David’s Unconventional Thinking
1 Samuel 17:1-54
We all know the story of David and Goliath.
It has permeated our culture to the extent that many who have hardly read a word of Scripture know the reference.
“It’s a modern-day David and Goliath!” when referring to the victory of an underdog in any situation.
And no wonder! This event we see in Scriptures certainly captures the imagination.
My kids absolutely love it! And I love reading it to them.
But since this is a story many of us have known since we were kids, what new depths can we plumb, what new lessons might we be able to get from it?
He did some research into this event and came up with some ideas that are somewhat different from what we are used to.
Usually that’s a red flag, but these ideas are still quite biblical.
And I think the lessons he draws from these different ideas can also help us when we go up against our Goliaths.
Goliath of Gath.
David the Shepherd Boy.
The Philistines were a constant thorn in the side of the Israelites.
They were initially the reason the Israelites took the long way around to Canaan when they fled Egypt instead of going a more direct route (Exo. 13:7).
The areas allotted to Judah and Dan were inhabited by the Philistines, and while Judah had some success in driving them out of their land, they failed to complete the task—and the Danites failed miserably (Judges 1:18-19, 34-36).
The Philistines really came up against them in Judges 10; 13; & 1 Sam. 4 as major oppressors, eventually quelled by Samson and Samuel (Judg 16:30; 1 Sam. 7:13-14).
They were major oppressors again in the days of Saul, and Saul fought them constantly (1 Sam. 13:19-22; 14:52).
But the Philistines did not stop there (17:1-3).
Their goal was to occupy the highland areas by Bethlehem to split the kingdom of Israel in two.
Saul must have heard of this and gathers his army to meet them at the Valley of Elah.
They were on either side of this valley in between Sochoh and Azekah, and the Philistines met the Israelite army in this valley.
The Israelites encamp at one ridge by the valley while the Philistines encamp on the other.
They are in a stalemate for at least 40 days (17:16) because no one can cross the valley to attack the other side without being completely exposed.
To break this stalemate, the Philistines choose a champion to fight for them—a typical practice back then to settle disputes without much bloodshed—and challenge the Israelites to do the same.
Goliath of Gath.
How big was Goliath? (17:4-7)
The narrative makes his size a very important part of the story.
His brother, we find out later, was “of great stature” and among the Rephaim who are connected with the Anakim and the Nephilim (1 Chron. 20:4-6; Deut. 2:11; Num. 13:33).
Joshua and Caleb had destroyed the Anakim in Canaan except in some of the areas of the Philistines (Josh. 11:21-22; 15:14).
In the text we use for our modern translations, they tell us Goliath was 6 cubits and a span (17:4).
In modern units of measure, that is 9 foot 9 – quite the giant!
In the LXX and the DSS, however, they list his height at 4 cubits and a span—which is 6’9”.
Many scholars go with the smaller number since the larger one seems unreasonably large.
Many others wonder what would make him a giant if he were only 6’9”.
Given that the average height of a man back then was about 5’6”, 6’9” is still quite tall.
And if you were 5’6”, how would you feel going up against someone Sam’s height, decked out in armor?
Regardless of his true height, he was able to carry a lot!
His coat of mail was 5000 shekels of bronze (~125 lb)!
He had a spear like a weaver’s beam, likely referring to how thick it was (about 2” in diameter).
The spearhead weighed 600 shekels (15 lb), and would be in need of a counterbalance so the whole spear would be even heavier.
So Goliath had to be very strong in order to carry all this stuff, regardless of his height.
The typical champion contest was conducted by heavy infantry, which is what Goliath was.
He was used to hand-to-hand combat, and it shows.
He is expecting an opposing champion to come and fight him while he uses his sword and shield (17:8-9).
One interesting thing to note is that his shield-bearer went before him.
A large giant like this, why would he need to have someone to carry his shield, let alone go before him?
This is typically understood to be the custom of the time.
But some have suggested that this apparently mighty warrior had a form of giantism that caused him to be so large.
It’s a growth on your pituitary gland that causes more growth hormone to release than is normal.
A side effect of this condition is double vision or poor peripheral vision.
Gladwell believes that there is evidence for this in the text, when the shield bearer seemingly guides him into the valley, when he doesn’t seem to notice what David has in his hands until he’s right up under him, and when he seems to see two sticks when David only has one (17:40-44).
Then he urges David to come to him so that they might do traditional hand-to-hand infantry-style combat.
But David was having none of that.
David the Shepherd Boy.
David arrives at the Israelite camp.
David is a young shepherd boy and musician, on an errand to the front lines for his father and brothers.
He sees Goliath and his taunts and hears of the reward for killing him.
He wonders why no one has gone up against him yet.
Saul catches wind of David’s words and asks to see him.
David says, “Let me fight him,” and Saul replies (17:32-33):
“You are not able to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.”
It is unclear how old David is at this point. If you recall the chronology class, I estimated he was around 20, since he was married after this and became a commander in Saul’s army.
But all we really know from this is that David is a young man, able to play the harp, tend sheep, and kill lions and bears (17:34-37).
