Caravaggio, my favorite painter of all time, painting David and Goliath
I think everyone knows this story – there’s this big mean giant that keeps taunting everyone, and the Israelites are afraid of him, but young handsome David rolls his eyes like “seriously ya’ll – he’s only like six feet tall, so quit shivering in your sandals like total weasels and buck up already.” He casually walks over to the front of the line, picks up some shiny stones, pulls out his little deerskin slingshot, and hits the giant with a pebble square between the eyes. The giant falls down, David chops his head off like “that’s how I roll, folks,” and there’s probably a Jaz-Z song playing in the background. David walks in slow-motion up to the commander, and at the end of the day he’s writing folk songs on the hillside and later becomes king.
Or at least that’s how I remember it. And honestly, that’s not super practical for my day-to-day life. But now that I read it with new eyes, more emerges.
So the story begins with the Philistines on one hill and the Israelites on the other with a valley between them, gathering for war. I suppose in those days, war was a more civil affair, with no fear of chemical weapons or hidden warfare or land mines that blow shrapnel into your armpits and eye sockets, and they all just charged at each other like buffalo. And Goliath stood out in line and taunted the men of Israel for forty days, which seems a little excessive if you ask me, like “yes yes, we know you’re a bad-ass. Please stop it already with all that narcissistic bravado.”
But one day when David, a mere shepherd, was bringing food to his brothers, he overheard a discussion about Goliath and asked who this fellow was that kept causing all the fuss. He was told by the men that whoever killed this man would have all sorts of cool things like money and the king’s daughter and an exemption from taxes. Don’t get me started how kings are always passing their daughters off like trophies.
So David was pumped, because who wouldn’t want money and a fair maiden and no taxes? Now I see how he’s able to play the guitar in the meadow. So David went to the king and indicated that if he can fight off bears and lions while tending sheep, this arrogant prick was not going to be a problem. He shrugs off armor – what good is that anyway? – and goes straight up to Goliath and his shield bearer. I really want to explore more about this poor little shield bearer – did he have to lug that heavy thing out there every single day for forty days? If the fighting got super icky did he just hide underneath it like a turtle? Doesn’t that seem a little wimpy for Goliath to need a caddy? These things are not explained. Figures.
But here’s where I really spent some mental energy – David said some pretty strong words to this Philistine. He stated: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
After reading that, things shifted. I didn’t just see David as some punk teenager killing a giant with a slingshot. He might have had the body of a child, but he had a brave heart that belonged solely to God, with a confidence that the killing of this man was a mere afterthought. It was as if he was setting one foot atop the water and knew that it would hold his weight. David was making a statement that the things of this world – swords and spears and harsh words and burdens and death and cancer and all other worldly things – are nothing compared to the strength our Lord Almighty provides.
God’s name would not be defiled, and the battle, my friends, had already been won.
Jesus commanded that “if you have faith and do not doubt. . . if you say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. Matthew 21:22. But rarely is such belief displayed. David believed so assuredly that with the power of God he could defeat this man that the entire Israelite army feared, and only with a stone. There was no quiver of fear from the depths of his heart, and no arrogance in his claims. This was not about David himself, or winning money, or being tax free. Only arrows of truth were proclaimed, and it was to be. God had won this fight. David was only His servant pushing that message through the air with string.
I’m bowing down today at this assurance. That I will not be shaken. That when the taunting begins, and a giant is yet again in front of me, I will fear no evil. For God is with me, His rod and His staff - they comfort me. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. David wrote that, in Psalm 23, because he had a personal relationship with the Father. He knew that there was nothing bigger, and no giant greater, and all those gathered will know that it’s not by sword or spear that the Lord saves, but by grace, and mercy, and love deeper than any man.
Sometimes the battles we face are not on a hillside, but in the relentless grinding of the day. The taunting of one who hates us. The anger at one who is shamed. We sigh deep at the reality of cells eating at our breast tissue, or weep at the coffin of a small child that was ripped from our arms. We keep wiping away tears in the carpool line because ENOUGH, Lord. It’s too much, and too heavy to bear, and we don’t have any reserves left to fight. And sometimes, we just want to lay down our weapons and curl up in a corner, unable to keep rising, and keep smiling, and keep moving. There is only so much we can take, and we are bending under the weight of it.
So we lay in a ditch with a dusty throat, shivering in fear, unable to croak out even a prayer, and see a child walk by. Just a boy who watches sheep. And he says with all assurances that we are more than this. That God’s name will be praised in all things. That the Lord will deliver those who are faithful. And we are paralyzed as we watch him defeat a giant, and use his own sword to sever his head, and we are in awe of such courage. It’s then that we swallow hard, walk over to David, and fall at his feet as king.
Thank you, child, for reminding me that I am protected. That when I wander, even though I am one of ninety-nine billion, God will not leave me to my own devices. He will search, and ache, and reach to the depths of the earth to find me. Who is the greatest in heaven? Jesus placed a child among them, and preached about the lost, and the found, and the faces of the obedient, and the lowly. And in the dust and the bloody chest of a fallen giant, I see the greatest among me is not me, but He. I see that this child has believed, and accepted that the battle has been won, and I surrender.
Thank you, oh God, for this victory.
(three w’s)then: flickr.com/photos/ergsap/9633080076/sizes/m/in/photolist-fFf46w-fEXtHt-fEXtHZ-7K5Ub9-532XUQ-69N7De-8SikSL-bpdJED-8teVbd-6qidN1-6Qk1K8-6Qk1UX-Mh25N-6Qk24n-6Qp7Q5-5i6BER-BwEYH-fgLmmb-6mnXxg-8piu6J-8tPR7F-g1Xxj-b663Rr-4DVv3y-6Qk1En-kSF8j-9unWjj-N3juc-5yvQ6U-6Qk2nv-sxX1G-5HtV7G-a9NCgb-6Qp6Qo-dX9jfB-6Qp8bG-5JHbBC-7YKJS4-azcujL-bFAMgZ-5PvKMp-8xoWUe-dDqZW-6Qk1kn-4MiyPD-2BBeQE-62dUqo-5nWy8Z-hr5UZ-bFqZoB-51LZBc/