Saturday, June 16, 2007

Why did they Flee?

1 Samuel 17:8-10, "And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us. And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together."

Thus was Goliath the giant Philistine champion's challenge to Israel for forty days before David heard him and took a stand. Note the terms: "If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants..." Each side boasted ready armies in battle array, but apparently men were scarce and they had other enemies to fight or ward off. So they agreed to a match of champions. I wonder, though, if any people group in the history of the world subjected themselves as slaves to another because their man lost to the other's champion. Would you really just throw down your swords and surrender because one man fell?

1 Samuel 17:51-53, "Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled. And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until thou come to the valley, and to the gates of Ekron. And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even unto Gath, and unto Ekron. And the children of Israel returned from chasing after the Philistines, and they spoiled their tents."

That's not what the deal was! After David had indeed defeated the Philistine warrior, instead of becoming Israel's slaves as promised, the Philistine army fled, and died in the process, leaving their tents as spoil for the victorious Israelites. Yet they were a mighty army, ready for battle, the aggressors in the match. Why abandon the mission, why die without even fighting? Why did they flee? (verse 51) Look at Israel. David was but a youth (verse 42) with a sling (verse 40), and Israel's army had been quivering on their lines for forty days. The odds seem to be at least even.

Look back at 1 Samuel 5 & 6. The Philistines were on a long, scattered campaign to conquer Israel (or at least to harry them persistently). After one victory, they even came into possession of an artifact of some importance, the ark of the covenant. Israel had resorted to using it as a good luck charm, and so lost it. The Philistines, believing this reflected well on their god, Dagon, and badly on Israel's God, placed the ark as tribute in their temple. That's when things started to go terribly wrong. The idol of Dagon kept falling on its face before the ark. People began to get tumors and rats were invading. After passing the ark (and accompanying plagues) around between the Philistine cities, their kings admitted a sort of defeat and sent back the symbol of Israel's covenant with God. So we see the Philistines were a religious-minded people, and saw spiritual significance even in their wars.

1 Samuel 17:43, "And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods."

Though only a little phrase, and perhaps little meant by Goliath, the giant did curse David by his gods. David brought even more religious significance to the match when he answered Goliath:

1 Samuel 17:45-47, "Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD'S, and he will give you into our hands."

Before he ever faced Goliath, David recognized the Philistines were defying God, not just Saul's mighty men.

1 Samuel 17:26, "And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?"

David was prophecying that the Philistines would be given into the hands of Israel. The fall of Goliath would be the sign that what he said was true. Witnessing the fulfillment of the first part of the prophecy, the Philistines didn't wait around to endure the rest. If their god was unable to protect a single man, he was unable to fight for them. Israel's God had won the contest, and despite human odds, the Philistines were disheartened enough that they fled. Nevertheless, the carcasses of the host of the Philistines were given to the fowls and beasts.

Nations back then understood that God was in control of battles. They assumed the winning side's god was the real one, or the most powerful. Though this was not always true (God spent a lot of time explaining that he ordained for Assyria and Babylon to defeat His chosen people, but that He did it for a reason and would restore Israel and visit vengeance on her enemies.)

Today America is fighting a war in Iraq, where the foes hold the worldview of the Philistines: may the biggest god win. Though we do not admit it, our humanist religion has given America's leadership a similar perspective. Thus, though we are America, after meeting with difficulty and casualties, our leaders back home are shaken. The other champions seem to them to be doing well, and that is an evil portent to their godless eyes. So they would flee, declare the war lost, and the pagan god of Islam to be the stronger. (By the way, in rereading I realize the two prior sentences are contradictory. However, I believe both accurately describe the views of those in our country who claim defeat. Their views are inconsistent, and thus false.)

What if America turned to the true God? If we trusted as David did that God would save us "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit," what would be the difference?

To God be all glory.

PS: Thanks to Karen Hancock's Light of Eidon for inspiring me with the deeply religious undercurrents in the story of David and Goliath. I've always seen the story as the triumph of faith against giants, or removing reproach from Israel. God is always doing so much more than is apparent on the surface. I wonder what He's doing in the world now?


ZJRAMSLI said...

I think the real problem is that because we have abandoned God we are no longer willing to endure hardship and sacrifice in order to stand for right against evil for the defense of others. We as a nation would rather enjoy ease and prosperity. We once said with Patrick Henry; ‘give me liberty or give me death’. Now we say with uncle Max; ‘what’s going to happen is going to happen just make sure it doesn’t happen to you.'
If we returned to God then we would fight knowing; the battle is the Lord's. - To live is Christ and to die is gain. - Greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for others.

C.A.R. said...

This is a good reminder about the real issues in the war on terrorism. It IS a spiritual battle. Our God is still greater and still conquers through men and women of faith. That is why we must fervently pray for the free gift of salvation to be received by our military, by Iraqis, Muslims in other countries, and even some of the terrorists;not to mention the unbelievers in our own country. Nothing is impossible with God and His amazing grace.