Category: Inspirational Stories

The story of David and Goliath has been recently retold in an interesting essay by Malcolm Gladwell. It is still a tale of bravery, of heroic faith, of the small defeating the large against what appears to be insurmountable odds. But there are a couple of under-appreciated aspects to the story.

In the 11th century BCE, the people of Israel under King Saul were struggling for survival against the dread Philistines. These marauders from the sea had conquered their way along the Valley of Elah, and were on the verge of dividing Israel in two. David was a mere shepherd boy, bringing food to his brothers, and was not even officially in the army. Goliath was a giant who had been taunting the Israelites to send a champion to fight him. David, hearing the taunts, and seeing no one rise to the occasion, begged King Saul to allow him to fight Goliath. Even in the secular culture, the outcome of this contest is widely known.

And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”
When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.
(from 1 Samuel 17, Holy Bible, English Standard Version)

Traditionally this has seemed almost like a suicide mission. David looks crazy for wanting to do this, and Saul looks even crazier for entrusting the fate of his country to a crazy boy. However, a couple of interesting features are often overlooked.

1. Goliath was weaker than he appeared.

Though he was enormous, and therefore intimidating, certain features of the story indicate that this warrior had acromegaly, a medical problem brought on by a pituitary gland tumor that secretes excessive growth hormone. The pituitary gland sits in the base of the brain, right at the optic chiasm, where nerves from the eyes cross each other on their way to the vision centers at the back of the brain. A tumor here can cause vision loss and double vision. Other symptoms of acromegaly include headaches, weakness, and joint pains.

Goliath was slow, and apparently could not see well. Terrible vision would be an explanation for why he had an armor bearer with him, to lead him around. It explains why he insisted that the opponent come closer. And it might be why he said “why do you come at me with sticks“, when David had only one stick. A pituitary tumor, again, could cause diplopia, or double vision.

As Gladwell observes,
What the Israelites saw, from high on the ridge, was an intimidating giant. In reality, the very thing that gave the giant his size was also the source of his greatest weakness. There is an important lesson in that for battles with all kinds of giants. The powerful and the strong are not always what they seem. (Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 2013)

2. Bringing a gun to a knife fight

Assyrian Slingers at Lachish, from a relief at the British Museum. Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). Used under Creative Commons 4.0 license.

If Goliath could see better, he might have been a bit more nervous when David approached. Perhaps he would have protested the unfairness of doing battle against a projectile warrior; to twist a line from the old musical “West Side Story”: “Who brings a gun to a knife fight?”

The second major point to consider is to realize that we aren’t talking about a children’s slingshot toy. In fact, the sling David used was a deadly projectile weapon. Sling projectiles could find their target from a distance of 400 meters or more, and strike their target with the force of a bullet. Several ancient sources praise slings and their users for their accuracy and strategic importance.

For example, slingers in the army of Artaxerxes II were crucial in beating back a Greek force in 401 BC:

“we were not a whit more able to injure the enemy, while we had considerable difficulty in beating a retreat ourselves. Thank heaven they did not come upon us in any great force, but were only a handful of men; so that the injury they did us was not large, as it might have been; and at least it has served to show us what we need. At present the enemy shoot and sling beyond our range, so that our Cretan archers are no match for them; our hand-throwers cannot reach as far; and when we pursue, it is not possible to push the pursuit to any great distance from the main body, and within the short distance no foot-soldier, however fleet of foot, could overtake another foot-soldier who has a bow-shot the start of him. If, then, we are to exclude them from all possibility of injuring us as we march, we must get slingers as soon as possible and cavalry. I am told there are in the army some Rhodians, most of whom, they say, know how to sling, and their missile will reach even twice as far as the Persian slings (which, on account of their being loaded with stones as big as one’s fist, have a comparatively short range; but the Rhodians are skilled in the use of leaden bullets)”(Xenophon, Anabasis, book III)

Back to young David, it still required a lot of courage and faith to take on the giant. However, the courage wasn’t idiotic, nor the faith blind. This isn’t a crazy loon getting lucky. David’s faith was informed by reason, even cunning. Our faith similarly should be informed by–not divorced from–reason.

As salesman and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once put it: “They looked at Goliath, you know, and figured he was too big to hit. David looked at him and knew he was too big to miss. It’s the way you look at things.” (From Zig Ziglar’s Life Story)

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and victims of the recent tragic shootings at a country music festival in Las Vegas.

Updates are available at all news outlets. Tales of ordinary people acting in heroic ways are beginning to emerge. Business Insider profiles some of them, and they warm the heart. They include a woman with paramedic experience named Dawn-Marie Gray, who tended to the injured and dying:

Dawn-Marie, who worked as a paramedic for about seven years, knew that local paramedics would not be admitted entry until the area was deemed safe. She and her husband turned to the wounded, providing CPR, making tourniquets, and checking for pulses on lifeless bodies.

The couple worked together to load victims into cars en route to the hospital.

