwilling to do what needs to be done. He has no faith – in himself or His God. And his lack of faith in God was not a recent development. Early on in Saul’s reign, Samuel had warned the people of Israel:

“And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king. And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.” – 1 Samuel 12:12-15 ESV

Several years later, Saul found himself in a predicament. The Philistines had gathered to do battle with the Israelites – “thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude” (1 Samuel 13:5 ESV). And his “crack” troops scattered when the heard the news. “When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns” (1 Samuel 13:6 ESV). The soldiers who remained with Saul were petrified at the prospect of having to face the Philistines. And this was after Jonathan, Saul’s son, had just defeated the Philistines in a battle.

Saul had been instructed by Samuel to go to Gilgal and to wait seven days. On the seventh day, Saul became anxious because the prophet had not shown up, so he decided to do the prophet’s job and offer a burnt offering to God. But as soon as he had done so, Samuel arrived and expressed his anger with Saul at his impetuosity and disobedience.

You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” – 1 Samuel 13:13-14 ESV

Saul lacked faith in God. When confronted with a desperate situation, he took matters into his own hands. Yes, he offered a sacrifice to God, but he did more out of a sense of superstition or as a form of good luck than anything else. Like rubbing a rabbit’s foot, Saul hoping that offering a burnt offering to God would somehow obligate Him to provide victory. But notice the different between his actions and those of David. He faced the very same enemy: The Philistines. And he was greatly out-manned, a shepherd boy facing a well-trained Philistine champion. But unlike Saul, David was fully confident in the face of overwhelming odds because he wasn’t focusing on himself, but on God. This wasn’t going to be his battle, but God’s. And the victory that was coming would not be his doing, but God’s. The Philistines were not his enemies, but God’s. And the taunts and jeers of Goliath weren’t really directed at David, but against God. Whether he realized it or not, Goliath had defied the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel. And now he was going to have to face the consequences.

The real lesson here is that the battle between the enemies of God and the people of God is always the Lord’s battle. Yes, we may have to get involved, but our participation is not what guarantees the victory. David’s sling and stone were used by God to defeat Goliath, but they were not the primary cause of victory. God was. And He always is.

When the people of Judah had faced the Moabites and Ammonites, God had said to them:

“Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.” Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you. – 2 Chronicles 20:15-17 ESV

Years later, when the people of Judah faced the Assyrians, King Hezekiah encouraged them with these words:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” – 2 Chronicles 32:7-8 ESV

David understood that this was far more than just another battle. They were being confronted by the enemies of God and, as the people of God, they had an obligation to place their faith in the superiority of the Lord of Heavens Armies. This wasn’t about a shepherd boy facing a well-armed, well-trained soldier. This was about the God of Israel doing battle with those who would defy His name and His honor. And David had all the confidence in the world that his God could snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat with a shepherd boy, a sling and a few smooth stones.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Lord Will Deliver.

When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”

Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine. – 1 Samuel 17:31-40 ESV

For most of us, the story of David and Goliath has become little more than a motivational lesson used to conjure up images of facing the giants in our lives. Like David, we can stand up against the formidable foes we face and come out victorious – as long as we have faith. And while there may be aspects of this story that can be used to encourage our personal faith and motivate us to stand up to the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in our lives, I don’t think that was intended as the primary takeaway. We must read this story while keeping it in its appropriate context. It is when we isolate biblical narratives and remove them from their context that we run the risk of arriving at interpretations that fail to meet the author’s original intentions. This is a story about God and the people of Israel. They have had a less-than-stellar relationship with the God who chose them out of all the other nations of the world. He had rescued them out of captivity in Egypt. He had faithfully led them through the wilderness. He had given them the land of Canaan just as he had promised. But they had failed to eliminate all the nations that occupied the land. As a result they were surrounded by hostile enemies who not only attempted to eliminate them, but were highly successful in negatively influencing their faithfulness to God by causing them to worship false gods.

The period of the judges, which followed their occupation of the land, was a time of turmoil, marked by their constant unfaithfulness, God’s punishment, their eventual remorse and God’s sending of a judge to deliver them. This cycle repeated itself over and over again. Then it ended with the people demanding that God give them a king just like all the other nations. So God gave them Saul. He fit the bill. He met the requirements they had asked for. And he proved to be not only a lousy king, but an unfaithful and disobedient one. So God determined to replace him with a man after His own heart. He chose David, a young shepherd boy. And the story of David and Goliath is the first glimpse we are given of this young man’s faith and the stark contrast it provides to the unfaithfulness of Saul.

