Defending God’s honour – part 1 (1 Sam 17)

So far in 1 Samuel we’ve seen Israel ask for a king like the other nations had, so they could be like everyone else. So God granted their request, and gave them Saul. Indeed, he was the kind of king they asked for, being more concerned about what other people thought than what God commanded. So the kingdom would be taken from Saul and given to a different king – the kind of king God had in mind. In the intervening chapter (1 Sam 16), Samuel anoints David as king. Whereas Saul was the obvious candidate from a human perspective – tall, handsome, the eldest son – God’s choice was the least likely. David was from the smallest tribe, the smallest clan, the youngest in the family. And to top it all off, according to some readings he was a ranga! (For international readers: Aussie slang for a redhead. OK, so the word the KJV translates “ruddy” probably doesn’t mean “red-head”, but many ancients took it that way.)

This is the story of how David began his ascent to the throne, by acting in a very different way to Saul. Read 1 Sam 17:1-26, the first part of the well-known story of David and Goliath. Although it probably should be called the story of David and God’s honour.

When God is dishonoured

When God is dishonoured in our world, how do you feel? When his people are ridiculed, does it make you angry? When he’s accused of all sorts of crimes against humanity, does it make you want to speak out in his defence? When the thought of his very existence is laughed at, does it make you want to do something about it?

It made David angry. It’s what made him stand up and do something when Goliath and the Philistines dared to challenge God’s honour and call his reputation into question. Because at the heart of it, that’s what this story is about. God’s honour and reputation are at stake.

Now this may not be all that obvious at first. Certainly the point seems to have escaped king Saul, as we’ll see in a minute. So let’s backtrack a bit and start the story from the beginning. We have the Philistine army gathered to fight God’s people, the Israelites. The referee is about to blow time on when Goliath stands up, claiming he’s got a better idea. Now you have to keep in mind that this guy’s described as being six cubits and a span tall. The tallest person I know is a friend who’s 6’8”, and if I spend too much time talking to him I have to book in with my chiropractor to get my neck fixed. Goliath’s probably taller than that, depending on how you measure a cubit. So anyway, Goliath comes up with a better idea, at least from his perspective:

17:8-9 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.”

If only wars today could be settled that way – a quick fight between two people. Although I’m sure the battle for the TV rights between Fox-Sports and ESPN would be particularly vicious. But this was occasionally a way of deciding battles in the ancient world between armies that wanted to avoid all-out bloodshed. (A Roman historian called Quadrigarius records such an event between the armies of Rome and Gaul.)

Then look at what Goliath says at the end:

17:10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.”

Goliath is defying the Israelite army. He seems to be challenging the honour of Israel. And that’s how Saul and the Israelites understand it, too. A challenge to their reputation:

17:25a Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him….”

But David sees things differently. Even though on the surface, it’s a challenge against Israel, more fundamentally it’s a challenge against Israel’s God. His reputation as ‘the God who saves’, his title as ‘the Lord of Hosts’ or ‘the God of armies’, is at stake. Listen to how David describes it:

17:26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

Yes, it’s a disgrace against Israel. But more fundamentally, it’s dishonouring the living God! In challenging Israel, Goliath and the Philistines are really challenging Israel’s God. God’s honour is at stake.

Three millennia later, God’s honour is still at stake. We haven’t got any seven-foot giants challenging us to a spear fight – at least not in the places where I hang out. But we’ve got a whole world of Goliaths who are challenging God’s honour daily:

Firstly, there are the obvious, direct attacks. Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. Christopher Hitchens’ book God is not great: how religion poisons everything. The sneering condescension from atheist academics toward those who believe in God. The bitter attacks from those who have lost loved ones in natural disasters or terrorist attacks or through terminal illness or car crashes – ‘if there is a God, why did he allow this to happen?’ God’s honour is at stake every day from direct attack. Who will defend God?

Secondly, there’s the more subtle challenge to God’s honour whenever bad things happen to Christians. Just like God’s reputation among the nations was tied up with the fortunes of Israel, his Old Covenant people. These days, outsiders still look at God’s people suffering injustice or illness or grief and think ‘so where’s your God now?’ God’s honour is at stake whenever Christians experience injustice. Who will defend God?

And even more generally, God claims to be the creator and designer of this world. And therefore he claims to be the authority on the meaning of life and how it should be lived. Yet every day, billions of people continue to thumb their noses at him, living their own way. Looking to other gods, to idols, to material comforts, and to other human beings in order to find meaning and direction. What about that challenge to God’s honour as the only source of true meaning in life? Who will defend God?

Doesn’t that make you (righteously) angry? Doesn’t it make you indignant that people in so many ways are dishonouring God, rejecting his rule, and mocking his very existence. Do we care? Are we zealous for God’s honour?

David was. ‘Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?’ How dare he! So David says in v32, I’ll fight him. I’ll do it. Apparently I’m the only one who’s zealous for God’s honour around here, so let me at it!

Jesus, too, was zealous for God’s honour. He came, in part, to vindicate God. Romans 15:8-9 says he came to vindicate his promises to the patriarchs. Romans 3:25 says he came to ensure that God’s reputation for being just remained intact, even though he forgives sinners. And in John chapter 2 we read of how Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, angry that God was being dishonoured by their actions.

Jn 2:17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

God’s reputation is at stake today. Are we putting up our hand and saying ‘how dare they – let me defend him!’ Like Jesus, are we zealous for God’s honour?

To think about

Have you become numb to the daily challenges to God’s honour, or do they make you indignant? (Not hateful or abusive – that’s entirely different.)

In what ways can you show appropriate, godly zeal for God’s honour?

Post responses and questions

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