Saul clothed David with his armour; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armour, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.’ So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.
The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 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 wild animals of the field.’ But David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with sword and spear and 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 very 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 Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.’ - 1 Samuel 17:38-49 (NRSV)
“Little David was a shepherd boy/He killed old Goliath and shouted for joy..” (from an old Spiritual)
This is one of those Bible stories kids love. It has a character they can identify with (a young boy) who is sent out on a perilous quest (all good stories have an impossible quest in them) and who comes out the winner and hero (name one story other than Jesus that really turns out like that). The kids may have the equipment wrong; David’s slingshot didn’t have a rubber launcher between two uprights with a handle – but they get the general idea.
People who buck the system are also said to be “out to slay Goliath,” --big business, government corruption, global issues, neighborhood crime, even local HOA restrictions. Goliath is someone or something big, ugly, strong, powerful and almost unbeatable, a threat to security and liberty and a voracious beast set to devour us, our security and our financial stability. The Davids who go often seem like a lamb set in front of a hungry lion and with about as much chance to come out of it in one piece. Yet the David of the story isn’t that innocent a lamb. He’s had experience fighting down and dirty with predators who are out to steal his sheep and take him down with them, if necessary. He had a couple of keys to success in what would have been his back pocket, if’ he had had pockets!
One of David’s keys to success was going with what he knew. Helms? Breastplates? Double-handed swords? Shield? Greaves? They were chunks of metal designed to protect the wearer, if the weight alone didn’t drive him to his knees. David had a much simpler (and lighter) ace up his sleeve. Appear defenseless, lure the predator into range, and then let go with a plain ol’ river rock shot with speed, force and accuracy gained by lots and lots of practice. Goliath didn’t have a chance. He trusted his armor, size and ferocity but got bested by a guy who went with a simple solution to a big problem.
David’s second key was his trust that God was in charge of the whole show and would not allow David to be bested by an uncircumcised heathen who didn’t know God. David believed, and I think that gave him the confidence to think on his feet, choose his moment and strike, all in the name of God.
Whether a David fighting the Goliath of the Philistines or a lone figure standing up for the rights and well-being of those the world would just as soon shovel away somewhere and forget about, the key is knowing your strengths, choosing your moment and trusting God to have your back.
(originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Cafe, July 9, 2011)