The call of the Philistine champion that the Israelites send out a man to face him is a direct challenge to King Saul. He has clearly indicated that the soldiers in Saul’s army are nothing more than his slaves or bondservants. They have drafted into military service just as God had warned they would be (1 Samuel 8:11-13). Goliath is challenging Saul to a winner-take-all, one-on-one face-off. But Saul is cowering far from the front lines, unwilling to take on the giant. In fact, he has offered an attractive reward to anyone who will step up and take on the challenge. But there have been no takers.

Until David arrives on the scene. As Saul’s armor bearer, he had direct access to the king and was able to tell him to his face, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:32 ESV). Saul attempted to dissuade David, reminding him that he was no match for this veteran warrior. But David simply recounted his own exploits while serving as a shepherd over his father’s flocks.

Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God. – 1 Samuel 17:34-36 ESV

The issue for David was one of doing the right thing. As a shepherd, it was his duty to protect the flock and he was willing to do whatever it took to fulfill his responsibility. Why would these situation be any different? This uncircumcised Philistine was defying the armies of the living God. He was treating the king of Israel, and therefore the God of Israel, with disrespect. In David’s mind, this had nothing to do with the size of the foe or the odds against victory. It was about doing the right thing. Someone had to stand up to the enemy of God. And if no one else was willing, David would do it. And he would do it in the strength of the Lord. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37 ESV).

Saul reluctantly agreed, telling David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” (1 Samuel 17:37 ESV). And then he came up with a plan. He would dress David in his own armor in the hopes that this might fool the Philistines into thinking that the king of Israel had finally agreed to do battle with their champion. In the unlikely case that David won, the glory would go to Saul. Should he lose, it would be easy for Saul, without his armor, to disappear into the crowd and not be humiliated as the defeated king of Israel.

But Saul’s armor was much too large for David and he removed it. He would face Goliath with the very same weapons with which he had faced the lion and the bear: A sling and a few stones. His real weapon was God Himself. Remember what he had told Saul: “The Lord … will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” To David, Goliath was nothing more than another enemy of God. He doesn’t mention his height or the weight of his weapons. He didn’t dwell on size of the task or the odds against his victory. He simply recognized an enemy of the living God and the need for someone to do something about him.

Goliath represented an enemy of God, not David. This Philistine had done nothing to David. He didn’t stand as a personal problem or insurmountable obstacle in the young shepherd boy’s life. Goliath is presented in the story as the epitome of the ungodly and unrighteous enemy of God and His people. He is formidable and seemingly invincible. He is loud and brash. He questions the bravery of God’s people and the power of God Himself. He is self-assured and confident of his victory. He sees Saul as a coward and the people of God as nothing more than slaves of their king. So he taunts and ridicules them. And they take it, day after day.

But not David. He is a man after God’s own heart, and as such, he is unwilling to sit back and listen to this Philistine beat his gums and demean the honor of God’s name. He fully believed that the living God of Israel was fully capable of bringing victory over Goliath and that He could and would do it through him.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Riches Versus Reproach.

Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the Valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper and took the provisions and went, as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the encampment as the host was going out to the battle line, shouting the war cry. And Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. And David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage and ran to the ranks and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid. And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. And the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel.” And David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” And the people answered him in the same way, “So shall it be done to the man who kills him.”

Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again as before. – 1 Samuel 17:19-30 ESV

For 40 days, the Israelite and Philistine armies had been a standoff, as each day the Philistine champion, Goliath made his way to the front lines and taunted the Israelites to send out their challenger. He continued to propose a simple solution to their conflict: A man-t0-man fight between the greatest Israelite warrior and himself. The only problem was that the Israelites, should they agree to his conditions and their champion lose, would become the slaves of the Philistines. Oh, and then there was the other problem that Goliath just happened to be huge. Based on the numbers in the text, he would have been over nine feet tall. Samuel, the author of the book, spends a great deal of time providing details regarding Goliath’s vitals.

