The story of David and Goliath has become a classic parable of how the weak can defeat the strong, size doesn't matter, and that all things are possible through "the Lord Almighty" (New International Version, 1 Sam. 17.45). From a secular point-of-view, it can be read as a parable of how physical size matters little when set against courage, skill, and an iron will, which is why it is often taught within secular households as well as in Jewish and Christian households.
David and Goliath's widespread notoriety is merely one of the reasons I chose 1 Samuel 17 as my rewritten bible passage. Personally, the story has always resonated with me as a tale of how the combination of courage, willpower, and faith in the Almighty can accomplish all things. While David's courage allowed him to wrestle lions and bears, teaching him to be unafraid of things that were larger than him, his faith in God informed his will and faith in himself to engage and slay the giant Goliath.
I was also drawn to the story out of curiosity about Goliath, who is typically portrayed as a mindless brute who cares for nothing but war. And certainly, Goliath was a great warrior who had "been a fighting man from his youth" (1 Sam. 17.33). He too displayed tremendous courage, as every day for forty days he stood in defiance of Israel's army, challenging any man among them to meet him in head to head combat. Goliath has always reminded me of the Greek warrior Achilles, who, though brave and unsurpassed in combative skill, underestimated both his own vulnerability and the skill of his final opponent, resulting in his inevitable and ironic death.
In my decision to rewrite the passage from Goliath's point-of-view, I sought to convey the message that even the great can fall when they overestimate their own skill and correspondingly underestimate the skill of another, or when they are driven not by faith, love and honor, but by guilt, self-and-other loathing, the inability to forgive, and a corresponding thirst for bloody vengence. I sought also to lend some humanity and additional dimensions to Goliath, showing him not only as great warrior but also as a man with human flaws, vulnerabilities, passions and underlying motivations not seen in previous textual interpretations. In essence, I wanted to interpret Goliath not as a mere giant defeated by a boy, but as a human man defeated by his giant ego.
It was late in the day when we reached the Valley of Elah and made camp at Ephes Dammin. On the other side of the valley, Saul and his Israelis made their own camp. I couldn't but wonder if it was a play of the fading light, the configuration of the camp, or if we really did have them as outnumbered as we appeared to. I rather hoped it was only the light or the camp; it would not much of a fight with their numbers so few.
Just as the sun disappeared from the horizon and I was making my way to the tent where the men gathered for supper, one of the youngest men -- little more than a boy -- came forth and called me by name. "Goliath!"
"Don't shout, boy. You hurt my head."
"Forgive me, sir, but the King asks for you."
"Does he now."
"He sent me to find you."
"It is suppertime, boy. Tell him I'm eating."
"He asks that you asks with him," the boy insisted, "in his tent."
Hmm. That was wise of him. That I despise the King, he well knows. That I am a man who appreciates a good cut of meat he knows also. "Lead on, boy. My stomach growls ever louder as we stand here."
The boy led me to the inner-most center of the camp and the King's tent. The King poured wine and allowed me a single bite before he got to the heart of things. "Goliath, I have a proposition for you." I grunted at this but said nothing. He would have been wiser to have allowed me to finish my meal before speaking. "As I'm certain you've taken note of, we have the Israelis sorely outnumbered." Another grunt, but no more. "If we fight them in force, we will have them beaten in a day and home to our wives within six days."
"I have no wife." This was not always the case, but it is now.
"And our children."
"I have no children." The child that sprung from my woman killed her. That I allowed the boy to live, albeit banned from my sight, was a source of continual unrest for me.
"I thought you might say that."
"What do you want of me, King."
The King sat back, knowing that he had me now. I would do everything I could to stay in the field and away from my loathsome homeland. There was nothing for me there but pain and regret. "I want you to challenge a man of Saul's to a head to head bout. If you kill the man, we take the whole army. If the man kills you -- "
"He will not kill me."
" -- we retreat."
"We will not retreat. But what is the point of this, King? Though I am happy to kill a man or ten-hundred men any day, what is the point of making a show of killing one before taking them all?"
"I believe you overestimate the courage of Saul's men."
"Meaning that I doubt any one in a thousand of them will be willing to stand toe-to-toe with a giant the likes of you; in which case, we could pass weeks or possibly even months here crippling them into surrender."
"If we kill them all, we are out 1000 slaves and I am the king of a wasteland. But if we kill one -- just one -- we are up 999 slaves plus the women they breed with and the stock of their offspring."
So the King's plan and motivation became clear to me. While I personally have little taste for slavery and don't give a damn if the King is King of a wasteland, I am none too keen on the notion of returning 'home' anytime soon.
"I'll do it."
"Thought you might."
"But after the man is cut down, I lead our own men into battle."
At this the King grinned. What yellow-bellied mackerels did he take the Israelis for? Had they not brought an army to fight us in defense of their lands? Surely at least one among them would be willing to fight me, merely one man -- albeit the best man -- of the Philistine force.
But the King was correct. Every day for forty days, I spoke a challenge to the Israelis at first and last light. Every day for forty days, I said to them "Come at me! If there is one among you who can fight and defeat me, my King and his army will leave you in peace. But if one among you fights me and falls, you will become our servants and your lands will become our lands. I defy you, Israel! Give me a champion!" But there was no champion. None among the ranks of trained soldiers stepped forth. Not even King Saul himself dared approach within striking distance of my blade.
I began to become disheartened. While I was well away from the homeland I loathed, without a fight to occupy my limbs and my mind, I began to grow restless, weary, and progressively doubtful that the King's plan would work. Though Israel offered no champion, they showed no signs of surrendering either, seemingly content to live out the remainder of their days overlooking Elah's valley.
I began to hatch a plan of my own. On the morning of the 41st day, if Israel once again failed to produce a champion, I would raise my sword commanding the army behind me to plunge forth and so force their engagement. What I would do or where I would go after they were defeated, I did not know and no longer cared to know. All I knew was that I would not return home victorious with the rest of the men, and that I could not take another without seeing blood.
On the morning of the 41st day, I rose early and led the men in calisthenics, a practice we had come to neglect in our growing complacency. Once every muscle of every man was warm and nimble, we made our way to the front lines and I inwardly prepared myself for battle, of one form or the next. Either Israel would at last produce his champion, I would cut him down and we would then take the rest of them, or we would force engagement and cut them all down. One thing was certain: at least one man was going to…