Sunday, August 19, 2007

Height and Heart (I Samuel 16-20)

Samuel has one last act before retirement: a secret and subversive one. He travels to Bethlehem, to anoint a man to replace Saul as king of Israel. The Lord has told him it is a son of Jesse, so Samuel naturally assumes that it is Eliab, the eldest and most imposing. After all, Saul impressed everyone by his height. But the Lord quickly interjects:
Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
The lord chooses David, the youngest, who had to be called from watching the sheep. Samuel anoints him; the Spirit descends on him, and thus begins the career of the greatest king of Israel, save one.

Time goes by, and Saul and the army continue the war against the Philistines. They soon find themselves in an embarrassing and demoralizing situation. The Philistine champion, Goliath of Gath, makes a habit of coming out each day to challenge their best man to single combat. The man is a giant; even tall Saul and Eliab cannot stand up to him. So they simply stand there, as Goliath curses them by his gods and derides them for being the cowards they are.

Then David shows up to check on his brothers in the army. He hears Goliath’s speech, and is unimpressed. Who does this punk think he is, to insult the armies of the living God? Though he has no combat training other than what he’s learned in shepherding, David volunteers to fight the giant:
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. . . . 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.
Saul has to admit that the kid has heart. And so Goliath finds himself face to face, not with a great Israelite warrior worthy of an epic fight to the death, but with a kid holding a sling and stick, as if he were no more than a dog trying to attack his sheep. The insult cuts deep, and Goliath prepares to kill the twerp.

But David, with a courage and confidence that still sends chills up my spine, calls out:
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.
David slings a stone into Goliath’s forehead (knocking him out) and then cuts off his head. With this blow to the enemy's moral, the Israelites have no problem winning a decisive victory.

David gets all the credit. Everyone is quite impressed with him, especially prince Jonathan. He himself had once carried out a bold attack against a stronger Philistine force, confident that the Lord would give him victory. In cocksure young David, Jonathan sees a kindred spirit.

Saul, on the other hand, sees a threat. David’s popularity unnerves him. I don’t know if he had wind of Samuel’s treasonous anointing, but he can tell that the Spirit of God has left him and is on David. So he plans to kill him. Initially, Saul is more subtle. He offers David his daughter’s hand in marriage for the bride-price of a hundred philistine phalluses, hoping he will be killed in battle. David returns with two hundred. Saul then sends men to murder him in his bed, but David’s new wife tips him off and he escapes.

Finally, Jonathan warns David that his father is ready to pull out all the stops. He’s going to have to run for his life. But before he goes, Jonathan and David swear an oath of loyalty and friendship before the Lord.

It’s amazing to me the different responses people have to this young man. The prophet is initially unimpressed because he no form or majesty to draw his eye. His older brother was indignant at this kinsman of his acting like he was someone special. The people love him. The current guardian of Israel’s authority is threatened and plots to have him killed. The evil giant sees him as easy prey, and is lured into a trap. His closest friend confesses that he is none other than the Lord’s chosen king of Israel. And God looks on his heart and is well pleased.