The Lord said to Samuel “Do not look upon his appearance or in the height of his stature because I have rejected him. For the Lord does not see as mortals see for they look on the outward appearance. But the Lord looks on the heart”. (1 Sam. 16:7)
Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?
In the heart of ancient Palestine, is the region known as the Shephalah which is a series of ridges and valleys connecting the Judean Mountains to the East with the wide expanse of the Mediterranean plain.
It’s an area of historic and breathtaking beauty. It’s home to vineyards, wheat fields, and forests of sycamore and terebinth brush. The Shephalah is also of great strategic importance. Over the centuries, numerous battles have been fought for control of the region because the valley’s rising from the Mediterranean plain offer those on the coast a clear path to the cities of Hebron, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem in the Judean Highlands.
The most important valley is Aijolon in the north. But the most storied is the Elah Valley. Elah’s dirt bore witness to the arrival of the knights of the crusades in the 12th century. It played a central role in the Maccabean Wars with Syria more than a thousand years before. Most famously, during the days of the Old Testament, it was where the fledgling kingdom of Israel squared off against the armies of the Philistines.
The Philistines were most likely from Crete. They were a seafaring people who had moved to Palestine and settled in along the coast. The Israelites were clustered in the mountains under the leadership of King Saul and in the second half of the 11th century B.C., the Philistines began spreading out and moving east winding their way upstream along the floor of the Elah Valley. The goal and enemy strategy was to capture the mountain ridge near Bethlehem and split Saul’s kingdom in two halves as a house divided will not stand!
The Philistines were battle tested and dangerous and already the sworn enemies of the Israelites. Alarmed, Saul gathered his men and hastened down the mountains to confront them. The Philistines set up camp along the southern ridge of the Elah and the Israelites pitched their tents on the other side along the northern ridge which left the two armies gazing across the ridges at each other.
As strong as the Philistines were, neither army dared to move as attacking meant descending down the hill and then making a suicidal climb up the enemies ridge on the other side.
Finally, the Philistines had enough waiting. They sent their greatest warrior down into the valley to resolve the deadlock – one on one (manos-a-manos). He was a giant at least 6’9″ wearing a bronze helmet with full body armor. He carried a javelin, a spear, and a sword and his battle attendant went before him carrying a large shield which was customary for the day to support infantry. The giant faced the Israelites and shouted out, “choose you a man and let him come down to me. If he prevail in battle against me and strike me down – we shall be slaves to you. But if I prevail and strike him down – you will be slaves to us and serve us.”
In the Israelite camp, no one moved. Who could prevail and win against such a terrifying opponent? Then, a shepherd boy who had come down from Bethlehem to bring food to his brothers stepped forward and volunteered. Saul objected to his request and stated, “You cannot go against this Philistine and do battle with him, for you are a lad and he is man of war from his youth.” But this non-assuming shepherd was adamant: “I have faced more ferocious opponents than this” he argued. When the lion or bear would come and carry off his sheep from the herd, he told Saul, “I would go after him and strike him down and rescue it from its clutches.” After all, Saul really had no other options.
Saul relented and the shepherd boy ran down the hill toward the giant standing in the valley and stating: “Come to me that I may give your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field.” Thus began one of history’s most famous battles and misconceptions of the position of ‘underdog’. The giant’s name was Goliath. The shepherd boy’s name as most of you know was David.
David and Goliath is a true story about what happens when ordinary people confront giants in their life. By giants, I mean powerful opponents of all kinds. From armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune, addictions, financial issues, and various forms of oppression. Each verse of this event tells the story of all of us – whether famous or unknown, ordinary or brilliant, and those who have faced an oversized challenge and have been forced to respond.
Should I play by the established rules or follow my own instincts? Should I persevere or give up? Should I strike back or forgive? Through this story, I want to explore two ideas. The first is much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out these kinds of lopsided conflicts because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and realizes the abundant life.
Secondly, that we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong and more often than not, misread them. We misinterpret them due to our past and natural frames of reference just as Mary thought that the Lord’s body had been stolen out of the tomb. In other words, we base much of our faith out of past natural experiences rather than spiritual promises. Giants are usually not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of their greatest weakness as I’ll explain.
We need a better understanding of God’s template of facing the giants in our lives and there is no better place to start that journey than with the epic confrontation between David and Goliath 3000 years ago in the Valley of Elah.