“It had nothing to do with being a hero,” Dawn-Marie said. “That’s being a human being.”

A man who lost his home, whose wife and two daughters were killed in the Gatlnburg, TN wildfires, offered a message of forgiveness to the juveniles who lit the fires. Michael Reed wrote the following:

“We will pray for you. Every day. We will pray for your parents and your family members. Every day. We will pray for your peace. We will show you grace. Why? Because that’s what Jesus would do.”

(Read more at CNN.com).

I have felt compelled to highlight a bright spot amid the darkness of Revolutionary Cuba, namely the witness of countless ordinary people who stayed true to their beliefs, and to their Christian faith, in the face of intimidation, imprisonment, and bullets.  Many shouted “Vivo Cristo Rey!” (or “long live Christ the King!”) as they were being executed by Fidel Castro and his henchmen.  One of those who heard these shouts was dissident Armando Valladares, imprisoned by Fidel Castro. Mr. Valladares is himself a remarkable witness who stated:

I am not an extraordinary man, and I am quite ordinary. But God chose me for something quite extraordinary.

Armando Valladares is a poet who in 1960 was jailed as a political prisoner. After his release he later wrote Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag (Encounter Books, 1985). He also has served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

Initially supportive of the Revolution, he had been appointed to a low level position in the new government. Over time he began to have reservations about the human rights abuses of the new regime. He was arrested, for refusing to display a sign on his desk that said, “I’m with Fidel”. He was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment (of which he served 22):

“For me, it meant 8,000 days of hunger, of systematic beatings, of hard labor, of solitary confinement and solitude, 8,000 days of struggling to prove that I was a human being, 8,000 days of proving that my spirit could triumph over exhaustion and pain, 8,000 days of testing my religious convictions, my faith, of fighting the hate my atheist jailers were trying to instill in me with each bayonet thrust, fighting so that hate would not flourish in my heart, 8,000 days of struggling so that I would not become like them.” (Quoted in Richmond Times Dispatch).

With God’s help succeeded, as he later stated: “Even though my body was in prison and being tortured,” Valladares said, “my soul was free, and it flourished. My jailers took everything away from me, but they could not take away my conscience or my faith.” (National Review).

Regarding the executions, Valladares recalled in a Washington Post editorial:

Antagonizing believers is a particular specialty of the Castro regime. To them, faith is especially dangerous, because it kindles the conscience and keeps it burning when enemies advance. “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” were the last words of so many of my friends who were dragged to the shooting wall. Eventually, the government realized this was a battle cry for freedom, one that came from the deepest part of the men they were killing, and one that was only inspiring more men to die faithful to their consciences and to something greater than Fidel Castro. Their executioners realized that an expression of faith was more powerful than the explosion of a gun. So eventually, they gagged them.

The following video is of Mr. Valladares reading a poem that he wrote in prison, using his own blood as ink.  The video is produced by the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, which conferred its “Canterbury Award” upon Mr. Valladares in 2016:

A video that has recently gone viral shows a black woman in Des Moines, IA approaching a white police officer and giving him some food and water, and a hug. The background of this incident is the Nov 2 ambush and murder of two police officers, Sgt. Tony Beminio and Officer Justin Martin, while they were sitting in their patrol cars. Their funerals are scheduled to be held today and tomorrow in their respective Iowa communities.

The woman in the video, Courtney Bach, was not aware that she was being filmed. The tragedy had hit home for her in two ways: she lived near slain officer Martin, and also she is the daughter of a police captain.

“God says to do good and love your neighbor – that means everybody,” Bach said.She said she’s tried to stay off social media because the response has been so overwhelming.”

I feel like the act doesn’t deserve attention because it should be expected from everyone,” Bach said. “It shouldn’t be a surprise.”

You may read more, and watch the video, at KCCI.com.

Ten years ago, on an October day in Nickel Mines, PA, a man named Charles Roberts who was “angry at life and angry with God” according to accounts at the time, crept into a one room schoolhouse.  He took ten girls hostage, and then shot them, before killing himself.  Five of them died, and the rest were seriously injured.

Almost immediately, the devastated Amish community sought to forgive the deceased perpetrator, and to reach out with compassion to the family of Mr. Roberts.  As reported by NPR“Several families, Amish families who had buried their own daughters just the day before were in attendance and they hugged the widow, and hugged other members of the killer’s family.”  The Amish later donated money to his widow and children.

In a further twist–like the old idea of “paying it forward”–that love and embrace has spread. Terri Roberts, the mother of Mr. Roberts, has in turn helped those whom her son victimized. She has become a part time caretaker of an Amish girl named Rosanna, who was neurologically devastated by a gunshot wound to the head.  (As reported in New York Daily News).

This “Amish grace” shocked the nation almost as much as the horrific crime out of which it manifested.  Though many still struggle at times, the Amish families were able to endure thanks to their strong community and the deep faith that permeates their day-to-day lives.   In this, they are exemplars to all of us.

