What the Secular World Misses from David and Goliath

David’s victory over Goliath is one of the world’s favorite and most revisited Biblical stories, perhaps because it’s so easy to draw secular lessons while ignoring the story’s main point.

Most folks know the story of the young shepherd rising to the challenge of the 6-foot-9ish champion from the Philistine army and slaying him with a stone from his sling. And there are all sorts of lessons to be learned from it.

For instance, Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab, sees David as an agent for bold change. He used the story recently as a battle cry for leaders to create a new Renaissance by building more socially responsible businesses. “David made a choice,” Gilbert writes. “A choice to embrace risk and act, despite the long odds.” And he paraphrases the great Martin Luther King, Jr., saying, “The future does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability; the future is created – it is created first in thought, next in commitment and last, and most importantly, in action.” Then he ends by calling his readers – the Davids (and Donnas) of our world – to action. “What is the future you want to create?” he writes. “Now, act to make it so.”

It’s all good stuff. I find myself nodding in agreement. But I also see the gaping hole – the critical missing piece from Gilbert’s otherwise fine essay.

Or, consider the TedTalk by the ever-popular Malcom Gladwell. He flips the script in a fascinating way, making the case that David, in fact, was not the underdog in the story, and that we often give giants too much credit and ourselves too little.

Cue applause. Great stuff.

Gladwell’s theory about why Goliath was really the underdog is open to debate, but much of it certainly is plausible. And his overriding lesson is valid, even if you can poke a few holes in the premise behind it. Yet, he, too, leaves out the key point and thus the most enduring lesson for us all.

In reading the story, it’s worth remembering that practice pays off, that we must embrace risk and take bold actions to achieve significant success, that looks can be deceiving, that even giants have weaknesses, and that underdogs (perceived or real) can win the day if they have the necessary skills, courage and self-confidence. But don’t stop there. Remember why David felt compelled to fight. Why he had courage. And why he won.

He fought because he was appalled that the Philistine had insulted God. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” he asks in 1 Samuel 17: 26.

He had courage because he knew he had the skills to win and, more importantly, because he knew God was with him. “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine,” he says in 1 Samuel 17:37.

And he won because he put his faith in God and gave Him the glory. “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves,” he says in 1 Samuel 17:47, “for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.”

So, you can leave God out of the story and still learn some valuable life lessons. But you’ll miss the point.

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