When Goliath shouted out to the Israelites, he was asking for what was known as ‘single combat’. This was a common practice in the ancient world as two sides in a conflict would seek to avoid the heavy bloodshed of open battle by choosing one warrior to represent them in a dual. For example, the 1st century B.C. Roman historian Quintus Claudius Quadrigarius (author of 23 books of ancient history) tells of an epic battle in which a Gaul warrior began mocking his Roman opponents. This immediately aroused the great indignation of a man named Titus Manlius Torquatus, a youth of noble birth. Quadragarius writes that Titus challenged the Gaul to a dual. He stepped forward and would not suffer Roman valor to be shamefully tarnished by a Gaul. Armed with a legionary shield and a Spanish sword, he confronted the Gaul. Their fight took place on the bridge over the Arno River in the presence of both armies amid great apprehension just like in the Valley of Elah. Thus, they confronted each other – the Gaul according to his method of fighting – with shield advanced and waiting in attack. Manlius, relying on courage rather than the established skill struck shield against shield and threw the Gaul off balance. While the Gaul was trying to regain the same position, Manlius again struck shield against shield and again forced the man to change his ground. In this fashion, he slipped under the Gaul’s sword and stabbed him in the chest with his Spanish blade. After he had slain him, Manlius cut off the Gaul’s head and tore out his tongue as it was with blood upon it and placed it around his own neck.
This is what Goliath was expecting. A warrior like himself to come forward in hand to hand combat. It never occurred to him that the battle would be fought in anything other than the terms he had prepared for. To protect himself against blows to the body, he wore an elaborate tunic made up of hundreds of overlapping bronze fish-like scales. It covered his arms and reached to his knees and probably weighed more than a hundred pounds. He had bronze shin-guards protecting his legs with attached bronze plates covering his feet and wore a heavy metal helmet.
He had three separate weapons all optimized for close combat. He held a javelin made entirely of bronze which was capable of penetrating a shield or even armor. He had a sword on his hip and as his primary option, he carried a unique short range spear with a metal shaft as thick as a “weavers beam.” It had a cord attached to it and a elaborate set of weights that allowed it to be released with a powerful force and accuracy. To the Israelite, this extraordinary spear with its heavy shaft and long and heavy iron blade when thrown by Goliath’s strong arm, seemed possible of piercing any bronze shield and bronze armor together. Can you see why no Israelite would come forward to fight Goliath from natural eyes and a natural perspective?
Then David appears. Saul tries to give him his own sword and armor so at least he’ll have a fighting chance but David refuses. “I can’t walk in these he says, For I am unused to it.” Instead, he reaches down and picks up five smooth stones and puts them in his shoulder bag. Then David descends into the valley carrying his shepherds staff.
Goliath looks at the boy coming toward him and is insulted as he was expecting to do battle with a seasoned warrior. Instead, he sees a shepherd, a boy from the lowliest of all professions who seems to want to use his shepherd’s staff as a laughable weapon against Goliath’s sword. “Am I a dog” Goliath says gesturing at the staff – “That you should come to me with sticks?”
What happens next is a matter of legend. David puts one of his stones into the leather pouch of a sling and he fires at Goliath’s exposed forehead. Goliath falls and is stunned. David runs toward him; seizes the giant’s sword and cuts off his head. The Philistines saw that their warrior was dead and they fled as the Bible states.
“The battle is won miraculously by an underdog who by all expectations should not have won at all”. This is how we have told or explained to one another this story over the many centuries since. It is exactly how the well known phrase “David and Goliath” has come to be embedded in our language, conscious, and culture as a metaphor for improbable victory. But the problem with that version of events is that almost everything about it including its perceived revelation is entirely wrong!
Ancient armies reflected three kinds or types of warriors. The first was cavalry – armed men on horseback or in chariots. The second was infantry – foot-soldiers wearing armor and carrying swords and shields. The third was projectile warriors or what we would understand today as ‘artillery’. These artillery skills would be expressed on ancient battlefields as archers and slingers.
The Slingers had a leather pouch attached on two sides by a long strand of rope. They would put a rock or a lead ball into the pouch, swing it around at increasingly wider and faster circles and then release one end of the rope hurling the rock forward. Slinging took an extraordinary amount of skill and practice, but in experienced hands, the sling was a devastating weapon.
Paintings from medieval times show slingers hitting birds in mid flight. Irish slingers were said to able to hit a coin from as far away as they could see it. And in the Old Testament book of Judges, slingers are described to be accurate within a “hair’s breath.”
An experienced slinger could kill or seriously injure a target at a distance of up to 200 yards. The Romans even had a special set of tongs just to remove stones that had been embedded in some unfortunate soldier’s body by a sling. Imagine standing in front of a major league baseball pitcher as he aims the baseball at your head. That’s what facing a slinger was like. Only what was being thrown wasn’t a ball of cork and leather, but a solid rock and understanding what and who the quote: “Rock” is will translate into defeat or victory!
