Sunday, October 13, 2013

The future King

Whatever you think of the fellow, Malcolm Gladwell certainly has an ear for an interesting story and fine delivery, not to mention a keen intuition for dissonance.

And so it was that he, somehow, began to open up the story of Goliath of Geth, and his death not quite at the hand of King Saul's servant the court musician, David son of Jesse of Bethlehem, a young shepherd. The battle of the Elah in the war of the Philistines and the Israelites was never joined, for neither force could find acceptable terrain from which to strike; and so to break this stalemate, the Philistines proposed a trial by single combat and sent forth the giant; none of Israel's army dared singly approach this monster, save David; and when David had toppled him, all the host of the Philistines fled.

I don't propose to tell you Gladwell's telling of the tale; rather, I found that it raises the interesting questions (which he doesn't address) of Why did they flee? and Why is this story recorded and remembered among David's accomplishments?

One of the key differences between King Saul and King David is the David's personal humility in the Kingship. Saul angers the Lord by turning the Kingship into a means for his own personal glory: trying to keep the king of the Amalechites as a pet, for instance; counting the Israelites so as to boast of how great his kingdom is; presuming on his royal authority to insinuate himself among the cohenim. David, in contrast, is humble. When David offers sacrifice, it is as King of Jerusalem, "in the line of Melchizedek"; in the household of King Saul he does not put himself forward, but awaits his assigned tasks, in which tasks Saul sees that the Lord is with David; even the way David does later fall into abusing his kingship — it is heinous, and yet it is done as privately as can be, doing nothing to advance David in glory; and in the Elah, facing Goliath, again it becomes clear (in my case, with Gladwell's help) that David, unlike Goliath, is not in this fight for any glory.

Goliath for the Philistines proposed a duel, a wrestling match, "pistols at dawn". His compatriots look up to him (not just that he's tall), and he is clearly eager to triumph over whatever champion Israel might send to him. He has no idea what he is getting into. He is the fruit of a culture that prizes a warrior skilled in his art, a culture that reads divine approbation in divinely appointed outcomes, and reads every battle as a battle of the little gods because it has no God. David, the shepherd, cares nothing for this nonsense, and gives no honour to battle for its own sake nor to warriors for war's sake; the Philistines (like the Klingons) would say he has no honour; in a twist of modern usage, today's bloodsport aesthetes would call David a philistine of the arena. David is not in the fight to triumph over Goliath, but merely to win for God's chosen people. He doesn't put God to the test, he doesn't seek his own glory or protect his warriors' honour, but only makes durn sure that he wins.

The Philistines flee because they see that these people fight dirty. These people have no fear of the gods who come and go for warriors' valour or to avenge poor sporting. They will keep on fighting however they can whatever befall, just to stay where they are. And clearly the little gods have no power over them, for here they still are in spite of all the bad luck and dishonour they're plainly heaping on themselves. What else can be done with them?


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