The story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel, Chapters 17 and 18, is a pretty good read. It’s a fascinating story of a people terrorized by an unjust society of Philistines and their desperate attempts to free themselves from oppression. It’s also a great story of an unexpected hero – David – rising up to defeat the brutal giant – Goliath. David is the over-matched underdog and the reader sides with him from the beginning even though his victory seems impossible. The story is a favorite of children and adults alike. It’s got plenty of action. And it’s got layers of meaning.
The first layer is an oft-repeated theme in scripture: things impossible to humans are not impossible to God. God acts in the lives of the faithful to bring about victory over various foes. Sometimes we have to face overwhelming odds with things like a disease or a conflict or a disaster. As we focus our minds on God’s love for us and his guiding voice, we find our way through. Sometimes just coping with the events of a normal day or dealing with an ongoing relationship seems virtually impossible. Yet we do the best we can and God provides what we cannot. We are brought through various struggles and we look back to see that it wasn’t our strength alone that saved us. Something much bigger than us brought about deliverance. If we are paying attention, that theme is realized numerous times in any given week.
This time, as I read the story, the little detail that draws my attention is the armor which David tries on. David, an ordinary shepherd, hears of the reprehensible Goliath and walks naively into King Saul’s presence and volunteers for battle. Saul dismisses him with laughter but David insists he will fight the giant. Saul decides to let him go into battle but insists that he at least put on armor, Saul’s own armor. David tries it on but it’s too heavy and weighs him down so that he cannot move as he is accustomed. He sheds the armor and goes into battle with what he is used to, his sling and some rocks. Turns out that’s a pretty good move on his part.
What strikes me about the armor is that it doesn’t belong to David. He tries to put on something that is not his, something that is not him, and it just doesn’t fit. Wisely, or just innately, he senses he will be better off with his own tools, his own person, rather than someone else’s.
If this story were a night-time dream that I woke up with, I think I would be sensing that God was asking me what sort of armor I am trying to put on to deal with my world. I think I would take it as affirmation that my own skill set, my own person, is adequate for the struggles I will face. We all have tried, in our struggles, to be someone we aren’t in order to cope. The voice emerging from this story seems to be saying that each of us has to figure out who we are, who God has made us, and then accept that as adequate for our struggles. We can try putting on some great protection that we think we might need but who we are is plenty, as it is who God has made us to be.
Many times in life I am so intent on being hard and strong to keep the ills of the world at bay. Of course the truth is that there is no armor strong enough to repel the giants we face. For David to have gone into battle with the armor of Saul would have had him so focused on the great danger of Goliath that he never would have been able to tap into his own great skills. Many of our efforts to protect ourselves empower the very things we are threatened by and keep us from focusing on the saving grace that is readily available.
So the story, while it is one of pretty cool action, is also one of contemplative prayer and meditation. As I examine my own heart and who God has made me, as I center myself on who God is above the giants of the world, I am led through my various struggles and I know salvation. As long as I am trying to be strong myself, I shut myself off from the only true strength – the loving grace of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Shed your armor. Let go of the desire to be someone other than who God has made you. Know the love of God and your own value in God’s world. Deal with what is yours to deal with. And be saved by God’s grace.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.