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The Anatomy of Temptation: Second Meditation
False Ideals and True Courage
- Setting Up False Ideals
- Where Did David Get His Courage?
- Conclusion: Following David’s Example
False Ideals and True Courage
When David arrived in the Israelite camp to deliver the supplies to his brothers, he quickly figured out what was going on, and he decided to do something about it.
He convinced King Saul to let him take up Goliath’s challenge. Saul even gave David his own armor and weapons, thinking that this would give him a better chance at victory. But David wasn’t an accomplished warrior, like Saul; he was just a shepherd, and a very young man, and the armor and weapons didn’t fit him.
Here’s how the Bible describes it:
Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic, putting a bronze helmet on his head and arming him with a coat of mail. David also fastened Saul’s sword over the tunic. He walked with difficulty, however, since he had never worn armor before.
– 1 Samuel 17:38-39
Setting Up False Ideals
Here we have a third tactic of our spiritual enemies, a third characteristic in the anatomy of temptation: setting up a false ideal.
Saul and his advisers made the mistake of thinking that David would fight Goliath on the Philistine’s own terms, that he would approach the challenge the way everybody did in those days, the way the world said you were supposed to — with armor and sword.
They forgot that David was just a shepherd boy, not a trained warrior; the armor and sword actually impeded him from doing what God was asking of him.
We can find ourselves in a similar situation as we strive to meet the challenges that come to us along our Christian journey.
We can easily fall into the temptation of trying to live up to someone else’s standards, instead of God’s;
Of seeking our fulfillment in trying to please other people or win the world’s approval, instead of God’s;
Of thinking that we are supposed to defeat all our enemies and win all our battles by depending on our own strength, instead of God’s.
That’s living a false ideal, aiming at the wrong target, climbing up the wrong ladder of success.
God calls us to fulfill a mission in this world.
To courageously face up to the Goliaths that intimidate us,
To avoid falling into complacency and routine,
And to “fight the good fight of the faith” as St. Paul described the Christian life (1 Timothy 6:12).
But he wants us to fight with his weapons, the weapons of humility, and faith, and hope, and mercy — not the weapons that the world uses, like manipulation, and flattery, and seduction, and dishonesty, and deception, and self-reliance.
When David realized that Saul’s armor and weapons were not meant for him, he took them off. He faced his enemy armed only with his shepherd’s staff, his sling, and five smooth stones that he gathered from the nearby streambed.
In biblical terms, those items are symbolically significant.
First of all, God had revealed himself to Israel as their shepherd — thus, the shepherd’s staff symbolizes David’s confidence in God’s ability to protect him and give him victory.
Second, in the Bible, the flowing waters of a river or a stream always signify God’s grace, the faithful and saving action of God in the world.
And so, the five smooth stones from the streambed emphasize that David is going into battle on God’s terms, not on the world’s terms. He is fighting not for the false ideal of his own worldly glory, but for the true ideal of God’s eternal glory.
Always to live for God’s Kingdom and by God’s standards, that is how we can be sure to resist this third feature in the anatomy of temptation, the setting up of a false ideal.
Where Did David Get His Courage?
Now we are ready to reflect a little bit more on the source of David’s courage. Why was David fearless and energized in the face of the Philistine threat, when no one else was? What was his secret?
Simply put, David was a man who had come to know God personally and intimately; he had personally experienced God’s goodness and power, and reflected prayerfully on that experience — that was the source of his courage. This is, in fact, what David told Saul when the King hesitated to accept the young man’s offer to fight the Philistine. He explained:
Your servant used to tend his father’s sheep, and whenever a lion or bear came to carry off a sheep from the flock, I would chase after it, attack it, and snatch the prey from its mouth. If it attacked me, I would seize it by the throat, strike it, and kill it. Your servant has killed both a lion and a bear. This uncircumcised Philistine will be as one of them, because he has insulted the armies of the living God… The same LORD who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.
– 1 Samuel 17:34-37
This unshakeable confidence in God comes across again in David’s response to Goliath’s scornful insults right before their fight begins. He tells the Philistine:
You come against me with sword and spear and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have insulted. Today the LORD shall deliver you into my hand; I will strike you down and cut off your head… thus the whole land shall learn that Israel has a God. All this multitude, too, shall learn that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves. For the battle belongs to the LORD, who shall deliver you into our hands.
– 1 Samuel 17:45-47
For David, God is not an abstract idea nor a distant sovereign; he is a real person, a living presence — David knows and fights in the Lord’s name, a symbol of God’s personal identity.
This intimate relationship with God is what gives him the confidence and the courage he needs to go into battle against a seemingly invincible enemy.
Conclusion: Following David’s Example
The same thing goes for us. The more intimately we know God, the more deeply we experience his goodness and faithfulness, and the more deeply we reflect on that experience in prayer, the more courageous we will be in facing our Goliaths.
Do you remember how Jesus resisted the temptations that he faced during his lifetime? In the desert, he responded to temptation by quoting the words of Scripture, which shows that he had meditated on
those words and knew them well. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he responded, St. Luke tells us, by praying even more fervently (cf. Luke 22:44).
We will always have to face spiritual enemies like Goliath, who either try to intimidate us into flight, or lull us into complacency, or trick us into pursuing a false ideal — that’s the anatomy of temptation.
But as long as we develop our personal relationship with God through a growing life of prayer, we will be able to remember that “the battle belongs to the Lord,” and when we reach into the ever-flowing stream of divine grace, we, just like David, will find all we need to win yet another victory in “the name of the Lord.”
Let’s take a few minutes now, in the silence of our hearts, to reflect prayerfully on the wonderful lessons that God wants to teach us through this famous encounter between David and Goliath.
The following questions and Bible passages may help your meditation.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
1. Striving for an ideal is an essential part of any spirituality. What are some of the false or incomplete ideals promoted by the world around us? Which of those do I find most tempting and why?
2. When have I experienced in a particularly intense way God’s goodness and strength? Remember and savor those experiences, and thank God for them.
￼3. What are some of the good points of my prayer life right now? What are some aspects that could use improvement? What one thing could I do this week to help deepen my life of prayer?
Biblical Passages to Help Your Meditation
But you, man of God, avoid all this. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold
of eternal life, to which you were called when you
made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge [you] before God, who gives life to
all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, to keep
the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ that the blessed and only ruler will make manifest at the proper time, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.
– 1 Timothy 6:11-16, NABRE
No one can withstand you as long as you live. As I was with Moses, I will be with you: I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and steadfast, so that you may give this people possession of the land I swore to their ancestors that I would give them. Only be strong and steadfast, being careful to observe the entire law which Moses my servant enjoined on you. Do not swerve from it either to the right or to the left, that you may succeed wherever you go. Do not let this book of the law depart from your lips. Recite it by day and by night, that you may carefully observe all that is written in it; then you will attain your goal; then you will succeed. I command you: be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.
– Joshua 1:5-9, NABRE
The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name — he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid… I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.
– John 14:26-27, 16:33, NABRE