The overthrow of Goliath the Philistine by our celebrated hero, King David, is not only found in our sacred texts, but told l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. As a people, we have always been told that the Creator was energetically with our faithful David from the moment that David enthused he could overpower Goliath, just as he had overcome bears and lions seeking to harm his father’s helpless flock of sheep as a boy shepherd. Real or imagined, I can sense the bravery of young David, and feel that I can intuit the legendary battle of the Tanakh and share it here.
My father, Jesse, of Bethlehem, already advanced in years, was growing older right before my eyes. Three of my brothers were already in the service of King Saul, in the Valley of Elah, waging a battle against the Philistines, and it had the effect of aging our father even more rapidly than a poor man’s hard shepherding life usually would. He worried for my brothers day and night.
One hot and dry afternoon, my father, Jesse, summoned me with a request, that I go on a sacred errand. With corn, 10 loaves of bread and good cheeses made from the milk of our animals, my father asked that I leave my sheep with another shepherd and make my way to the encampment not far from the battle lines, bringing provisions. I was to take them not only to my brothers, but to their ranking officers as well. As proof of my being there, I was further requested to return home with a trinket from the men. Although I was the finest shepherd of any of my brothers and took care of the meager possessions of my family, including our livestock, with my life, I was never respected in the way a conscientious son would be. It has puzzled me my entire life so far, and therefore, it was no surprise to me that my father requested such a trinket as proof of my errand.
The next morning, I set out, quick on my feet, in the service not only of my father, but King Saul as well. I was anxious for the news on the front battle lines, and I was headed to the barricade. Word had spread that Israel was stationed on one hill, and the Philistines on a hill opposite them, with a ravine in between. I put on my shepherd’s bag made of soft animal skin, and took my best slingshot, the one I made from finest acacia wood, with me. You never know which animal of prey could accost you through the forests and near the wadi.
Although I tried not to focus on and gather too many trusty stones as is my habit, it could not be helped. There were many smooth, silky-feeling stones in all colors, and even some of varying textures, placed right before my feet, as I made my way on this journey to ease the worries of my father. I reluctantly added many desirable ones to the growing collection in my shepherd bag.
I reached the encampment and could faintly hear the battle cries of Israel. Those cries did not sound believable to me, for I could detect something that sounded like terror, rather than a confident rally of voices as I had anticipated. My sense was confirmed when the captain and his men were talking of their disgrace, when a giant, man or monster, I wasn’t certain, stepped boldly forward. I moved myself further in the direction of the monster to witness his evil and repugnancy against Israel and the One God. Goliath the Philistine, as they called him, had taken his stand at our battlelines issuing threats, and making for tremors of fear upon our army for 40 days thus far.
As I was taking in all that surrounded me, my distrusting brothers questioned my very presence in their usual, menacing way, and worse, questioned the loyalty of my heart, that I might have brought supplies to them as a ploy to simply watch the fighting from afar. Will these brothers ever understand that the Living God has put trust in me?
King Saul overheard all the heated conversation brought on by my presence and asked that I be brought forward to explain myself. I was, somehow, ready for this moment, and perhaps, had always been. The LORD had, time and time again, spared me against the most death-defying beasts as I guarded my flocks and, for this reason, courage never eluded me. Now, if only King Saul would view me as a fit contender.
In Samuel 17:33, “But Saul said to David, ‘You cannot go to that Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth!’”
I pleaded and offered reasoning to the king, as I tried to convey both passion and loyalty for Israel and for the LORD of Hosts. He agreed, but only consented knowing that I would only be a martyr for Israel, with no chance of victory.
The king fit me, his volunteer, in his own battle gear, a breastplate fit with a sword, and a bronze helmet. I could not move swiftly in this garb, nor could I see sharply. With an explanation as to my awkwardness, I removed the battle gear in favor of my beloved slingshot and the stones I knew well in the palms of my hands. I then walked proudly to the front line to present myself to this Goliath giant, the champion of the Philistines, for combat.
Goliath scoffed, and was loath to look in my eyes as a serious contender. He bellowed that he would, with certainty, feed my body to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field.
I bellowed back in a voice that cracked in the puberty I was experiencing, but only for a moment, that “This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hands.”
Goliath began to move closer to the battle lines, closer to me, David, son of Jesse. Those who served King Saul could do nothing more than hold their breath, for what they surely felt was an unfortunate turn of events, a young man about to be annihilated before their very eyes.
Those precious stones, fashioned by the Creator, waited for their chance to be of sacred use. I felt deep into my shepherd’s pouch and found just the one I had picked out on the way to the Valley of Elah, on the edge of the wadi. I felt between my thumb and forefinger, the stone made smooth by the crystal waters, but with a stubborn point in its center that somehow went against nature and refused to be smoothed over.
I inserted that unique stone, intended for this moment of our people, with one last, silent praise to the LORD, and then I pulled the slingshot leather back as taut and expertly as I could, and the stone flew as if it had wings.
The stone with the one, stubborn point, landed with speed and agility, deep in the forehead of Goliath the Philistine. It pressed so deeply in his skull that it was as if implanted there since birth. With the one glance Goliath had left of knowing his slayer, he gazed at me and knew me, and then fell solidly to the ground. The fighters of Israel began screaming in victory chants, and the Philistines ran for their lives.
It was now for me, the victor, to grab Goliath’s very sword, slice off Goliath’s head and bring it by the hair to King Saul for a victory ritual, and then feed it to the birds and the beasts, as Goliath had predicted for me.
Following the day that will live forever and be narrated for the generations, I was treated to my own tent in Jerusalem. I held my instrument, a lyre, as is my practice, and began to sing in a voice that cracked no more, with glee and gratitude to the One who has always sheltered me from harm.
I Samuel 17:47: “And this whole assembly shall know that the LORD can give victory without sword or spear.”
Debbi K. Levy often imagines herself in the time period of the Israelites, and, because she is not a time-traveler, pens sacred stories about the lives of her ancestors to enhance her Jewish heritage.