David and Goliath
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. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David's hand.—1 Samuel 17:48-50
The story of David and Goliath is the classic underdog’s tale. Like the Iraqi soccer team in the 2004 Olympics; the small-town Indiana high school basketball team featured in the movie Hoosiers; the author JK Rowling, who went from rejection slips to multi-million dollar profits—like all of these long shots, David didn’t have a chance against Goliath, who was said to be “six cubits and a span” in height, or somewhere between seven and nine and a half feet tall.
Under attack by the Philistine army, the Israelites had been challenged to send out a warrior to fight Goliath. In the unlikely event that the Israelites won, they would become subjects of the invaders, and vice versa. For 40 days—Biblical language for “a long period of difficulty”—the army of King Saul waited in fear. But when young David returned from tending his father’s sheep, he became angry and offered to fight the giant on Saul’s behalf. “Your servant has killed both lions and bears,” he told the king, “and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.”
Much to Goliath’s amusement, David refused Saul’s offer of bulky armor and a sword, preferring instead to meet the giant with only his staff, slingshot, and five smooth stones. After a brief verbal exchange, in which David taunted the Philistine to come get him, the shepherd drew back his slingshot and fired. Goliath fell over dead, at which point David took the giant’s sword and cut off his head.
Generally this story is taken as evidence that good can triumph over a seemingly stronger evil, that size is of no consequence. While I believe that to be true, I also like the insight that comes from, of all people, Machiavelli. Shrewd political thinker that he was, he knew that a warrior could fight best with his own weapons. As he puts it in The Prince, the battle between David and Goliath shows us that “the armor of others is too wide, or too straight for us; it falls off us, or it weighs us down.”
Those of us on the spiritual path could learn from this precept as well. Like David’s, our tools or gifts may pale in comparison to others’, but they are perfectly suited to who and where we are. Our task, quite simply, is to discover how best to use them.
O God, when I imagine that my efforts and abilities are insufficient, help me to recall the example of David, and to know that your gifts to us are equal to any task you give us.