Saul expects David to go up against Goliath as an infantryman, so he fits him with his armor (17:38-39).
But, you might recall from earlier (1 Sam. 10:23), Saul was also a tall man compared to the average height of 5’6”, a height which David probably didn’t even meet.
So Saul’s armor didn’t fit, and he had not tested them—he was not experienced using his armor.
“So David took them off” (17:39).
David fights Goliath his own way.
David brings his staff and finds “five smooth stones from the brook” (17:40).
The stones of the Valley of Elah were actually a good deal more dense than normal stones—barium sulfate AKA barite.
So if David can get this stone to fly at the same speed as normal stones, the momentum will be far greater, and the more damage it could cause when it lands.
Given the sling that he had, he could potentially swing that rock around at 5 or 6 rev/s, which would result in a speed of about 80 mph.
This could hit with a stopping power similar to that of a 0.45 caliber handgun.
Slings were commonly used for long-range combat, and they could be deadly accurate with someone well-trained in this weapon.
We know from history that this weapon could be used to maim or kill a target 200 yd away—they could even hit birds in flight!
Goliath was not 200 yd away, so David has every expectation to hit his target where he aimed at his forehead.
After all David is rather experienced with this weapon having defended his flock against large predators.
So, he confidently confronts the giant, owing his soon-to-be victory to the Lord (17:45-47).
They meet in the valley, the giant comes at him, but before he can get within striking distance, David releases the stone from his sling, striking him in his forehead. “But there was no sword in the hand of David” (17:48-50).
Goliath falls flat on his face, and David takes Goliath’s sword and kills him (17:51).
The Philistines flee, and the Israelites win the day.
What this does not mean.
Some might say that this explanation takes away the allure of this story.
It’s supposed to be some little shepherd boy triumphing against all odds against a huge giant.
They might even say it removes a supernatural or providential element to it.
Well, I disagree. While I do think Gladwell’s diagnosis of Goliath is a bit of a stretch, his assessment of David’s abilities makes sense.
I think it opens up a new way we can apply this passage.
Think outside the box.
The traditional expectation for this champion-style combat was to have infantry go up against infantry—Goliath expected it, Saul expected it, and both armies expected it.
But David thinks outside the box to use his long-range weaponry against this short-range weapon expert.
Where did David get this idea to think outside the box? Why, from the Lord!
He was providentially preparing David for this moment that would propel him into the limelight, causing the women to sing, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands” (18:7).
Of course, there are limits to how far outside the box we should think.
When it comes to religious issues, please note that David’s unique strategy did not violate the Law of Moses.
While we might be innovative in areas of judgment, we must not be innovative in areas of obligation.
And we must trust in the Lord to help us accomplish our goals if they are His will just as David trusted in God to support him in his unconventional strategy.
Play to your strengths.
While David was small compared to Goliath, he was still able to use his strengths to defeat this large giant.
David was not experienced in infantry style combat at this point in his young life, but he was very experienced with a sling.
If you are not good at initiating conversation with people, but you’re great at Bible studies, that’s great! Play to your strengths.
But later David did learn how to fight with swords, so he didn’t remain stagnant in his abilities.
He grew and developed just as we should grow and develop.
If we’re not good in something important and necessary now, we can learn and grow to be better at it.
In any event you may find that …
The foe you are up against may not be as terrible as you think.
As Goliath may be big and strong, he’s slow with possibly poor eyesight.
Sometimes the difficulties we face seem insurmountable, but often, they are not that bad.
These could be difficulties and problems in life that seem so large—our debts, marriage problems, loneliness, substance abuse, our health.
No doubt, some of these problems are extremely difficult to deal with.
Sometimes we’ll need help, but sometimes you just need a new and innovative strategy.
Many times you’ll need to do the research to find tried and true strategies that have worked for others.
Then you’ll need the confidence to try something whether the new and innovative or the tried and true, and you may fail, fall flat on your face.
But as Thomas Edison said as he was inventing the light bulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
As a scientist, we call that progress, though to the outside world it’s a failure.
Don’t listen to the outside world—you know what progress you’ve made.
Trust in God in all things. Perhaps you failed in some way because that’s not what God wants you to do right now, just as he caused righteous Josiah to fail when he tried going up against Pharaoh Necho (2 Chron. 35:20-24).
While that may seem discouraging, it shouldn’t be—we didn’t fail, we just found a path God didn’t want us to go down.
There’s a reason we teach these lessons to our children.
There are a lot of lessons that can be learned from these OT passages.
We want them to know that, even though they are small, they are still capable of doing great things if they trust in the Lord.
But these are lessons that we tend to forget as we get older, aren’t they?
We may be a small church, but we are still capable of doing great things.
While we must not innovate in matters of obligation, we must innovate in matters of judgment.
While we are to preach the gospel to every creature, we are free to innovate various ways of doing this.
Hopefully, prayerfully, we will find successful ways to reach everyone in Rutherford County.
Let the gospel land on every type of soil, but especially on the good soil, prepared by the Lord that it might be received openly and honestly.
Are you ready to receive that gospel of Jesus Christ today?
To obey it and to follow Him?
Now is the time!