1 Samuel 17:1-49
Here's one of those stories that's been heard so often it's a challenge to breathe new life into it. But let's have one more look...
Perhaps the most basic lesson contained in this story is that size doesn't matter (no sniggering from you immature people at the back of the bus). When Moses sent spies into the land of Canaan he asked them to "see what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land they live in is good or bad, and whether the towns that they live in are unwalled or fortified, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not." (Numbers 13:17-20) Of course what he was hoping for was good, rich land with a few, tiny, weak people that could easily be overcome. He got half that - the land was great, but it's people were strong, the towns were fortified and very large. In fact they said that the people of the land were of such a great size that the spies seemed like grasshoppers compared to them!
If this story was a distant memory, more recently the story of David's anointing also sheds light on this theme. David is chosen, against the cultural expectations of the day, over his 7 elder brothers. Samuel is told "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature ... for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." If you need more to see a pattern here, consider Ishmael and Isaac; Esau and Jacob; Joseph and the brothers who sold him into slavery - every time it is the younger brother that surprisingly gains prominence. This has even wider meaning. Israel may never have been the great conquering nation that they appear to be after the Exodus. The more common story that we hear, and one that has far greater archeological and historical veracity, is that Israel got successively trampled by every major empire to travel through their land. The story of David conquering Goliath is the story of Israel's hopes in miniature.
A minor sidenote: Why does David pick up five stones? The first seems to do the job, but perhaps David’s experience taught him to be prepared to try again if it doesn’t work out the first time. If he was a character in the gospels he would most likely be told off for not having enough faith. But perhaps faith is not as straightforward as it seems – perhaps it is more like a cautious hope than the brave pretense of the overconfident. Still, if your first shot at a giant doesn’t work, take a second…..