David and Goliath are stalwart characters in the our imaginations - used to describe the battle between the noble small and the evil big. David and Goliath are at home in kindergarten Sunday School classrooms and in front of EPSN cameras.
The story is genius. It captures our imagination and subtly evaluates the imaginations of the characters: David, Eliab, and Saul.
David wasn’t the first Israelite that Goliath taunted, but he was the first one with the imagination to see how God’s power could transform the situation. Saul and his army were paralyzed by Goliath because he had worn them down with 40 days of hurled insults and threats. When David hears the Philistine’s jeer, however, he responds with rage and not fear. Although the Israelites tell David about Saul’s generous offer to the man willing to fight, he fails to hear their prattle because he’s incensed over Goliath’s defiance of God.
Eliab, David’s oldest brother, provides a foil to David. David and Eliab are looking at the same facts, but from radically different perspectives and, consequently, drawing radically different conclusions. Goliath’s size and the odds weigh upon Eliab while David is immune to Goliath’s power by God and the right. David infuriates Eliab by his interpretation of the situation. Surely, the older brother is thinking: what a naïve, self-important punk. When in fact, David’s viewpoint is the most humble and unselfconscious.
Then comes the interaction between Saul and David. Because Saul is entrenched in the “reality” of his kingship, he scoffs at David’s inexperience and weapons. But, David imagines himself qualified through his battles with animals - not seeing any difference between Goliath and the beasts. Again, we see that Saul’s imagination is stunted when he tries to dress David in his own armor; he can’t see that this is a different kind of battle.
But, David does have imagination. He - whom the Bible says is a precursor of Jesus – boldly goes before Goliath and says,
You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty … All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” NIV. (v. 45-47).
Not by sword or spear? David’s imagination is based on God’s power and creativity to save.
Following Jesus demands imagination because God’s ways aren’t ours. Eliab’s ruined imagination overestimates Goliath and underestimates David. Saul’s weak imagination fails to recognize David’s qualifications and talent. David’s faith and obedience fuel his God-saturated reality. And, after all, most of reality is invisible. Sin clouds and narrows our imagination. But, faith in God allows our imagination to explore all that may be possible.
In what is your faith – man or God? Be careful how you answer – for the scope of your imagination depends on it.
(This piece is influenced by Eugene Peterson’s Leap Over a Wall, Chapter 2,and his 1 and 2 Samuel Commentary. There’s no mistaking Peterson’s shaping my interpretation.)