I inhaled books when I was a kid. I had a large library (for a kid) but I tended to read and re-read the same books over and over. One of my favorites was, The Value of Respect: The Story of Abraham Lincoln. This “Value” series had twelve volumes, with each book devoted to an important historical figure. (Here’s a link to the Lincoln edition: The Value of Respect). I was taken by how Abe learned respect from the key people in his life (his friends, teachers, and, perhaps most importantly, his family). Life on the frontier was hard—though I don’t recall the pictures looking all that bleak—and people lived better lives if they respected others. Naturally, since this was geared towards children, the important lesson Lincoln learned served him well later in life—like when he was president. And here I had thought his best quality was his honesty.
The fact that the events were true—or close enough, in one of those Hollywood movie ways, where stories are “based on true events”—mattered little to me. It was a cool story. For all I knew, it was a fable, like others I had heard.
Another story I assumed was some fable just might have been true too. I’d often heard of how little David stood up to the giant Goliath, and, against all odds, defeated someone significantly larger them himself. It’s such a enduring story that it became a situational archetype—one that George Lucas even refers to when he discussed Return of the Jedi (The Ewoks fighting against the Storm troopers on Endor uses this archetype).
I had no idea this was a Biblical story. But here it is in Samuel 1. Much of what I’d had heard of the story is here. Though I hadn’t heard anything surrounding this fight.
The Philistines have prepared to fight the Israelites at the Valley of Elah. King Saul, however, doesn’t like his chances against the Philistine army. Since apparently at that time, these types of battles were often decided with each side sending out a fighter and having them fight to determine a victor, The Philistines send out their giant of a bad-ass: Goliath. For some reason, the Philistines humor the Israelites for 40 days: where’s their fighter? (17:16)
The youngest of three brothers, David should be tending his family’s flock of sheep. But young David is drawn to the battle area, and even though he is rebuked by his brother for being there—he’s a little thing (just a boy), with a wicked heart for wanting to watch the battle (17:28)—David inquires casually about what happens to the man who kills Goliath—he’ll be rich, get hooked up with a wife, enjoy an ancient form of tax abatements (17:25). He volunteers.
Plenty of people attempt to dissuade him, but he will not be detoured. He even passes on the offered armor. Instead, he chooses five smooth stones for his slingshot.
At the battle line, he gives a nice, short speech about God being on his side and then, just as it starts, it’s over: one shot to Goliath’s head and the giant falls. David wins. With so much build-up you almost wished they’d drawn this out, but there it is.
But there’s much more to this story—one man’s stupidity is another man’s bravery—than David overcoming a physically superior enemy.
Understandably, the fight makes David a celebrity. Back then, it turns out you had to actually do something of value to become famous. But, to his credit, David takes this in stride—he never forgets who got him there (the Lord) or who he needs to respect (the king). Yet the action that saves Saul’s kingdom makes a jealous person out of King Saul. In fact, for most of Samuel 1, Saul hunts David.
David does a bang-up job avoiding the king, which shows his smarts too. But out of all of his qualities associated with his fight against Goliath, the one that didn’t have a chance to surface and is perhaps MOST noteworthy of David is his compassion. Most people would take offense at having someone being hired to kill you—okay, maybe it’s just me—but David doesn’t. Given two opportunities to kill Saul (24:4; 26:7), David passes, choosing instead to respect the king (even when he shouldn’t).
Given how much David is trotted out to teach a lesson about believing in yourself, especially against bad odds, it seems that his story should be given more mention about his acts of compassion.