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|14th May, 2000|
WHEN Beverley and I were very young teenagers, we attended many church camps. Of an evening, around a camp fire, various youth would entertain the others with recitations, singing, playing musical instruments or telling jokes. One boy was always be asked to sing a song. He was not a good singer, but the song was very funny. The song, of many verses, told the story of David and Goliath. Unfortunately, the boy who sang it had a bad lisp - he aspirated every letter "s" so it sounded like "th".
The song started:
"Goliath of Gath, with hith helmet of brath,
Wath theated one day, upon the green grath.
When up thlipped thlim David, the thervant of Thaul,
And thaid, "I will thmite thee although I am tho thmall!"
You can imagine the rest. Every generation for the past 3000 years has been captivated by the story of the young hero who defeats an enemy of enormous size.
1. A New Enemy
Who were the Philistines? Archaeology has brought the Philistines to life more vividly than perhaps any other Biblical people save the Israelites and the Egyptians. At the very beginning of the 12th century BC., the beginning of the Iron Age, Sea Peoples swept out of the Aegean to settle in Canaan, modern Israel. They settled in the agriculturally rich coastal strip from Gaza to modern Tel Aviv. Through there, passed one of the then world's most important international trade routes. Soon the Philistines pushed the Israelites inland, winning territory because of their technological superiority.
It was this conflict that prompted the Israelites to form a monarchy in the mid 11th century in order to meet the Philistine threat more effectively. Saul became the first King. He and his successor David overpowered them and after 150 years the Philistines played only a minor role until 600 BC., when they disappeared altogether. Our story is at the height of their power.
2. A Troubled King
Apart from the menacing Philistines, Saul was a troubled man, on the way to a total breakdown. It was suggested that soothing music could bring him peace. He asked for a skilled musician and a servant suggested a young shepherd boy who played flute and lyre to his sheep. Saul sent for him, and for only the second time, the shepherd is named as David. 1 Sam 16:19-23 So David "entered his service." David's skill as a harpist brings soothing "relief" to the disturbed king. The 16th chapter ends with a gifted young man coming to serve a rejected and dejected ruler who is totally unaware of the implications of his welcoming David into his court.
3. The Death Of Goliath.
Thus David learns of the threat the Philistines pose to his nation. The subsequent battle with Goliath is one of the best known stories in the world of literature. This was an attempt at representative warfare effected by means of a contest of champions. The purpose of such contests was to obviate the necessity of a general engagement of troops that would spill more blood than necessary to resolve the dispute. Contests of champions such as that between David and Goliath or between Menelaus and Paris (Homer Iliad bk. 3) were not uncommon.
The Philistines gathered on the western foothills of Judah, seventeen miles southwest of Jerusalem. The contest between David and Goliath took place in the valley, halfway between (v3) the two opposing campsites. v4-7 Goliath is called a "champion". He was a giant of a man. Gigantism causes people to grow up to 3 metres in height. One man in modern times, Robert Wadlow, was eight feet eleven inches tall at the time of his death, aged twenty-two. The hormone somatotropin, secreted by the pituitary lengthens the bones. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald this month, examined the treatment of girls with this condition with testosterone. That stopped growth but caused side-effects in these very tall girls.
Goliath may have been defeated because he also suffered from poor vision. An Israeli doctor, Dr Valdimir Berginer, a neurologist at Ben-Gurion University, believes Goliath suffered from acromegaly, which is associated with gigantism and can lead to poor peripheral vision. "Giants of staggering proportions generally suffer from acromegaly," he wrote earlier this year. In acromegaly a tumour of the pituitary gland can press on the crossover point of the optic nerves. David could have approached him from the side without being seen.
Goliath's armour and weapons are described at length v 5-7 His chest was covered with hundreds of small bronze plates like fish scales. His helmet was bronze. v6 Greaves protected his shins. His javelins and spear point v7 was made of iron, a metal monopolised by the Philistines and denied to the Israelite troops. His sword had an iron blade. He had a two metre high shield. The Philistine giant must have felt--and appeared--invincible.
Goliath hurls the challenge of representative combat to the Israelite army. v8-10 The Philistines, Goliath thinks, will win an easy victory over Israel, who will then be enslaved by them. The Philistine challenger had no takers. Saul and his troops v11 were "dismayed and terrified". Goliath came forward twice a day for forty days taunting defiance. It seemed Goliath would win by default, and Israel would be enslaved.
Jesse's three oldest sons were at the battle. v13-14 While Saul was on military duty, David had returned home to tend his father's sheep. v17-22 Jesse told David to take some food to his brothers. v23-30 Even from a distance Goliath's defiant challenge was enough to cause the men of Israel to fear. David hears and has a different reaction. There is contrast between the soldiers' words of resignation v25 and David's words of indignation. v26 The soldiers call Goliath a champion but David calls him "this uncircumcised Philistine". They say Goliath has come to "defy Israel," David says that he has come to "defy the armies of the living God". The soldiers see an impossible problem. David sees a man defying God.
