David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
The modern story of the story of David and Goliath is that one of the Bible’s most awesome, complex and evocative events is juvenilized and spiritualized into near irrelevance. Banished from view are the terrors, the heroism, the cowardice, the faith and the folly that lives within the text. All that is allowed to remain is a simple morality play in which the weak defeats the strong. But, if we dare to carefully reexamine the actual Biblical text what emerges obliterates these carefully constructed bounds. If I can recapture even a small sliver of the power living within this story then I will be greatly comforted.
Verses 1 – 11 set up the situation which eventually will lead to David and Goliath’s confrontation. The armies of the Philistines and the Israelites (under King Saul’s leadership) face off against one another. Each army occupies a hilltop, with a common valley between them.
The Philistines then send our a champion, Goliath, to challenge the Israelites. This challenge falls within the category of “champion warfare,” in which “the outcome of the conflict is determined by single combat, an individual duel between the best soldiers (“champions”) from each opposing army.” The theoretical utility is to spare the lives of soldiers in both opposing armies. However, the losing side is expected to then peacefully submit to terms of, generally harsh, defeat.
In verses 4 – 7 Goliath’s physical size is described in great detail. He stands almost ten feet tall. His helmet and armor weighed approximately 125 pounds and the iron point of his spear weighed 15 pounds. What is here described is a truly monstrous giant of a man whose brute physicality would easily overpower that of even the strongest individual in the Israeli army. Verse 11 summarizes the impact of Goliath’s challenge:
On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
From the Philistines’ perspective a brilliant “win-win” scenario has been created. That is, either the Israelites will become demoralized because they failed to send their own champion into combat or they will send a champion who will certainly be defeated by Goliath. In both cases the Philistines will have obtained victory with minimal to no cost.
And so, a humiliating stalemate ensued, with day after day (40 in total, see verse 16) the Israelis being taunted by Goliath. The cumulative stress and shame over this time period can hardly be exaggerated. For, with each passing day the Israeli refusal to accept this challenge increased their sense of dishonor. Had the Philistine army attacked en mass total Israeli defeat would have been almost certain.
It is at this point that an absolutely unexpected act of God, delivered through the faith and prowess of a young boy, changes everything for all time.