The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, 21 June 2015
I Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49 or I Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16
Psalm 9:9-20 or Psalm 133
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
II Corinthians 6:1-13
St. Mark 4:35-41
This group of peoples occupied a five-city area composed of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The territory, on the Mediterranean extended from Wadi Gaza at the southern end to Yargon River at the northern end. Whatever border existed to the East, facing lands under Israel’s occupation is a bit fuzzy. There is speculation that the Philistines were part of the invasion of peoples from the north (Greece and Asia Minor) commonly referred to as the Sea Peoples. They may have appeared in the land around 1290 BCE and are mentioned in numerous Egyptian texts and inscriptions. There is also evidence of these peoples in the area of Syria, especially Aleppo, where an inscription on a statue identifies the figure as the “King of Palistin”. Some scholars think that there was a relationship between the Syrians and Hittites and the Philistines in the south.
The Bible records seven encounters between Israelite forces and those of the Philistines: The Battle of Shephela (II Chronicles 28:18), The Battle of Aphek (I Samuel 4:1-10), The Battle of Eben-Ezer (I Samuel 7:3-14), The incident at Michmash (I Samuel 14), The incident near the Valley of Elah (I Samuel 17), (today’s reading), The Battle on Mount Gilboa (I Samuel 31), and finally the Battle at Gaza (II Kings 18:5-8).
1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
[Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and his spear's head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, "Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us." And the Philistine said, "Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together." When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.]
David said to Saul, "Let no one's heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine." Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth." But David said to Saul, "Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God." David said, "The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine." So Saul said to David, "Go, and may the LORD be with you!" Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul's sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, "I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them." So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd's bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.
The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field." But David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD's and he will give you into our hand."
When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
The author sets up a highly visual scene with a typical military arrangement of forces facing one another on the hills that enclose a valley. It is in the space between the two forces that the drama will be enacted. It is interesting that this is also the arrangement used on various occasions for swearing fealty to YHWH, with the two sides of the valley shouting their allegiance. It is David who will represent those covenanted with YHWH, and Goliath represents “the others”. It is also a scene of contrasts with the heavily armed giant (who seems to be straight out of the Homeric tradition) and the simple shepherd youth. David is very much the mediator in these scenes where he “goes back and forth from Saul’s side”. In this story David is very much the hero who confronts the threatening evil, a pattern in story telling that will descend through the ages. There is another aspect to David and that is his divestment of flock, and then armor. The narrative makes the reader aware, however, that one thing is not given up and that is allegiance to YHWH.
This scene of battle and victory by David is followed by a rather tender rendition of the relationship with Saul’s son Jonathan, and a disturbing scene of the deterioration of David’s relationship with Saul. What Saul would have done with David, namely arm him for the flight with Goliath, is rather done by Jonathan, who garbs David with his cloak. The cloak may not just be a piece of clothing, but rather a mantle of authority – a princely garment if not in substance then in symbolic value. In this pericope, a transition is made, and the allegiance of YHWH is shifted to David.
Breaking open I Samuel
- Why is this story repeated in the Bible?
- What does Goliath represent?
- What does David represent?
Psalm 9:9-20 Confitebor tibi
The LORD will be a refuge for the oppressed, *
a refuge in time of trouble.
Those who know your Name will put their trust in you, *
for you never forsake those who seek you, O LORD.
Sing praise to the LORD who dwells in Zion; *
proclaim to the peoples the things he has done.
The Avenger of blood will remember them; *
he will not forget the cry of the afflicted.
Have pity on me, O LORD; *
see the misery I suffer from those who hate me,
O you who lift me up from the gate of death;
So that I may tell of all your praises
and rejoice in your salvation *
in the gates of the city of Zion.
The ungodly have fallen into the pit they dug, *
and in the snare they set is their own foot caught.
The LORD is known by his acts of justice; *
the wicked are trapped in the works of their own hands.
The wicked shall be given over to the grave, *
and also all the peoples that forget God.
For the needy shall not always be forgotten, *
and the hope of the poor shall not perish for ever.
Rise up, O LORD, let not the ungodly have the upper hand; *
let them be judged before you.
Put fear upon them, O LORD; *
let the ungodly know they are but mortal.
Psalm 9 and 10 may have been at one time a single entity. One big clue is that Psalm 9 begins an acrostic that is then continued in Psalm 10. There is also a great deal of shared material that is scattered between the two psalms. It is a thanksgiving psalm, the contents of which match well with the first of the Samuel readings. All is here, a harmful enemy, a brush with death, a grateful nation, and the reproach of the enemies of God. If there is a theme, it is this, “YHWH is known for the justice that he did.”
Breaking open Psalm 9:
- Whom do you consider your enemy?
- How had God helped you in your encounter with those who would do you harm?
- In what ways are you thankful.
Or (another Track 1 reading:)
1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16
On David's return from killing Goliath, the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with the head of the Philistine in his hand. Saul said to him, "Whose son are you, young man?" And David answered, "I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite."
When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father's house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved.
The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand; and Saul threw the spear, for he thought, "I will pin David to the wall." But David eluded him twice.
Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence, and made him a commander of a thousand; and David marched out and came in, leading the army. David had success in all his undertakings; for the LORD was with him. When Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David; for it was he who marched out and came in leading them.
See comments on the first of the Samuel readings, above.
Breaking open I Samuel:
- What do you think is the point of this story?
- What does the relationship of David and Jonathan mean?
- Is it symbolic or is it something else?
Psalm 133 Ecce, quam bonum!
Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *
when brethren live together in unity!
It is like fine oil upon the head *
that runs down upon the beard,
Upon the beard of Aaron, *
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
It is like the dew of Hermon *
that falls upon the hills of Zion.
For there the LORD has ordained the blessing: *
life for evermore.
This psalm seems to accompany the tender relationship that is revealed between David and Jonathan and offers commentary upon it. It is a very sensual psalm as we literally feel the oil running down from the head, unto the beard and then onto the collar. If there was a horizontal nature to the story of Goliath, here the scene is vertical, with the oil coming down from above. The comparative is the dew on Hermon, “that comes down” upon a parched land that so desperately needs it.
Breaking open Psalm 133:
- Why was this psalm chosen to accompany the reading?
- What does the directionality of the psalm mean?
- What is brotherhood or sisterhood for you?
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements-- surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? "Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? -- when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, `Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped'?
This is a perfect accompaniment to the Gospel reading for this day, where Jesus calms both wind and wave. In this powerful speech by God, there are poetic counters to the arguments of Job and his erstwhile friends. The poetry of this section borrows deeply from the ancient near eastern creation myths, where the victory over the troubled deep of the sea, and the ordering of chaos seem mirrored in the lines here, “who hedged the sea with double doors, when it gushed forth from the womb.” Job wished for the womb to be the end of his experience of life, but here the womb is not a place of death but a gushing resource of life and possibility. God is the source of all of this creative power, and the created seems bound to and excited to sing God’s praise, “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” No wonder Blake was so inspired by these lines.
Breaking open Job 38:
- What is the most powerful image for you in this reading?
- Where do you see God’s power in the world?
- How is the womb a creative force in the Bible?
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 Confitemini Domino
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, *
and his mercy endures for ever.
Let all those whom the LORD has redeemed proclaim *
that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.
He gathered them out of the lands; *
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
Some went down to the sea in ships *
and plied their trade in deep waters;
They beheld the works of the LORD *
and his wonders in the deep.
Then he spoke, and a stormy wind arose, *
which tossed high the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths; *
their hearts melted because of their peril.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards *
and were at their wits' end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper *
and quieted the waves of the sea.
Then were they glad because of the calm, *
and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy *
and the wonders he does for his children.
Let them exalt him in the congregation of the people *
and praise him in the council of the elders.
In the psalm we have another vision of the sea. An initial statement of the people’s thanksgiving for their deliverance from exile is followed by a recounting of the trials of the wilderness, which is not included in the liturgical reading for the day. What does follow is a restatement of God’s power over the sea. The Israelites had a mighty fear of the sea, and their admiration for those that braved the sea, “Some went down to the sea in ships” is almost palpable. From desert to sea seems an odd jump, and it may be that these verses were inserted into the text. They do offer commentary on the Gospel, however, and provide another image of the God who controls the wave.
Breaking open Psalm 107:
- How has God delivered you in your lifetime?
- From what powers have you been set free?
- How do you offer thanks?
II Corinthians 6:1-13
As we work together with Christ, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
"At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you."
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see-- we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return-- I speak as to children-- open wide your hearts also.
We are continuing in a series of readings, lectio continua, from the Second Letter to the Corinthians. As Paul gives evidence of “the acceptable time”, and the day of salvation, he recounts his sufferings (to win the hearts of his readers?). It is a grand listing of difficulties, which is a common feature of Paul. He often listed “good things” and an opposing list of “bad things.” Here we have a catalogue of sufferings, followed by a series of comparisons, “in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute.” Paul lays open his own experience and to some extent his emotions as he works to follow Christ. He urges them to open their hearts as well.
Breaking open II Corinthians:
- In what ways are Paul’s sufferings a model?
- Have you suffered for your faith? How?
- How do you open your heart to others about Jesus?
St. Mark 4:35-41
When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"
Following a series of parables centered on the seed, we have a sudden change of seen. In a way it is a return of the disciples to their “natural state” where they ply the trade of the fisherman. These simple folk are about to meet Jesus in a new guise. They would have been familiar with the fickle nature of the Sea of Galilee. It’s physical location in a valley where the prevailing winds of the Mediterranean would have whipped across the plane of Jezreel, and into the bowl of land where the lake lies. It is a tempest in a teacup writ large. In chapter three we witnessed healings and exorcisms that seem to be summed up in this chapter with the command to wind and wave. All of the Hebrew Scripture’s imagery of the sea, and the battle with it, is portrayed here. Jesus is calmly in charge, and the disciples are unduly alarmed. The pertinent questions are not about the calming of wind and wave, but of the disciples’ fear, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Breaking open the Gospel:
- When have you been mortally afraid?
- How did you face your fear?
- Did faith play a role? How?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your lovingkindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Questions and comments copyright © 2015, Michael T. Hiller