Some Reflections and Optics on this Good Shepherd (Vocations) Sunday
We are currently at a tipping point of a phase transitional cultural transformation from a groupthink based on the malignant normality of war and violence where weapons of mass distraction seem to be the order of the day to a life-valued mindset now coherently life-grounded on a logic, a cosmology and a spirituality based on service to all of life. (Please see: The Primary Axiom of Value / Universal Human Economy, On Embodiment, Manifestations, Relevance and the Intrinsic Meaningfulness of LIFE, On the Infinite Within and Reclaiming our for-ever-giving and forgiving human nature and bringing us back from the brink of the for-ever-taking and fortaking misgivings of war.)
This blog article’s in-spiration is governed by the in-tuition of the TRUTH and the in-tention of the GOOD WILL.
There have been many rapid-fire events all happening in rapid succession from the alleged Salisbury “Novochock” event to the alleged chemical attacks in Douma to the actual missile attacks by the USA, France and UK to suggest the machinations of a neo-neo-Assyrian imperialism in the making. The monkey trap of the Golan Heights has revealed to us not only the hidden hands of the neoliberal corporatist authors but also the hidden fists of the neoconservative warmongering colluders that LIE at the base of this neo-neo-Assyrian empire. (Please see: The Costly Syrian Connections: Natural Gas Reserves, Pipelines and Geopolitics, How Western imperial power set out to destroy Syria / Right to Left: UK foreign policy on Syria follows an historical pattern By Daniel Margrain, Eco-Genocidal System Violence Still Unseen – Structural and Cultural Weapons of Mass Destruction by the Multiplying Money-Cancer Class, and Is STRATFOR Disinformation Central? “Admit nothing, deny everything and make counter-accusations!”)
As no thing is new under the sun, I have provided three excerpts from texts that appeared synchronistic-ally, syntropic-ally and syntonic-ally to my mind’s eye after hearing the sermon of the Good Shepherd in Church today.
The first excerpt is based on the Gospel and a commentary on it. I found it very revealing, to say the least, that they made reference to the difference between the higher ever-present “I AM” Christology of the Gospel of John to the lower never-present “The kingdom of God is like..” Christology of the Synoptic Gospels.
And it made me wonder, in God’s name, why has the suffering and death on the Cross become the official narrative, or dominant optics, for us as Christians? Is this the quintessential example of the malignant normalization of the acceptance of suffering and death of all life as our redeeming grace in the after-life in order to serve the vested interests of the ruling classes, be they religious, economic or political? If our concern should be the present-life, and that of the next generation’s life-capacities and opportunities, after-one’s-life, then should not the Good Shepherd narrative, which is no longer based on a false syn-optics of disharmony, disunity and war, but now based on the true syn-optics of harmony, unity and peace, be our WAY, our TRUTH and our LIGHT? Can such a small shift in perspective make a world of difference in how we relate to ourselves, each other and the planet?
What if Life-Value is the Lowest Common Denominator and the Highest Common Multiplier of the Good Shepherd Ethics, in which we are called to serve all life on this Earth, from the least among us (microbes) to the greatest (Mother Earth)? Would we not all be seen as life’s chosen-ones and would we not be immunized from the endlessly manipulatable identity-politics tactics and mind-bending optical machinations of the ruling class? If the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIGHT is through LIFE-VALUE ONTO-AXIOLOGY, isn’t this the antidote? And what are we waiting for??
The second excerpt is a reflection on writings of two Israeli archeologists relating how one of the first voices of protest against the first ancient Israeli Establishment of the time was a shepherd by the name of Amos. They go on to detail the death throes of Israel, the Assyrianization of the North, and the end of the Kingdom. There are so many parallels of their time with ours, it would have been irresponsible for me not to share! Furthermore, it makes me wonder aloud, that as a species, we have barely made progress from the machinations of old, and have not learnt our lessons and are repeating them over and over again, now on a eco-genocidal global scale, still unseen! (Please see: Will the Real Modern-Day Pirates Please Stand Up!)
And finally, the third excerpt is a reflection on the full transcript of Malcolm Gladwell’s TedTalk on “The Unheard Story of David and Goliath.” David, as we know, was the shepherd boy who was able to kill the Giant Goliath with his sling. His insights are very relevant and revealing for us today. As has been admitted as of late, we are in an “information war”. We must ask now if the “synoptic” mainstream media is the de facto informational Goliath warriors, and the truth-seeking bloggers of the alternative media the informational David warriors? Does this retelling help us to go forward and does it give us a better perspective of the life-view transitioning in our midst?
