Recently, one of the brethren at Jackson Heights preached a sermon on David and Goliath. Though this is a familiar topic, he began it in an unusual way. He prefaced his discussion of the events of 1 Samuel 17 by reading 1 Samuel 16:13. He noted that from the time of his anointing, David was a spiritually gifted young man.
I think it’s likely that David’s giftedness had a far greater impact on his encounter with Goliath than we normally credit. Perhaps the problem is that we limit our awareness of spiritual gifts to the named gifts of the New Testament: tongues, prophecy, and so forth. David certainly was a prophet, but that didn’t help him a whole lot with his giant problem!
However, the Old Testament reveals that spiritual gifts could have physical dimensions. Most notably, Samson was a man who was able to do great feats of strength through the Spirit of the Lord. Similarly, in 1 Kings 18, Elijah is able to outrun Ahab in his chariot because “the hand of the Lord” was upon him.
David makes similarly impressive claims about his own divinely bestowed abilities in the Psalms. In Psalm 18:29, he claims the ability to charge and defeat large groups of enemies and to leap over walls. Vs. 33-34 claim that he has received the gifts of surefootedness, battle training, and superhuman strength from God. Claims like these appear in other Davidic psalms.
Traditionally, I’ve read these things as poetic license, hyperbole. Perhaps not. In fact, in light of David’s resume claims in 1 Samuel 17:34-37, probably not. There, David discusses his ability to fight and kill multiple lions and bears in defense of his father’s flock.
On our recent family vacation out West, I saw two bears. I saw them from a great distance, and I was quite happy about that. Bears are big, fast, tough, and designed by God to kill animals about the size of a human being. I have no interest in fighting a bear with anything less than a large-caliber firearm. Ditto for lions.
David, on the other hand, as a kid, is challenging, fighting, and killing lions and bears up-close and personal. He is grabbing the lion and the bear under the chin with one hand and hitting it over the head until it dies with the other. He’s not doing this with a sword or an axe. He’s doing it with a stick.
That ain’t natural, folks.
In short, it seems likely that David was already a supernaturally enhanced warrior by the time of his trip to the valley of Elah, and he knew it. What’s more, all the Israelites who heard his story and believed him knew it too. They were a lot savvier about what was and was not possible in hand-to-hand combat than we are.
For that matter, despite the fame of David’s use of the sling, I doubt things would have gone a whole lot differently if David had closed with Goliath instead. A bear can probably take as much punishment as an economy-sized armored human, and both the lion and the bear are faster. Goliath taunted David for treating him like a dog, but David likely would have beaten him like a dog.
All of this puts a different spin on the narrative of David’s faith in this story. Certainly David spoke and acted as a young man of faith. However, his faith was neither foolish nor unfounded. He knew that God could help him to do things no other man could do, he had experienced God’s help, and he was confident that God would help him again.
Today, God calls us to a faith that is similarly well reasoned. If we rush blindly into X, confident that God will help us to do X even though He has given no indication of it, we probably will get what we deserve. However, if we study His work and His promises and act accordingly, like David, we will find that He will not fall short of what He has promised.
A few weeks ago, I preached a 20,000-foot view sermon on 2 Timothy, in which I spent a lot of time reading and a little time highlighting main themes. The brethren here seemed pleased with that, so this evening, I’d like to return to the concept. Let’s see what Philippians can teach us about stepping up in discipleship.
Let’s begin by reading PHILIPPIANS 1. Here, Paul teaches us to see the world through Christ’s eyes. Paul could have been depressed about his situation. He was imprisoned, and his enemies were cynically using the gospel to make him look bad. However, because he had learned Jesus’ perspective, he was able to see good in both of those things and even rejoice in them.
Next up is PHILIPPIANS 2. This text calls us to show Christ’s humility in the way we treat one another. It’s so easy for worldliness and selfishness to slip into the thinking of even mature Christians. Let’s say, for instance, that the coming auditorium remodel doesn’t turn out exactly to our taste. Are we going to be upset that we didn’t get our way, or are we going to rejoice because others in the church got theirs?
PHILIPPIANS 3 offers us another valuable spiritual lesson. It tells us to be willing to sacrifice anything for Jesus. As a Jew, Paul had it all, and he gave it all up for Christ. What’s more, it was a trade he was glad to make. All of us are called to give up things in our lives too. Usually, these things are minor in comparison to what Paul gave up. Do we cling jealously to them anyway, or, like Paul, do we gladly forfeit them for Christ’s sake?
The epistle concludes with PHILIPPIANS 4. This chapter calls us to find the solution to our problems in Christ. If we are anxious, we can find peace in Christ. If we are tempted, we can find strength by meditating on the things of Christ. If we are suffering, we can find contentment in Christ. If our hearts are set on Him, there is nothing we cannot overcome!
