Sunday, June 28, 2009

David and Goliath

To-day (and to-morrow and the next day, were it not for supervening feasts), Holy Church presents us at Matins with the sacred history of David and Goliath, in chapter seventeen of the first Book of Kings (or I Samuel, in modern Bibles).  Why?

It seems to me that there is more to this story than an encouragement to the underdog!  True, the secular world likes any tale of the puny weakling overcoming the big bad bully, but the world would rather play down any embarrassingly religious angle.  So, what angle?

David explicitly places all his trust in God and then, like a good pupil of St Ignatius in later ages, strives with all his cunning skill to achieve victory for the Lord.  "Thou comest to me with sword and spear and shield, I however come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, of the God of the armies of Israel..."  And a sly slingshot to the forehead felled the Philistine, and grabbing Goliath's own sword, David struck it off.  Good riddance to bad rubbish.

David's achievement in single combat, moreover, was not for his benefit only; for the rival armies of the Philistines and the Israelites hung upon the outcome, the Israelites, indeed, King Saul included, were hanging back in fear, since no one had dared stand up to Goliath - he personified the helplessness the Israelites felt before their oppressors, against whom they had taken arms, yet without much hope of success.  It was David's unexpected vanquishing of big bad Goliath that gave his fellows hope and heart to take to the fight themselves, and defeat their fearsome foes, throwing off their cruel yoke.  David's victory was not for himself only. 

Now David, as all men ought know, is a type of Christ; and as Christ Himself insinuates in His parables, He it is Who despoils the "strong man armed", that is, the Devil, who held us all in thrall as once his minions the Philistines oppressed the Israelites; Satan rejoiced to mock the Saviour as He was dragged to Calvary by demonic inspiration, but it was otherwise when the Lord, conquering by His sacrificial death, descended to Hades not as victim but Victor, destroying the false kingdom of Lucifer, casting out the Prince of this world, smashing the doors and breaking down the gates of Hell, which had held men captive in death these many many thousand years since Adam's fall had enslaved our sorry race to the malign deceiving Serpent.  

With Christ as our triumphant King, rising again, returning to us as our victorious Champion, we have in reality what David, returning victorious over the Philistine, was in figure: the One Who has won: the field of battle is won, and we can go forth to our own small wars confident that He will triumph in us, who are His, as He has once and for all conquered through His Own Self-Sacrifice.  He must reign until all His enemies are crushed beneath His feet: therefore we as behooves Christians must tread down Satan under our feet, as Our Lady and Her Son ever trample the Serpent.  As Newman noted, Those who are on the side of the Apostles [and therefore of their Master, Christ] are on the winning side.

The Greeks retain, as a curious apocryphon, the so-called Psalm 151, not used in the Liturgy, which relates, first, God's choice of David and His anointing of Him via His instrument, the prophet Samuel (which the Breviary Lessons proclaimed yesterday), and second, David's besting of Goliath:

I was the smallest among my brethren, and the youngest in the house of my father; I did shepherd the sheep of my father.
My hands made an instrument, and my fingers fashioned a psaltery.
And who shall tell my Lord?  The Lord Himself, He Himself shall hearken.
He sent forth His angel and took me from the flocks of my father, and anointed me with the oil of His anointing.
My brethren were big and good, yet the Lord took not pleasure in them.
I went forth to meet the alien, and he cursed me by his idols.
But I drew his own sword and beheaded him, and took away the reproach from the sons of Israel.

Glory be...

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