As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.
1 Samuel 17.48
Breaking the Rules
Last week’s New Yorker led with “How David Beats Goliath,” by Malcolm Gladwell. The renowned author of The Tipping Point considers what happens “when underdogs break the rules,” examining the Bible story, Lawrence of Arabia’s WWI campaign, and the recent success of a California girls’ basketball team. Two commonalities link the three examples seamlessly: the incredible odds all three victors overcome by engaging their opponents in unorthodox, courageous fashions and their brave determination. Gladwell quotes 1 Samuel 17.48 and the following verse’s account of how David employs his humble weapon of choice, the slingshot. He then observes:
The second sentence—the slingshot part—is what made David famous. But the first sentence matters just as much. David broke the rhythm of the encounter. He speeded it up… David pressed. That’s what Davids do when they want to beat Goliaths.
The point is so obvious, one wonders why it goes missing in most sermons and lessons drawn from the famous confrontation. When we first hear the story as children, the theme centers on David’s diminutive stature and toy weapon versus Goliath’s intimidating size and equipment, an appropriately juvenile reading we never seem to outgrow. Gladwell’s focus on verse 48 shocks new life into the tale, emphasizing the crucial action preceding the legendary whir of the boy’s slingshot. Here comes Goliath, sure-footed and armed, advancing steadily toward David, expecting him to retreat in terror or, at the very least, cower in submission. Instead, the teenager runs “quickly toward the battle line to meet him.” Inexperience hampers his awareness he’s breaking the rules by dashing headlong into trouble. Yet David’s eagerness and rejection of fear confound Goliath and the giant’s advance ends with a mighty thud.
In the Press
Gladwell presently enjoys first position among business thought leaders, and his article is bound to generate much discussion as the success strategy du jour. As I read it, though, it resounded with wisdom a church mother gave me long, long ago. Paraphrasing Ecclesiastes 9.11 (“The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong”), she said, “Always remember we don’t win with our strength. Our victory is in the press. No matter what tries to stop you, keep pressing.” Despite his youthful lack of savvy, David knows this. He arrives on the scene as an innocent bystander—a caterer, really, dispatched to deliver food to the front lines. When he sees this bully has instigated a 40-day impasse with his overshadowing threats, David volunteers to press ahead.
King Saul outfits the boy in his best armor, but it restricts his freedom. “I’m not used to this,” he tells the king as he sheds the equipment. He exchanges Saul’s sword for his shepherd’s staff, drops the heavy helmet to pick up five smooth stones, and marches onto the battlefield. In the manner of a Wild West showdown, suspense mounts as David and Goliath’s paces steadily narrow within striking range. But Goliath isn’t alone. He keeps his shield bearer out in front while inching toward his challenger, talking trash with every step. The taunts don’t faze David. Seconds before closing in on his foe, he declares: “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.” (v47) With that, David presses, charging Goliath at full speed, giving him no time to plant his stance and draw his weapon. It’s all over before Goliath knows what hit him.
While The New Yorker piece superbly lays out the competitive advantages of pressing one’s opponents, its final analysis of David’s triumph holds no relevance for us because we don’t compete. The Word is packed with non-competitive clauses barring us from pursuing conflict. David doesn’t show up looking for trouble; neither do we. On the other hand, when trouble turns our way, we refuse to be intimidated, paralyzed, or passive. We run quickly to meet it with total confidence the battle is the Lord’s. In Philippians 3.14-15, Paul writes, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”
Don’t doubt for a minute, He’s very clear about His role as our Defender and Protector. In Zechariah 4.6, He says, “Not by might nor by power, but my Spirit.” In Psalm 110.1, He instructs us He’ll do the fighting: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” When opposition marches at us, talking trash, swaggering behind its shield, we confront it head-on, unhindered by cumbersome armor and weaponry. Psalm 91.4-5 insists trust in God is all we need: “His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” Running headlong into trouble breaks the rules by addressing it with undaunted faith in God’s supremacy. His victory is in the engagement. Our victory is in the press.
When trouble comes toward us, like David, we run to meet it head-on, trusting God’s promise to triumph for us.
(Tomorrow: Crowded Out)
I’m away on business through next Wednesday. As in the past, I’ve scheduled reposts to tide us over until I can return with fresh material. I trust you’ll continue to come by and comment during my absence. Though I won’t have time to craft new posts, I’ll continue to respond to comments and emails while I’m gone. Please remember me in your prayers as I travel.