Sunday, April 02, 2006

Cool bible facts #2 -- David vs. Goliath

Here's a second helping of three cool bible facts that we usually skip over when teaching the stories to children. All three of these are found in the incredible battle between David and Goliath, a story so popular that almost all Americans, regardless of background, can recall the basics of what happened.

1 -- Eager for victory

To help you fully visualize this one, let me set the scene a little bit. Two armies (Israelite and Phillistine) are gathered on either side of a valley, with each army on high ground and the low valley between them. Every day, a massive giant comes down into the valley and yells out insults to the Israelites. Due to vantage points, most people can see and hear Goliath very easily. In fact, some Israelites run away when Goliath yells (1 Sam. 17:24), so you can bet that they see and hear him more than they would like.

But don't assume that the Israelites don't have a champion to meet Goliath, because they do. His name is Saul; he is their king; and he was described as "head and shoulders" taller than the rest of the people (1 Sam. 9:2). What is the Israelite champion doing about Goliath? Sitting comfortably in his tent, offering rewards to whomever is brave enough to meet Goliath in battle.

Enter David, a young (probably 15 or 16 years old) shepherd boy who's only there to bring food to his brothers before returning home. Once David finally gets approval to fight, and after David and Goliath finish a little bit of trash talking, the bible records that David "ran quickly toward the battle line" to meet his foe (1 Sam. 17:48).

Picture it -- two armies on hills, with a low valley between them. All of these armored, seasoned, adult soldiers watch as a young, unarmored shepherd boy is running to fight the biggest, meanest man any of them have ever seen. Surely this sight was permanently imprinted on the minds of every person there to witness it.

Like I told our young couples class, David's only previous claim to fame was that he was the royal musician that soothed Saul with beautiful harp music. If you want to picture what David looked like when he fought Goliath, think less Vin Diesel, more Jude Law.

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Vin's not like David. _______ Jude is closer.

2 -- Cockiness kills

Goliath's armor is well-detailed in the bible. Basically there was almost no opening for a regular soldier to even injure Goliath, much less kill him. Legs, chest, arms, shoulders... all were covered in bronze. Not that you could get close enough to hurt him anyway, since he also had a shield and carried a spear that was several feet long.

While Goliath's helmet isn't described very well, we know enough from archaeology to guess what types of helmets were being used back then. Military equipment was starting to get pretty advanced, as we know due to Goliath's iron spearhead and scaled armor. There were already many different styles of helmets in use, including the full helmet with only a slit or screen cut out for visiblity, like this:

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Maybe Goliath chose not to use this helmet for the battle, or it was hinged and he had the screen up. Either way, it was a decision that cost him his life, all because he was so sure that the puny Israelite boy would be easily disposed of.

Most Christians know that Goliath was prideful just by the words he spoke, but even his choice of battle gear revealed his overconfidence.

Note: some theories state that Goliath did indeed have the full helmet, but the stone went through the visor. I admit this is possible, although the whole point of that helmet would be to prevent any sizable projectile from entering through the slit.

3 -- Trophy time

When I asked the young couples what David did after Goliath fell, they replied "David cut off his head and killed him." Technically correct, I noted, but those were really two separate acts -- first David killed Goliath, then he beheaded the giant.

Okay, so you've already put a stone in his noggin and killed him. He's as dead as can be. Deader than disco. Why cut off his head and take it back to Jerusalem months or years later (1 Sam. 17:54)?

Some say that it was to bring the head to Saul, but Saul wasn't in Jerusalem. He was at the battlefield already, having tried to put his heavy armor on David before letting David go fight in his own way. So David didn't need to show the head to Saul... why did he cut it off?

I have two reasons -- one is factual and the other is a guess. The factual one is easy, David cut off Goliath's head because part of the trash-talking included this promise, "I'll strike you down and cut off your head." (1 Sam. 17:46) David was simply following through on his word.

Here's the guess: David wanted a trophy to fulfill the other part of his trash-talking, "the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel" (also verse 46). Baseball players keep their homerun balls, football players keep their touchdown balls, and hunters often stuff and mount the heads of their game (my dad has "bucky" the deer hanging in their den). Goliath's massive, hairy, bloody and rotting head was David's own personal trophy to show others what God accomplished on the battlefield. Makes my baseballs look downright hygenic.

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Painting by Guido Cagnacci, 17th Century Italy

Bonus image:

This last animation may look childish, but I like it a lot. Mainly because it shows David using the underhand slinging motion, which is the way it was usually done. Overhead motions were no healthier on shoulder joints in ancient Israel than they are today (i.e. "one-way ticket to tendonitis"). Whether it was a shepherd slinging at pests, or a professional soldier sniping the enemy, underhand was the only way to assure long-term effectiveness. That's why girls' softball pitchers can pitch three games in a row, while men's baseball pitchers need four days of rest after each game.

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FishrCutB8 said...

You've done it again--thanks for the insights.

Redlefty said...

Thanks, and I noticed you've been basically doing Lou's job for him over at his blog, ha!

FishrCutB8 said...

Just trying to help a good guy out...

FishrCutB8 said...

Arrrrrrgh....quick error report: Your slinger image is Right Handed, which I now know is an error on the thrower(E1 on the scorecard)!

Redlefty said...

That's ok, right-handers almost certainly knew how to sling a stone also, and who's to say David wasn't right-handed? All we know is that there were often dedicated slinger units that were purely lefties, since they would screw up the sword infantry line.

It's like the end of the movie "Quigley Down Under", regarding using a pistol vs. his trusty rifle. He said he never had much use for a pistol... never said he didn't know how to use one. Righties may not have much use for a sling in battle since they could use a sword, but they knew how to sling.

Or maybe I'm all wrong, and to view the animation correctly you need to look in a mirror while standing on your head and wearing 3-d glasses. Worth a try, anyway. :)

The Spaniard said...

I like this David you speak of - wasnt he in the Bible somewhere?

I always heard he was a "royal screw-up" ????

FishrCutB8 said...

Ummmmm....we want more!


Redlefty said...

Good to know; sorry I've been absent. Still recovering from JP's summit, which was the second time in a month we've taken a weekend road trip. Not easy with two young kids.

I'll blog once or twice on some other things that have been brewing, but will come back to the cool facts series!

FishrCutB8 said...

I like the insights into your world--funny to see your pic at the Retreat. Looks like everyone had a GREAT time.

Redlefty said...

You bet, and that will actually be the topic for my next blog entry.

By the way, you should read my "Summit Awards" thread at JP's place, as I gave you a nomination in the final category.

Anonymous said...

"David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword."

From what I can tell he knocked him down with the rock, then killed him with his sword and then cut off his head with the sword.