Saul is desperate for someone to oppose Goliath rather than surrender by default. Saul offers a daughter in marriage as a reward v25 and great wealth and he will exempt his father's family from taxes. David offers. v 26 Goliath is defying Israel. David intends to remove that disgrace and defiance. King Saul is relieved v32-33 but knows it will be a mismatch. "You" (emphasis) are "only a boy," while "he" (emphasis) has been a "fighting man since boyhood."
David compares Goliath to a mountain lion or a black bear, both of which he had killed when they had attacked his father's sheep. v36-37 As God had delivered David from the "paw" of the lion and of the bear, so He would also deliver him from the "hand" of the Philistine. Saul, impressed by David's bravado v31 tells him to "Go". But first Saul desires to give David every advantage. He puts on David his own armour, with the same kind of helmet that Goliath wore v38 and his own sword. V38-39 This would involve Saul in any possible victory of David. But David insists he can not go wearing Saul's armour because, not being used to it, it weighs him down. David takes the armour off. Instead, he selects five sling stones v40 from the streambed. Such stones are the size of your fist. The sling itself consists of two cords, a metre in length, with a pocket in the centre. The slinger whirls the stone, and releases one of the cords. Those same stones in slings are harassing the Israeli army in Gaza and on the West Bank today. Only now the tables are turned. It is the descendants of the Philistines that are firing the stones and running while the heavily armed Israelis lumber through the streets. The Palestinians have Israel on the run.
So David the shepherd strides forth to do battle with Goliath the Philistine champion. Goliath has his visor of his helmet up. Was this because of his eyesight? Goliath thinks the cords of the sling were "sticks" v43 and roars that sticks are only for beating a dog. He curses David saying he intends to give David's flesh to the "birds of the air and the beasts of the field", v. 44-6 a curse that David hurls back. Goliath moves closer to attack. v48-51 David runs to meet him.
David whirls the sling and lets go. The stone thuds into Goliath's forehead and Goliath falls face down, stunned. The stone has stunned the giant. Now a sword must kill him. Drawing Goliath's own sword, he chops the head from Goliath's neck. David picks up the head to be displayed as a trophy of war and the sword that he will keep as a battlefield trophy. The stunned Philistines run, with the men of Israel cheering and shouting in hot pursuit. They chase the Philistines all the way to Gath. They then plunder the enemy camp. David proceeds to put Goliath's head on public display in nearby Jerusalem. This v54 city is not yet under Israelite control putting the Jebusites on notice that just as the Philistines had fallen victim to David, Jerusalem's demise was only a matter of time. David would make Jerusalem his head-quarters, and it would forever be called David's City.
4. An Insight.
When David volunteered to fight the giant Goliath, Saul and his advisers took the King's personal armour and placed it all over the young boy. Helmet, chest-plate of mail, girdle, leg and thigh plates, sandals, shield and huge sword. The young lad was so weighed by armour he could not walk. David took it off, and picked up instead his sling and five stones and went out against Goliath. You cannot fight in another man's armour. God was saying to David: "You can do it because I will help you." The giant roared with laughter and lifted the visor of his helmet to see better. That gave David a target! The Israelite soldiers shuddered in fear thinking, "Goliath is so big we can never kill him." But David went confidently and in faith in the Lord saying, "That giant is so big I can't miss!"
David thought for himself. He developed his own strategy. He used what he had learnt from his encounters as a shepherd with mountain lions. He used his own familiar weapons and went out to defeat Goliath. The giant was now fighting David on David's territory, against David's weapons and David's strategy. Goliath's bulk and brazen armour were a disadvantage against the slim, quick, mobile young shepherd. That victory over the giant brought him into national prominence and later, he was wanted as the next king. A keen lad, a solid rock and a big God can match any giant fear.
Do you think David's victory is a far-fetched myth? Not so. Five hundred dead Australians and 57,000 dead American soldiers tell that in Vietnam David beat Goliath. In their own country, using their own weapons and deep commitment, 250,000 Viet-Cong, including boy soldiers, beat one and a quarter million Allied soldiers equipped with the best war armour of the mightiest nation in history. America will never again fight a David and Goliath battle on David's territory! The story of Vietnam, is that boys with their weapons can win!
This is one great insight. If you have faith in God, courage, and use your own strategy and weapons, you can take on giants and win! Face your enemy. He can have weaknesses of which you are unaware. This can be illustrated over and over again. Use your own weapons, strategy and faith. An alliance with God puts you into the most powerful partnership ever seen. No human giant can defeat you. Be strong. Have courage. Trust in God. With God, you can have the victory!
Biblical Archaeology Review
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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