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David and Goliath: An Underdog Story?



First Reading

A READING FROM THE FIRST BOOK OF SAMUEL

[Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and his spear's head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, "Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us." And the Philistine said, "Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together." When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.]


David said to Saul, "Let no one's heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine." Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth." But David said to Saul, "Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God." David said, "The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine." So Saul said to David, "Go, and may the Lord be with you!" Saul clothed David with his armour; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul's sword over the armour, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, "I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them." So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd's bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, "Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field." But David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's and he will give you into our hand." When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

1 SAMUEL 17:(1A, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49


Sermon: The Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor


The story of David and Goliath is one that all of us know…even those outside of the church know it. It is often viewed as the classic underdog story…where the weaker, smaller character, in this case David the shepherd…defeats the mighty opponent, the giant Goliath. It is often referenced in popular culture…when we hear of a small local grocery story winning out over the big box store…or when the scrawny child stands up to the big bully. But this typical interpretation, the one many of us grew up with, actually misses the point of the narrative and, because of this, it misses its message for us today.


As we come to this reading the narrator wants us to see David and Goliath as opposing characters. David is the youngest son of Jesse and Saul calls him, “just a boy.” When David puts on Saul’s armour, armour that any man could carry, we hear that he cannot even walk in it, because he is not used to it. The narrator is characterising David as being someone without strength, someone who is definitely not a warrior and not protected by a warrior’s armour…he is nothing more than a young shepherd boy.


Goliath is the complete opposite. The narrator uses exaggeration to help us see him as larger than life. He, unlike David, can wear armour…not just any armour, but huge, metallic, heavy armour. Goliath’s “height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and his spear's head weighed six hundred shekels of iron.” Even if we have no clue what all these ancient measurements mean, it is clear that the narrator wants us to imagine Goliath as being massive, super strong…and covered in protective armour.


So we have a stark contrast set up between the puny David, without any armour on his body, and the monstrous Goliath, covered in armour…it is small versus big, it is someone without any protection versus someone covered in the epitome of protection. Clearly, on the surface, from what we can see, David is not a threat to Goliath…he is the underdog.


But there is more going on…the narrator wants us to see beyond this superficial assessment to something deeper. Dialogue is a narrative tool used to focus our attention and reveal aspects of characters that we might otherwise miss. When we look at the dialogue we see that there is another layer to the scene.


All the characters speak, but the one whose words we need to look at is David. David speaks for the longest amount of narrative time and what he says is revealing…in response to Saul questioning him going to battle, David says “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.”


David, although he has been the one killing animals to protect the flock, doesn’t attribute his physical ability to himself, but to God. He is saying that everything he has accomplished has been because of God. God has protected him and saved him. No other character in this scene speaks such theology…no other character in this scene demonstrates faith like this. Even Saul, the king chosen by God, after hearing David’s words and saying to David, “the Lord go with you,” still gives David armour, he still gives David something to protect him…

Saul doesn’t seem to have faith in what David says. Saul still thinks David needs armour, but David knows he already has armour…he already has protection and that protection comes from God.


And it is when we overlook this detail that we miss the point of this story. The underdog is not David, although we might think he is because of his outward appearance, but the underdog is in fact Goliath. Yes, Goliath has physical strength, yes he has protective armour…but he does not have God, he does not have the protection of the Lord of Israel…protection that David has. This narrative is not about a little boy triumphing over a giant, but it is about the protection, the support, the care offered by the Lord to those who believe in him…a protection that makes all who have faith stronger, more powerful, more triumphant than even the biggest armour-clad giants.


When we focus on this aspect of the narrative, it is clear that it has a lot to say to us today…it is a call for us not to put our trust in outward things, like money, in big houses, success, in all the things the world tells us we need to protect ourselves, to be our armour against the giants that threaten us. Instead, the only thing we need is God.


We must be like David. When we look back on our lives and all that we have endured, can we recognise that we didn’t survive because of ourselves, but because God was with us? God helped us through the tough times, God was there. And as we face the many Goliaths on the horizon, can we remember that as God helped us in the past, so God will help us in the future? That our strength and endurance comes from God, not from anything we have, not from ourselves, not from our stuff…it is all from God.


Although today’s first reading is familiar and we might think we know it well, know exactly what it is about. We must look deeper, look beyond the superficial big versus small, beyond the typical interpretation to see that the underdog is not David but it is Goliath…with faith like David’s, he was always going to win the battle. So the question this narrative leaves us with is this: Can we be like David and live knowing that God is our armour?


Amen.


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