Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Truly Tall Tale

Today's passage:  I Samuel 17:1-30
     Every villain has a story to tell.  Every bad guy has a reason for resorting to villainy.  I don't say this so that I can sympathize with wickedness or excuse evil, I just find it interesting to think about what motivates a person (besides our sin natures) to act the way they do.  Most people are motivated by something in their past history that determines their future actions.  I think if we forget that Goliath was an actual person, not just some story-book giant like the ogres and trolls in fairy-tales, he becomes one-dimensional and we forget that if he made different choices, his story would be much different.  A villain in a movie can only behave a certain way because that is how he was written.  He is not a real person.  Goliath was real, as real as David, and as real as Saul.  He was not just this fictional character to appear so that David could be the hero of the story.
     Remember when the Philistines carried the Ark of the Covenant back to their land after defeating the Israelites (see post: A Comedy of Errors)?  Remember the turmoil it caused among the people of the land?  I don't think it is a far stretch to imagine that Goliath had been a boy, although a rather large boy given that he was a giant, when the Ark arrived in the city of Gath.  This was the second city of the Ark of the Covenant tour.  Not too long after it arrived, all the people in the city (Goliath too?) became covered with these boils.  Itching, smelling, no relief boils.  Goliath probably runs to his mom and pleads with her to give him some relief.  She is helpless.  Herbs don't work.  Potions don't help.  Praying in the temples to their gods, bringing those gods offerings, scraping at these tumors, nothing seems to bring relief.  Goliath is miserable.  Perhaps he had even seen people die from this malady.  The men of the village conference together and determine that this is the fault of the Israelites' God.  The only way to appease this God they did not worship was to send that wretched box out of their town.  Let their fellow Philistines deal with it.  Goliath may have remembered the gold box being hoisted into an ox cart and disappearing down the dusty road towards Ekron.  Slowly, the boils start to scab over and heal.  Relief at last.  Goliath would remember this curse upon their city by Israel's God.  Instead of recognizing His power, he would let it fester and attempt to prove that the gods of his country were stronger.  He could have made a different choice.  He could have tried to find out more about this God he didn't understand.  He could have sought out an Israelite in a nearby town and asked questions.  But to do this would be to turn his back on everything he had been trained to believe.  It would mean he would have to not look at the Israelites as his enemy.  It would mean admitting that his family had been teaching him wrong all these years.  Not many people are willing to make that leap.  Not many people today are willing to look at their circumstances in that way, why should Goliath be any different?  Goliath resolved that one day, he would show the world that his people were the bravest, that his gods were the strongest.
     He must have been well on his way to proving this because the fourth verse of this chapter says that Goliath was a champion.  He was not just a giant, he was a warrior.  His height was intimidating, but his fighting record was more intimidating.  When he challenges Israel to fight him, day after day, it is more than wanting to show his might, it is to show that Israel's God is weak.  This is why he flings insults at them.  This is why he taunts them.  All the anger he has had is spewing forth like an erupting volcano.  This God who had made him, his family, and his townspeople so miserable so many years ago would be shown to be nothing.  Goliath hates Israel's God. 
     How do the Israelites respond to this rage that is hurled at them from across the valley?  Goliath was already a formidable figure, but standing on a mountain across the way, he must have resembled a stone monument.  His armor would have been blinding as it reflected the hot sun.  His booming voice would have shook the ground, causing pebbles to tumble down the mountain that the Israelites were encamped upon.  Every word Goliath spoke threatened to cause an avalanche on the Israelite hillside.  No wonder they were cowering.  It is not surprising that each time Goliath issued the challenge, Saul's soldiers went scrambling for cover.  Until young David arrives.  For days, Goliath had been seeking a fight.  For days, the Philistine giant enjoyed that nobody dared to fight him.  David has no knowledge of this.  He brings his soldier brothers food from home, oblivious as to why everyone seems to be running for their tents.  Maybe Goliath came out at the same time each day, and the Israelites had learned to run and hide before he appeared.  Perhaps David was surprised to feel the earth beneath him move until the voice from across the valley echoed in his ears.  The voice of one who hated David's God.  This was unacceptable to David.  Call them weaklings.  Call them cowards, but don't dare insult Jehovah.  David was not afraid because the moment Goliath claimed that Israel's God was worthless, David knew who would win the battle.  He knew that God would not stand for that kind of disrespect.  David had spent a lot of time with God.  His time in the fields was time spent with the Lord.  David understood God's nature.  And he knew that God would show Himself to be strong.  Saul's soldiers (including David's brothers) would have had a lot of down time.  Sure, there would be times of preparing artillery, making sure the arsenal was stocked, training for battle, but soldiers often have a lot of time to do nothing but wait.  This was time that many of those soldiers could have spent with God.  They could have been reading and memorizing God's Word.  They could have been praying.  And maybe some of them were.  But if some of them were, some of them should have realized that this giant was God's enemy and he could not win.  David could have spent his time in the fields napping.  He could have been lazy, he had a lazy type of job.  He also did a lot of waiting.  He spent it waiting on the Lord. 
David slaying Goliath--Taken from Religion in the Home (Part 4)
By Charlotte M. Yonge, Illustrated by Julius Schnorr Von Karolsfeld
Published by George W. Bertron, 1913
     How we spend our time is what will determine if we are victorious.  Aren't we all guilty of wasting time?  God has convicted me more and more of this.  If I'm going to slay any giants in my life, I need to be prepared.  I can't be prepared if I don't spend any time with God.  David did not go to the battlefield that day, expecting to fight any battles.  But God prepared him, because David allowed himself to be prepared.  I have no idea what God has in store for me today, but I should be prepared for anything.
     Goliath would laugh when he saw this man-child armed with only a slingshot prepared to do battle with him.  What Goliath did not know is that David had already fought some fierce battles protecting his sheep.  In David's mind, he was in the pasture, ready to defend his flock.  And just as Jehovah God had been with him then, He would be with him now.  Goliath thought he could challenge Israel's God and win, possibly because others had challenged Israel in recent years and won.  He thought he could make Israel's God look small, and with Saul as king, he might have won the battle.  Goliath didn't know that God had a secret weapon, and Goliath will fall.  Hard.  Goliath could have chosen to search out Israel's God, but instead he chose bitterness and resentment.  Those things would obstruct him from ever embracing the truth, they would lead to his demise, and they would label him as one of the world's most menacing villains.  Every villain has a story, some villains didn't have to be villains at all.

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