Popular author Malcolm Gladwell took to the Bible in his best-selling book (2013) David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. I picked up the book after watching his TED Talk on the subject, in which he basically summarizes the Introduction to the book.
I read the book straight through and think it worth anybody’s time and effort for the way he invites us to interpret events with fresh eyes. It is one long exercise in counter-intuitive thinking. Not just about the two biblical characters, but also about class size in school, dyslexia, growing up with one versus two parents, family income, murder, civil rights, and (of all things) Vietnam!
Gladwell urges us “to look at the shepherd and the giant and understand where power and advantage really lie” (294). Goliath was big, cumbersome, and suffering from acromegaly, a disease caused by a benign tumor of the pituitary gland—so Gladwell contends. Which made the giant very near-sighted and dependent upon his servant who, the biblical narrative states, went ahead of Goliath. Goliath called upon the small shepherd boy to come close and fight him with the heavy hand weapons.
David, on the other hand, was agile, quick, and accurate with one of the deadliest weapons of antiquity: the sling.
We normally think of Goliath as having the advantage and of David as being in decided disadvantage; but this may not have been the case, and long before Gladwell noticed this, David himself surely did. David’s bravery was centered in his keen assessment of his clear advantage…as well as his confidence in the Lord God.
In other words, contrary to most readers, teachers, and preachers (and I fall into all three categories!), it was Goliath that was in danger of failure rather than David. None of the hillside observers of this contest understood this, neither the Israelites on one side of the Wadi Sorrek nor the Philistines on the other. We are not alone in our habit of failing to see things as they are.
Nowhere is this reversal of perspective on who is strong and who is weak more relevant than in the emerging race for the White House. By which I mean: is Donald Trump the giant or the shepherd?
His critics, including me, see him as the giant: rude, crude, and morally unacceptable, lumbering along with all the wrong tools of the trade, blind to reality and easy pickings for any young fool with clarity of mind, nimbleness of foot, and accuracy of aim. He is a sitting duck for the right slingshot, so to speak.
There are many spectators on the ridges in all directions who see things this way. They are cheering on the band of shepherds that have come from every farm and village to sling their political stones in the direction of the Donald.
But is this way it is?
Perhaps not. Perhaps Mr. Trump is the shepherd, appearing out of nowhere with a strange set of political tools, without training or support, equipped only with the nerve to take on the most familiar giants of traditional politics. Perhaps Donald is the one who refuses to play by the rules, who understands how vulnerable are the foes that, like Goliath of old, prance around the political landscape and taunt the newcomer with condescending curses.
This is certainly the way the Tribe of Trump interprets the situation. They see Trump as unconventional, lethal, anointed by God—not religious himself, but an open channel through which flows not only their own religious ambitions but also the very power of God. They anticipate another stunning victory over a domineering secular power led by irreligious elites bent on crushing the Christian republic the Tribe still thinks is the last best hope of humankind.
They dance in exultation as he picks up his political stones and takes aim at evolution, homosexuality, abortion, Muslims who hate Israel, and Europeans who have turned their back on Jesus. Nothing else matters: not the environment, not the immigrant, not poverty or education or equality under the law—only the defiant blow to the American version of the modern secular state that doesn’t bow the knee to Jesus.
Yes, Malcolm Gladwell has given me a new perspective on the political struggle of our day, one rooted in a familiar story that I had long thought I understood. It just may be, as he contends, the counter-intuitive perspective so badly needed today.