He was over nine feet tall! He wore a bronze helmet, and his bronze coat of mail weighed 125 pounds. He also wore bronze leg armor, and he carried a bronze javelin on his shoulder. The shaft of his spear was as heavy and thick as a weaver’s beam, tipped with an iron spearhead that weighed 15 pounds. His armor bearer walked ahead of him carrying a shield. – 1 Samuel 17:4-7 NLT

While there is debate over the validity of the numbers involved in Samuel’s description and doubt among some theologians as to the exact height of Goliath, it is safe to say that he was most likely a very large individual and a formidable foe. Each and every time he stood before the Israelites and issued his challenge, they reacted in the same way: “All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid” (1 Samuel 17:24 ESV).

David arrived on the scene just in time to witness this daily event, and he was shocked. When he asked those around him what was going on, he was informed that there had been a reward issued by King Saul for the man who would dare stand against Goliath and defeat him.

The king has offered a huge reward to anyone who kills him. He will give that man one of his daughters for a wife, and the man’s entire family will be exempted from paying taxes! – 1 Samuel 17:25 NLT

Talk about incentive. But no one was taking Saul up on his offer. While the reward was great, it had proved not enough incentive to entice anyone to risk life and limb against Goliath. But David saw things a bit differently. The riches offered by the king were secondary to him. The real issue was the honor of Israel and, by extension, God’s reputation.

What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? – 1 Samuel 17:26 NLT

They were the people of God. They had God Almighty on their side. David could not believe that they could stand there day after day and allow this uncircumcised pagan to taunt them and their God. Their fear was proof of their lack of faith in God. Their failure to fight was evidence of their limited view of God.

But there is an interesting thing going on in this scene that can be easily overlooked. The men who were part of the armies of Israel were there unwillingly. They had been conscripted by Saul. He had formed his armies by enforcing a mandatory draft. And God had warned the Israelites that this was going to happen when they had demanded that He give them king just like all the other nations. In giving them exactly what they asked for, God had told the Israelites:

“This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him.” – 1 Samuel 8:11-13 NLT

Even Goliath recognized what was going on. When he issued his challenge, he was very specific in how he addressed the troops of Israel.

“Why are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul.” – 1 Samuel 17:8 NLT

In questioning why they were all there, Goliath was appealing to their own feelings of regret and anger at having to be forced into the king’s service. These were not professional soldiers. And Goliath refers to them as “servants” of Saul. The Hebrew word he used is `ebed and it was commonly used to refer to one who was the slave of another. His use of this word was intended to cause the Israelites to turn on Saul, their commander, and to force him to step up and do what needed to be done. This was his battle, not theirs. And in demanding that the Israelites choose one man to come out and fight him, he was actually challenging Saul. And Saul knew full well that the daily taunts of Goliath were aimed at him. Which will explain why Saul will attempt to get David to wear his armor when he goes out to face Goliath. In the off chance that David should win, it might appear that Goliath was defeated by Saul. And if David should lose, it left Saul without his armor and free to blend into the troops when the Philistine came to find him.

But even Saul could find no incentive to face the giant, Goliath. His own personal reputation was not enough to make him risk life and limb by standing up to the Philistine champion. Even Eliab, David’s oldest brother, was angered to see him there. He jumped all over David, accusing him of neglecting the flocks and his duties just so he could witness the battle. But Eliab’s emotional outburst was most likely driven by the embarrassment he felt at his own fear and failure to face the champion. His youngest brother was witnessing his own spinelessness firsthand. But even this was not enough to make Eliab step forward and face Goliath. From the king down to the cooks, no one was willing to fight Goliath. No one could find the motivation to do what appeared to be the impossible. But David would. And his motivation would not be the reward offered by Saul, but the reproach issued by this uncircumcised Philistine, this enemy of the armies of the living God.

David’s view of God as alive and active would become a recurring theme in his psalms. His God was not distant and disconnected from everyday life, but actively involved.

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation. – Psalm 18:46 ESV

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. – Psalm 42:2 ESV

David’s God was living, not dead. His God was active, not absent. His God’s power was greater than that of the Philistines or even that of their champion. David was about to prove that what was missing in this scenario was not a powerful man to defeat Goliath, but a faithful man who believed in the power of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

When the Least-Expected Does the Unexpected.

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. The three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest. The three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.

And Jesse said to David his son, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers. Also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See if your brothers are well, and bring some token from them.” – 1 Samuel 17:1-18 ESV

The exact timeline of the story of David can be a bit difficult to piece together. Samuel, who wrote the book that bears his name, seems to have been less interested in providing a precise chronological outline of David’s life than he was of highlighting the details of how he came to be king. A case is point is the reference to David found in chapter 16. It was made by one of King Saul’s servants when the king began to suffer the effects of the harmful spirit placed upon him by God.

Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” – 1 Samuel 16:18 ESV

He refers to David as a man of valor and a man of war. But the last reference we have of David is that of his anointing by Samuel. Immediately after that event, David is said to have returned to his sheep. And with David being the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, it is believed that he could have been no older than 15 at the time of his anointing by Samuel. So when did he become a man of valor and war? It would seem that some significant time has passed since David’s anointing – enough time for him to grow up and join the army of Israel. He must have gained some experience in battle to have earned the reputation as “a brave warrior, a man of war” (NLT). But regardless of how much time has passed, one thing remained unchanged about David: …the Lord was with him (1 Samuel 16:18). David had the Spirit of God resting upon him. He had the power and the presence of God available to him. His anointing with oil by Samuel made his selection by God to be Israel’s next king official, but it was his anointing with the Holy Spirit that would make him fit for the office of king.

It is interesting to note that when Saul sent for David, he was found back with the sheep. So whatever deeds of valor and bravery he had done must have been done on the side or as a result of his responsibilities as a shepherd. Later on in the story, David himself will recount to King Saul a few examples of his exploits in the field caring for the sheep. It seems that it wasn’t as safe an occupation as one might thing.

Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears…” – 1 Samuel 17:34-36 ESV

But back to our timeline. David had been hired by the king and given the responsibility to minister to Saul when he experienced the fits brought on by the “harmful spirit.” He was also made the king’s armor bearer. Which presents another interesting issue. When chapter 17 opens, the Israelites are preparing to do battle with the Philistines. And while King Saul is there with all his troops, David, his armor bearer, is not. He was at home tending the flocks. The text tells us that “David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem” (1 Samuel 17:15 ESV). It seems that David was pulling double-duty, balancing the demands of a bi-vocational lifestyle that required him to split his time between his responsibilities as a shepherd of sheep and a servant to the king.

It is essential to keep in mind that, all during this time, David was the God-appointed and Holy Spirit-anointed successor to King Saul. And yet, here he was dividing his time between tending sheep and plucking out tunes on his lyre in order to calm the heart of the current king of Israel. Saul was still on the throne and tasked with the responsibility of defending the nation of Israel from their enemies. But he was ill-equipped for the job. He no longer enjoyed the anointing of God’s Spirit. He had all the physical attributes to make him “a brave warrior, a man of war,” but when Goliath challenged the armies of Israel to send out a champion to fight him, Saul and his troops were “dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:11 ESV).

Samuel’s interest is not so much in establishing an exact chronology of the events as he is in creating a stark contrast between the warrior-king and the shepherd-servant. With the introduction into the story line of Goliath and the Philistines, Samuel reminds his readers that there is something far more significant going on here than just who will sit on the throne of Israel. This is about the future well-being of the people of God. The king of Israel was to be much more than a figure head. He was to be the leader of God’s people, providing them with physical protection and spiritual direction. He was to be a man after God’s own heart, who listened well, followed instructions obediently, and protected God’s people faithfully. Saul was tormented by a spirit that attacked him relentlessly, leaving him unable to do his job as king. Goliath represents a physical manifestation of that same spirit, tormenting the people of God and creating in them fear and dismay. They stood before their enemy leaderless and helpless. They had to suffer his daily taunts and jeers, unable to do anything about it. He demanded that they send one man who would be willing to face him a winner-takes-all match. But no one stepped forward. Nobody had the guts to face the Philistine champion and keep God’s people from becoming their slaves.

The stage was set. Saul, the king, stood immobilized and paralyzed by fear. But all of that was about to change, when the Lord’s anointed stepped onto the scene. David, the sheep-tending, lyre-playing, armor-bearing, food-delivering son of Jesse was about to provide an unforgettable lesson in faith and godly leadership. The least-expected was going to do the unexpected. The sheep-tender was about to become the giant-killer.

While We Were Sinners.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. – Romans 5:6-11 ESV

Peter tells us, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). The sinless one died for sinners. The innocent died for the guilty. The righteous for the unrighteous. And not after we got our act together. Paul emphasizes the out-of-the-ordinary nature of this event. He says, “most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good” (Romans 5:7 NLT). As human beings, we would find it difficult, if not impossible to give our lives even for someone who deemed as righteous. We might do it, but we would have to give it some serious thought. But Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. He didn’t die for us because we were righteous, but so that we might become righteous. In fact, when Jesus was asked why He hung out with tax collectors and sinners, He replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sickFor I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12, 13 ESV).

