When we discover that Goliath steps forward into battle only with his armor-bearer in front of him, our first reaction might be to think that Goliath was not as brave or not as confident as he first presents himself to be. The big, mighty, powerful giant Goliath, the 'champion' of the Philistines, towering over Israel in his 200+ pounds of armor needed someone to carry a shield in front of him?
It's almost laughable. (And certainly, if you try to picture the scene in your head, it is quite humorous. For what good does a smaller man with a smaller shield do in front of such a giant?)
But what we have to realize is that Goliath didn't know anything different. This is how men went to war in his time. This is how all the great warriors fought, no matter their size. Remember when Jonathan goes up against the Philistines later? He has an armor-bearer with him. (The difference being that Jonathan's armor-bearer follows him into battle, but I digress.) Anyone with any importance at all in the battle always had an armor-bearer.
So Goliath has an armor-bearer. And why wouldn't he? The Philistines are putting a lot of hope and faith in him; they want to give him every advantage that they possibly can.
Yet still, we come back to it - if Goliath is as a big and as strong and as invincible as he thinks that he is, as he declares that he is in all his bravado, couldn't he just say that he doesn't need an armor-bearer? Couldn't he just send this little man home? Couldn't he just put this shield-carrier behind him?
He could, but Goliath understood himself as a warrior only in the context of battle. That is, when Goliath pictured himself as the champion, he had around him all the accoutrement of war. When he envisioned himself winning, it was in the setting of combat. And combat included an armor-bearer, even for a giant like him.
This isn't as laughable as it first sounds. It isn't as shocking. Any one of us, when faced with a challenge or an opportunity, envisions ourselves in that moment. We picture ourselves in the scene of whatever that looks like. We very, very rarely re-imagine things based on our own strengths and competencies; rather, we see our strengths and competencies as fitting into the context we're called to.
When faced with an opportunity at work, for example, we don't think of what we can do to achieve it; we picture ourselves in our cubicle, working toward it. When we think about challenges at home, we see ourselves in our mind's eye in our home with our furniture and our families around us. We are a people who just naturally put ourselves into our context, as we understand it.
So when Goliath thinks of himself as a champion, he thinks of himself as a champion with an armor-bearer. Not because of any insecurity or weakness in himself, necessarily, but because that's simply the way that wars were fought in his time. That's how battle worked. And when he steps forward, maybe he's not scared. Maybe he is confident. Maybe his armor-bearer has little do with it. Maybe he has a lot to do with it. We just don't know.
All we know is that we can't jump to the conclusion that Goliath was some kind of secret scaredy-cat just because he had an armor-bearer. Honestly, we would have more questions about him if he didn't have this man in front of him.
But there's something else that may be true about this armor-bearer that might help us paint Goliath in a new light, too.
More on that, tomorrow.