bible blog 1090

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:


1 Samuel 16:14-17:11

New English Translation (NET)

David Appears before Saul

14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. 15 Then Saul’s servants said to him, “Look, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you!” 16 Let our lord instruct his servants who are here before you to look for a man who knows how to play the lyre. Then whenever the evil spirit from God comes upon you, he can play the lyre and you will feel better.” 17 So Saul said to his servants, “Find me a man who plays well and bring him to me.” 18 One of his attendants replied, “I have seen a son of Jesse in Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave warrior and is articulate and handsome, for the Lord is with him.”

19 So Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is out with the sheep.” 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a container of wine, and a young goat and sent them to Saul with his son David. 21 David came to Saul and stood before him. Saul liked him a great deal, and he became his armor bearer. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse saying, “Let David be my servant, for I really like him.”

23 So whenever the spirit from God would come upon Saul, David would take his lyre and play it. This would bring relief to Saul and make him feel better. Then the evil spirit would leave him alone.

David Kills Goliath

17 The Philistines gathered their troops for battle. They assembled at Socoh in Judah. They camped in Ephes Dammim, between Socoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelite army assembled and camped in the valley of Elah, where they arranged their battle lines to fight against the Philistines. The Philistines were standing on one hill, and the Israelites on another hill, with the valley between them.

Then a champion came out from the camp of the Philistines. His name was Goliath; he was from Gath. He was close to seven feet tall. He had a bronze helmet on his head and was wearing scale body armor. The weight of his bronze body armor was five thousand shekels. He had bronze shin guards on his legs, and a bronze javelin was slung over his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and the iron point of his spear weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer was walking before him.

Goliath stood and called to Israel’s troops, “Why do you come out to prepare for battle? Am I not the Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose for yourselves a man so he may come down to me! If he is able to fight with me and strike me down, we will become your servants. But if I prevail against him and strike him down, you will become our servants and will serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “I defy Israel’s troops this day! Give me a man so we can fight each other!” 11 When Saul and all the Israelites heard these words of the Philistine, they were upset and very afraid.

Rembrandt: David playing for Saul

Rembrandt: David playing for Saul

The author doesn’t take the easy way of ascribing the evil spirit to Saul himself or to an evil deity: the spirit that torments Saul is a spirit from God. This sharpens the portrait of God in the story, adding to his capacity for arousing fear. This is not congenial to the modern, Christian reader, but is fully intended by the author. For him/her all events come from God either by initiative or permisssion, and the story will not conceal this fact. That’s a challenge to the sort of faith that turns God into a celestial teddy bear. Faith in the One Creator God cannot duck God’s responsibility for the way the world is without inventing other gods or denying that this world is God’s creation. For Christian believers, the suffering of God in Christ is a definition of the way God accepts this responsibility, reconciling the world to himself and asking human beings to share in the work of reconciliation. 

Goliath is the epitome of the power that terrifies by mere size, gloating over those who fail to challenge it. As the next episode in the story reveals, this top-heavy, muscle-bound thug stands no chance when faced with intelligent opposition. From David’s point of view, he’s a sitting duck. 

Those who opposed communist regimes in Eastern Europe, those who worked for peace in Northern Ireland, those who led the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa have produced their own splendid interpretations of this story.

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