At Catalyst Atlanta 2013, Malcolm Gladwell discussed David and Goliath.
Israel was still in its infancy, and their great enemy was the Philistines. One day the Philistines came through the valley to attack, and Israel came out to meet them. They were deadlocked. So the Philistines sent out the Philistine giant named Goliath to fight single combat (i.e., a tradition of a one-on-one fight to decide the battle and save bloodshed). Goliath was too big, but David the shepherd boy was willing to fight him.
David told King Saul,
Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.
King Saul offered David his armor, but David refused. Instead David brought a staff, 5 smooth stones, and a sling.
1 Samuel 17:31-39
And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, 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 the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.” When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.
David was not an underdog.
I think the way this story has been interpreted in modern culture has miscontrued its meaning.
We call David an underdog. Why?
He is a kid. He is shorter. And because all David has was a sling.
However, in ancient combat a slinger was one of the more devastating weapons. Its projectile moves at such a speed that Goliath wouldn’t have time to react. Based on the speed and hardness of stone, the projectile was the equivalent of a .45 caliber bullet. We know that in these times, slingers could be as accurate as a hair’s breath.
So David had an advantage.
Goliath was a big, slow heavy infantry man. The convention was for heavy infantry to fight heavy infantry, which is why King Saul offered David his armor. But David would not play by convention.
So we have a slow lumbering giant versus a nimble kid with superior technology and who is filled with the Lord. So who is the underdog?
When you look at the heart, David is not the underdog. Your obstacles and moments of weaknesses are our opportunities for our greatest learning.
David refused to be passive. He was the only one that understood the power of his faith.
An example from WWII
During World War II, the French town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon defied the Nazis. Andre Trocme He was a minister who chose to not submit to anything that went against the Bible. He refused to salute the invader’s flag and ring the bell for them, and the town joined him. Most importantly, they chose to protect the Jews.
The town was so defiant that the kids wrote a letter to the government explaining that they have Jews among them and do not make a distinction between Jews and non-Jews because it is against the gospel. They added, “If you try to get them, we will hide them.”
The people were prepared for this because the Protestants faced severe persecution from the Catholic Church in earlier years. Earlier persecution taught them how to band together and be strong, but most importantly, they learned the power of faith. So here come the Nazis, and they say, “We’ve seen worse. Why should this be any different.”
One woman that harbored Jews said, “I did not know that it was dangerous.” She didn’t see herself as an underdog. There were plenty of other Christians in France that didn’t act like this. They saw themselves as underdogs.
Underestimating the power of our faith has real world consequences.
We misunderstand Goliath.
But it is not just that we underestimate David, but that we misunderstand Goliath.
First of all, Goliath is led down to the valley by a guy. Why? Why does the mightiest warrior need help?
Then there is a specific mention about how slowly Goliath moves.
Why does it take Goliath so long to figure out what David is doing? He is oblivious.
Then Goliath says, “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?”
Modern medicine deduces that Goliath suffered from adenoma, which is a tumor on the pituitary gland. It causes people to grow tall, but sometimes the tumor grows to impair the optic nerves causing nearsightedness and even double vision.
Why does Goliath call out, “Come to me?” He needed David near. Why did Goliath say “sticks”? David only had one stick. Goliath couldn’t see well.
So remember 2 things:
- Giants aren’t always what they seem.
- Someone armed with nimble feet and superior technology and filled with the Lord is not an underdog.