Psalm 136 is famous for being the most repetitive psalm in the entire book. It is built around the phrase “for [God’s] steadfast love endures forever.” “Steadfast love” (also translated as “lovingkindness”, “mercy”, and “faithful love”) is a translation of the Hebrew hesed, a word which has no English equivalent. It combines the concepts of love and faithfulness to a covenant. For instance, a husband who displays hesed loves his wife because of the mingling of affection and commitment.
Psalm 136 explains the work of God as the expression of His everlasting hesed. All that He has ever done in time and space is the result of His love for and His promises to His people. This includes His work in creation, in delivering the Israelites from bondage, in giving them the land, and in protecting them in the land. Because He is constant in His love, He is worthy of praise.
Psalm 137 comes from the time of the Babylonian Captivity. It describes the misery of the captives in Babylon. The Babylonians are forcing them to sing the songs of Jerusalem even though the Jews are miserable because of Jerusalem’s destruction. The psalm concludes with a famously raw plea to God to take vengeance on the Edomites, who cooperated with the Babylonians in destroying Jerusalem. It expresses the wish that someone might do to the children of the Edomites as the Edomites had done to the children of the Jews—cruelly bashing their heads against rocks to kill them.
Psalm 138 is a song of thanksgiving to God. It praises His love and faithfulness because He answered the prayers of the psalmist. The psalmist predicts that even the kings of the nations will praise Him because of what they have seen of His works. Even though the psalmist’s life is troubled, God continues to protect him from his enemies. The psalm concludes with a prayer to God to sustain His protection.
Psalm 139 praises the omniscience and omnipresence of God. The psalmist states that God knows not only his actions, but also his thoughts. He knows what the psalmist is going to say before the psalmist does! Everywhere the psalmist might go, God is there with him, and nothing can conceal him from God’s eyes. Indeed, God even knew him in his mother’s womb and watched as he was being formed there.
As a result, the psalmist values God and thinks about him all the time. He asks God to protect him from his enemies and justifies this by pointing out his own faithfulness. He concludes the psalm by asking God to search his heart and lead him in the paths of eternity.
Psalm 140 is another plea for God’s help in trouble. The psalmist’s enemies are causing trouble and setting traps for him. In such a time, the psalmist asks God to hear his prayers while not giving the wicked what they want. In fact, he asks God to punish them instead. He concludes the psalm by expressing confidence in God’s justice.
Rend your hearts and not your garments;
Now return to God the Lord;
In His grace and His compassion,
All your loss will be restored.
Hear His voice before His army;
Quickly do as you have heard;
For His day is great and awesome;
He will carry out His word.
Rend your hearts and not your garments,
Every soul that dared depart;
Come with fasting, weeping, mourning;
Come to Him with all your heart.
Slow to anger, great in mercy,
He will hear you and relent;
He will leave you with His blessing
If you only will repent.
Rend your hearts and not your garments;
Call the people to your side;
Gather elders, children, infants;
Bring the bridegroom and the bride.
Weep between the porch and altar;
“Spare Your people!” let them say;
Lest the nations mock His power,
He will answer when you pray.
When a Scriptural subject is as hotly debated as the necessity of baptism for salvation is, we might assume that the Scriptural witness is somehow unclear. With baptism, though, this is hardly the case. From beginning to end of the New Testament, many texts inform us that baptism leads to forgiveness of sins, washes away sins, gives new life, clothes with Christ, and saves. Without the “help” of false teachers, any reasonable person would read those passages and properly understand the importance of baptism.
This teaching appears not only in passages that explicitly mention baptism, but also in some that do not. Many Christians cite John 3:5 and its context as an example of this, but few pay similar attention to Hebrews 10:19-22. Here, the writer says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
In this Scripture, the writer urges us to confidently draw near to God. All told, he enumerates five things that ought to give us the assurance to do so: three heavenly things that are present, and two earthly things that must be present. The three heavenly things are the blood of Jesus, the way that He opened through the veil into God’s presence, and His priesthood over the house of God.
As necessary as these things are, they are not sufficient. Otherwise, even the idolater and the atheist would be able to come into God’s presence without changing anything about themselves. Certainly, the unbelieving Jews of the Hebrews writer’s day would have been able to, which would have nullified the whole point of the book!
Instead, only a limited class is able to take advantage of the way that has been opened. If we want to draw near, our hearts must have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies must have been washed with pure water. Note that the conjunction here is “and”, not “or”. Just as the work of Jesus is not enough by itself, so only one of these things is not enough by itself either. We can’t just think that we have been saved to form a relationship with God. We must have been baptized too.
Indeed, this text even indicates what mode of baptism is appropriate. Sprinkling as it is practiced today is nothing like a washing of the body, nor is pouring (typically, the baptizer only pours water on the head of the baptizee). Only immersion resembles a bodily washing.
The point for us is plain. Either we are in God’s presence, both now and eternally, or we will be outside God’s presence, both now and eternally. If the former is what we want, we have to submit to God’s will to get there, a will that ordains both faith and baptism.