(This post was inspired by an article over at Follow the Rabbi, a biblical background resource that’s well worth checking out.)
As well as the issues in yesterday’s post, there’s another relatively ignored issue bubbling in the background of the story of David and Goliath, the fact that the Israelites were at a distinct tactical disadvantage – they had no blacksmiths.
Turn back four chapters. The Philistines have control over iron-making technology, which means only two people in Israel are armed with swords and spears: King Saul and his son Jonathan. So as well as being intimidated by Goliath, the Israelite army is also being intimidated by their lack of technology.
So when Goliath is described, we don’t just find out about his height; we also find out that he’s practically covered in metal – the guy’s a walking tank. It’s no wonder people were terrified.
(It should be noted that, while the rank and file were at a disadvantage, Saul still had armour, a sword and a spear, as well as being a pretty big guy himself. And yet still he didn’t face Goliath.)
Step forward David, who’s armed with… a sling. He’s offered Saul’s armour, but of courses it’s too big for him, and besides, he’s a shepherd. He’s used to slings – he’s used them to dispatch lions and bears in the course of his shepherding duties. More importantly, he’s always trusted in God to save him from those wild animals, so why should an armoured giant be any different?
(That’s another difference between Saul and David – 1 Samuel 14, God defeats a Philistine army on Israel’s behalf. And yet here Saul is terrified – doesn’t he trust God to do the same thing again?)
And so David goes out, faces Goliath and brains him with a rock launched from his trusty sling. This is more brutal than it sounds – the rock would have probably been around the size of a cricket ball, and could be slung up to 100mph. The Philistines may have had a metal-working advantage, but David’s sling wasn’t exactly useless.
And yet this is almost unimportant, as we learn from David’s epic speech as he confronts Goliath: “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.”
In your face, Philistines!
In your face, King Saul.
The Bible is acutely aware of the dangers of fetishising military technology; take Psalm 20:7, for instance:
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”
Or Isaiah 31:1:
“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the LORD.”
Once you rely on something other than God for your power, you’re in trouble. Saul was focused on the wrong things, thinking from a worldly, human perspective; David was focused on God, on trusting in the Lord to save his people.
And that’s why David ended up becoming Israel’s greatest king.