The implications of this are staggering. We live in a world where we believe everyone gets what they deserve. We are taught that any good we experience in this life is ultimately earned and a direct result of our good behavior. But Paul turns that philosophy on its head by saying that our salvation was the result of God’s mercy and love as expressed through the sacrificial death of His own Son. Rather than giving us what we deserved: death, God gave us what we did not deserve: life through faith in His Son. We deserved condemnation. He provided pardon. We deserved alienation from Him. He made us sons and daughters. We had earned His wrath and judgment. He poured out His grace and forgiveness. And the amazing thing is that “God shows his love for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Christ died for the ungodly. But man’s biggest problem is coming to grips with his own ungodliness. We struggle believing that we are sinners in need of a Savior. We hate the idea of being helpless and weak, incapable of saving ourselves. We want to desperately believe that we can somehow earn our way into God’s good graces. But Paul will have none of it, because God refuses to grade of the curve or lower His standards in order to allow men to squeeze in under the bar.

It was the death of Jesus, His shed blood, that makes our right standing with God possible. We have been right with Him and are free from ever having to face His righteous, holy wrath ever again. As Paul will say later in this same letter, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). We have been reconciled with God. At one point we were His enemies, but now we are His children. Because of Christ’s death, we have been made right with God – in this life. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we are assured a permanent right standing with God – for eternity. We are saved from the eternal wrath of God that is the eventual lot of all men who refuse to accept His gift of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of His Son. And Paul tells us that this reality should produce in us a joy right here, right now, because “we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11 ESV). It was the ancient writer, Origen, who said, “Paul stresses the now in order to indicate that our rejoicing is not merely a future hope but also a present experience” (Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans). We are reconciled with God. We are free from His wrath. We are righteous in His eyes. We are no longer His enemies. We are justified by God.

I love this quote from Ambrosiaster, a Christian writer who lived in the middle to late fourth century. He wrote, “If Christ gave himself up to death at the right time for those who were unbelievers and enemies of God … how much more will he protect is with his help if we believe in him! He died for us in order to obtain life and glory for us. So if he died for his enemies, just think what he will do for his friends!” (Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles). God loved us in the midst of our sin. Christ died for us because we were sinners. And we can trust God’s love to carry us through to the very end. We can rest of the fact that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Peace With God.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:1-5 ESV

Having settled the case of whether justification is by works or by faith, Paul now moves on in his discussion about the gospel of God. Paul emphatically and confidently states, “since we have been justified by faith.” The tense of the Greek word he uses is extremely important because it speaks of an event that has already happened. In essence, Paul is saying, “having been declared righteous.” It is in the past tense. It speaks of an event that has already taken place. Once someone places their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, they are immediately declared righteous or are justified by God. Their debt to God is paid in full, their sins are removed, and they receive the righteousness of Christ. It is a done deal. And it is all done by God and as a result of faith. We no longer have to justify ourselves with God anymore. No more works to earn His favor. No more effort to try and live up to His righteous standards in the hopes that He will accept us. Our salvation is accompanied by our justification.

And one of the greatest benefits of our justification is peace with God. In verse 10 of this same chapter, Paul makes it clear that, before salvation, we were all enemies of God. We were subject to His wrath. We stood condemned and deserving of His righteous, just judgment. In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul wrote, “You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:21-22 ESV). God’s gospel, His plan for man’s salvation, has provided a means by which sinful, guilty, rebellious men and women can be made right with Him, enjoying a state of permanent peace and the uninterrupted joy of His presence. The Greek word Paul used for peace carries the idea of harmony, security and safety. It is “the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is” (Outline of Biblical Usage).

We enjoy this peace with God because of the grace of God. It is His unmerited favor that has made it all possible. We did nothing to deserve or earn it. Paul reminds us that we obtained access into this grace-given position through faith. In other words, we have access into the very presence of God as a result of God’s mercy. And it is our faith in the graciousness, goodness, mercy and kindness of God made evident in the death of His Son that makes our reconciliation with Him possible. And our new-found peace with God is permanent, including the future hope of our eternal relationship with Him, which is why Paul states, “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” There is a day coming when His Son will return and those who have been made right with God through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross will enjoy an eternity of permanent peace with God.

