Thursday, June 21, 2018

Confidence in God


This may sound painfully obvious, but lately I've noticed how often the Bible tries to teach us the perils of putting our confidence in anything or anyone except God.

This week, for Vacation Bible School, we're studying Daniel, and, in last night's adult class, we read the story of the fiery furnace and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's refusal to bow down to the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had erected. After reminding them that they would be executed, the king asked what he thought was a rhetorical question: "And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?" But the faithful Jewish men replied, "If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." The point of Daniel seems to be to remind the readers--likely Jews under Roman or, perhaps, Greek occupation--that trusting in Israel's God is their only hope.

This Sunday, we will hear the story of Jesus and the disciples crossing the sea during a storm (Mark 4:35-41), and, as I've written about this week, the point of the episode seems to be to show the disciples (and the readers) that they are not in peril as long as they are with Jesus, who wields the same power as God himself.

In our congregation, which is using Track 1, we will hear the lesson that is the first option from 1 Samuel 17, which is the story of David and Goliath. Before we get to Sunday, I hope you'll take a minute to read all of 1 Samuel 17 because it includes some details that the lectionary reading skips over. In particular, I hope you'll notice what 17:24 shows us: "All the men of Israel, when they saw [Goliath], fled from him and were much afraid." And I hope you'll read David's response to his countrymen's fear in verse 26: "What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" Notice that, for David, this encounter is not only with a giant warrior but a direct confrontation with Israel's fear. The soldiers are cowering on one side of the valley, but David has faith--not in himself but in the living God.

When he goes out to battle carrying only a sling and five smooth stones, he goes under the protection of Yahweh. Given that background, David's taunt of Goliath makes more sense to us: "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...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." The very nature of this battle, therefore, is the battle between God and God's enemies--a battle that the army of Israel, hiding in fear, had forgotten.

That's what this Sunday is all about. And, as I hinted at in the opening of this post, that's what the story of salvation told in the pages of scripture is all about. It's about knowing that God is the one who saves us. It's about putting our confidence in him. If we believe in him, we will not be afraid. That's Jesus' message to the disciples: "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And that's God's message to us: "Do not be afraid. Have faith Know that I am with you."

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