When it isn’t humanly possible, God’s providence – God’s kingdom purpose – prevails

TLW25 Church calendar readings (lectionary) for Sunday, June 24

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 17-23, 32-49 – The providence of God in personal vulnerability

Mark 4:35-41 – The providence of God in calming a storm

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – The providence of God through hardships and opposition

The diminutive David takes on the giant Goliath. Image: moneymover.com

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 17-23, 32-49 » The spiritual battle between fear and faith personified in Goliath

  • The young David meets the abusive challenge of his huge, armoured opponent and kills him

1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah.

“Sokoh” – The Philistines encroached on Israelite territory through Saul’s reign, here about 15 miles on the Philistine (west) side of Bethlehem. They faced each other on opposite hills across a strategic valley, the Elah, which offered the Philistines a route into the hill country of Judah.

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span.

“A champion” – in ancient times it was sometimes agreed that a stand-off would be settled by selected individuals; see another instance in 2 Sam. 2:12-17.

Gath and some other Philistine cities were known for having a number of giant inhabitants. Goliath, more than nine feet tall, would have presented a terrifying spectacle.

5-7 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armour of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.

“Five thousand shekels” – 55kg or 125lb. This is more than the weight of the massive plate armour worn by medieval jousting knights on horseback. His spear tip was like wielding a large sledgehammer at 7kg.

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.”

10-11 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

“Dismayed and terrified” – the intention of this strategy. It was Saul’s job to accept the challenge and step forward.

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17-19 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”

“Bring back some assurance” – literally, take their pledge. Of course Jesse was concerned about his sons.

20-21 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other.

“Army going out” – ‘Standing to’ at dawn and moving forward from the camp.

22-23 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it.

“Defiance” – not just cursing Israel, but the living God. Silencing Goliath’s defiance of God was a greater motive for David than Saul’s offer of reward, vv. 24-26.

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32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

In contrast to Saul’s fear, verse 11, David has courage – the courage of faith, verse 37.

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34-36 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.

Lions and bears were common in Palestine in this period.

37 “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

38-39 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off.

40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

Between the opposing armies was a valley – and a stream.

41-42 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield-bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

“Glowing with health” – ruddy-faced, the word emphasising David’s youth and inexperience

“Come at me with sticks” – David appeared weaponless, apart from his staff.

“The Philistine cursed…” – By contrast, David praised. Victory over Goliath would demonstrate God’s victory over Dagon, chief god of the Philistines.

45-46 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.

47 “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.”

“The battle is the Lord’s” – a declaration of faith and praise. David is choosing to agree with the perspective that the Lord is showing him, over his apparent great disadvantage. To David, this is a spiritual battle, not just a physical one, see Eph. 6:12.

48-49 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

David’s sling would have been a leather cup with two thongs to whirl it. Loosing one thong at the right time released the projectile which stunned Goliath so that David could decapitate him. With practice, this could be a highly accurate weapon.

In practice

It is easy to see this as just a heroic battle, the youth who defeats the bully. However, note that David saw this as the Lord’s battle – spiritual as much as physical. So should we. We face ‘goliaths’ of fear and hopelessness and bad news which the enemy of our souls brings out, to taunt us and challenge us. The battle takes place in our thought life, but we can speak out praise of the One who has settled that battle like David did – and see how that praise becomes a slingshot in the face of the ‘giant’.

Question

What has the Lord already provided for your present thought-battle?

 

Mark 4:35-41 » The providence of God in calming a storm

  • Jesus takes authority over the elements that threatened to swamp the boat – and tells the disciples they should have exercised their faith in doing this

35-36 That day when evening came, He said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took Him along, just as He was, in the boat. There were also other boats with Him.

In 1986 a 26 ft boat big enough to hold 15, dating from this first century period in Galilee, was recovered from mud that had preserved it.

37-38 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

“A furious squall” – the Sea of Galilee is 200m below sea level, giving rise to strong downdraughts and sudden storms.

“On a cushion” – probably one of the bags of ballast sand used to stabilise the boat.

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Jesus’ exercise of authority over the natural power of wind and waves demonstrated who He was.

40 He said to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!”

“No faith…terrified” – the disciples had seen Jesus’ authority in action many times but still lacked faith. The Holy Spirit was to transform their faith and confidence later.

