We all love the story of the young shepherd boy, raw from the fields but with courage in his heart and a prayer on his lips, who brought the monstrous giant of evil crashing to the ground with his little sling-shot.
Before David came into the story, the opposing armies of Israel and Philistia had reached a deadlock. Their fighting strength was approximately equal. Each side had as its leader a man of gigantic stature. Saul is described as being head and shoulders above the average height; Goliath the Philistine general must have been ten feet tall – though this may have included his helmet! The Philistines had the propaganda initiative: for forty days in succession their champion had challenged the Israelites to provide a man to meet him in personal combat, but no one had responded. Saul evidently considered it too great a risk to expose himself in this way, and there was evidently nobody else brawny enough to match the Philistine giant.
That was the situation when David arrived on the scene, bringing food from back home for his three elder brothers who were serving in the ranks. David heard Goliath’s challenge (the “propaganda broadcast,” as we should say today). He looked questioningly to those standing around, and received the information that if anyone could kill that infernal Philistine, Saul would reward him richly and he could marry the princess. When David’s eldest brother saw him taking interest in the situation, he was angry; and I think the ensuing conversation is so typical of what the big brother in any family would say in like circumstances. “Why did you come here? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the haughtiness of your heart. You’ve come to watch the battle – that’s what you’ve come for!” (The battle? It seems there wasn’t much “battle” to watch!)
Eventually, as we know, David himself accepted the challenge to fight Goliath. He explained to Saul that he was not a trained soldier like his brothers, but he had killed a lion and a bear when they had attacked his flock. “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion and the bear,” he assured the king, “will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” The Lord? Saul must have felt rather disconcerted at this reference to God. It was true, of course, that his army was supposed to be the army of the Lord; but one was inclined to forget this in the heat of battle. Well, here was a young boy reminding him of their theoretical dependence on God. “Very well,” said Saul, “Go, and may the Lord be with you.”
Now came the attempt to arm David in the conventional panoply of war. Since he was to fight Goliath, he must be at least as well armed as Goliath was. A helmet of brass, a coat of mail, a great sword. Goliath had copper leg-shields or greaves, so I am sure David was given these too. Goliath had a spear with an iron point; David must have a similar one. There had to be parity at least.
It reminds me of the desperate race in armaments on the part of the nations of the world. If the U.S.A. has ten thousand nuclear missiles (enough to destroy the whole human race several times over) then Russia must build up her stockpile to equal that number.. Then America must get ahead again, and so on. Yet France is actually just as adequately armed as Russia; for, with (say) six nuclear bombs she could wipe out Washington, New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Los Angeles, which would destroy our nation’s economy just as effectively as 10,000 bombs would do. A couple of small old-fashioned uranium bombs dropped from an airplane brought Japan to her knees in the last war; would 10,000 have done it more effectively?
“Ah!” people say, “but ten thousand is a deterrent!” And so we come back to our story. I am sure that if Goliath had had a hundred spears and fifty enormous double-edged swords, David would have been given that number, or twice that number. And Saul, looking approvingly at the piles of steel breast-plates, leg greaves, shields, helmets, spears, swords, clubs, battering rams, and the rest, would have said, “Even if the boy cannot use them all, they will act as a deterrent!”
You can imagine how exasperated David must have been with this idiotic display of logic. He could not possibly meet Goliath on Goliath’s own terms. He could not hope to defeat Goliath with Goliath’s own type of weaponry. This weighty armor obstructed his movement; these swords and spears were a mere encumbrance. He had a different kind of weapon up his sleeve – a sling. Not an easy thing to handle; it required a steady eye and a balanced and practiced judgment; but it was suited to his style. So he set out, apparently unarmed save for his shepherd’s staff, and calmly picked out a few stones from the brook, which he slipped into his sheepskin wallet; then he was ready for the confrontation.
Goliath does not seem to have noticed him at first. When it was pointed out that this was a challenge to mortal combat, he was very angry, and shouted: “Am I a dog, that you come to me with a stick? Let me get hold of you, and I will give your flesh to the vultures and wild beasts!” But David was not at all put out. He answered, “You come to me armed with a sword and a spear and a shield; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom you have defied. This day will the Lord deliver you into my hand. And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give it into our hands.” David thereupon slung his stone, which sank deeply into the giant’s forehead; the enormous warrior crashed to the ground, and David, drawing Goliath’s own sword out of its sheath, hacked off its owner’s head. The Philistines broke ranks and fled in alarm, so that the Israelites achieved a resounding victory.
What can we learn from this, to help us in our regenerating lives? One thing we learn is that the terrible and frightening evil forces of this world cannot be met on their own ground with their own clumsy weapons. You cannot put out fire with fire. Force cannot overcome force, neither can hatred conquer hatred, nor insults counteract insults, nor contempt defeat contempt. If evil is equally on both sides, then, in the long view, neither side can win. The armies of Saul and the Philistines stand glaring at each other across the valley, paralyzed into a deadlock, with the boastful Philistine giant shouting his challenge morning and evening for forty days, and no one doing anything about it.
“Forty” represents a full period of temptation, and we are reminded that the incident we are considering took place not very far from the spot where Jesus Himself spent forty days in the wilderness, tempted of the devil. (Goliath again? No doubt!) Jesus defended Himself by quoting from the Word of God. Each quotation was a smooth stone selected from the river of spiritual truth and thrown with the sling of doctrine; it sank deep into the tempter’s forehead and floored him.
It is the spirit of God in man that conquers in the long haul. Nothing can check it. The clumsy armor of worldly reasoning and expedience offers no protection against it. It is like a little plant springing up from within, which can split rocks; or, if the rocks are too strong, it finds its way under them, around them, between them, heaving them apart, and reaching the open air at last. Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown it becometh a tree, and the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches.” We know that very powerful spiritual forces are impinging on the earth at this very time, resulting from a reordering of the spiritual world witnessed by Swedenborg and called by him the “Last Judgment.” Strange would it be if there were no upheavals or signs of realignment and change in our human society. The way to deal with them is not to double the size of the police force and throw tear-gas bombs and bring out the guns, nor drop high explosives and napalm on defenseless villages behind the so-called Communist lines; but to spread Ideas – ideas of truth and love and forgiveness and human kindness, which will open the way for the Spirit of God to flow in, and the world-wide New Age to dawn.
David with his sling-shot of spiritual truth is still young in our midst: unrecognized, unacknowledged, just somebody’s kid brother from back home. But he has the means – the only means – of breaking the deadlock of materialistic thinking, in our society and in our own hearts and minds, and giving victory to the army of the Lord. Eventually, we are assured, he will marry the princess and succeed to the throne. True, there will be a long, unhappy period of rivalry between Saul and David, as Saul grows less and less, and David grows more; but the time will come in each one of us, as we develop our spiritual natures and make our judgments from the spiritual rather than the natural view-point, when David will entirely supplant Saul, and become the prototype of Jesus Christ, whose kingdom shall be forever. Then will all the enemies of our peace be vanquished, and we shall enter into the joy of our Lord.