Posts Tagged ‘David and Goliath’

Boy with menacing shadowHave 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! 

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20130202_130022My grandson and I had a little run in the other day on the basketball court and it reminded me of David and Goliath. Let me tell you my version of what happened.

He is 10 years old, about 4’8’ tall, loves basketball, plays on two above-average teams and has a very sweet shot, especially from a distance. I, on the other hand, am more than 6x his age, only used to be 6’ tall, played my last organized basketball game in 1969, and need I go on about the differences.

He and I decided to play a little one-on-one for fun, and I’m pretty sure he was thinking he would win handily.  What he did not allow for was the difference between 4’8” and 6’.

I scored the first two baskets because I could shoot and miss, but get my own rebound and have 3-4 more shots under the basket until I would finally make it. Because of my height, he had a hard time driving and he doesn’t have a jump shot yet, so he had a hard time scoring. He then tried to dribble all over the driveway to wear me out—which he was doing faster than he knew.

That’s the moment when the wheels started coming off our game—that moment when he realized no matter what he did, I was going to win—simply because I was taller.

First he changed the boundaries to create more court—for him to run around in, of course.  Then he started changing the rules of scoring, so that if he thought he was fouled, he would always get to shoot two shots that counted two points each.

I know you think I should have just backed down and been grandfatherly and let him win—and maybe you are right—but I really haven’t ever let anyone win. I was taught that to do so was the height of condescension. You don’t beat people badly, but you never just give away a game.

After some fourth-grade level trash talking from both of us, I did let him change rules to his advantage, but it did raise the tension in our game a bit.

That’s when I made a big mistake.  In the heat of battle as he was using his speed to zip around me, I grabbed his arm and held him—a very obvious and intentional foul—but without harm—or so I thought!

Never intentionally foul an already frustrated grandson in the moment when he is about to score!  Very bad idea!

Next thing I knew he was walking off mad. He had had enough with Grandad!

I did give him a few minutes, then followed him up to his room, but found the door locked. Of course, I’m not showing it, but I’m kinda sick inside that I had let the whole competition thing get out of hand.

About 15 minutes later, I’m sitting on the couch downstairs, when I get shot by a nerf gun from upstairs.  I was smart enough to know that what might seem like an angry act of revenge was really just a ten-year-old way of seeking rapprochement.

I worked my way upstairs and asked him if we could talk. He agreed, so we had a great five-minute conversation about what had happened. From his perspective, it was all about fairness.  Nothing about the game was fair to him—and, of course, he was right, so we agreed that next time we would play and not keep score OR we would play and he would get his brother and maybe another cousin to be on his side because 3 against Grandad might be fair!

I love that boy, and I’m thankful that we got that all worked out—but it did make me think about fairness.

Not every David and Goliath story ends with David slaying the giant!  The tall guys sometimes win.

Big countries have more influence than little countries; rich people control more of the world than poor people.  Strong people rule weak people.  Does any of this have to do with fairness?

Big states have more sway than little states Attractive kids make better grades in school than less attractive kids. Smart kids make better grades than average kids.

Not everyone gets a trophy. And if they did, then that would not be fair!

God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45)! He chose Jacob over Esau (Romans 9). He chose Israel, not because they were the biggest or the best nation, but because he . . . chose them. (Deuteronomy 7:7).

If you are Ishmael, you cry out, “Unfair! Unfair!”  but here’s what Paul says about that in Romans 9:

20 No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?”

I think what this means is that if Goliath had won the battle, David could not have complained of unfairness. Nor could Goliath complain that David’s divine partner gave the little guy an unfair advantage.

As I write this, I’m hearing the cringes and frowns from most of us who want—demand—fairness. Immense trust is required of us to believe that God’s will is absolutely righteous and that He is sovereign over his creation—and that He loves us.

Life isn’t fair, but Christians believe an absolutely good and righteous God is!

But don’t ever intentionally foul your grandson!!

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