What lessons were learnt back then, that can be applied today? Is the Archilles’ heel of the informational Goliaths their single-minded-monopolistic, monocultural money-valued domination vision, and would exposing and bringing to their collective consciousness that what they thought was their greatest strengths, is actually the source of their greatest weakness? The price they and us, are paying for their single-minded efficient money-value multiplicative commoditization of all life capital, is a loss in resiliency due to their devaluation of the diversity and interconnectedness of all life. (Please see: Watch “Bernard Lietaer Talks About Money & Sustainability & Cryptocurrencies” on YouTube
For those of us on the outside who have awoken and are fighting this Goliath beast of life-burdens, what lessons can we learn and what strategies can we use so as to life-capitalize on the resilience of the diversity and interconnectedness of all fields of free thoughts, felt sides of being and actions, to vitalise all life-capital as we endure the labour pains of this phase transition of breakdown to the cultural transformation of breakthrough?
I don’t have the answers as yet, but I am sure if we work together, we can find the kernels of vision, strength and courage in each one of us to bubble up from “the infinite within” out of an abundance of love for life’s appreciation, as we shepherd the good life via our inner callings and outer vocations, to guide us through it all!
Happy reading, reflecting, meditating and sharing!
“Good Shepherd Sunday occurs on the fourth Sunday in the Easter Season. The name derives from the gospel reading for the day, which is taken from the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel. In this reading Christ is described as the “Good Shepherd” who lays down his life for his sheep…
…The fourth Sunday of Easter is also kept as Vocations Sunday in many church denominations.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Shepherd_Sunday
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”
Reflecting on Living the Gospel
“In the early church, before Jesus was depicted as suffering and dying on the cross, he was depicted as “the Good Shepherd.” This image was central to early Christian identity. We see paintings and even statues of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The cross seems to have been too painful or too inappropriate to be an effective way to portray Jesus. The Good Shepherd conveyed the Christian message much more clearly. Today we celebrate “Good Shepherd” Sunday as we read this famous gospel story from John. We are no longer in the realm of resurrection appearance stories, but now we have entered the world of Jesus’ “I AM” parabolic discourse. In John, Jesus doesn’t preach in parables, “The kingdom of God is like . . . a shepherd, a gate, a vineyard, etc.” Instead, we hear Jesus say, “I AM the good shepherd,” or in another passage, “I AM the gate,” or “I AM the vine,” etc. Some scholars call this an “I AM” Christology of the Fourth Gospel because it is used so frequently here, as opposed to the Synoptics. The Gospel of John has an intense emphasis on the person of Jesus, reflected in a high Christology. The joke is that if you ask Jesus in the Gospel of John how he’s doing, he’ll take two chapters to say he and the Father are just fine.
The ancient image of a shepherd was raised by Pope Francis shortly after he became pope. He said he wanted priests to have “the smell of the sheep” on them. This kind of graphic, even smelly, analogy offended some people. But it is precisely the image Francis meant to convey, and the language stems from this gospel story about Jesus himself being the Good Shepherd.”
– Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved. Living Liturgy™ Sunday Bulletin. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 56321. © 2017 by Order of Saint Benedict www.litpress.org 18008585450
The First Voices of Protest
The prosperity and prominence that the kingdom of Israel attained during the reign of Jeroboam II offered great wealth to the Israelite aristocracy. Although the rather chaotic digging methods of the early twentieth century excavations of Samaria do not permit a detailed analysis of the buildings and renovations of the royal city in the early eighth century, two extremely interesting sets of small finds offer at least a glimpse of the opulence and wealth of Israel’s ruling class. Over two hundred delicate ivory plaques carved in Phoenician style with Egyptian motifs and stylistically dated to the eighth century BCE probably decorated the walls of the palace or the fine furniture of Israelite royalty. They attest to the wealth and cosmopolitan tastes of the Israelite monarchs and the noble families of their kingdom. The famous Samaria ostraca, receipts for shipments of oil and wine delivered from the countryside to the capital city, represent a sophisticated system of credit and record keeping in which the produce of the hinterland was claimed by large landowners or by government tax officials who supervised the collection of the crop.
