David and the Goliath is one of the most well-known and beloved stories of the Hebrew scripture. It is an adventure story which seems to be aimed at every child who can hardly wait to grow up and do something so brave, and skillful and important that they become heroic.
When the story begins, it emphasizes how small and insignificant David is. His brothers are soldiers in the army, but he, the youngest, is still just a shepherd at home. He is sent to bring cheese sandwiches to his older brothers in the army as it faces off against the Philistines. And when he gets to the camp, he discovers that the whole army is paralyzed with fear of one Philistine fighter, a giant named Goliath.
David volunteers to fight Goliath, which is crazy. But David figures he has fought lions and bears as a shepherd, so he can fight Goliath. So the army suits him up with armor, but it is too big for him to even walk in. David goes to fight Goliath with a sling and five smooth stones, the weapons of a shepherd boy.
He wins, and Goliath is slain, and little David is a hero.
The story is an exciting adventure story, but it also had, for the people who first heard, three important messages. Even today, the messages ring true to us.
The first was that the small can defeat the large. The ancient Hebrews, who first told this story, were a small people in a small kingdom, surrounded by more powerful empires, Goliaths. So, it was good news that the small can win a battle against the large. It is still good news, for every underdog.
The second lesson of the story was about their first King, David. The shepherd boy David would grow up to be their first and greatest king. He would be the king against which all other kings would be compared.
Every quality that made David a great King could be seen when he was just a shepherd boy. He was brave, resourceful, and clever. The adults in David's world gave him a chance to take on a task that seemed too big for him, yet he succeeded. The lesson is that great leaders can come from anywhere. There are great leaders among the people we think are least likely to have that potential. But they need a chance to show what they can do.
And the third lesson was that David's bravery came from his confidence that he was fighting for God's honor, and that God was on his side. To our ears, this may sound misguided and even arrogant. But, don't we, as Unitarian Universalists, believe something similar? We believe that when people stand up and fight for what is right, the justice of their cause should make them braver. The 19th century Unitarian minister, Theodore Parker, said, "The arc of the Universe is long, but it bends toward justice." He, too, believed that there was some deep and powerful force in the Universe that stands behind the weak and the small when they fight against the more powerful. The story of David and Goliath, the little shepherd boy who defeated the most powerful warrior in the world, asks us, "Where would we find such courage?"