I (Michael) am often amazed at how things can come together. One of my favorite authors is Malcolm Gladwell. I first discovered Gladwell by watching some of his contributions to TED Talks. Since then, I have read (and reviewed on this blog) two of his books, Tipping Point and Blink. I am currently reading his most recent book, David and Goliath, and by what I can only see as the providence of God, I was reading this book while studying to teach 1 and 2 Samuels, in which we find the well-known story of David and Goliath.
The overall premise of Gladwell’s book is that we often misinterpret situations and think the giants in our lives greater than they really are. This idea started for Gladwell when he looked more closely into the background context of the story of David and Goliath. The following video explains what he discovered and how it started him on a path of looking at how sometimes perceived advantages and disadvantages are not really what we think they are.
I imagine the way Gladwell just described the actual reality of the story is a bit different from what you may have heard in Sunday School or the way our culture uses the term “David and Goliath” to represent an underdog situation. Gladwell has an ideological goal in mind when presenting this challenging information: his goal is to show that giants are not often what they seem to be, and often those of us who might feel disadvantaged, might be better equipped then we think. Gladwell is not so much concerned with the theological implications of what he is presenting, but they are significant nonetheless. Usually we think of David as a great illustration of someone putting his faith in God, standing firm against the enemies of God, no matter how much of an underdog they may seem to be. Gladwell just showed us, however, that when David walked on to that battle field with stones in his bag and sling in his hand, Goliath actually became the underdog. Any one of us with an understanding of the skill that David had with that sling, and an understanding of what type of warfare trumps another, would have seen that the battle was already over before it begun, and that David was to be the undisputed winner. So if David isn’t the underdog – if he walked onto that battlefield knowing he was going to win – does that remove the faith piece from the story? Not at all. It might, however, challenge our perception of what faith looks like and how we grow in our faith. It is just as much the work of God that David was an excellent marksman with a sling, as it would have been if David had shot the stone straight up in the air and it had supernaturally changed course and intensity, and ended up striking Goliath’s head. The problem is that we often under-appreciate the work that God does in us slowly over time, preferring instead spontaneous, supernatural works. In 1 Samuel 17, however, we can see David recognized that God had been preparing him for this moment:
When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you (1 Samuel 17:31-37).
When David speaks to Saul of why he believes he will be successful against Goliath, he does not start with a declaration that God will give him supernatural power or ability to defeat the giant; instead he speaks of his experience – his experience with lions and bears while watching his father’s sheep. I can imagine David with sling in his hand, practicing hitting different objects at varying distances, working on his accuracy, as he spent years watching his father’s flock of sheep. Then along comes a lion, snatching a sheep from the flock. David jumps into action placing a stone in his sling and letting it fly, striking the lion. Depending on his accuracy, the lion may now either be dead or stunned, allowing for David to retrieve the sheep. If by chance the lion is only stunned, and attacks David, it is likely not much of a threat now, and David can easily overcome it. If David was able to do this to a quick-moving and powerful lion or bear, how much easier would it be to take out a man weighed down in armor?
So you might ask, “Does David see God taking part in this at all?” Once again, the text answers this for us when David says, “the Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” If you and I were standing in the fields with David during those attacks, we might not necessarily say that God delivered David from the lion and bear. We might say that it was David’s ability with a sling that delivered him. This, however, is where you and I differ from David. David is a faithful Israelite, and as such does not see the simple experiences of his life as free of the influence of God. He is a man of the covenant, which is why he becomes such a great king, but even here we see a man who knows that nothing comes to us but from the hand of God. Thus David’s experience which has shaped him for this moment, is not of his own doing, but is God’s doing. This means David didn’t suddenly have an increase of faith coming onto the field of battle that day, but rather that he had a faith which had grown in that time watching his father’s sheep – working in a lowly place, but a place where God could prepare him for this very moment.
Even as I write this, I am overwhelmed with a sense of the greatness of God. Nothing is wasted by God. No experience in our lives is without its place in the work that God wants to do in us to build our character. I long to see my life in the way David sees his, that I can have confidence that when I face my Goliaths, I will have the faith to stand firm before them, knowing God is with me and has been preparing me for this very moment.
Many of us are in a place right now where we are like David in the fields with the sheep – not as glamorous a stage as the field of battle before all the warriors of Israel – but possibly even more important. God has us in a place where we are being prepared by facing lions and bears, so when we face the giant, he will actually seem small in comparison, and we will have the faith that will allow us to be victorious. I urge you to not despise the sling and stones you currently have in your hands, because there will come a day when they will allow you to bring down a giant, and show those around you that you serve the Living God.