For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
I want to do something a little different this morning.
I want you to put yourself in the sandals of one of those Israelite soldiers. Just imagine with me – maybe close your eyes if it helps you put yourself in their place.
It’s late Spring – the time when kings go to war. A messenger came to your town calling for every family to send their young people to fight for the king. You left home with a sharpened pickaxe, the only pointed tool you could find. You marched for miles over mountains and through valleys with your homemade sandals on your feet, a bit of grain and a skin canteen of water over your shoulder.
You’re following the king. Saul is his name. He’s a mighty man – feared through all the land, not least because he would kill your family’s livestock if your father hadn’t sent you to fight. He’s an impressive man, a battle-hardened warrior who stands a head above everyone else in Israel. You do as you’re told, following the king into battle.
But there’s rumblings in the ranks. The king and his closest advisors have been at odds with the prophet – and Israel is weak. The Philistines have armor and trained warriors, but you’re just a farmer with a pickaxe. Israel needs God to fight it’s battles, but that doesn’t always work out. You see, sometimes – well, a lot of the time – the king rushes in. Saul’s impressive; Saul’s mighty; but Saul is impulsive, and you’ve heard he has these fits of madness. And you and your comrades on either side are fully aware that Saul loses as many battles as he wins.
You’ve marched to the battlefield, setting up your tent as spring turns to the dry heat of the middle eastern summer. On the other side of the valley are the Philistines – an incredible force, better prepared in every way. In fact, they’re so confident that they don’t even want to waste their energy fighting – after all, it’s better to keep young men as slaves than to waste them on the battle field.
Every day they send out their strongest warrior to taunt you. And it works. Can you imagine? You’re a farmer barely 5 feet high, and you’re supposed to fight a trained warrior in bronze armor as tall as a basketball player, with a sword heavier than you could lift? And you’ve heard the rumors in the camp – they’re all as strong as he is. Everyone’s given up hope. There’s no use. You might as well go back home and prepare for life as slaves, growing your wheat to feed the Philistines while you live off the scraps.
You look to the king – he’s easy to spot, he’s stands a head above everyone else. He’s got the best armor, and even he’s shaking in his boots.
Each day, the Philistines get up and start their battle cries. Even the sound of their voices and drums and trumpets strike fear in your heart. Then Goliath comes out. He struts back and forth, your comrades drawing back every time he changes direction. He doesn’t even want to fight – he just yells insults. And, you’re ashamed to admit it, but maybe what he says is true. You’re not strong. You’re not mighty. You’re just a farmer. Goliath calls upon the names of his gods and curses you. “Where is the God of Israel?” he shouts, as you hear the Philistine army behind him erupt with laughter. “We have our god made of stone, but has anyone even seen the God that Israel thinks is on their side?” After all, you remember, God used to go with you into battle with the ark of the covenant, but your grandfather was in that battle when it was lost.
Forty nights you lie in your tent, listening to every sound, waiting for the Philistines to run you through. Then you awake, hardly rested, to hear them laugh and taunt you, as even the king quakes with fear. Why can’t they just get it over with? If they’re going to kill us, why must they humiliate us first? If they’re going to make us slaves, let’s just get it over with.
But what’s this?
There’s a kid. Look at him – he’s too young to grow a beard. Who is he?
Look! He’s breaking the line – he’s going out on the battlefield.
Somebody stop him! He’s not even carrying a shield. This is insane. No, worse than that, this is embarrassing! Listen to the Philistines – they’re roaring with laughter. Come on, guys, somebody call him back. This kid is going to get ripped apart. They’re mocking us!
Wait. He’s yelling. …Oh, somebody stop him! It’s bad enough Goliath mocks us each day, now we’ve got this kid out there ranting about God – a God we can’t see, who hasn’t come to help us these last 40 days. Ugh, somebody make him stop. Can’t anyone see how embarrassing this is? I’m ashamed to be here with this army, let me go and be a slave to the Philistines.
For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise”.
…Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
We all know the story of David and Goliath.
But put yourself in the sandals of those Israelites. Be honest.
Would you have trusted in David when he stepped out in that field?
Would you have opened your ears and listened when David spoke about the power of God, or would you have wished someone would stop him, that he would just shut up?
I am a faithful believer in Jesus Christ. I am a priest of the Church. But I have to admit: I wouldn’t have trusted in David.
And I don’t think I’m alone in that.
The Season of Preparation
Advent is a season of preparation. Not a preparation for Christmas – God knows we don’t need any help or encouragement to spend money or bake cookies or eat too much and enjoy a nice holiday nap!
No, Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of Christ; and, with that, a season to prepare ourselves to meet our maker whenever that time comes for you and for me.
But the hard truth is, I don’t think any of us would have been encouraged when we saw a shepherd boy with a sling walking out to what would surely be his death. I don’t think any of us would have stirred with religious fervour when, after 40 days of quaking with fear, we heard this young man talking about God’s glory.
But that’s the message of God’s story.
God will not save us in a way that preserves our pride. God will not save us in a way that we can pat ourselves on the back and say “Wow, didn’t I do well today”.
No. God will save.
God doesn’t ask for your strength; he doesn’t ask for your wisdom; he doesn’t ask for your power; he doesn’t even ask for your opinion: he asks for your trust.
And let’s be clear – that means trusting in some incredible things.
All of our instincts say “this boy, David, is a fool”. But what we don’t know is that God has already anointed him as king. We need to be willing to trust in the solutions that God has provided, not cast them off because we can’t see how it will work.
When we’re feeling overwhelmed, worldly wisdom tells us to retreat into our houses; cut yourself off from the world, put on a mask – a happy face – think positive, and bear it yourself.
But God says ‘When one is weak, when one is sick, when one is mourning, when one is simply worn down: take it to the church. Bear one another’s burdens, pray for one another, be anointed for healing, taste and see that the Lord is good. But we say “it’ll never work. I need to do this alone”, rather than trust the solution that God has prepared.
When our minds are swirling, when we’re frustrated, when we just can’t figure out what’s going on, we say “where’s God?”. But God says “faith is a gift”… but you’ve got to open it, you can’t leave it wrapped up under the tree.
When a sickness is spreading, when the waters are rising, when the mountains are literally toppling into the sea – yes, God has given us amazing minds and skill to create vaccines and levees and helicopters to evacuate those stranded by floods – but do we put all our faith in those man-made solutions, or do we use the gifts God has given us, and then turn to God in prayer? Trusting that, though prayer might feel like a strange waste of time, the same God that sent a boy to defeat the Philistines also said that more is accomplished by prayer than this world will ever know.
Come, Lord Jesus
This advent, I need to be honest with myself. I wouldn’t have trusted in David. But, by the same token, what other incredible solutions does God have planned that I’m simply unwilling to accept?
This Advent, I invite you to reflect and prepare for the day that we will each meet God face to face, and with that, to pray for open eyes, that we may see that the God who raises up the humble and meek will do the same for you, and for me, if only we trust in the one whose wisdom passes all human understanding.
To Him, and to him alone, be the glory, now and forevermore. Amen.