History has also shown us that the sling was such an important weapon in ancient warfare that the three kinds or types of ancient warriors balanced each other. This would be similar to each dynamic in the game of rock, paper, scissors. With their long prods and ground pikes and armor, infantry could stand up to cavalry. Cavalry could in turn defeat projectile warriors because the horses moved too quickly for artillery to take proper aim. And projectile warriors were deadly against infantry because lumbering soldier weighed down with armor were a sitting duck for a slinger who would be slinging projectiles from over a hundred yards away. This is exactly why the Athenian expedition failed in the Peloponnese War. The Athenian heavy infantry was decimated in the mountains by local light infantry – primarily using the sling. (Russia was defeated by tribal Afghanistan using the same methodology). Goliath is a type of heavy infantry. He thinks he is going to be engaged in a dual with another heavy infantry-man. Our gravest error is fighting evil on evil’s playing field and expectations. In the same manner as Titus Manlius’ fight with the Gaul – Goliath states, “Come to me that I may give your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field.” The key phrase is: “Come to me.” In other words, Goliath means, come right up to me so we can fight at close quarters. When Saul tries to dress David in armor and give him a sword, he is operating under the same assumption and carnal understanding. He sees or envisions David fighting Goliath hand to hand.
David however, has no intention to honor the traditions of man, traditions of single combat the establishment, and the means of “established warfare.” When he tells Saul that he has killed bears and lions as a shepherd, he does so not just as a testimony to his courage, but to create another testimony as well (Folks can dispute your doctrine, but they can’t dispute your testimony) David will fight Goliath the same way that he has learned to fight large and wild animals as a projectile warrior. David, without hesitation, runs towards Goliath because without armor, he has speed and maneuverability. He puts a rock into his sling and whips it around and around, faster and faster a t 6-7 revolutions per second while aiming the projectile at Goliath’s forehead – the giants only point of vulnerability.
Modern tests and calculations reflect that a typically sized stone hurled by an expert slinger at a distance of 115 feet would have hit Goliath’s head with a velocity of 112 feet per second. This is more than enough to penetrate his skull and render him unconscious or dead. In terms of stopping power, that would equate to a medium sized modern handgun. We find that David fired and hit Goliath within just one second. This range of time so brief that Goliath would not have been able to protect himself and which he would have been stationary for all practical purposes.
I mean, what could Goliath do? He was carrying over a hundred pounds of armor. He was prepared for a battle at close range where he could stand strong but immobile warding off blows with his armors and delivering a mighty thrust of his spear. He watched David approach first with scorn, then with surprise, and then with what could only have been genuine fright as it dawned on him that the battle he was expecting has suddenly changed shape. The prophetic application to this statement is paramount to church’s and our personal future success.
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin. But I come against you in the name of the Lord and the Lord will deliver you into my hands and I will strike you down and cut off your head. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give all of you into our hands.”
Twice, David mentions Goliath’s sword and spear as if to emphasize how profoundly different his intentions really are. He then reaches in his shepherd’s bag for a stone and at that point no one watching from the ridges from either side of valley would have figured David’s victory improbable. David was a slinger and all in attendance knew that slingers beat infantry hands down.
Goliath had as much chance of victory over David as any bronze age warrior with a sword would have had with a Green beret armed 45 automatic pistol. Folks, this wasn’t even close!
Underdog my…..As I earlier stated, there has been much misunderstanding and what has been passed down from generation to generation and the true essence of what happened that day in the Valley of Elah. David is representative of you and me in that we have been redeemed and empowered which should reflect a different perspective than the world’s perspective in overcoming giants and obstacles. It also reveals the church’s preconceived notions and folly in regard to genuine power and what is already available as Kingdom citizens. If we are truly kingdom culture, then we understand that we are from heaven and colonizing the earth. We are not defensive nor are we underdogs. We are colonizers!
The reason King Saul is skeptical of David’s chances is because David is small and Goliath is large. Saul thinks of power in terms of physical might, past frames of reference, and doesn’t understand that power comes in many other forms and expressions. Adhered rules of the mind generated by our past natural experiences are meant to be broke! Spiritual speed (prayer) and maneuverability (prophetic utterance) will always overcome natural and brute strength in overcoming our giants as we are more than conquerors. We can take this story and prophetic offering and apply its lessons in many areas of life. Again, what we perceive as a strong and undefeatable adversary – It’s pronounced strength is usually its greatest weakness in being defeated.