Nearly everyone, inside and outside of the church, knows the story of David and Goliath, how a little shepherd boy from Israel came out with a slingshot and defeated the mighty giant warrior of the Philistines. In fact, this story has been rewritten and replayed throughout common culture for thousands of years at this point. And who doesn't love a good underdog story?
But there's something about Goliath that's easy to miss in this story, particularly when we're standing in his shadow, looking up at this giant of a man. Yet, that one little thing, that little tiny secret that Goliath is hoping you'll read right past, is extremely meaningful - not just for Goliath, and David, but also for us.
So here's how the story goes: the Israelites and the Philistines lined up for battle. And every day, Goliath - the 'champion' of the Philistines - would step forward to the battle line and call out Israel. Just send one man, he'd tell them. Send one guy who can defeat me, man to man, and whoever wins, wins.
Day after day, Goliath stepped forward. By the time we join the story with David visiting his brothers, these two armies have been standing here facing each other for more than forty days. Think about that. Two of the strongest, fiercest armies, both with reputations for amazing victories, have stood at a standstill for more than forty days and all they've got to show for it so far is Goliath's bravado.
Clearly, he steps forward because he's sure he can't lose. And for those of us reading the story, we think we know why. The text tells us Goliath was somewhere between seven and nine-and-a-half feet tall (depending on which ancient text you go with). The average Israelite, from what we can gather, was somewhere in the mid-five-foot range, so even at seven feet, Goliath would tower over them. His armor weighed up to 220 pounds, and he wore it like it was nothing. He didn't even look uncomfortable moving toward the battle lines; he was confident. Calm, cool, and collected, standing there in his bright, shining, impenetrable armor.
And we could stop here for a second and just say that anyone wearing armor is going to be, in general, more confident than someone who is not. If all your vital bits are protected by perhaps 220 pounds of pure metal, that certainly inspires you to have a little bravado, don't you think?
But that's not Goliath's little secret. Any reasonable person would expect that a warrior going into battle would have some armor.
We don't see Goliath's little secret until the moment that David actually steps up to challenge him. This little shepherd boy from Israel, who has no armor of his own and who refuses the armor of the king, steps forward in his dirty clothes from the field. He's a mere boy, and an Israelite boy, at that, so the size difference between the two warriors is immense. Goliath stands perhaps twice as tall as David. The giant laughs at the little boy and his slingshot, mocking the little shepherd's staff that he holds in his hand. "You come at me with sticks?"
Don't you get it, boy?
But when Goliath steps forward toward the advancing David, he betrays himself. He reveals his little secret, the thing that makes him so confident - as if he needed any other reason to be. When Goliath steps forward and accepts David's challenge, his armor-bearer steps forward with him.
That's right. Big, tall, strong, mighty Goliath in all his beautiful, heavy armor still has a guy stand in front of him with a shield. He still has someone who stands in harm's way before him, someone enlisted for nothing more than to take the brunt of the battle. David steps forward with nothing but sticks and stones, and still, Goliath is not as confident as he seems. He can come only with the assurance of the one who comes with him, who stands in front him, who holds his shield.
That's important. So important that we're going to take a few days and pick it apart a little bit.