“Wind and waves obey” – they knew that in the OT, God commands wind and waves, Job 12:15 and 28:25, Psalm 107:25-30.

For further study on Jesus’ authority witnessed by the disciples, see Mark 1:21-34, 1:40-45, 2:1-12, 3:1-5.

In practice  

Just as we face ‘giants’ of fear, so there are storms of life. One tries to slay us, the other threatens to swamp us. But Jesus rebuked the wind – “Do not do this!” and ordered the rough sea to be calm. “But that was Jesus!”, you say. But the implication of the story is that the disciples should have exercised their faith and spoken authoritatively to the elements. And we have the Holy Spirit, the very presence of Jesus, in us to raise faith and bring the right words.

Question

When trouble threatens, do you have a person you trust you can turn to, and pray with you? Why is it important to have a prayer partner you can call?

 

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 » The providence of God through hardships and opposition

  • Overcoming a catalogue of hardships is proof of Paul’s genuine call

1-2 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For He says, “In the time of My favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

“Receive God’s grace in vain” – e.g. by turning back and continuing to live independent from God and self-centred. Or still under a burden of condemnation. Or, as below, showing the very opposite of God’s nature. Saved, but not living as having been saved.

“Time of My favour” – Paul, by quoting Isaiah 49:8, is aligning his apostolic ministry with Isaiah’s prophetic call to repentance in view of the coming day of redemption and judgment, which is salvation.

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.

“Now is the time” – This salvation era has already arrived in Christ. God is starting to bestow blessings of the age to come and there is an urgency to turn to God by receiving Jesus in this period of particular favour, between Jesus’ first and second comings.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.

Paul and his companions’ character was always being questioned. Slander was their travelling companion – “genuine, yet regarded as imposters”, below.

4-10 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;  in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;   sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

“Dishonour…bad report…regarded as imposters” – there was continual opposition from false apostles who in character were self-serving and self-promoting. By contrast, “as servants of God” Paul always puts the focus of his gospel message on the Lord and God’s power coming through his own weakness. The apostolic team’s genuineness is shown by their “yet we live on” attitude of following God’s call.

The nine hardships listed (see also 2 Cor. 4:7-18) are also detailed in Acts e.g. Acts 14:5-6, Acts 14:19-20, Acts 16:19-24, Acts 21:30-36.

For further study: imprisonments are mentioned in Acts 16:3, Eph. 3:1, Phil. 1:13-14, Col. 4:18, 2 Tim 1:16, Philemon 1.

11-13 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange – I speak as to my children – open wide your hearts also.

The self-appointed leaders at Corinth have tried to persuade the people there that Paul does not really love them. Unswerving despite the hostility, Paul asserts his true affection, also in 2 Cor. 7:2.

 

In practice

Paul suffered a lot for his faith in pursuing his being called to share what the Bible calls the Good News: forgiveness with God, new life and eternal salvation, all through simply turning to Jesus Christ and asking Him to be Lord of your life. It’s a decision that totally changes us – yet the people who were trying to discredit Paul and stir up trouble for him, were often part of the churches he had started. Jesus had said, you will know a tree by whether its fruit is good or bad. Paul kept on loving people in Corinth who were clearly not motivated by love themselves. In the Christian walk, the most bitter opposition may come from within the church, not outside it, and it may be triggered by doing what is right in God’s sight – keeping Jesus central – not what is wrong. Be encouraged, it has happened to many better people who made a stand for Jesus Christ and His values. Giants threaten us, storms of life blow up out of nowhere and attacks come from people who should be there for us – but God’s providence is over all. His kingdom purpose prevails.

Question

What is this passage teaching you about opposition and spiritual attack?

God’s plan of redemption is too great for people to grasp

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 21
Mark 8:31-38

Peter’s concern comes from the wrong kingdom

31  He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again. 31  Now that the disciples had heard and accepted what Peter had exclaimed: “You are the Messiah!”, Mark 8:29, Jesus gives the first of three teachings about what He would go through to fulfill God’s plan.

