“In the Midst of Your Enemies”

A commentary on I Samuel, by Joel McDurmon, 2013. Commentary (Part 7) by Andrew McColl, 16/9/2014

25. David was on the path to a battle that would literally change the course of history. It would vault him from shepherdom to national prominence. Yet en route to that standoff with Go­liath, David had to overcome several impediments ranging from his own spirituality to sibling rivalry to being publicly doubted by his government—among much else. How did David handle this? The simple answer is: with steady faithfulness. No matter what obstacle was thrown at him, he never took his eye away from God’s Law. This steadfastness involved humility, and it involved courage, and it involved being prompt in answering all challenges with appropriate words or actions. We can learn much from the types of challenges David met, and how he met them; and these lessons can apply whether we are speaking to our father, brother, community, or the king him­self (p.249).

Not everyone wants to see you successful, let alone faithful to God. David’s brother Eliab had been present when David had been anointed by the prophet Samuel (I Sam.16:13). Clearly, Eliab had not forgotten this, when David had arrived at the battlelines with supplies. He did not rejoice at his younger brother’s anointing by the prophet. In fact, he seeks to diminish him and his home tasks, then misrepresents his motivation: “I know your insolence and the wickedness of your heart; for you have come down in order to see the battle” (I Sam.17:28).

Despite his elder brother’s accusations, David was neither insolent or wicked. David had been chosen by God for a national task, while Eliab is seething with envy.

The Bible teaches us that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc.1:9). Sibling rivalry was endemic throughout Genesis, and the first murder of history was when Cain (the first child in scripture) slew Abel, his brother (Gen.4:8). Behind sibling rivalry can be a greater difference: a hostility which is religiously motivated, and Eliab in his animosity clearly exhibits this.

26. With David, the anointed king of Israel, facing off against the great ser­pent, we can now understand that this showdown is a covenantal showdown. When we skip ahead just a bit and recall Goliath’s end, we get that picture even better: the serpent’s head is crushed. We are dealing here not only with a historical incident that has an inspiring moral, but with another episode in God’s redemptive history. The biblical imagery is God’s way of teaching us that fundamental message once again—of the seed of the woman versus the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15)—and flashing like a neon sign in the narrative, “Look here. Look here.” Here is the advance of God’s covenantal promises for His people (p.255).

In the flow of Biblical history, there is nothing peculiar about Goliath. In His wisdom and providence, God sees to it that Goliath displays the attributes one could expect from him. One could argue that he is a perfectly consistent character; big, loud, threatening, abusive, and despising God and His people.

He is outside the covenant, so that is what we should expect. David seems to know all of this, probably better than we do today.  Unlike Saul, his brother Eliab and the rest of the Israelite army, his faith and knowledge move him to display great confidence in the outcome of this confrontation, so that he “…quickly ran towards the battle line to meet the Philistine” (I Sam.17:48).

Of course this sounds very dangerous, and humanly speaking it was. But David has this confidence in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the covenant keeping God. He knew his God was bigger than Goliath. He also knew Goliath’s weakness was his bare forehead, and David knew how to hit the mark with a stone from a sling. What else mattered?

27. As the two move on to prepare for battle, their covenantal allegiances become clearer. Nor is the biblical theology exhausted yet. After putting off Saul’s armour, David equips himself with only the arms of a shepherd—a sling and staff, and a pouch. We then we get the curious detail of David choos­ing five smooth stones from the brook as his ammunition. Why such a vignette? Because these are stones “cut out without human hands.” These are stones upon which no human tool has been lifted. This detail is something which God prescribed for the building of an altar to Him (Ex. 20:25)—it symbolized the fact that God’s work is not accomplished, ultimately, by the hands and works of man. It was just such a “stone cut out by no human hand” that Daniel prophesied would crush Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold, silver, etc., destroy the empires for which that image stood, and then itself grow to become a mountain and fill the entire earth (Dan. 2:34–5, 44–45). This detail appearing here is another one of those signs that this battle is about something greater than the moment. It was about the promised seed of the woman, God’s salvation of His people (p.257).