I am reporting today a small silver lining in an otherwise very dark time for Haiti. We are told that the death toll stands north of 800 people as 145 mph winds destroyed buildings and uprooted trees in this tiny island nation. Within a day of the terror inflicted by Hurricane Matthew on one of the poorest of nations, Christian agencies are already on the ground trying to help.

Christian groups are at the fore of early relief efforts as Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful hurricane to hit the United States in a decade, brings storm surges and lashings of rain to Florida after killing at least 339 people in Haiti. (Christian Today)

The article mentions Christian Aid and the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief as two organizations already mobilized and working alongside the Red Cross/Red Crescent. Other news articles have mentioned “Samaritan Purse” and “LiveBeyond” as agencies already involved. I am aware of other churches entering into the relief efforts.

Our thoughts and prayers for protection go out to the people of Haiti, Cuba, Bahamas, as well as our own brethren in Florida, and the eastern seaboard of the US. If you are interested in contributing, contact your local church or one of the aid organizations mentioned above, for suggestions on how to help these relief efforts.

In Townville, South Carolina Wednesday more than 1000 mourners said farewell to a boy clad in a batman costume. The guests also came dressed as Wonder women, Power Rangers, Batman, and Captain America. The unusual event has captured briefly the attention of the world, as this story has made into news outlets as far away as Europe.

The deceased, Jacob Hall, was a nine year shooting victim who loved superheroes. His life was tragically cut short last week by a murderous teen who shot him in the leg at a school playground. The older youth (who is now in custody) had also earlier shot and killed his own father.

The Toronto Star reported that one of his friends called Jacob a “sweet boy who knew a lot about Jesus”. At the funeral, pastor David Blizzard had this to say:
“He’d say, ‘Mama, forgive that boy and love him like Jesus loves him because Jesus loves him.’ That’s exactly what Jacob would probably say.”

It sounds as though this young man was indeed a little superhero. We presume that he rests now in the arms of Jesus.

Ground Zero Cross

Few events have shocked us more than the coordinated attacks that occurred on Sept 11, 2001. Terrorists commandeered four airplanes and slammed them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and into the Pentagon building in Washington, DC; a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. In the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, some found solace in a cross made of steel I-beams, an accidental symbol of God’s presence and comfort, that was uncovered in the rubble.

On Sept 13, two days after the towers collapsed, a recovery worker discovered the cross:

He had just helped pull three bodies from the rubble when he saw it there in dawn’s first light, standing in a sea of debris. A heavenly symbol in a hellish setting. A cross.

Exhausted and traumatized by his labors, the man dropped to his knees in tears. “It was a sign,” Frank Silecchia would recall, “a sign that God hadn’t deserted us.” (USA Today)

The “9-11 cross” became a symbol of hope and encouragement for many. Some made pilgrimages to pray before it, and left messages there. Makeshift worship services were held there.

One minister at the site says that when a family of a man who died in the attacks came to the cross shrine and left personal effects there, “It was as if the cross took in the grief and loss. I never felt Jesus more.”
(Cited by Wikipedia; the original article is no longer available).

After a few weeks in its original location, the cross was hoisted up onto a pedestal. A Roman Catholic Priest, Brian Jordan, blessed the makeshift monument and proclaimed, “This is our symbol of hope, our symbol of faith, our symbol of healing.” Jordan had lost a friend on 9-11, and had been struggling to cope with questions of why God had allowed this to happen. Like the worker who discovered it, the cross struck him also as being a message from God.

Today that cross, having survived a challenge from the American Atheists, is on display in the 9-11 Museum. For those of the Christian persuasion, it is part of an answer to the question, “where was God?” He was (and is) right there, with us, in the midst of suffering and death.

I am startled to realize that it has been over a month since I last posted anything on this blog. I have had good intentions of commenting on some major issues that have arisen lately. However, I have found that my time has become consumed by other work, and the preparation for (and enjoyment of) a family vacation. Here are a couple of things.

1. The Olympics: Had I been more on task last month, I would have posted something about the faith statements of Olympians. Many of the greatest athletes in the world are also giants of spirit. They are Olympians of faith. We certainly appreciate them. For all people, whether or not you posses athletic prowess, there’s nothing better than to aspire to be an Olympian of faith. That is something attainable by the smallest, the slowest, the oldest, and the sickest among us.

2. Kayla Mueller: The recent publicity about Kayla Mueller, the aid worker who was kidnapped by ISIS, is another story worth telling. At the end of her life, she found an inner strength through her faith in God that allowed her to withstand unimaginable tortures. Her strength earned the respect of her fellow prisoners as well as her captors. Her faith prior to capture is a topic of some mystery. She once said something to the effect that some people find God in a church, but she found God in adversity, and her own life certainly demonstrates this. Our admiration is added to that of others, as she takes her eternal place among the great martyrs and heroes of the Christian faith.

If I get more time soon I may revisit these stories. For now I commend them to you for further research and reflection.