It is at the height of prosperity of the northern kingdom under the rule of Jeroboam II that we can finally identify the full complement of the criteria of statehood: literacy, bureaucratic administration, specialized economic production, and a professional army. It is also the period when we have the first record of prophetic protest. The oracles of the prophets Amos and Hosea are the earliest preserved prophetic books, containing material that reflects the heyday of Jeroboam II. Their scathing denunciations of the corrupt and impious aristocracy of the north serve both to document the opulence of this era and to express for the first time ideas that would exert a profound effect on the crystallization of the Deuteronomistic ideology.
Amos is described as a shepherd who wandered north from the rural Judahite village of Tekoa. But whatever his precise social status or reason for preaching in the kingdom of Israel, the oracles recorded in his name provide a searing condemnation of the lavish lifestyles and material reality of Israel’s aristocracy in the eighth century BCE:
Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the midst of the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David invent for themselves instruments of music; who drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils . . . (AMOS 6: 4– 6)
Amos goes on to condemn those who “have built houses of hewn stone” (5: 11), and his contemporary, the prophet Hosea, speaks out against those who “multiply falsehood and violence; they make a bargain with Assyria, and oil is carried to Egypt” (Hosea 12: 1). In these and many other allusions, the two prophets outline the economic connections and material culture that have been so abundantly illustrated by the archaeology of the kingdom of Israel.
Beyond the condemnation of the rich and the powerful, Amos and Hosea both offer searing critiques of the social injustices, idolatry, and domestic tensions that international trade and the dependence on Assyria have brought. According to Hosea, “Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride upon horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands” (Hosea 14: 3). Amos condemns the wickedness of those who merely pay lip service to the dictates of religion while gathering riches for themselves and abusing the poor:
Hear this, you who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, and that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great, and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and sell the refuse of the wheat?” (AMOS 8: 4– 6)
These prophetic condemnations were preserved by the followers of Amos and Hosea and took on a new meaning after the fall of the kingdom of Israel. For in their critique of the wealthy and in their revulsion at the effect of foreign ways on the life of the people of Israel, they heralded the spiritual and social movement that would leave an indelible impression on the crystallizing biblical text.
The Death Throes of Israel
With the death of Jeroboam II in 747 BCE, the structure of Israelite society— despite its material prosperity and achievements in architecture and military arts— proved hollow. Factions probably arose among regional administrators, army officers, and special interest groups. King followed king in relatively quick and usually bloody succession. The delicate balance of economic independence and political alliance with, or subservience to, Assyria gradually broke down. The narrative presented in the second book of Kings, supplemented by occasional confirmations in the records of Assyria, is all we have to go on in documenting the fall of Israel.
The series of violent dynastic upheavals at Samaria could not have come at a more dangerous time. Great changes were taking place in Mesopotamia. In 745— precisely after two kings were assassinated in Samaria— the ambitious governor of the great Assyrian city of Calah in the Tigris valley revolted against his own overlords and began the process of transforming Assyria into a brutal and predatory state.
This new king, Tiglath-pileser III (also known by his Babylonian name, Pul, in the Bible), began nothing less than a thorough revamping of the Assyrian empire— primarily in its relations to its former vassals, which would now be much more directly controlled. In 738 BCE, he led his army on a great threatening campaign westward, in which he succeeded in cowering Assyria’s formerly semi-independent vassals with unprecedented economic demands. But that was only the beginning. In the era of Assyrian imperialism that Tiglath-pileser had inaugurated, vassaldom would soon give way to conquest and annexation— with local populations being subject to deportation wherever the Assyrian authorities wished.
In Samaria, the Israelite capital— with the death of King Menahem in 737 BCE and the almost immediate assassination of his son and successor by a military officer named Pekah, son of Remaliah— the foreign policy of the kingdom of Israel changed. We have no information on the political and personal motives of Pekah, this latest usurper, but he suddenly ended Israel’s obsequious vassaldom to Assyria. Perhaps in a desperate reaction to the change of Assyrian policies and the inability to meet Assyrian demands, Pekah joined a coalition of other local powers— including King Rezin of Damascus and some Philistine cities— in a desperate gamble for independence.
