We all love a good underdog story, don’t we?
- a story of the little defeating the big
- of the disadvantaged triumphing over the advantaged
- of the weak, winning over the strong.
We love underdog stories like:
- Star Wars
- Remember the Titans
- The Karate Kid
I mean, who didn’t get emotional when you heard Al Michaels shout out “Do you believe in miracles!” at the end of the 1980 Olympic hockey game against the dreaded Soviets.
There are very few Bible stories that have worked their way into our cultural consciousness like the story of David and Goliath. Because we love to see the underdog come out on top.
But if we take a close look at the story of David and Goliath, we’ll discover that really, this might not be the David and Goliath story that we remember. Author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell wrote a really interesting book called “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants,” that I read a couple of years ago. And Gladwell’s book made me realize that pretty much everything I thought I knew about this classic story…was wrong.
Let’s just review, shall we? The two armies, the Philistines and the Israelites were in conflict, and were deadlocked. They had stared each other down for weeks. Finally, the Philistines sent their mightiest warrior down to the valley between the two armies to issue a challenge. “Send me your mightiest warrior, and whichever of us wins, will have won the whole battle for their army.” This warrior was named Goliath. He was gargantuan. Some version of the story say that he was over 9’ tall! He was armored from head to toe. He carried a sword and a spear.
He was terrifying. None of the Jewish warriors would take the challenge. They knew, it was a death wish.
Finally, this young shepherd boy walked up to the Jewish King, Saul, and said “I’ll fight him.” Saul replied: “you can’t fight him! You’re just a kid!’
But the shepherd, named David, said “no, it’ll be ok. I’ve been defending my flocks against lions and wolves for years. I think I can do it.” Saul has no choice. “Alright…fine. But you have to wear this armor.” And they begin to suit him up.
But after trying it on, David says “no, I can’t wear this.” He’d never worn armor before. He didn’t know how to move, or to run, or to fight in it. It would turn into a disadvantage for him.
So, David took off the armor, reached down and picked up 5 stones, put them in his shepherd’s bag and began to walk down the trail toward the giant, Goliath.
When Goliath spots him, he immediately began trash talking: “Come to me, so I can feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the fields.” (It’s a great line. The Owatonna football team should try that in the fall when they play Mankato West). When David got close enough for Goliath to see him, the giant realized that David carried only a staff. No weapon. Just a staff.
Goliath was insulted. “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” The Philistine army, behind Goliath, just laughed.
But David didn’t reply to the taunts. He simply takes one of his stones, put it in his sling, begins spinning it, faster and faster, releases it, and it hits Goliath right here…between his eyes…in his most vulnerable spot.
Goliath collapses unconscious. David walks up to him, takes Goliath’s sword and kills him.
The Philistine army, in shock, sees this, turns and runs.
According to modern rules of warfare, Goliath has all the advantages. All of them. Armor. Size. Strength. Weapons. David has none of this. He has just a sling.
And so, we read this story as a great upset; a victory for the weakling over the mighty warrior.
That’s our first misunderstanding.
The sling was actually an incredibly devastating weapon. It spins at 6 or 7 revolutions per second. That means that when David launched his rock, it was traveling at probably nearly 80 miles per hour.
Weapons experts have said that the power of a good slinger, launching a rock, is roughly the same as a .45-caliber handgun.
Historians and archeologists know through their research that experienced slingers could nail their target at distances of up to 200 yards. Ancient art shows slingers hitting birds in midair.
And David was probably only a few yards from Goliath. And David was an experienced slinger. He had been using a sling to defend his flocks for years.
I’m guessing that when David stepped up to face the giant, he was confident that he would be able to hit the giant right between the eyes.
Goliath was heavy infantry. Armed with his spear and his sword, he expected to be fighting another heavy infantry person. Goliath had issued the challenge by saying “Come to me.” Come to me. Come here, that we can fight, hand to hand.
But David has no plans to fight him that way. He knew that he’d have no chance in hand-to-hand combat. He wasn’t stupid. He was going to use his sling.
Goliath also might not have been what he seemed. Medical experts have looked at the scriptures and speculate that he might have suffered from a condition called acromegaly, that would have caused both his extreme size…but also problems with his vision and his mobility.
So, if they’re correct, we have a big, lumbering guy weighed down with heavy armor, who can’t see much more than a few feet in front of his face, up against a kid running at him with a devastating weapon that had the stopping power of a .45 caliber handgun.
So who is the real underdog?
Here’s the lesson for us: Giants are often not as powerful as they seem, and sometimes, a small, young, weak looking shepherd boy, has a sling in his pocket.
What is your giant? What are you afraid of? What is the thing that stands before you; that you’re not sure that you can conquer?
I ask that because I have this hunch that we’re rarely aware of the role fear plays in many of our decisions, actions, and conversations. Fear and anxiety overwhelm.
I have my fears and anxieties:
- I get nervous about Nathan and Samuel’s futures; I worry about what the world will be like for them
- I get anxious about climate change and the environment
- I fear for the future of our country in a time when anger and divisiveness seem so prevalent
- I get nervous about the future of our faith in a world that seems to be turning away from it
- I fear for children in our community, especially those who are hungry, or don’t have a home
We all have our fears. And fear can lurk just under the surface in the difficult moments in our lives. And that fear can feel like a giant. I know. I’ve heard your stories. I’ve heard your fears. So, my question for you today is; what are your giants?
There are two things that I think the story of David and Goliath reminds us of:
First, we have all we need. This is the gift that God gives us. This is the gift of grace that comes to you through Jesus Christ. This is what the Holy Spirit brings. David had to be afraid…he knew the risk. But at the same time, he knew what he carried with him. He didn’t need (or even want) the heavy armor…the spear…the sword…he just picked up his 5 stones and his sling, he put his trust in God, and he stepped toward the giant. He faced his fears.
In your baptism, you were given all that you need. God promised forgiveness, eternal life, and God promised that God would be with you always and everywhere. These are your stones. And your community…this gathering…this family of faith…this is your sling. And because of the resurrection, you can have confidence; the battle has already been won. You have all that you need to face your fears.
And the second thing to remember: the giant we fear might not be all that it seems to be. It is easy to look at challenges and to feel overwhelmed. When we remember, as David did, who we are, children of God, loved beyond measure, we can look at our giants, and we can see them for what they are. And they might not look as scary as we think.
This classic story is so misunderstood. It is not a story about a miraculous upset. It’s a story that reminds the listener that there was a critical task…a vital mission that needed to be accomplished; and that God gave David, an unlikely warrior, the gifts he needed to take on the giant in front of him.
Yes, my friends, you are like David. God has given you all that you need. And God reminds you today that the giants you face in life; the fears, and anxieties and challenges, might not be nearly as overwhelming as they may seem.
- Just like with David, God promises to be with you
- Just like with David, God promises to be faithful
God is faithful.
Thanks be to God!