Wednesday of Week 2 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Samuel 17:32-33,37,40-51

Today we read part of the famous story of David and Goliath. Today’s reading goes back to another source for the story of David. In this story, David has not yet been anointed king. Rather, today’s exploit will be one of the factors leading to his being chosen as both successor and replacement for Saul.

Earlier on (not in today’s reading) we are told of the awesome sight of the fully-armed Goliath, a giant of a man who was the champion of the Philistines. Day after day he challenged the Israelites to send out one of their men to take him on in single combat. There were no takers.

It was about this time that Jesse sent his youngest son David to the battlefield to bring food to some of his older brothers who were with the army. David himself is still too young to fight and is a shepherd at home. It is while he is with the army that he sees Goliath come to taunt the soldiers of Israel and they are all too afraid to take him on.

It is then – the beginning of today’s reading – that David approaches Saul and offers to challenge Goliath:

Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.

Saul, who at this time does not actually know David, is very much against a young boy taking on Goliath and says:

You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.

But Saul does not take into account the power of Yahweh who will be on David’s side against the infidel.

David’s confidence is in the Lord. This will be an essential qualification for a king who will rule in God’s name, a qualification which stands in strong contrast to Saul’s loss of faith. David, too, appeals to his experience as a shepherd, where God had protected him from predatory lions and bears attacking his sheep. “Go then,” says Saul. After all, David is the only one at least willing to take on the giant, even if the odds seem overwhelmingly against him.

And so, with Saul’s blessing, David goes forth. In his hand he bore his shepherd’s staff, the symbol of his coming role as shepherd and protector of God’s people. He picked some suitable stones from a nearby wadi. These stones were usually round and smooth and somewhat larger than a baseball or cricket ball. When thrown by a master slinger, they could travel at more than 150 km an hour.

Goliath came to meet him with his shield bearer and armed with a sword, spear and scimitar. He mocked when he saw the young, handsome and virtually unarmed boy coming out to challenge him (earlier Saul had offered his armour to David, but it was so heavy he could not walk in it!). Goliath is almost insulted to be facing a mere boy and mocked him:

Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?

To be regarded as a dog was one of the lowest forms of debasement. We remember Jesus asking the Syro-phoenician woman whether it was right to give the children’s food to dogs, an insulting term used for Gentiles, who like scavenging dogs made no distinction between food that was clean and unclean. He then curses David and his ‘gods’. To the polytheistic Philistine, the Israelites, like him, believed in many gods. He threatens to leave David as food for carrion birds and other wild animals wandering the desert.

But David is not cowed. Goliath comes against him armed to the teeth, but David says:

You come to me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.

To insult God’s people is to insult God himself and:

…the Lord does not save by sword and spear…

David’s reliance is totally on his Lord. And it will not be David who will be feeding the birds and animals, but Goliath, thereby giving proof that Israel has an all-powerful God. And this battle is not David’s or the Israelites’, but God’s.

The two then approach each other. Before Goliath knew what had happened, David had armed his sling with a stone, aimed skilfully, and struck the giant in the centre of his forehead. Goliath fell to the ground. David then drew the giant’s sword from its sheath and beheaded him.

The upshot was that the Philistines were thrown into confusion and fled with the Israelites in pursuit. The day was a great victory for Israel and it was the beginning of David’s rise as leader of his people.

The story proves not so much the courage and skill of David, but the protection of God who was choosing him to be the leader of his people. It was a dramatic message to Israelites and Philistines alike. It can happen to us, too, that we find ourselves capable of taking on challenges which we believed were well beyond us.

Let us remember the words of Paul:

I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:10)

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