What followed was a tragic series of miscalculations that spelled the end of independent Israel— and indeed the possibility that any of the states in the Levant would ever be free to act independently as long as the Assyrian empire survived. Pekah and Rezin hoped to organize a broad, committed front of resistance to Assyria by all the states of the region. The coalition failed to materialize and Tiglath-pileser reacted in fury. After capturing Damascus, executing Rezin, and making his way down the Mediterranean coast, destroying potentially rebellious cities and ensuring that no help for the insurgents would be coming from Egypt, Tiglath-pileser set his sights with full force on the kingdom of Israel. Conquering most of its territories, destroying its main cities, and deporting part of its population, Tiglathpileser brought Israel to its knees.
By the time of Tiglath-pileser’s death in 727 BCE, most of the territory of the northern kingdom had been annexed directly to the Assyrian empire. They were then administratively divided into the provinces of Dor (along the northern coast), Megiddo (in the Jezreel valley and Galilee), and Gilead (in the Transjordanian highlands). A relief from the time of Tiglath-pileser III depicting the siege of a city named Gaazru— probably Gezer— indicates that the southern coastal plain of Israel did not escape the bitter fate of the northern provinces. All that was left of the northern kingdom was merely the hill country around the capital, Samaria. And so Tiglath-pileser could boast in a monumental inscription: “The land of Bit-Humria [i.e., the House of Omri], all of whose cities I leveled to the ground in my former campaigns . . . I plundered its livestock, and I spared only isolated Samaria.”
The Assyrianization of the North
The new-style Assyrian empire under Tiglath-pileser was not content with mere territorial conquest. The Assyrians viewed all the lands, animals, resources, and peoples of the areas they had conquered as objects— as chattel— that could and should be moved or exploited to serve the best interests of the Assyrian state. Thus the Assyrians deployed a policy of deportation and repopulation on a grand scale. This policy had many objectives, which all served the goals of continuing imperial development. From a military point of view, the capture and removal of native villages had the effect of terrorizing and demoralizing the population and splitting them up to prevent further organized resistance. From an economic point of view, large-scale conscription into the imperial army brought new manpower and military technologies into a framework where the new recruits could be carefully watched. The forced resettlement of artisans in the centers of the Assyrian heartland boosted the trained human resources at the disposal of the Assyrian economy. And finally, the systematic resettling of new populations in empty or recently conquered territory was intended to expand the overall agricultural output of the empire.
Tiglath-pileser III initiated these processes almost immediately in the regions of the kingdom of Israel his armies had overrun. The number of deportees given by his annals amounts to 13,500 people. If it is not an exaggeration— as archaeological surveys in lower Galilee, indicating widespread depopulation, suggest— then the Assyrians deported a significant component of the rural population of these areas to Assyria.
The disastrous results of Tiglath-Pileser’s initial assault can be seen at many sites. At Hazor, which is specifically mentioned in the Bible in relation to his campaign (2 Kings 15: 29), the last Israelite city was destroyed and burned to ashes. There is clear archaeological evidence that in the days before the final Assyrian assault, the city’s fortifications were reinforced— in vain, as events transpired. Wholesale destruction has also been traced at Dan and Beth-shean. But at Megiddo, the Assyrian intentions were somewhat different since it would become a new center of imperial administration. The domestic quarters were set on fire; collapsed, burnt buildings and crushed vessels tell the story of the last hours of the Israelite city. But the pillared buildings— the famous Megiddo stables— were left untouched and probably reused for a while. The Assyrians intended to rebuild the site for their own ends, and the fine stones in the stable structures proved to be an excellent source of building materials.
Megiddo provides the best evidence for the early stages of the Assyrian occupation. After the partial destruction of the last Israelite city, a short period of abandonment was followed by extensive rebuilding. The Assyrians made Megiddo the capital of their new province, covering former territories of the northern kingdom in the northern valleys and the hills of Galilee. Within a few decades, official documents refer to Megiddo as the seat of the governor. The focus of the new city, which was rebuilt in a totally new plan, was near the gate, where two palaces were built in typical Assyrian style. The rest of the city was laid out in a precise grid of parallel east-west and north-south streets forming rectangular blocks for domestic buildings— a method of city planning hitherto unknown in the Levant. In light of the radical changes, it is possible that new people, deported from other conquered areas of the Assyrian empire, were now settled there.
