David and Goliath – a book by Malcolm Gladwell

I spoke with a friend last evening. I spoke with her about how our Bible Study was going. One of her children had given her the book “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell. I had never heard of the author or the book, so I looked it up on Amazon and read some from the sample.

Gladwell describes himself as a Christian. The book entitled “David and Goliath” is not actually about those two characters. From the Amazon review: “In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks.”

While I was able to read just a small portion of the book as a sample, I noticed an obvious error. He describes ancient armies as having three kinds of warriors – cavalry, infantry with swords and “slingers” such as David might have been called. Israel’s army in the time of Saul had no cavalry, no horses, no chariots. Their Law given by Moses expressly forbid the use or ownership of horses. Their kings rode mules while the common folk rode donkeys. Horses came from Egypt, a land and people who had once enslaved them. When Israel captured horses, later in David’s reign, the horses were destroyed or rendered incapable of military use. Israel infantry carried spears and bows, perhaps even cudgels and knives of course. As for the slingers, I do not know, although I expect there were some – it would make sense to use any weapon that was available. David was a warrior, though not in the usual sense, though after he killed Goliath he was taken into Saul’s army. David, as the youngest, was used to protect his father’s flocks, spending long weeks far away from settlements, fighting against animals and perhaps even men who would have attacked the flocks and providing for his own sustenance. He would have had a knowledge of the land and have developed a skill with his weapons – a staff, a knife and a slingshot, perhaps even a spear and bow.

Gladwell makes some assumptions about Goliath which may or may not be true based on medical knowledge of “giantism”. What Gladwell doesn’t mention is that there was a “tribe” of giants who inhabited the land of the Philistines, and these individuals were often used in the Philistines battles with others. Whether they were all medical anomalies or not, I have no knowledge.

I am assuming that Gladwell means well by using the story, which is as much as part of our culture as any story is. But what I think he fails to see is that the story of David and Goliath is more about one man’s faith that God was on his side, and that with God on his side, he could not fail. I would have preferred that he not use this story to title his book, though I understand why he did – the story appeals to many of us.

Gladwell’s premise is interesting in that we shouldn’t think  that our size, our education or lack of it, or our family wealth or societal advantages keeps us from achieving our goals. Those very things which society says are disadvantages can be used to our advantage. The story that comes most to my mind is the story of William Wallace of Scotland. Here was a man who was fighting for Scotland’s freedom from oppression against one of the greatest powers of his day – King Edward and the army of England. Wallace came very close to winning, a task which was later completed by Robert Bruce. Wallace used knowledge of his people and their ways and the very land of Scotland to battle against England’s better equipped and larger forces.

In studying David for our Scripture Study I have come to recognize that David worked long and hard to obtain the kingship that was promised to him. He learned much about fighting, about being a king and leading people. But mostly David always asked the Lord’s help before beginning any new venture. To me that is an important lesson about success.