Meditations in 1 Samuel 35. Fighting the wrong way
1 Sam 17:38,39 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.
I want, after this meditation, to go on to the next meditation about fighting the right way for the story of David confronting Goliath certainly presents us with some strong challenges, but to do that I need to consider some of the verses that come before our verses above, but I want to leave them until the next one. However to see what goes on here, we do indeed need to see something of what happened.
As we have seen in the previous two meditations David has been sent by his father to take provisions to his brothers who are with Saul’s army at the battlefront – except there is no battle going on for it has been brought to a halt by the presence of this nine foot tall giant called Goliath who has rendered Israel immobile.
Perhaps to cut the story short we will simply note that David turns up, sees Goliath, is told what the present situation is and volunteers to kill Goliath. Nice and simple! This annoys David’s brothers who think this is rank presumption – how can a mere boy kill this heavily armoured giant? However David’s words are reported to Saul (v.31) who sends for David and really confirms the opinion of the brothers. David, however, persists and so in the absence of any other suicidal soldier willing to go, Saul allows him to do it. It is at this point that we come to our verses above. Saul is a tough king. So far he’s done a good job fighting Israel’s enemies and he knows how to do it – you arm up with every bit of armour you can carry and grab every weapon you can hold and go and beat up whoever stands before you. Saul’s mentality sees that David needs to be set up like an Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rambo type figure. Nothing less than that is going to be up to the job of dealing with Goliath.
So there we have another example of Saul’s ‘head and shoulders’ mentality – human reasoning with human strength. That’s all he knows. But it’s pretty obvious to any sane onlooker that even a boy in armour is no competitor for a nine foot hulk; it’s a ‘no contest’, so something else is needed. Now of course we have to wait until the New Testament to find James writing, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.” (Jas 1:5) If there is no obvious human answer then godly wisdom is needed – but Saul hasn’t learned that and turning to ask God seems a futile exercise because he already knows that in his unrepentant state he is not being heard by God. So he does what human wisdom dictates and loads David with armour. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.” (v.39)
Now we need to be careful here and don’t suggest that any human activity is insufficient to oppose the enemy because history show us, in respect of the abolition of slave labour for example, that ongoing hard work is absolutely necessary to defeat the enemy. In the present day, those fighting against slavery (which abounds ever greater than before across the world) spend hours and days and weeks in courts working against it. So, yes, there are times, perhaps in the absence of the church rising up in power to defeat these things, it is necessary to expend time and energy, but nevertheless the primary strategy has to be to seek the Lord as to how to fight.
Thus the corollary to that is the lesson that to simply think how we can overcome local crime, local human abuse, or whatever else it maybe that confronts us, is inadequate. Some problems in society are too big to be overcome by mere social activity. I am aware that there has been a trend in evangelical Christianity in recent years to balance up the evangelism versus social action debate and am certainly on the side of joining in social action within our local communities, but I nevertheless am totally convinced that where causes are ultimately spiritual, then the main thrust of the answer has to be spiritual. Fighting social problems or problems of any kind without prayer and without listening to God is a recipe for defeat. As much as it is absolutely right for us to counsel our church members who are in spiritual or social battles, if that is all we do, we are missing the point. The kingdom of God is in direct opposition to the dominion of darkness and the warfare is spiritual, requiring spiritual under-girding of any actions we take.
Saul wants David to come against Goliath using the same weapons that Goliath uses and that is a recipe for defeat, and fortunately David knows that. Today the enemy seeks to use lies, deceit, character assassination, bitterness, hostility and so on. Where we are confronted with those things, the answer is not to respond in like kind. Indeed we are to respond with things that are exactly the opposite. The ‘Jacob-schemer’ side of me immediately wants to plot and scheme of what we can do to bring down such opposition. In our local area, youths with threatening behaviour on the streets caused first a lot of verbal hostility on local chat rooms and then came talk of vigilantes. Initially I felt akin to those people but then realised that from a spiritual point of view that was NOT how to deal with the problem on the streets. Where we do have local areas where the streets are no-go, we have to perhaps wonder where the praying church is, that should be giving it to God, seeking His wisdom and His way of dealing with such things. Here, I suggest, is a fertile area for more thought and prayer because generally, I don’t think that we, the local church, do a very good job of bringing such issues to the attention of the kingdom of God.