The End of the Kingdom
Hemmed into the immediate vicinity of Samaria, the rump kingdom of Israel proved to be little more than a tidbit to be gobbled up at the first opportunity by the ascendant Assyrian state. Yet Hoshea, the assassin of Pekah and the last king of Israel, having quickly offered tribute to Assyria, just as quickly began a disastrously dangerous plot. In the brief period of uncertainty about succession between the death of Tiglath-pileser III and the accession of Shalmaneser V, Hoshea reportedly sent secret word to one of the regional lords of the Egyptian delta, hoping that Egypt would now be ready to enter the anti-Assyrian fray. Taking the ultimate gamble, Hoshea ended his tribute payments to the new Assyrian king forthwith.
Who could have been surprised at what happened? Shalmaneser V immediately embarked on a campaign of liquidation. He reduced the countryside around Samaria and laid siege to the city itself. After a long siege, the city was stormed and at least part of its surviving population was marshaled off to concentration points from which they were eventually resettled in distant Assyrian domains. There is considerable debate among scholars whether Shalmaneser V survived to see the capture of Samaria or whether his successor, Sargon II, who came to the throne in 722 BCE, was responsible for the coup de grâce. In any event, it is from Sargon’s chronicles that we have the fullest Assyrian account of what transpired:
The inhabitants of Samaria, who agreed and plotted with a king hostile to me not to endure servitude and not to bring tribute to Assur and who did battle, I fought against them with the power of the great gods, my lords. I counted as spoil 27,280 people, together with their chariots, and gods, in which they trusted. I formed a unit with 200 of their chariots for my royal force. I settled the rest of them in the midst of Assyria. I repopulated Samaria more than before. I brought into it people from countries conquered by my hands. I appointed my commissioner as governor over them. And I counted them as Assyrians.
– Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Isreal and the Origin of Sacred Texts (No Series) (Kindle Locations 3757-3875). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
Published on Sep 30, 2013
It’s a classic underdog tale: David, a young shepherd armed only with a sling, beats Goliath, the mighty warrior. The story has transcended its biblical origins to become a common shorthand for unlikely victory. But, asks Malcolm Gladwell, is that really what the David and Goliath story is about?
So I wanted to tell a story that really obsessed me when I was writing my new book, and it’s a story of something that happened 3,000 years ago, when the Kingdom of Israel was in its infancy. And it takes place in an area called the Shephelah in what is now Israel. And the reason the story obsessed me is that I thought I understood it, and then I went back over it and I realized that I didn’t understand it at all.
Ancient Palestine had a — along its eastern border, there’s a mountain range. Still same is true of Israel today. And in the mountain range are all of the ancient cities of that region, so Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron. And then there’s a coastal plain along the Mediterranean, where Tel Aviv is now. And connecting the mountain range with the coastal plain is an area called the Shephelah, which is a series of valleys and ridges that run east to west, and you can follow the Shephelah, go through the Shephelah to get from the coastal plain to the mountains. And the Shephelah, if you’ve been to Israel, you’ll know it’s just about the most beautiful part of Israel. It’s gorgeous, with forests of oak and wheat fields and vineyards.
But more importantly, though, in the history of that region, it’s served, it’s had a real strategic function, and that is, it is the means by which hostile armies on the coastal plain find their way, get up into the mountains and threaten those living in the mountains. And 3,000 years ago, that’s exactly what happens. The Philistines, who are the biggest of enemies of the Kingdom of Israel, are living in the coastal plain. They’re originally from Crete. They’re a seafaring people. And they may start to make their way through one of the valleys of the Shephelah up into the mountains, because what they want to do is occupy the highland area right by Bethlehem and split the Kingdom of Israel in two. And the Kingdom of Israel, which is headed by King Saul, obviously catches wind of this, and Saul brings his army down from the mountains and he confronts the Philistines in the Valley of Elah, one of the most beautiful of the valleys of the Shephelah. And the Israelites dig in along the northern ridge, and the Philistines dig in along the southern ridge, and the two armies just sit there for weeks and stare at each other, because they’re deadlocked. Neither can attack the other, because to attack the other side you’ve got to come down the mountain into the valley and then up the other side, and you’re completely exposed.
So finally, to break the deadlock, the Philistines send their mightiest warrior down into the valley floor, and he calls out and he says to the Israelites, “Send your mightiest warrior down, and we’ll have this out, just the two of us.”
This was a tradition in ancient warfare called single combat. It was a way of settling disputes without incurring the bloodshed of a major battle. And the Philistine who is sent down, their mighty warrior, is a giant. He’s 6 foot 9. He’s outfitted head to toe in this glittering bronze armor, and he’s got a sword and he’s got a javelin and he’s got his spear. He is absolutely terrifying. And he’s so terrifying that none of the Israelite soldiers want to fight him. It’s a death wish, right? There’s no way they think they can take him.
