A Classic Story Re-Investigated

Whether you grew up in church or not, sometimes reading stories in the Hebrew Scriptures can be confusing, overwhelming, and downright hard to understand. Wars and battles are described in ways that are foreign to our 21st century ears. Who won the battles, and why, is often something that is called out in the passages, with good reason.

Sometimes we can see an “underdog” theme going on as well – which we all love, don’t we? Underdog stories give us something to sink our proverbial “teeth” into, to hold on and apply to our lives where we see the small and seemingly insignificant person or group of people go up against a bully or oppressor of some kind.

The “David vs Goliath” story in the Hebrew Bible (1 Samuel 17) is one that stands out here. It’s a story of the young shepherd David -who, upon surveying the battlefield and hearing the taunts of the Philistines, takes out their warrior Goliath with just a few stones and his slingshot. A full army was there, prepared for battle… and here comes this young man that hasn’t trained with them who seems to have some ridiculous idea he can win despite the odds of what they know is impossible. Yet he triumphs in a battle. It’s a classic tale, played out in movies and stories (and reality) everywhere.

Sure, once Goliath was knocked down, the battle ensued and the two armies fought, but “it was all downhill from there” as the saying goes.

Every time I have hard this story taught, the focus is on what’s there and the details the storyteller gives us:

– David was younger than all his brothers. His job was to take care of sheep (but he had been anointed as king of Israel by Samuel the prophet earlier… note: Saul was still king at the time of David doing all this.

– The Israelite army had been camped up near the Philistine army for well over a month.

– Goliath was taunting them – who will fight? Choose one man. If you win, we will be your slaves.

– David shows up after a while, bringing food and to check in on his brothers and wonders why no one has taken Goliath up on his challenge. “Who dare defies the armies of the living God?” he asks

– David goes to the king telling him not to worry, he’ll go fight Goliath!

King: You’re only a boy. He has been a man of war since his youth (1 Sam 17:33)

David: I’ve been a shepherd. I’ve defended the flock from bears and lions. God helped me then, he will help me now.

David’s faith (that no one should be able to defy the living God and his people) – plus a well placed stone to the forehead – knocked down the giant everyone feared, causing the Philistine army to run in fear now that their “hero” was gone. Israel emerged victorious. The lesson? Put your trust in God and he will save you and deliver you from your circumstances. He can “knock down your Goliath”.

With all due respect to the text, I want to pause a moment and think about something else going on in this story, something that we tend to do when we read this ancient text. Goodness knows I have all these years.

Have you ever really considered these warriors of Saul?

They were not idiots. They were men who had fought all their lives. They were seasoned, trained, and battle-ready.

They were men of faith. They were serving their king, taking orders.

They were men who dealt in the practical, they knew the cost of going up against an enemy that was too strong for them. They had done their SWOT analysis… and they couldn’t see how to defeat such a powerful foe.

… and they dismissed David because his training didn’t look like theirs.

Yet it was David’s “training” that ensured he didn’t think like they did when it came to the right approach for this battle. It got me thinking.

A dear friend of my oldest recently relayed a conversation they were having about how many bridges there are between their generation and mine, and their generation and the grandparent one now. How different the world is that we all came from, and walked through. So very different. There are so many more things they are having to navigate in this day, and this age and time in history.

Is it possible that we, the older of the generation (so all you Gen X’rs out there… or Boomers…) are making the same mistake as Saul’s men, and we don’t even realize it?

We have a faith and way to practice our faith that was handed down to us. Maybe by our parents, maybe chosen by us. Maybe we have done some deconstructing, maybe not. But we stand knowing what we have found to be true, walking with God and knowing what He has done through Jesus. It’s written deep in our bones.

I have a feeling that might be how Saul’s warriors felt too. They knew their God. They were, in their minds, pushing back a foe that had been a thorn in their side for way too long.

Along comes David – “hey, why don’t we do it this way? what about a different approach?”

And they just shook their heads in disbelief “How can he be so naïve? That will never work”

But David wasn’t about battle approach or strategy or anything other than preserving the honor of the name of Yahweh.

What he did worked.

I know sometimes we might look at the younger generation as jumping on the bandwagon of everything culture is bringing them now. Yes, there is the risk they might get lost in it. Not all of it’s good. Not all of it’s bad, either. They may not be quoting bible verses and going to church and doing bible study the way we might think it “should” be done.

We need to remember that God isn’t limited to the walls of our buildings and homes, our churches and retreats and studies. I can’t help but wonder if we fail to see the deep, abiding faith and wrestling that this next generation IS DOING, just in a way we can’t see? What if they are, like David, taking down the giants of their day and leading the way?

If you look at the lifeline of David, you know that this Goliath story was just the start of some big things for David. You know his training as a shepherd was training for his kingship. You know he is held up as the standard of all kings in the Hebrew Scriptures… so you come into the story knowing what God is doing here, forming David’s character.

What if we took from the David and Goliath story not just the underdog vs bully narrative, but a challenge to see with new eyes, what God is doing in our day, with a generation that is growing up facing more things than we did in OUR lives? Rather than telling them “you’re doing it wrong” or “faith has to look this way” – how can we open our eyes to see (and believe) what God might be doing in them and through them?

David’s questions and challenges were good for Saul’s warriors. I have a feeling some of the challenges the younger generation brings is good for us too.

May this year be a year where we ask “God, how are you working in this?” – and open our eyes to see and follow!

By Tama Nguyen

I'm an avid reader, tea drinker, and outdoor adventure seeker. I am convinced that God is still out to fix this broken world, and He uses us to do it. Chasing after things that matter...

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