Have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants? Gladwell has been one of my favorite authors since Tipping Point was published in 2000. Having said that, I would say, however, that you can’t read his books uncritically. He typically takes either statistics or limited studies, draws unusual conclusions from them, then illustrates those conclusions with selected anecdotes.
The scope of his conclusions are broader than the evidence that he gives to support them, BUT what makes his writing so captivating is that while small samples don’t always prove large truths, sometimes they do. Much of what Gladwell writes rings true and has proven itself true for some people—hence, its appeal.
While the “David and Goliath” story has taken on archetypal qualities, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Gladwell does more than just borrow the metaphor. The first section of the book actually explores the biblical story and offers some unique insights without being purely imaginative.
For instance, Gladwell goes into the story and speculates (as have many) that Goliath may have suffered from acromegaly, a disease related to giantism, which is quite common in people of excessive height. One of the symptoms is poor vision, sometimes double vision. For Gladwell, a vision disorder explains why Goliath seems to need to be led by someone else and why he at first seems a bit slow to recognize that David is not a fully-armed warrior. You can hear Gladwell tell the story himself at this Ted talk from 2013 http://www.ted.com/talks/malcolm_gladwell_the_unheard_story_of_david_and_goliath .
In addition, Gladwell argues that “slingers” were a part of ancient armies in the same category with archers. He maintains that a rock in a slinger’s sling traveled at such velocity that it would have about the same effect as a 45mm handgun and that they were accurate up to 200 yards.
Gladwell is not trying to debunk the biblical story at all. His point is that David, an experienced slinger (remember the bear and the lion), was not a total underdog when he went up against the visually-impaired giant. With what he believes is a better understanding of the story, Gladwell is trying to make the point that there are reasons to expect victories even in the face of what appear to be overwhelming circumstances.
Gladwell would like for his audience to rethink the David and Goliath story and come away with two important points:
- For people who think they are strong: “the same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.”
- For people who think of themselves as weak or underdogs: “the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.”
Don’t Christians often feel like underdogs in the post-Christian world we live in? Don’t individual Christians often feel defeated by the gigantic evil in their lives? Don’t we all wonder where the promised victory is when we look at the trends in the world around us?
If you were to place yourself in the story of David and Goliath, who would you be? Would you be the person who relies on size and armor, and those you surround yourself with? Are you the one who relies on experience and previous success and who scorns those smaller than you, those who are beneath you, those you can so easily defeat?
Or perhaps you are just a soldier, standing on the hillside far removed from where the big battle will take place, unwilling to be tested, hoping that someone else will win the battle for you, perfectly willing to wait passively and just hope you are on the right side at the outcome?
Or are you a little young or a little inexperienced for the big battle, but you have some skills and gifts that you know can be decisive. You don’t really have all the right gear—but sometimes the right gear is a hindrance, so you think you can do without it. You don’t really have a following; people like you, but they think you are a bit foolhardy. But your confidence causes you to step out and take on challenges that nobody else seems to want to do? And that confidence comes from great trust won from great experiences with a God who is never defeated!
Who are you in the story of David and Goliath?
Malcolm Gladwell is certainly not categorically a “Christian” author , but in writing this book, he was changed. In an interview with Religious News Service, he described a rediscovery of faith:
I had drifted away a little bit. This book has brought me back into the fold. I was so incredibly struck in writing these stories by the incredible power faith had in people’s lives; it has made a profound impact on me in my belief. That’s been the completely unexpected effect of writing this book. I am in the process of rediscovering my own faith again.
We are surprised by the power of God and His Word like we are by David’s victory over Goliath.
Gladwell’s book is about why improbable victories might be more probable than we think. God’s book is about why victory is certain!