One of the items I brought with me from my vacation in Massachusetts was a bag of cassette tapes made by my grandparents. In the 1970s cassette tape technology got cheap enough that these tapes became ubiquitous. Long distance phone calls were expensive so the Vander Klay side of the family began to circulate cassette tapes through the mail that they would record instead of writing letters. It’s been fun listening to the voice of my Grandma and hearing her share the regular news of her life.
One tape to my surprise contained the Gerard R Ford 1975 State of the Union address. That address is famous because he began it by saying “The State of the Union is NOT Good…”
Listening to it now some 41 years later is interesting. The mid 1970s were not a golden years for America.
- Ford replaced Nixon who resigned from the Presidency in shame. Ford controversially then pardoned Nixon.
- The 1973 OPEC Oil Embargo had shaken America’s sense of power and self-sufficiency and these issues were still rattling the country. Most of the speech was devoted to energy concerns.
- In 1973 the US finally withdrew from Vietnam and in April of 1975 Saigon would fall to the North Vietnamese. American confidence was shaken by its humiliating and painful defeat in that war.
- The economy was a mess. The US was experiencing “stagflation“. Ford was offering tax cuts and spending stimuli while the Federal Reserve was trying to curb inflation with very high interest rates.
All of this plus the fact that Ford was a Grand Rapids boy likely contributed to the interest and concern my grandparents had in this state of the union address.
Then and Now
Pollsters regularly ask Americans “do you think we are heading in the right track” and Americans regularly in large numbers answer “NO!” This piece was done for the last midterm elections even before the rise of Trump and Hillary.
This feeling isn’t just in the US it’s around the Western world. This prompted one British magazine to try to take a step back and ask “why don’t we realize we’re living in a golden age?”
It asserts that the Golden Age is now!
If you think that there has never been a better time to be alive — that humanity has never been safer, healthier, more prosperous or less unequal — then you’re in the minority. But that is what the evidence incontrovertibly shows. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labour and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history. The risk of being caught up in a war, subjected to a dictatorship or of dying in a natural disaster is smaller than ever. The golden age is now.
The article has a point. It goes on to point to our psychological disposition to anxiety and that the worriers of the world in some ways have a survival advantage because they tend to overcompensate for threats real or imagined. I don’t want to give too much credence to this given what Jesus has to say about worry.
At the same time it is interesting comparing the dilemmas of 1975 that Ford worries about with our own today.
- In 1975 interest rates were high putting a damper on the economy. We now worry about what continued near zero interest rates will impede our ability to fight the next recession.
- Ford wanted to pump more oil domestically and produce more coal. We now have fracking which has created a new US oil boom but we worry about the CO2 impacts of oil and coal especially given current low oil prices.
- Ford had Vietnam. We have Afghanistan and Islamist terrorists.
- Ford had the Soviet Union. We have nuclear proliferation.
- Racial tensions continue in the news
- Ford worried about the budget deficit. Our debt makes his look tiny.
On Worry and Problem Solving
In looking at these comparisons we can make some interesting observations.
- Some of what we worried about in 1975 didn’t wind up being too much of a problem. The Soviet Union collapsed and the world change.
- The problems we worried about now 40 years later were the wrong ones. We were worried we wouldn’t have enough access to oil. Now we worry about what our access to oil is doing to the rest of the planet.
- Some of the painful solutions worked but we never were sure how, or why, or whether what we learned will help us in the future. The Federal Reserve beat inflation through painfully high interest rates but that tool now seems less effective than before.
- Some of our solutions gave birth to larger problems.
What we find both in the Bible and in the world seems what we pointed out last week. In the words of Mr. Incredible why can’t the world stay saved?
The Book of Samuel’s Most Famous Story
David and Goliath is usually heard as an underdog story. Plucky David goes up against big bad Goliath and wins. While it does have that element in it its place in the story of the Book of Samuel is much more important and its message much more God focused. In our rather individualistic culture we tend to reduce these stories to become “stories about me” but the Bible is focused on far larger stories.
