View all Posts | September 1, 2014
The Anatomy of Temptation: First Meditation
Scattered and Stuck
- Frightened into Flight
- The Stagnation of Routine
- Conclusion: Being Honest
Scattered and Stuck
God’s chosen people in the Old Covenant, the Israelites, had been given a mission.
By settling in the Promised Land and creating a culture there based on worshipping the one, true God, they would bring God’s blessings into the world and prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
In that way, they foreshadowed God’s chosen people
of the New Covenant, the Church, the worldwide community of believers in Jesus Christ. The Church too is called to bring God’s blessing into the world, in fact, we are called to spread God’s blessings and salvation into every corner of the world.
Since our mission in the New Testament is similar
to the Israelites’ mission in the Old Testament, their experience has lessons for us: how God worked in their lives can teach about how God wants to work in our lives.
One challenge the Israelites frequently faced was invasion — they had enemies who wanted to conquer and enslave Israel, and force the Israelites to worship false gods.
In a similar way, we Christians, and the Church as a whole, find ourselves frequently invaded by temptations, by invitations to sin and so to worship false gods, so to speak, through behaviors like selfishness, arrogance, and laziness.
During the lifetime of King David, Israel’s most aggressive and dangerous enemy was the Philistines. And one of the most famous clashes between the Israelites and the Philistines is the one where David faced down the giant Philistine warrior, Goliath, who was both a real historical figure, as well as a symbol of the ancient enemy of God and God’s people, the devil himself.
By reflecting on this clash between David and Goliath, we can discover certain elements that are common to all clashes between God’s enemies and God’s people — we can discover the anatomy of temptation.
Frightened into Flight
At the time of this famous encounter, David had been anointed by the prophet Samuel as a future king of Israel, but he hadn’t yet been crowned.
Saul was king of Israel, and David, as the youngest son in a large family, was still living at home, helping his father take care of their flocks.
But his older brothers had joined Saul’s army, which was facing down the Philistines. David’s father sent him on an errand to where the armies were camped, to bring some supplies to his brothers.
When David arrived, the Bible tells us what he found:
The Philistines were stationed on one hill and the Israelites on an opposite hill, with a valley between them.
– 1 Samuel 17:3
But the two armies just looked at each other across that valley, without ever engaging in battle, for one simple reason — Goliath. Goliath was a massive, accomplished warrior, equipped with the most advanced armor and weaponry of the epoch, and he had issued a challenge to the Israelites.
Here’s how the Bible describes it:
A champion named Goliath of Gath came out from the Philistine camp… He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel: “Why come out in battle formation? I am a Philistine, and you are Saul’s servants. Choose one of your men, and have him come down to me. If he beats me in combat and kills me, we will be your vassals; but if I beat him and kill him, you shall be our vassals and serve us.” The Philistine continued: “I defy the ranks of Israel today. Give me a man and let us fight together.”
– 1 Samuel 17:4, 8-10
That was the challenge that Goliath had issued to God’s people, and in the very next verse, we are told how Israel responded:
When Saul and all Israel heard this challenge of the Philistine, they were stunned and terrified… When the Israelites saw the man, they all retreated before him, terrified
– 1 Samuel 17:11, 24
Here they were, God’s chosen people, engaged in their mission of settling the Promised Land so as to bring God’s blessings into the world, and in the face of Goliath’s challenge, their courage failed, and they fled.
Here we have the first tactic of the ancient enemy. He intimidates us. He makes our Christian vocation seem so difficult, so risky, so threatening to our reputation and worldly hopes, that we give it up.
Obeying and defending Church teaching on life, marriage, and sex, for example, seems almost as impossible in our secularized society as taking on Goliath in hand-to-hand combat, so we compromise, we dodge the issue, we avoid making waves — we flee the spiritual battlefield.
Something similar can happen even in smaller things — simple but essential virtues like honesty, piety, and mercy can easily retreat before the intimidating challenge of a world so intent on competition, convenience, and reputation.
Whenever the devil can frighten us into infidelity, into fleeing from the costly effort that being faithful to Jesus Christ often demands, he will. That was Goliath’s first tactic, and it’s an essential feature in the anatomy of temptation.
The Stagnation of Routine
But another verse in this passage is equally revealing, though much less well known. Do you remember how long the two armies stood staring each other down across that valley as Goliath defied God and God’s people?
It wasn’t just one day; it wasn’t just a week; the Bible tells us how long this paralysis lasted:
Meanwhile the Philistine came forward and took his stand morning and evening for forty days.
– 1 Samuel 17:16
Forty days — a biblical phrase meaning a good, long time. And how was Israel faring during those forty days of a stalemate with the Philistines? The soldiers weren’t winning battles, nor were they working productively back at home.
The whole nation was simply stagnant, making no progress in their God-given mission, stuck there sitting around waiting for something to happen.
This is another tactic we have to be ready to face. Sometimes, even if we are courageous enough to stick around in our Christian lives, we will gradually fall into routine.
We will reach a certain level of virtue, a certain Christian comfort zone, and just stop there, getting complacent. Going to the next level, taking the initiative, responding to what we know God is asking of us seems to be too risky and too much trouble.
And so, we fall into the temptation of routine — not actually doing evil, maybe, but not advancing the cause of good either.
For forty days Goliath stopped Israel from making progress in its mission, without shedding a drop of blood.
Routine, complacency, and procrastination can do the same thing to us — this too is a notable feature in the anatomy of temptation.
Conclusion: Being Honest
David was able to stand up to Goliath, finding courage when no one else could, breaking Israel out of its stultifying routine, and in the next meditation we will reflect on how he did that.
But for now, let’s take a few minutes, in the silence of our hearts, to speak to the Lord about these two tactics of our spiritual enemies. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to show us how far fear and routine have entered into
our soul and impeded our spiritual progress. After all, it’s hard to defeat an enemy if we don’t even know he’s there.
The following questions and Bible passages may help your meditation.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
1 What real-life situations tend to make me want to dodge my Christian duties?
2 What are my deepest fears, and how do they affect my friendship with Jesus Christ?
During the last couple of weeks, in what ways have routine and an attachment to my comfort zone inhibited me from loving God and neighbor as I truly want to?
Biblical Passages to Help Your Meditation
Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
– Ephesians 6:10-17, NABRE
My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of adversity. Cling to him, do not leave him, that you may prosper in your last days. Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient. For in fire gold is tested, and the chosen, in the crucible of humiliation. Trust in God, and he will help you; make your ways straight and hope in him. You that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy, do not stray lest you fall.
– Sirach 2:1-7, NABRE
So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and
he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds. Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.
– James 4:7-10, NABRE