Family Devotional 5: David and Gladwell…The Illiterate Giant


Series: King David: Man of Passions & God of Grace

Family Devotional, Week 5: David and Gladwell…The Illiterate Giant

Every once and awhile a secular voice comes along to tell an ancient story with a modern spin, whereupon, all of the sudden, that ancient story is worth listening to. Popular author and sociologist Malcolm Gladwell is that voice telling that story, which is indeed getting renewed attention from believers and unbelievers alike. The following video was posted by a leader of a Bible school in Youth With A Mission. I encourage you to watch it together as a family and consider the following discussion.

Incidentally, I have read every book ever written by Malcolm Gladwell, and as a sociologist he is intriguing and his arguments are somewhat persuasive, though not immune to criticism.

Anyone who has read his Outliers will see what he is trying to do with the David vs. Goliath story, and that is, attempting to humanize the hero by showing other factors, the “real” factors, beneath the surface that went in to David’s success. By making heroes human, so it goes with Gladwell, we can all become heroes.

But I do think there is a problem with Gladwell’s interpretation. It is one of the problems that I came across in seminary as a trend in contemporary biblical scholarship. It is the problem, I believe, of people using the history to interpret the Bible rather than the Bible to interpret history. In other words, to understand the “real” meaning of the text, we need an expert to access a bunch of extrabiblical literature to explain what is otherwise cloaked in a shroud of history. So, for Gladwell, David was not the hero Israel could not live without, but of course Gladwell is the hero we could not interpret without.


When we approach the Bible, we are not asking, “What can history tell us about the facts in the Bible?” Rather, we are asking, “What can the Bible tell us about the truth of history?” Why? Because the Bible is not just concerned with history, it is concerned with eternity; it is not just concerned with humankind, it is concerned with God himself. To speak of eternity and of God requires more than mere history. It is one thing for a man in history to rise from the grave. It is quite another for that anomaly to award those who believe the same anomaly unto eternal life. So is the Bible historical? Kind of.  It is, in fact, suprahistorical (i.e., it transcends history). Therefore, we have to let the text say what it wants to say.

What does the text want to say? What does the text itself give us? (1) A giant who was successfully intimidating all Israel, so in the mind of the audience in the text, at least, he was more than just a lumbering nincompoop; (2) so frightening was he, indeed, that Saul, a giant in his own right according to the text (a head taller than all the Israelites!), was wetting himself at Goliath’s appearance (though we’ve been warned already in the text about judging by mere appearances); and (3) David, who in his own words would be able to take down the giant not because he was a skilled slinger, not because he was a hero, but because the Lord would deliver this uncircumcised Philistine into his hands, just like he had delivered the lion and the bear into David’s hands, a triumph about which Gladwell had nothing to say. One wonders what he would say about, for example, Shamgar’s triumphs with the ox goad, Samson’s triumph with a donkey jaw, Moses’ triumph with a staff, Jesus’ corpse’ triumph with death.

The text has a clear agenda that is on a certain trajectory from the beginning of 1 Samuel (before and after, in fact): the Lord is the one who determines Israel’s victories or defeats. Period. That is what the text is trying to say. That is the Bible’s interpretation of history, and its agenda is to inspire faith in you and me, faith that we can trust in the God who is able to give us victory in the most impossible odds. Gladwell is indeed right to humanize David, but he need not dwarfize Goliath. David was not a hero because of his inner-Goliath nor because of Goliath’s inner-Joe Pesci. David was a hero because he knew he was not a hero–and that God was a hero. Yes, God is a hero, and I hope through the story of David and Goliath your faith is inspired to believe just that!

Reflection Questions / Challenges: 

  • The secular world generally cares nothing about the Bible, but when it does have something to say, whether it is said in a positive or negative light, it always begins with a presupposition that with which no biblical author begins. That presupposition: the God whom the text is about does not really exist (or He does not exist as the text suggests he exists). Beginning with that, it makes sense that they would give us a depiction of a given biblical story from a naturalist perspective, and often with compelling arguments. Sometimes they can help to validate the Bible’s history while simultaneously invalidating the Bible’s message.
    • When discussing or debating with unbelievers, is it the Christian’s responsibility to try to prove the Bible on their terms?
    • Do we have a responsibility to defend the Bible in the realms of science and history?
    • If so, how do we do so without suggesting that we are an authority over the Bible, rather than the truth of the matter, that the Bible is an authority over us?
    • And ultimately, isn’t the model we see throughout the Bible itself to declare the truth of God and then to trust God with the results (cf. 1 Cor. 1-2)?
  • David believed God determined his successes and/or failures, such that throughout his life he asked God for success or salvation from failure. His reference point for viewing the world was God. If God is, then all is possible.
    • In a culture that is constructed on the assumption that God is not, how can we avoid constructing our homes and operating our lives as though that were true?
    • How can we avoid buying into the value system necessary in a godless world (health, wealth and prosperity above sacrifice, generosity, and the well-being of others above self, which is the value system of the Kingdom of God that bears witness to the truth of God’s existence and furthermore provision)?

A Psalm of David: 

  • Psalm 27

Closing Prayer: 

  • Father in heaven, open our eyes to see the world through your Word, because we are so prone to seeing your Word through “our” world. Increase our faith in you, because in you and you alone can we have victory in life and in death. Show us the fleeting hopes that our world presents us for what they are, and place in our vision the ultimate hope–the hope of glory–as the guiding hope in all our pursuits, so that you would be glorified in our lives!



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