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Israel’s 40 Days of Fear and Taunting. Drawing Courage, Perseverance, and Hope from 1 Samuel 17

By Jeff Sullivan

If you’ve had a brush with fear lately and are looking to the Lord for some encouragement, you’re in good company.  This theme is as old as the Bible and its pages are full of stories preserved through the ages for just such times as these.  Paul reminded the first century persecuted Christians of this in Romans 15:4, For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Lately I’ve found some much-needed encouragement in the familiar story of David and Goliath. I’ve realized this story has a lot to say about dealing with fear by the power of God. But I always skipped to the happy ending and never really considered the context. These days, I think I can say, I have really appreciated the whole story.  Before the victory came there was taunting, -a lot of taunting.  Before David won the epic battle, 1 Samuel 17:16 tells us there were 40 days of loud taunting by Goliath.  Every morning and every evening he would shout out his challenge to King Saul and the army of Israel, no doubt sending icy chills down their spines like morbid clockwork.  The very real threat of death and slavery was staring them in the face. The stakes couldn’t have been higher for themselves and their families.

G. K. Chesterton once boasted, “I am not afraid of opposition. My God is a God of battles.” 

I used to love this quote, and I still admire its fearless, confident faith; like this story of the army of Israel at the Valley of Elah, all drawn up in full battle array, ready to encounter the Philistines. Was there anything they couldn’t tackle with God on their side? But then the towering Goliath showed up with his taunting shouts and the paralysis of “great fear and dismay” set in (vs.11). To say their faith was being tested is almost a cliché.  They had hit the very wall of their limitations. The enemy was bigger and badder than they ever thought possible. I imagine there was a lot of prayer going up from those tents in the battlefield; the age-old prayer of desperation for help from the living God; help without and help within.

Have you heard some of this taunting fear in these days of pandemic and isolation? Be honest, has it sent a shiver down your spine at least a time or two? As the virus and warnings stretch on and on and the grim statistics roll out day and night? For 40 days, every morning and every evening, Goliath shouted his taunts at King Saul and the army of Israel, reminding them that the losers and their families would be killed or enslaved. The word, “shout” in Hebrew used here is the same as when a herald would shout the name of a monarch, declaring his supreme power and sovereignty. This was a battle, it turned out, for much more than just turf or reputation. God was putting His finger on something inside them, something spiritual. I hope it doesn’t sound over dramatic but, after two weeks in quarantine I’ve grown a lot more sympathetic to their distress and the gut-wrenching fear they were fighting.

The weekend the stock market crashed, and COVID-19 became a pandemic I was in the middle of Los Angeles with my family and grandsons. It was the last place on earth I would have chosen for such a time, but I knew it’s where God had put us.  A half hour after we visited Disneyland, they announced its closure.  While at LAX, boarding our plane for the return trip cut short, the state of California decided to start closing down all restaurants. Like the kind we’d been eating at every day.  Upon our return, 14 days of self-quarantine felt like a long time.  In many ways, the waiting and wondering are the hardest part.  As the seriousness of it all sinks in, there have been times I had more peace in the middle of L.A. than in our own home. Like the taunts of Goliath every morning (as soon as you wake up) and every evening (last thing you think about before going to sleep), one wonders if every cough or ache is the virus.  And the worst part is not the concern for one’s own health as much as for that of your family and their world.  I have heard the taunts and felt the knot in my gut. 

Recently our state began a 14 day stay-at-home order and we all started the count down. Will it end in two weeks? Before you start marking off the days, remember that the trial of Israel lasted 40 days.  I imagine ours will be all of that.  40 is often associated with trial and testing in the Bible.  The 40 days of rain in Noah’s flood, the 40 years of Moses and Israel wondering in the desert, the 40 days of temptation and fasting for Jesus.  But rather than counting days, or scanning the headlines for hope, let’s look at the nature of God’s deliverance. 

In God’s own time He delivered Israel in a most astounding way, using a boy not even old enough for military duty to put an end to the taunts and turn the tide of fear. 1 Sam. 17: 48, 50 says David ran quickly toward Goliath and prevailed with a sling and a stone.  Where did he get such boldness and courage? We know that David had already been anointed as the future king at this point and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  David is a type and foreshadow of Christ (Greek for “anointed one”) and his zeal for delivering His people is symbolic of Jesus’ victory over the Devil.  David ran at Goliath, putting an end to his taunts by the Spirit of God; Christ overcame the devil in similar fashion. He is our heroic heavenly King David. On the night of His betrayal Jesus said, “my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27)”.  A friend who has lived with cancer for over seven years explained it this way: The peace the world gives depends on the removal of the threat. The peace of the Lord is available in the midst of it. The peace of Christ is a provision mightier than anything Goliath may shout at us in all his taunts and boasting.

This historic battle can teach us much about the spiritual battles we are facing. Are you feeling taunted or paralyzed with fear? Maybe even Great Fear (terror) and dismay (panic)? Like David, remember the bears and the lions God has delivered you from in the past.  Don't underestimate your mustard seed faith in Jesus The Victor. His peace is available in the midst of the trial, before anything else changes.  Call on Him, talk to him; declare your confidence in Him.  Not in some kind of macho, overconfidence in your invincibility, but with trust in the living God who is with you, and for you, and who does not set up His sons and daughters to fail, but to grow.

~Jeff Sullivan, March 31, 2020

[Part 1 of 2 -Next: David Feels the Fear and the Psalms are Born]


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