by Greg Watt
The story of David and Goliath is possibly the best known of all the Bible stories. It is an example of an underdog winning against impossible odds. But was David really the underdog, an untrained youth facing a gigantic, battle-hardened warrior in an impossible situation? This question reminded me of TED talk by Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian author who provides a new perspective on this story and whose research questions the popular belief that David was the underdog in his extraordinary battle against Goliath.
The story of this epic contest is found in 1 Samuel 17. The two armies were facing off against each other from opposing ridges of the Valley of Elah. They were actually in a stalemate position because if either side attacked they would be decimated. Any attack would require them to traverse down a steep slope, cross a rather narrow valley floor which put them within range of the opposing side’s archers. They would then need to climb up a steep ridge to reach the enemy. Hence, for either side to attack would have resulted in their annihilation before reaching the opposing side’s position.
To break this stalemate, the Philistines resorted to fielding their champion Goliath who challenged Israel to send their best warrior against him. Single combat, man against man, winner takes all. The Philistines were very confident of their champion’s abilities because Goliath is described in 1 Samuel 17:4-7 as a giant who struck fear and dismay into all the Israelite army. We are specifically told in verse 16 that the, “Philistine drew near and presented himself forty days, morning and evening”. Imagine how desperate and humiliated the Israelites were after forty days and nights! Sadly, nowhere is it mentioned that anyone thought to call on God. But this is about to change.
Jesse, the father of David, sent him to the Israelite army camp with provisions for his three eldest sons. When entering the Israelite camp, David is enraged by the Philistine and asked in verse 26, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” Finally God is brought into the picture. Next, a strange decision by King Saul puts the fate of all Israel into the hands of a young shepherd boy. David is permitted to take the field against Goliath. Both sides expect David to fight Goliath with sword, javelin and spear, the weapons of heavy infantry. But not David.
Refusing to wear Saul’s armour David takes the field armed only with a sling. From here on in, things begin to go badly for Goliath. David fells Goliath with a single stone from his sling and then beheads him using his own sword. Certain Israelite defeat now turns into a Philistine retreat. This brings us to the initial question, “was David really the underdog”? Was this victory a miraculous deliverance via an overconfident youth against a battle-hardened veteran of gigantic proportions? Or did God direct the course of these events having previously prepared David for this moment? The answer may surprise you.
As Malcom Gladwell explains, from the time that David took the field of battle, Goliath did not have a chance. The sling was a weapon that when used to full effect was extremely devastating. Used by an expert, a sling was both accurate and lethal. At prelaunch, the sling was revolving at six to seven revolutions per second. Upon release the projectile was travelling at least thirty five meters per second and, according to some research, had a similar ballistic velocity of a .45 calibre hand gun. It was lethal at up to 150 meters if the projectile hit an unprotected kill point which David did when he hit Goliath right between the eyes.
Goliath never had a chance because God was involved and had armed David with everything he needed, both in terms of physical and spiritual weaponry.
What can we learn from this? Those whom God has sanctified (especially the youth of God’s Church), continually face Goliaths of one form or another. The story of the young shepherd boy David should provide courage and comfort when facing your Goliaths, the many daily pressures and situations which can appear impossible to prevail against. But, just as God prepared David to do His will, so God is directing events in your life and is preparing you to be part of His family and His work.
God is the same yesterday, today and forever. No one seriously gave this seemingly untrained youth any chance against the giant, battle-hardened Goliath. And yet in real terms Goliath never had a chance against David. And nor will our enemies against us.
If we are filled with worry, fear or uncertainty when facing any impossible situation, we should remember this story of David versus Goliath. Remember this story and know that like David, God is preparing everyone whom He has sanctified to prevail in all circumstances. With this God-directed preparation we are all well able to overcome any obstacle in our journey to the Kingdom.