Israel is the central focus of the Old Testament in God’s project of reconciling the earth to himself and reclaiming a rebellious and broken world to be the kind of glory filled place he wants it to be. Israel, however, has proven to be a troublesome partner. Israel in the story in fact stands as a proxy for all of humanity.
The book of Samuel begins with the story of barren Hannah and the relational catastrophe of her family life. She introduces us to the corruption of the priesthood and the tabernacle. Bad goes to worse when the corrupt sons of Eli lose the ark of the covenant to the Philistines and God himself has to rescue the ark and it is set aside because God is simply too hot to handle.
While the people of Israel looked around for religious solutions to their problems in the book of Judges now in Samuel they looked around for political and technological solutions to their problems with their more powerful neighbors. The Philistines were associated with the sea peoples who were a maritime empire with advanced military technology. The elders of Israel wanted a king, a warrior who would fight for them and save them from the Philistines. Samuel was upset but God relented and Saul was brought in.
Saul looked the part, being tall and strong in appearance but right from the start there were clear signs of trouble. Even at his own inaugural he was found hiding among the baggage.
Saul was not plagued by the religious temptations of Israel’s neighbors like in the book of Judges but this pious, rather innocent man became increasingly corrupt by the political technology that was supposed to save Israel. After the Lord had decided to abandon Saul Samuel, and the elders of Israel would tremble in fear not from the Philistines but from their own solution to the Philistines. The solution had become another problem while never fully resolving the problem he was supposed to address. One problem became two. We keep doing this to ourselves.
In the beginning of chapter 17 we meet Goliath. The push back that Israel’s own giant Saul was giving the Philistines apparently had made an impact. The Philistines were not to be outdone by Saul and did now want to lose the benefits they were receiving by raiding and enslaving Israel so they brought in a bigger war machine to put Israel back in her place. This war machine was Goliath. Chapter 17 goes into great detail describing his considerable assets and technology. His size, his strength his weaponry. He came out to heap reproach upon Israel and Israel had no answers. The army of Israel would quake and flee when Goliath take his stand and heap his verbal abuse upon them. This happens for 40 days. The authors want you to note the number.
The natural answer should have been “well Israel has a giant, send him out!”
Saul apparently has reverted to his old ways, but with an upgrade. He’s no longer simply hiding in the baggage, Israel has offered him a royal tent for him to hide in, and hiding is what he’s doing. Tall Saul is supposed to be the answer to Goliath but he who made the elders of Bethlehem quake is doing the quaking now.
Last week we noted the first two introductory stories of David. David the youngest of 8 sons keeping watch over the flocks in the field until summoned by God through Samuel to be anointed king of Israel. David the musician who can exorcise the evil spirits plaguing Saul. David says nothing in 1 Samuel 16. The story teller is holding his important first words for the big moment.
David is sent to the battlefield with more baggage. While Saul hides in baggage David manages it. Saul it seems can’t even provision his own troops so David carries the food to Israel’s troops and David’s brothers.
When David gets to the army he doesn’t hide among the baggage but runs to the front lines while Saul steers clear of them.
In verse 25 we learn that crooked Saul has decided that money is the solution to his Goliath problem. Saul will make whoever fights Goliath very wealthy, and give him a royal princess to marry, and exempt his family from taxes! Saul won’t fight him so Saul will use money to try to get someone else to. This is a picture of corruption.
David and Eliab, Tall Saul’s Proxy
Now we are ready for David’s first words.
1 Samuel 17:26–31 (NIV)
26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.”
28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”
29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. 31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.
You might note that Goliath in verse 8 describes the army as “servants of Saul” and apparently they have been. As verse 11 notes that Saul and all the Israelites who heard these words were very afraid.
Note how David sees Israel. They don’t belong to Saul, they belong to the living God!
