The narrative of David and Goliath is one of those feel-good stories where the underdog overcomes all odds to conquer a menacing threat. Who can’t help but cheer when the under-sized, inexperienced and ill-equipped David slays Goliath? This is the stuff of summer blockbusters!
But this story is also a reminder that the bible is full of violence. It calls into question the morality of God who appears bloodthirsty in many parts of the Old Testament. This is why many Christians prefer the gentle, cheek-turning, peace seeking Jesus of the New Testament.
@Magnum DI tweeted… Jesus as the Prince of Peace contrasts greatly w/ the story of David & Goliath- role of violence in Bible evolves. Commenting later on the fight against evil he adds that Christians walk a fine moral line. Presumably he is identifying the ease with which Christians resort to violence for the greater good (ends justifies the means).
Facing Goliath on the field of battle, David declares the name of God, Lord of Hosts. This compound name for God occurs more than any other in the Old Testament, at least 240 times. For David it was a reminder that the armies of Israel belonged to God. Elsewhere in the Bible it suggests that God is the general of the angelic armies or is Lord over all spiritual powers and forces. So does this mean we worship a war-making God?
First, it is good to remember that God engages hostile forces with the ultimate aim of bringing an end to war. It is said of the Lord of Hosts that He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire (Psalm 46:9).
It is also worth noting the Old Testament era was a period characterized by extreme and cruel brutality. Violence was an accepted way of life among all ancient civilizations. And while God seems to endorse war through the military escapades of Israel, no where does he defend the ‘goodness’ of war. Throughout the history of human development God has been content to accommodate contemporary practice. Without condoning them, he seemed willing to work within the cultural norms of slavery, polygamy, gender inequality and warfare, but always in a manner that was more humane than that of pagan cultures, and always in a manner that foreshadowed the complete transformation of such conventions.
There is an ethical trajectory that can be traced from Genesis to Revelation and then beyond the pages of Scripture. God is content to work within the social injustices of the time, nudging human development in the direction of something better. This is true of war. God is patiently moving history toward a day when they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation. And never again will they learn war (Isaiah 2:4)
Finally, to read the story of David and Goliath as a divine endorsement of warfare is to miss the point completely. This narrative is most helpful when read metaphorically. At least in our social context, there is little likelihood of encountering a sword-wielding armor-clad giant when we leave for work in the morning. But we do have giants in our lives – a menacing threat of some kind that generates paralyzing terror. Illness, hostile coworker, addiction, parenting crisis… everyone has a Goliath. This narrative offers us hope – the reminder that the Lord of Hosts will fight for us.