On Saturday night on Channel 2, there are three programs; New Tricks, The Bill and Foyle's War. They are all police and detection dramas, one is about retired police officers, one is about an English police station and one is about Police Detection in the Second World War. Tonight, of course, there is Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, an old lady solving crimes which baffle the police. All these are variations on the theme of the fight between good and evil.
The story of David and Goliath and the life of Christ are also about good and evil, but there are many differences. My own opinion is that the world of TV is our way of escaping to a world where we know the goodies are going to win and the baddies are going to lose.
The Bible, on the other hand, is a book about our world, the one we live and die in, where it's harder to tell the difference between good and evil and the goodies don't always win.
This means that when we hear of miracles, like the calming of the storm, we can’t just say, wasn’t that clever of God, and move on to the next book. We are forced to ask questions, like, What is going on here? And what is God trying to tell us? And what does this mean for me?
It means that every story can be read many times over and explored to many depths of meaning, and it will speak differently to every generation and to every situation.
So how do we read David and Goliath, today? First, the setting is the perennial battle between the Israelites and the Philistines for the possession of the land – a real setting, now as it was in David’s time. We might be reminded of the perennial struggle between good and bad, between justice and oppression, between riches and poverty, greed and necessity.
Then Goliath is described, whose height was six cubits and a span. We are told about his impenetrable armour, his invincible weapons and his determination to defy the ranks of Israel. No wonder the Israelites were afraid, and we call to mind the things of which we are afraid – terrorism, drought or disease.
By contrast, David is a youth, a shepherd, handsome and with beautiful eyes. It is obvious who will win any trial of strength. And while we may not all be young in years and physically beautiful, David’s vulnerability reminds us of our own.
But when the fight comes, David refuses to use the same weapons as his adversary, no shield or armour, no weapons of mass destruction – just a few stones from the creekbed, and a sling.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Goliath is completely outmanoeuvred; David doesn’t even try to fight on the same terms, and so gains the victory. So we could say that cunning David outwits clumsy Goliath. But that is not the point of the story. The victory is not David’s victory at all, but God’s. David has fought in the name of the living God, and the victory is achieved to show both Israel and Philistine that the Lord does not save by sword and spear. By the wisdom of the Lord justice is achieved.
When I read the story of David and Goliath I saw God offering a new approach to peace and justice. Peace and justice are not reached by fighting with the weapons of war. Both the terrorists and their opponents are wrong here. Destroying buildings and lives simply escalates the problem. God’s wisdom always seeks to make weapons useless. God seeks to act against the cause behind the conflict, not to engage in the conflict itself.
Perhaps this is better illustrated by the gospel for today. Jesus and his disciples are in a boat when a storm strikes. The disciples, skilled fisher-folk, remember, used to dealing with a boat on this lake, are terrified. We could compare them to the skilled warriors of King Saul who were terrified when confronted by Goliath. The disciples are terrified when confronted with the power of the storm. Their sailing skills are useless, so they turn to Jesus, asking him to help.
Jesus wakes and he does not make the disciples better sailors, nor does he strengthen the boat or man the pumps. Instead he outmanoeuvres the disciples’ fear and removes its cause, by calming the sea. The disciples no longer have to struggle and fight and fear – the Lord has saved them, not by sword and spear, not by fight and struggle, but by wisdom.
For me, these stories remind me that God is always ready to astonish me, as God has always astonished people.
These stories also encourage me, because it suggests to me a way of dealing with the problems that I face and that the world faces. I know that God will not come like some great wizard and clean up the whole mess with a magic spell. Instead I look for the unexpected ways in which God’s wisdom works, working around the edges of problems, catching them unawares, if you like, outmanoeuvring them, using unexpected weapons and strategies.
And you and I, with discernment and courage, may find ourselves part of God’s action in the world. Indeed, I believe that, as followers of Christ, we should be looking for the way of God’s wisdom and committing ourselves to it. There seems to be no end of fearful and confronting problems, God invites us to be part of the answer and the way ahead.