And finally the only person who will come forward is this young shepherd boy, and he goes up to Saul and he says, “I’ll fight him.”
And Saul says, “You can’t fight him. That’s ridiculous. You’re this kid. This is this mighty warrior.”
But the shepherd is adamant. He says, “No, no, no, you don’t understand, I have been defending my flock against lions and wolves for years. I think I can do it.”
And Saul has no choice. He’s got no one else who’s come forward. So he says, “All right.” And then he turns to the kid, and he says, “But you’ve got to wear this armor. You can’t go as you are.”
So he tries to give the shepherd his armor, and the shepherd says, “No.” He says, “I can’t wear this stuff.” The Biblical verse is, “I cannot wear this for I have not proved it,” meaning, “I’ve never worn armor before. You’ve got to be crazy.”
So he reaches down instead on the ground and picks up five stones and puts them in his shepherd’s bag and starts to walk down the mountainside to meet the giant. And the giant sees this figure approaching, and calls out, “Come to me so I can feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field.” He issues this kind of taunt towards this person coming to fight him. And the shepherd draws closer and closer, and the giant sees that he’s carrying a staff. That’s all he’s carrying. Instead of a weapon, just this shepherd’s staff, and he says — he’s insulted — “Am I a dog that you would come to me with sticks?”
And the shepherd boy takes one of his stones out of his pocket, puts it in his sling and rolls it around and lets it fly and it hits the giant right between the eyes — right here, in his most vulnerable spot — and he falls down either dead or unconscious, and the shepherd boy runs up and takes his sword and cuts off his head, and the Philistines see this and they turn and they just run.
And of course, the name of the giant is Goliath and the name of the shepherd boy is David, and the reason that story has obsessed me over the course of writing my book is that everything I thought I knew about that story turned out to be wrong.
So David, in that story, is supposed to be the underdog, right? In fact, that term, David and Goliath, has entered our language as a metaphor for improbable victories by some weak party over someone far stronger. Now why do we call David an underdog? Well, we call him an underdog because he’s a kid, a little kid, and Goliath is this big, strong giant. We also call him an underdog because Goliath is an experienced warrior, and David is just a shepherd. But most importantly, we call him an underdog because all he has is — it’s that Goliath is outfitted with all of this modern weaponry, this glittering coat of armor and a sword and a javelin and a spear, and all David has is this sling.
Well, let’s start there with the phrase “All David has is this sling,” because that’s the first mistake that we make. In ancient warfare, there are three kinds of warriors. There’s cavalry, men on horseback and with chariots. There’s heavy infantry, which are foot soldiers, armed foot soldiers with swords and shields and some kind of armor. And there’s artillery, and artillery are archers, but, more importantly, slingers. And a slinger is someone who has a leather pouch with two long cords attached to it, and they put a projectile, either a rock or a lead ball, inside the pouch, and they whirl it around like this and they let one of the cords go, and the effect is to send the projectile forward towards its target. That’s what David has, and it’s important to understand that that sling is not a slingshot. It’s not this, right? It’s not a child’s toy. It’s in fact an incredibly devastating weapon. When David rolls it around like this, he’s turning the sling around probably at six or seven revolutions per second, and that means that when the rock is released, it’s going forward really fast, probably 35 meters per second. That’s substantially faster than a baseball thrown by even the finest of baseball pitchers. More than that, the stones in the Valley of Elah were not normal rocks. They were barium sulphate, which are rocks twice the density of normal stones. If you do the calculations on the ballistics, on the stopping power of the rock fired from David’s sling, it’s roughly equal to the stopping power of a [.45 caliber] handgun. This is an incredibly devastating weapon. Accuracy, we know from historical records that slingers — experienced slingers could hit and maim or even kill a target at distances of up to 200 yards. From medieval tapestries, we know that slingers were capable of hitting birds in flight. They were incredibly accurate. When David lines up — and he’s not 200 yards away from Goliath, he’s quite close to Goliath — when he lines up and fires that thing at Goliath, he has every intention and every expectation of being able to hit Goliath at his most vulnerable spot between his eyes. If you go back over the history of ancient warfare, you will find time and time again that slingers were the decisive factor against infantry in one kind of battle or another.
