King Solomon once wrote, “Wisdom is the principle thing: therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote you: she shall bring you to honor, when you do embrace her” (Proverbs 4:7, 8).
I recently saw a bumper sticker that proclaimed, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me!” The person who wrote that bumper sticker may consider me an infidel, but that doesn’t settle it for me. I want to know why God said it. Because only then can I even begin to claim to understand God.
The Spirit cried through Jeremiah, “Thus saith the Lord, let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and know me, that I am the Lord who exercises loving kindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23, 24).
Understanding vs. Knowledge
Understanding does not necessarily come with knowledge. We may teach our children what happened when David fought Goliath. A good teacher may even go as far as to prepare maps and slides for older children and show them where it happened. A teacher with historical leanings will take the time to explain when it happened. But the teacher to be desired and remembered is the one who, having answered all the first questions, goes on to explain why it happened. The answers to who, what, when, and where convey knowledge, but the answer to “why” conveys understanding.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but human beings are not cats. It is healthy for a young person to have a deep streak of inquisitiveness and curiosity. Children who continually ask “why” may be annoying at times, but they are firmly embarked on the road to understanding and truth. God be merciful to the unthinking person who squelches that natural childlike inquisitiveness. Curiosity is a great gift, and through the exercise of this gift, even a child may come to know God.
Nor does it hurt for a preacher to be more than a little curious. Not long ago when I had developed what one listener thought was a particularly unique theme in a sermon, she asked me, “Where in the world do you get all those ideas?” I didn’t have a ready answer, because I had been thinking about the subject for months and had felt more than a little frustrated that it took me so long to find a way to articulate the idea. But when I reflected on it for a while, I began to realize that one of the reasons I take the approach I take in sermons is because I am continually asking the question why.
David and Goliath
The whole incident of David and Goliath, for example, becomes much more interesting when one asks why David fought Goliath. His presence at the scene of the battle was incidental-he was not a soldier, and he did not come to fight (I Samuel 17:12-19). The normal reasons for battle seem absent in this case. David only expresses idle curiosity about the reward for the person who was to fight the Philistine and even some amazement that there should have to be a reward (verse 26). David doesn’t seem to be the sort of man who fights just for the sheer love of fighting. His brother suggested that pride may have been a motivation, but David seems to deny it. Some men fight to prove that they can overcome their fear, but David didn’t seem to have any fear to overcome.
There were two aspects of confidence expressed by David in this encounter. First and foremost was his total confidence in God. This man was defying God, and it was necessary that he be punished for it. It was as simple as that. The second factor was David’s confidence in himself. He had already met and defeated two dangerous animals, and this Philistine seemed to present no greater challenge.
Why did David do it? The answer seems to be given in David’s response to Goliath in Samuel 17:45-47. David said, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied. This day will the Lord deliver you into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from you…that all earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give it into your hands.”
David fought in the name of the Lord and by His authority. Not only that, he fought as a witness of God’s saving power.
Doubtless there is even a deeper symbolism in this account when one understands that David is a type of Christ and that so many of his words in the Psalms reflect forward to Christ. But we will leave it to the reader to meditate on any further connection between this event and the work of Christ while we go on to ask “why” about something else.