31  “Son of Man” is used more than 80 times in the gospels. It was a term Jesus used about Himself because it was not loaded with expectations and preconceptions. In the OT it often just means “human being” eg Psalm 8:4, Psalm 80:17 but it has the sense of a title in the way God often address Ezekiel in this way. But Jesus hearers would also have been familiar with Daniel 7:13-14 where the Son of Man at the end time brings the kingdom to the oppressed people on earth. The Son of Man sayings in Matthew, Mark and Luke generally combine suffering and death with glory at the end-time.

31  For further study: these sayings in Mark particular seem to refer to Daniel’s Son of Man, Mark 8:38, 13:26, 14:62.

32  He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke Him. 32  John Wesley’s notes, “And Peter taking hold of him – perhaps by the arms or clothes”. The Message: “But Peter grabbed him in protest”.

32  Peter understood that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter understood what Jesus meant by “suffer many things” and “be killed”, v.31. But for Him, the Messiah was about strength, not weakness. A suffering Messiah was unthinkable. He would not at that point have associated Isaiah 53, and Isa. 53:3 especially, with Messiah.

33  But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” 33  A sharp rebuke – which was intended for all of them. Peter was voicing an opinion of the flesh – not the Mind of God revealed by the Holy Spirit (and the Holy Spirit had not yet been generally given). Peter loved Jesus and did not want Him to be taken – so he expressed a fear, an anxiety. The devil uses thoughts he tries to plant in our minds as one of his most common strategies – our thoughts don’t all come from us and they certainly don’t all come from the Spirit and it takes practice to sift out the ‘junk mail’. Peter was taking the rap for all the disciples making the commonest of mistakes, which we all make, especially at first.
34  Then he called the crowd to Him along with His disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. 34  “Take up their cross” or literally, shoulder their stake, which perhaps better gets across the meaning of shameful death.

34  The starting point of being a disciple of Jesus is to be able to deny self. Ego and Jesus do not occupy the same space.

34  The follow-on point is that there is a cost to following Jesus, and in a world that is very rational and merit-orientated, the values of the servant King can bring plenty of misunderstanding, ridicule – and persecution. The last burning at the stake for presumed heresy, of Edward Wightman, a Baptist in Burton on Trent, was only four centuries ago, in 1612.

35  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me and for the Gospel will save it. 35  Reneging on faith when under trial is not an option. The trials we experience in the western world today are not life and death as they were for our forebears; but our faith is on trial when we either do or do not stand up for Jesus’ values in a world of often opposing values. Do we want to remain popular or do we want to remain and abide in Jesus? Are we sensitive to criticism or secure enough in who we are to be ready for some criticism?
36-37  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

36-37  The only way we gain salvation is by losing the right to attain it ourselves. Our world is so permeated with the idea of performance and merit, it is hard for us to embrace what leads to spiritual life now, and life eternal, because it cannot be earned. Something that good that we don’t earn is difficult to trust. And earning seems more secure to us than trusting.

36-37  Jesus is saying that we try to hold on to life, to build a better life, to secure hope for a future life by doing the best we can in this life – and all of that causes us to miss the one thing that secures our souls. Giving up our rights to a self-determining life, so that Jesus can guide our determining by the truth about Him and His values, is losing ‘our’ life in exchange for His. This recognises what this passage looks forward to – Jesus exchanging His life, for us to be able to look to Him for eternal life.

38  If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when He comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”


Application

The difficulty for people of Jesus’ generation is that He didn’t look like a Messiah. Perhaps we would say He doesn’t look like a celebrity. Christ the humble suffering servant is proud humanity’s greatest stumbling block; God in Him is not seen, except with the eyes of faith.

The Anointed One, Messiah, has been linked up to ‘Son of Man’ for Peter and the disciples, but the anticipation of a conquering king so eagerly awaited by Jews who turns  out to be the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:1-12 but also the One who would come again in judgment, Daniel 7:13, presented the disciples with difficulty at every level of intellectual, emotional and spiritual understanding. Mark follows this with the story of the Transfiguration, Mark 9:1-10, where those who have recognised Jesus in his lowliness as the Christ are rewarded and affirmed by being momentarily blinded by His glory.

In regarding Jesus, and for that matter in regarding anything that relates to His way, then or now, the challenge for us is seeing with faith beyond seeing what we want to see.

For reflection and discussion

God’s plan is not readily understandable, defies logic and conflicts with our worldview! So what approaches will you explore, to make the Good News of Jesus accessible to others?