So what’s Goliath? He’s heavy infantry, and his expectation when he challenges the Israelites to a duel is that he’s going to be fighting another heavy infantryman. When he says, “Come to me that I might feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field,” the key phrase is “Come to me.” Come up to me because we’re going to fight, hand to hand, like this. Saul has the same expectation. David says, “I want to fight Goliath,” and Saul tries to give him his armor, because Saul is thinking, “Oh, when you say ‘fight Goliath,’ you mean ‘fight him in hand-to-hand combat,’ infantry on infantry.”
But David has absolutely no expectation. He’s not going to fight him that way. Why would he? He’s a shepherd. He’s spent his entire career using a sling to defend his flock against lions and wolves. That’s where his strength lies. So here he is, this shepherd, experienced in the use of a devastating weapon, up against this lumbering giant weighed down by a hundred pounds of armor and these incredibly heavy weapons that are useful only in short-range combat. Goliath is a sitting duck. He doesn’t have a chance. So why do we keep calling David an underdog, and why do we keep referring to his victory as improbable?
There’s a second piece of this that’s important. It’s not just that we misunderstand David and his choice of weaponry. It’s also that we profoundly misunderstand Goliath. Goliath is not what he seems to be. There’s all kinds of hints of this in the Biblical text, things that are in retrospect quite puzzling and don’t square with his image as this mighty warrior. So to begin with, the Bible says that Goliath is led onto the valley floor by an attendant. Now that is weird, right? Here is this mighty warrior challenging the Israelites to one-on-one combat. Why is he being led by the hand by some young boy, presumably, to the point of combat? Secondly, the Bible story makes special note of how slowly Goliath moves, another odd thing to say when you’re describing the mightiest warrior known to man at that point. And then there’s this whole weird thing about how long it takes Goliath to react to the sight of David. So David’s coming down the mountain, and he’s clearly not preparing for hand-to-hand combat. There is nothing about him that says, “I am about to fight you like this.” He’s not even carrying a sword. Why does Goliath not react to that? It’s as if he’s oblivious to what’s going on that day. And then there’s that strange comment he makes to David: “Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?” Sticks? David only has one stick.
Well, it turns out that there’s been a great deal of speculation within the medical community over the years about whether there is something fundamentally wrong with Goliath, an attempt to make sense of all of those apparent anomalies. There have been many articles written. The first one was in 1960 in the Indiana Medical Journal, and it started a chain of speculation that starts with an explanation for Goliath’s height. So Goliath is head and shoulders above all of his peers in that era, and usually when someone is that far out of the norm, there’s an explanation for it. So the most common form of giantism is a condition called acromegaly, and acromegaly is caused by a benign tumor on your pituitary gland that causes an overproduction of human growth hormone. And throughout history, many of the most famous giants have all had acromegaly. So the tallest person of all time was a guy named Robert Wadlow who was still growing when he died at the age of 24 and he was 8 foot 11. He had acromegaly. Do you remember the wrestler André the Giant? Famous. He had acromegaly. There’s even speculation that Abraham Lincoln had acromegaly. Anyone who’s unusually tall, that’s the first explanation we come up with. And acromegaly has a very distinct set of side effects associated with it, principally having to do with vision. The pituitary tumor, as it grows, often starts to compress the visual nerves in your brain, with the result that people with acromegaly have either double vision or they are profoundly nearsighted.
So when people have started to speculate about what might have been wrong with Goliath, they’ve said, “Wait a minute, he looks and sounds an awful lot like someone who has acromegaly.” And that would also explain so much of what was strange about his behavior that day. Why does he move so slowly and have to be escorted down into the valley floor by an attendant? Because he can’t make his way on his own. Why is he so strangely oblivious to David that he doesn’t understand that David’s not going to fight him until the very last moment? Because he can’t see him. When he says, “Come to me that I might feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field,” the phrase “come to me” is a hint also of his vulnerability. Come to me because I can’t see you. And then there’s, “Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?” He sees two sticks when David has only one.
So the Israelites up on the mountain ridge looking down on him thought he was this extraordinarily powerful foe. What they didn’t understand was that the very thing that was the source of his apparent strength was also the source of his greatest weakness.
And there is, I think, in that, a very important lesson for all of us. Giants are not as strong and powerful as they seem. And sometimes the shepherd boy has a sling in his pocket.