Why Goliath Lost to David

One of the most beloved stories in the Biblical text has to be David and Goliath! Like most people, I have found a profound sense of inspiration in the story of a shepherd boy who defeats the giant and seemingly unconquerable Goliath. The story can be found in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament book of Samuel. As we have come to know it the narrative and outcome epitomizes an underdog’s victory over an “impossible” opponent. To make the ending more profoundly inspirational, that underdog would go on to be one of the most celebrated Kings of the ancient Israelites. The secular meaning that denotes David’s victory over Goliath is justifiable in the post-Classical Jewish and Christian traditions: it represents God’s/Jesus’/the Church’s victory over evil.

David facing off Goliath in their famous bout!

Here’s a summary of the historical bout! King Saul and the Israelites were facing the Philistines in the Valley of Elah. The Philistines’ greatest warrior, Goliath, made his challenge to single combat for any Israelite who was brave enough. No one in Saul’s army dared to step up. However, a shepherd boy by the name of David volunteered to the challenge. The King reluctantly agreed and offered his armor to the boy, who declines, and instead took his staff, sling and five stones into the battlefield. Goliath was amused by this unworthy opponent and ridiculed him. David, poised and fearless, hurled a stone from his sling with all his might and hit Goliath in the centre of his forehead. The giant fell to the ground and David cut off his head. In  utter shock and fear, the Philistines fled the battlefield and were pursued by the Israelite army. David was, and still is, hailed as a hero.

Michelangelo’s depiction of David and Goliath.

Who wouldn’t fall in love with this story? We see such cases play out in modern times. We saw it when Muhammad Ali knocked out the undefeated, much younger Champion George Foreman in their famous 1974 bout. We saw it again 16 years later when an “unknown” heavyweight boxer Buster Douglas caused one of the greatest upsets in sports history by knocking out the undisputed and perceptibly indestructible Mike Tyson. We fall in love with underdog victories because it arouses our imagination and defies our beliefs on the impossible. We may not always side with them at the outset, but we always fall for them at their victorious end.

In that respect, we could classify David as an Outlier. However, from my previous post what we have learnt is that outliers are not what they appear to be.We bring Malcolm Gladwell into this conversation to help us understand what really happened on that historic day in the Valley of Elah. No doubt that David is one of the great King-warriors of classical Hebrew times. But what happened on that battlefield can be disapproved, according to Gladwell, as an underdog victory. The answers can be found reading between the lines of the scriptures of the book of Samuel, added with new-found scientific evidence. What Gladwell and other researchers have concluded is that, contrary to popular belief, David may well have had an upper hand – and Goliath’s apparent source of strength (i.e. his physiology), may well have been the very weakness that led to his demise.

Watch Gladwell’s TED Talk on the untold story of David and Goliath!

Papama Nyati.


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