All of the Bible attests to the fact that the Holy’s Spirit’s choice of words and terms in scripture is consistent, and for His purpose. “Five smooth stones” really do mean something specific to God; hence they should for us, too.

Scripture requires that we be firstly, people of faith and obedience to God. Our prime confidence is to be in God, not weaponry. Thus it is hardly an achievement to be a nation that bristles with weaponry, but has no faith in God or obedience to his Word. This is to descend to “the arm of the flesh.”

Having said this, scripture does not negate the notion and use of weaponry. David’s willingness to defend his father’s flock against predators and to kill them, was replicated by his willingness to confront the army of the Philistines, and to kill Goliath. He first thought was to have confidence in the covenant keeping God of Israel. Then he chose a vulnerable, undefended part of Goliath’s body and struck it with a stone, mortally wounding him.

The lesson we can draw from this is this: weapons are not to be our first place of confidence. We are to trust in the Lord, and choose appropriate action or weaponry to fit the crisis we’re facing. The Bible tells us that before this crisis, David was considered to be “…a mighty man of valour, a warrior, one prudent in speech” (I Sam.16:18), and it tells us that “Every prudent man acts with knowledge…” (Prov.13:16).

David clearly had practiced his craft; he knew how to use his weapon well, and in the crisis he successfully put his skills to work and gained the victory for the Lord, himself, and all Israel.

As James Jordan commented,

Christ has crushed Satan’s head definitively in His victory on the cross. Christ’s people are called to join with Him in this victory, and the promise is that we too shall crush Satan’s head, in union with Christ (Ro.16:20).[1]

28. Godly society will only last if it is built on true covenantal communities. This is exactly what we see in Jonathan’s covenant with David. Not only was humility and service at the root, but the bond of affection and loyalty formed is the backbone of any true community. This level of eternally-committed self-sacrifice should be the nature of all our covenantal communities: family, church, state.

Christ’s exposition to His disciples was that He was a vine and we are the branches. We are vitally connected to Him, and yet by virtue of this we are vitally connected to each other as well. Thus He went on, as we saw, to explain true friendship as well: when one is willing to lay down one’s life for his friend. This is self-sacrifice to the max, which, of course, Christ did for us.

When we are so connected to Him (by His choice and grace), we are enlivened by His Spirit to show the same grace to others in our covenant relationships. We then serve others before ourselves, even in precarious and self-detrimental situations, so that we may sacrifice much in the process. We sacrifice time, patience, money, feelings, “face” in marriage and childrearing; but this is the basis of successful family (p.276-277).

We mustn’t make the mistakes of either ignoring or minimising the ethical issues flowing from the covenantal relationship between Jonathan and David. Both of them had fought their battles against the Philistines, believing in the God of covenant. Now, another outworking of that same covenant was to be manifested, man to man.

McDurmon is right to emphasise that “Godly society will only last if it is built on true covenantal communities.” Our Christian life and expression may require many different

things, but they all must be based on the reality of Christ’s covenant with one another. Otherwise, we become just another banging drum in the community.

Authority does grow from service and integrity. There are no other legitimate bases for it to develop from. This explains Jesus’ determination to be always doing the Father’s will. He said, “…I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (Jn.8:29).

Jesus’ oneness with the Father must characterise our behaviour too. We simply don’t have the right to do as we wish. This requires that we “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves,” and that we “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil.2:4, 6).

Ananias and Sapphira denied this (see Acts 5:1-11). They tried to play a game of religious charades, but Peter in confronting Ananias, claimed his deception was a “lie to the Holy Spirit” (v.3). Later, when he confronted Sapphira, he asked her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test?” (v.9) They both died instantly for their breach the covenant.

A generation later Paul dealt with the same issues, when he taught about communion. He explained to the Corinthians that their attitudes and respect for one another as believers could in fact determine whether they lived or died.

For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep (I Cor.11:29, 30).

Only a Christian society, based upon the individual faithfulness of people to God, can be a lasting society.

 

[1] James Jordan, “Judges: God’s War against Humanism,” 1985, p.86.