Now David’s older brother Eliab, the one that initially looked good to Samuel burns with anger against David. Why? We have echoes of Joseph and his brothers here but we also have a foreshadowing of Saul’s future anger towards David. We see here a window into our human conflicts. We’re not motivated to do right. Eliab won’t take on Goliath, and we’re resentful towards those who do.
David appears here to be the only person in all of Israel who sees Goliath in the context of God’s power. David is the only man of faith. David is the only true Israelite. Samuel isn’t in the picture. God is now moving through David.
Again, as Americans we like to see this as an underdog story, but we Americans would probably say something like “David believes in himself.” There isn’t any of that in the text. David believes in God.
The focus of this isn’t even necessarily what David will achieve or that David will survive but that God will not be shamed by Goliath and if David is God’s instrument then so being it. We saw this same kind of faith and trust in Jonathan, Saul’s son earlier in the book. This is not Samuel’s story here nor Jonathan’s, it is David’s.
David Among the Baggage
It doesn’t come through in English but the Hebrew “baggage” is from the same root word for the armor that plays so prominently in this story. We first met Saul hiding in baggage. We see Goliath with his baggage (armor, arms) trotting out to enslave Israel. Now David is summoned to Saul’s tent and Saul wishes to cover him with is baggage. David will do what Saul will do but David won’t do it like Saul would have done. David takes off the baggage and brings with him the tools of shepherding.
He reminds Saul that these humble tools have delivered him from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear and will deliver him from the hand of this Philistine. David is indeed able to talk and before Saul degrades Goliath to a powerful yet animalistic threat to the flock of Israel. Saul then blesses David in the name of the Lord.
Saul sends out David echoing the language of Jesse sending out David. We have to wait for the end of the chapter to have this question resolved. Who does David follow?
David against Goliath
David now meets Goliath and shows that again he indeed can talk. Goliath has been abusing Israel and the Lord verbally and David will meet him first with words and then with deeds. Goliath and the Philistine will become the prey of the animals.
David then takes one of the stones he had gathered and kills Goliath with one shot. He rushes forward (again as Israel and Saul have been retreating) and cuts off Goliath’s head with Goliath’s sword (not with Saul’s offered sword) and keeps Goliath’s head as a trophy. Now it is the turn of the Philistines to flee and Israel wins the battle. God through David, not Saul, not Saul’s baggage, saves Israel.
“Who’s son is this?”
The chapter seems to end strangely. The focus is on whose son is this? He’s not a son of Saul. He’s a son of Jesse. You might recall that Jesse is of the house of Judah. Jesse is the son of Obed who is the son of Ruth and Boaz. God has been working through generations to set this day up and nobody seems to see it.
Who Saves the World?
So little imagined rescuers of your own selves and saviors of the world, you are outclassed not only by the problems of your life, and the problems of the world but the real Savior of the world.
If you know your Bible a bit you’ll know that in the introductions to Jesus the New Testament writers will make a very big deal about him being the son of David.
When Gerald R Ford stood before the nation in 1975 and declared “the state of the Union is not good!” he was looking around at all the baggage around him. There were troubles.
Even though Barack Obama says “the state of our union is strong…” we still tremble and flee to hid among the baggage.
Deliverance, Who’s Son Is He?
The New Testament quotes Psalm 110 more than any other Psalm. Why?
Matthew 22:41–46 (NIV)
41While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them,
42“What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” “The son of David,” they replied.
43He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
44“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’
45If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”
46No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
In the midst of the Roman empire whose legions had conquered and intimidated the world that they knew. Jesus comes as son and Lord of David.
Jesus will seem to be their victim, and come out of the grave to defeat death of whom Goliath and all of his great material war baggage was a proxy.
We can start with the individual baggage you carry and the anxiety it is creating in you. Are you fleeing to your tent? Are you hiding in your baggage?
On one hand you are right to be afraid. Arrayed against you, and the rest of us, are foes you cannot defeat. Each of us faces death and its proxies our whole lives long.
How now does standing look differently knowing the living God and the champion he has sent who has defeated sin and death? Why don’t you try living now in that new reality?