We are all familiar with the David and Goliath story. I remember the story from my Sunday School lessons as a preschooler. It has all the makings of a great young adult movie franchise … the story follows the formula for a blockbuster: 1) a teenage hero or heroine, 2) faces a giant challenge, 3) a beautiful, handsome, and extremely “buff” star, and 4) as the hero comes of age, they find that the power they have is enough to overcome the giant or super-villain. This is the basic story arch for Harry Potter, Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Hunger Games.
David, the youngest of a large family of brothers, was ruggedly handsome and a shepherd boy who loved music and poetry. He was chosen by God, yet he was still just a kid. He had ambitions, ideals, and a strong faith. He lacked brawn, skill with a sword, military experience and rank. When the king’s army was faced with a warrior like Goliath — large, well-armored, and with a reputation for winning — little David, who was only there because he was bringing supplies to his brothers, steps forward out of teenage bravado (add a touch of foolishness), and, with no armor but the power of The Lord God, slays the giant.
Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, poses another explanation. It wasn’t a fluke that David won this battle; it was his advantage. David changed the rules of the game. There were three methods of warfare: hand to hand, horseback, and the “slingers”. They each have different advantages. The slingers throw things, often using the leather pouch on a rope. David wasn’t equipped for a sword fight, but he was a practiced slinger. So when he tells Saul that he has fought and killed many animals as a shepherd, he is proposing that he fight using his strengths … by slingshot. Then Saul places the armor on David, and he takes it off … the chain mail would be good for most of the soldiers there, but not for a slinger. David knows he needs to be quick, agile, and accurate. The advantage, of course, is that he never gets close enough for Saul to even raise his sword. David takes him down from a distance, then moves in for the kill. Rock crushes scissors.
The typical underdog interpretation underscores the need to trust and follow God’s commands, even if they are foolish. Gladwell’s take says, sure it might look foolish by one set of assumptions, but David is working from the skills and talent he has been given and has developed as a shepherd. David never assumes that he’s going to wrestle and sword fight. David’s assumption is he’s going to win in whatever way he can … and his strength is in slinging stones. He’s a sharp shooter with a slingshot.
Does this interpretation make God less powerful? No, I don’t think so. It does, however, show us a great example of one called by God to a specific task using his energy, intelligence, imagination and love in living into his call. God calls each one of us … if not to be king, to be teacher or parent or co-worker or spouse or … and God equips us for the task. Our expectations are often that God should give us the “armor” to do the job the way it’s always been done. God calls us, however, as we are, with the gifts and skills and talents and perspective that is uniquely ours. Using all our energy, and all of ourselves, we follow Christ … and when we do, God does miraculous work through us.
This week, my thoughts are focused on one little sentence in the chapter. 1 Samuel 18:10
The next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully on Saul.
This seems pretty unequivocal. It was an evil spirit, and it was sent by God. So what’s going on here? I’m reminded of the Exodus story, where God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Is God using evil to accomplish God’s plan? And, if so, why? Saul goes on to torment David over and over again. Was God testing David as a “side effect” of working to eliminate Saul? I’m not at all sure that I like this God!
I guess it really comes down to the source of evil in the world. The New Testament shows a strong dichotomy between Good and Evil, with God and Satan being the eternal opponents in that struggle. But I don’t see that separation in the Old Testament. In this chapter, we see God sending the “evil spirit” to Saul. In the book of Job, we see “the adversary” being authorized, by God, to torment Job to test him.
In general, I feel more resonance with the God of the New Testament, but I actually see value in this Old Testament perspective. I’m not saying that I think that God is inherently evil. Rather, it’s more a sense that it’s an over simplification to breaking things down into “good” and “evil.” That “good” and “evil” are more human constructs than divine. I realize that this is a very controversial position, and I’m not sure about it. I’d love to hear other perspectives on this.
This week we’ll be reading the story of David. That’s Chapter 11: From Shepherd to King. For those reading along in your own Bible, the reference is: 1 Samuel 16-18; 24; 31; 2 Samuel 6; 22; 1 Chronicles 17; Psalm 59;