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34 “Your servant has kept his father’s sheep,” David replied to Saul, “and if ever a lion or a bear came and carried off one of the flock, 35 I would go after it, strike it, and rescue the animal from its mouth. If it turned on me, I would grab it at its jaw, strike it, and kill it. 36 Your servant has fought both lions and bears. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them because he has insulted the army of the living God.
37 “The LORD,” David added, “who rescued me from the power of both lions and bears, will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.”
“Go!” Saul replied to David. “And may the LORD be with you!”
45 But David told the Philistine, “You are coming against me with sword, spear, and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the LORD of heavenly forces, the God of Israel’s army, the one you’ve insulted. 46 Today the LORD will hand you over to me. I will strike you down and cut off your head! Today I will feed your dead body and the dead bodies of the entire Philistine camp to the wild birds and the wild animals. Then the whole world will know that there is a God on Israel’s side. 47 And all those gathered here will know that the LORD doesn’t save by means of sword and spear. The LORD owns this war, and he will hand all of you over to us.”
48 The Philistine got up and moved closer to attack David, and David ran quickly to the front line to face him. 49 David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone. He slung it, and it hit the Philistine on his forehead. The stone penetrated his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. 50 And that’s how David triumphed over the Philistine with just a sling and a stone, striking the Philistine down and killing him—and David didn’t even have a sword! 51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine. He grabbed the Philistine’s sword, drew it from its sheath, and finished him off. Then David cut off the Philistine’s head with the sword.
When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they fled.
Many children learn this story about Israel’s King David in Sunday School. In sports or business, we often speak of a “David and Goliath” story when a “little guy” takes on an established power. The Philistine giant, whatever his exact size (ancient manuscripts differ), was big enough to terrify King Saul and the whole Israelite army. But he didn’t scare David. His God’s size mattered much more to him than his enemy’s size. (If you have time today, read the full story from 1 Samuel 17.)
Lord Jesus, whenever I face a giant problem, teach me how to keep my trust in you, not in my own strength. And work through whatever gifts you’ve given me to help defeat life’s giants. Amen.
The story of David and Goliath is a fascinating one when viewed alongside some historical knowledge. It was a story we heard countless times in Sunday school, about the little guy going up against the giant and winning. I distinctly remember a cartoon about this story that I saw growing up that featured a little raccoon as David. He had this little tiny sling and went up against the giant Goliath and won. We all just knew that this story was about going up against impossible odds and winning.
Slings in this story seem to be portrayed as something only a shepherd would use. In reality, in ancient warfare, slings were deadly weapons, and the Hebrew army was known for their slingers. The Greek army realized the power and importance of slingers in the Peloponnesian War, taking place around 100 years after when 1 Samuel was thought to be written. They didn’t have any trained slingers in their army, so they actually hired non-military citizens who were skilled with slings to be in the army. These slinger mercenaries ended up being one of the most deadly divisions of the Greek army in that war. Ancient Greek medical texts also describe specific medical procedures to remove sling stones that had been embedded in the skin. While slingers could never replace heavy infantry in ancient warfare, they were a crucial and deadly force in their own right.
When viewed with this historical context, I think the story actually makes more sense. Of all the human characters in this story, the only one who was sure of the outcome—and actually right about it—was David. David was trained with a sling and knew how effective it could be in combat. From the start, David didn’t believe he was going up against impossible odds—he was confident in his victory, and was proud to be a mighty warrior for God. Goliath was heavy infantry, and in that role was superior to what the Hebrew army had, and his confidence came from the assumption that he was better than the similar soldiers he thought he would be facing.
When viewed this way, it completely changes the narrative. Goliath is no longer the primary antagonist, but is more like a force of nature, a catalyst which sets this story in motion. So if Goliath is not the primary antagonist, who is? This is where the conflict gets much bigger. While David was confident in his victory, it’s important to note that almost everyone else assumed he would fail. The Hebrew army and king Saul had to be convinced that David was capable of doing the job. The Philistine army, clearly not up to date on sling warfare, believed that a slinger could never stand against their giant. This story is about an individual pushing forward and advocating for himself even when the whole world believed he couldn’t do the job.
We all have to face our giants from time to time, but another important take-away from this story is that sometimes we have to fight even for our chance to face our giants. There will be people who don’t believe you, who think you’re not qualified to face this giant; there will be people who assume that because you don’t fight the way the giant fights, it’s not a fight worth having. If you know you’re a giant-slayer, as David was confident he was, advocate for yourself! There will undoubtedly be times when you’re the unexpected but uniquely qualified force that will stand against the giant in a way that no one else can.
* Roger L. Omanson and John E. Ellington, A Handbook on the First Book of Samuel. New York: United Bible Societies, 2001, p. 375.