…not with sword and spear

Today’s readings are both well known passages. The first, 1 Samuel 17, is perhaps everyone’s favourite Sunday School story about David and Goliath. It can be easy with these well known passages to gravitate towards our favourite sections, or miss out on things because we think we know it so well. There is so much interesting detail in this account outside of the main line of action that could be explored, like the relationship between David, his father, his brothers (especially Eliab) and Saul (and how that fits chronologically with the previous chapter).

I tend to be drawn though by verses that speak to why, so today want to reflect on one small part of one verse in the mainline narrative. In verses 46-47, as David answers Goliath’s taunt, not only does he Goliath he will die, but why:

that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear

I wonder what “all this assembly” made of “the Lord saves not with sword and spear” as the giant fell. I’m sure they wouldn’t have taken the literal (or perhaps cynical) interpretation that God therefore saves with a sling and a stone. Rather they would have understood that the victory they had witnessed was to be attributed to God’s power, not man’s strength, as evidenced by such physically mismatched combatants.

Yet, for the Christian reader, with the benefit of the whole Bible, there are clues that God’s salvation is broader than deliverance from a particular champion or a particular battle.

We are reminded in that great passage of Hebrews 11 that God’s salvation has always been by faith–the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1). So long is the list of old testament heroes commended for their faith that the author doesn’t even get up to David before declaring the list could go on and on

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  –Heb 11:32-34

David’s faith (assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things not seen) is evident. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine”. 

Furthermore, much is made of David being the son of Jesse, not only in setting the scene on David’s arrival at v12, but underlined by Saul’s enquiries at the end of the chapter (vv55-58).

I can’t help but be reminded of the prophet Isaiah’s words, some 200 years later,

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. –Isaiah 11:1

and that 

He will raise a signal for the nations
    and will assemble the banished of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
    from the four corners of the earth. Isaiah 11:12

For me, the underlining of David being Jesse’s son gives us a glimpse of the bigger picture–that salvation is more than just from a specific battle. David is a foreshadow of the shoot of Jesse who will assemble the banished of Israel.

In a round-about way this brings us to our other passage today, Revelation 7. In it we read about two gatherings from the four corners of the earth. First, the 144,000 (a symbolic number for completeness) from the tribes of Israel who are sealed (protected, or saved) from God’s judgement, and secondly

…a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  – Rev 7:9-10

Who are these people?

And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

So it is that today’s readings remind me God’s salvation is

  • not from one battle with our enemies, but from being enemies with God
  • not just for Israel, but for people from every nation
  • not achieved with sword and spear but through faith in the blood of the lamb, Jesus

So as you go about your day today, may your faith (assurance of things hoped for, conviction of things not seen) be reflected in your actions and words, so that all may know there is a God in heaven who loves them, and who saves all those who turn to him.