But in the meantime, Paul tells us, we should rejoice in our present sufferings. While we wait for the hope of the glory of God, we find ourselves living on this earth and facing trials and troubles of all kinds. Our new-found peace with God has put us at odds with the world in which we live. Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:17-18 ESV). As a result of our new-found righteousness with God, we stand in stark contrast with the world around us. As we live according to His indwelling Holy Spirit we will find ourselves facing increasing suffering as a result of our faith. Paul reminds us, “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (Colossians 1:23 ESV). The temptation will be to bail out or give up. But we must understand that our “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV). Our reconciled state with God will produce irreconcilable differences with this world. But any suffering we encounter will produce in us a patient endurance. We learn to persevere. And that perseverance produces in us character. As we endure patiently the sufferings of life, we have our character tested and proven to be true or genuine. We see the character of Christ revealed in our lives in the form of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And as we see the characteristics show up in our lives in spite of the suffering we may endure, we grow in our hope. It solidifies our certainty that we really do belong to God. We really are new creations. And our hope will not leave us hanging. We will not find ourselves ashamed or embarrassed because of the faith we placed in God’s promises. Our trust in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross will not leave us disappointed in the end. We can suffer. We can endure, we can grow, we can hope, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5 ESV). The very presence of the Spirit within us is a reminder of God’s love for us, but He is also the source of our enduring love for God. Our justification is by faith. Our sanctification is by faith. Our capacity to endure is the result of faith.

Knowing God.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. – John 17:3 ESV

In what has come to be known as His high priestly prayer, Jesus gives us a wonderful definition of what it means to have eternal life. For far too many, eternal life is little more than heavenly “fire insurance,” a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card that will allow them to escape the penalty and pain of hell. Eternal life gets them a guaranteed place in heaven. In other words, it becomes all about a future destination. But Jesus emphasized that it is really all about a relationship that begins here on earth and culminates in heaven. The whole point of heaven is the unbroken relationship with God it will provide – free from the effects of sin. The whole point of hell is that it will be an eternal existence completely separated from any kind of access to or relationship with God. The point is far less about the physical pain and suffering of hell than it is about the emotional and spiritual suffering that will be the result of an eternal existence completely severed from any hope of a relationship with God. There will be no more common grace extended by God to any and all. No joy, no laughter, no gentle rains, calming breezes, no moments of rest or the simple pleasures of a good meal. In this life, it is God who graciously allows all to experience the joys of his creation. “For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45 NLT). In hell, wherever it will be, those things will no longer be available because God’s presence will be inaccessible and unavailable.

But in His prayer, Jesus did not focus on heaven, even though He had already promised His disciples that He would return for them and take them to be with Him there. “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3 ESV). His prayer equates eternal life, not with heaven, but with a relationship with God the Father and with Himself as the Son of God. Eternal life is about a restored relationship with God. It begins at salvation and finds its full fruition at the point of our glorification when we see Jesus face to face. The moment anyone, by faith, acknowledges Jesus as their sin substitute and the sole source of their salvation, they are reconciled or made right with God. They go from being His enemies to His adopted child and heir. “You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:21-22 NLT). “For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son” (Romans 5:10 NLT). The salvation provided by God through Jesus is not about a destination, but a relationship. It is about God reconciling lost and hopeless men and women to a right relationship with Himself. It is about God doing for us what we could never have done on our own. We could never have earned our way back into God’s good graces. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).

Eternal life is about knowing God. It is about having a right relationship with Him and Jesus is the one who makes it possible. But being made right with God, while wonderful, loses its significance if we do not find ourselves desiring to grow in our knowledge of the one who made our salvation possible. In Paul’s prayer for the believers in Colossae, he asked “God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:9-10 NLT). A growing knowledge of God – that is the essence of eternal life. Warren Wiersbe has described this growing intimacy and awareness of God in this way. “To know God personally is salvation. To know Him increasingly is sanctification. To know him perfectly is glorification.” We are to experience a growing and ever-expanding understanding of God as we live submitted to His Spirit, read about Him in His Word, and grow increasingly more committed to His will for our lives and this world. Coming to know Christ was intended to allow us to get to know God – intimately, personally and progressively more and more. That is the essence of what it means to have eternal life. It is less about knowing where you are going when you die than it is about knowing God – the one with whom you will spend eternity after you die.