Tonight as I sat on the den couch trying to recover from a rather frustrating day at the office I found myself wandering into the land of Netflix and by some hook and crook starting a motion picture called “David and Goliath”. Fortunately my wife rescued me just before the big battle scene as she wanted to watch another show. It’s a good thing she did as most of my thinking while watching the movie revolved around how poor a production this was and how remarkable that a high school, make that junior high school, production could make it to the big screen and onto Netflix. All the while my subconscious was focusing on something else. The indecipherable underlying message was bubbling up from underneath pervading my usual calm and causing me severe anxiety. What is it, what are you trying to tell me, and why I asked?
It was only after I had removed myself from actually viewing the movie did the underlying message take hold. Like Samuel I took a few moments to listen to the inner voice and even ask questions. The message is clear and makes perfect sense. As you can see from Osmar Schindler’s 1888 lithograph, shown above, David is dwarfed by Goliath. This is further emphasized in the proportions exhibited in Andrea Vaccaro’s 1635 piece titled “David with the Head of Goliath”, shown below. The scripture recounts Goliath to have been almost seven feet tall, ten feet in one account, and armed with a coat of mail (armor) weighing one hundred and fifty pounds and holding a spear with a head weighing nineteen pounds.
What young man in his right mind would take on such a challenge? And yet, David did so, having faith in God to bring him through yet another trial. In the words of First Samuel “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the bear, will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine.” Such faith! Such faith echoes the words of another greater one who made it clear that true faith can actually move mountains.
And, so David did prevail with God’s help. But, if you think about it David had an advantage. It was not the advantage of physical size, or strength, but rather the advantage of knowing the form and nature of his enemy and the further advantage of knowing something greater was in play here. David knew God had his back and would not fail him.
The appearance of Goliath created a real stir in King Saul’s camp as the physicality of the apparition was so great as to be overwhelming and debilitating. Why? Are not soldiers just soldiers? Perhaps, but Saul’s army had encountered something new, something unknown, untested, and unfathomable. That gave rise to a desperate gnawing fear, a fear of not knowing the nature of the foe and it’s destructive potential that brought them to helplessness. Big strong men trained at home, and tested in battle, became shrinking violets before something their minds could not fathom and their faith was too weak to overcome. And it was here that David had the advantage. He had the advantage over his comrades in arms and the advantage over his enemy. Goliath taunted David and in the words of the writer of First Samuel “disdained him”. Goliath saw a ‘youth, ruddy, and comely in appearance.” From that he assumed he knew his enemy – but he did not. Goliath who lacked faith in God and operated on the same level that most of us do based his conclusions on the information collected by his empirical senses, alone. He saw a young handsome man barely bigger than his thumb and made assumptions based on appearances not realizing that there were “more things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in his philosophy”. It was David rather that saw the situation clearly having established a firm faith in the living God and having been delivered by him time and again from the jaws of death. David did not fear Goliath because he knew what he was up against. More importantly he knew it really did not matter how “big and bad” it might appear. As Saint Paul is credited with saying “if God is for us, who then can be against us”. David had absolute faith that God would prevail against anything no matter what.
Today we stand against a foe of which we know not. We think we know and yet we live in fear and distress. We flail about looking through our empirical glasses to find ways of coping. Some want to build a wall, some want to deport certain groups, some want to control the sale of firearms, and some want to make war against who and what they perceive the enemy to be. All these represent understandable human reactions to a foe unknown and unfathomable. Our foe is like Goliath standing huge against the sky with power and might we perceive to be so vast that we are rendered cowed and ineffectual in its reflection.
My thought and my prayer is that we seek that which has power over all. As simplistic as it sounds we must have faith, faith in God and in his ability to prevail over all evil no matter how powerful it may portend to be. And, most important we must remember the words of a President who was called to shepherd his nation first through a great economic depression and then a war against a foe so powerful and evil that men’s knees buckled at the thought of it. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” was the battle hymn evoked by President Franklin Roosevelt as he sought to restore “faith”. And, he evoked ths as he sought to uplift the spirit and to free the people not from immigrants, or unfamiliar religions but rather from fear, “fear itself” that “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” This is what Saul’s soldiers felt and it is what many of us feel today.
Fear of an enemy, and the unknown, is normal and natural but to turn that fear on ourselves is debilitating and self-defeating . But the perceiving with fear our neighbors and our fellow countrymen and seeing them as our enemy will them and us and render us helpless before the Goliath.
Of course, Goliath, most likely, was never an actual person but rather a metaphor for the all-powerful, overwhelming foe. David, while a real person, took on the metaphorical mantle of faith in God as the sole salvation from such a foe. This story was most likely read in the synagogue, or used in the Midrash as a way of teaching about the power of faith. Whether the story is one of a literal telling of actual events or a symbolic metaphor revealing a greater truth makes no difference because the underlying truth is revealed either way.
Let us emulate David and seek to cultivate a firm faith in the Lord knowing that if he is with us none can really stand against us.
I think it only fit and proper to reproduce the first paragraph of President Roosevelt’s speech delivered at his inaugural in 1932 in which he addresses the question of fear:
I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.