David and Goliath – A Profoundly Humanitarian Death Match
I doubt many of us would use the word “humanitarian” to describe the story of David and Goliath. In fact, many people would relegate the story to the more shameful bits of the Bible that glorify violence – to be kept only for its value as a children’s story. This impulse is valid, expressing frustration with sacred texts that seem to glorify violence when the teachings of our faith and our Lord Jesus are clearly against violence (toward other people, at least; personal property is a different story, as seen in the cleansing of the temple). But another part of this aversion to a supposedly more violent part of the First Testament is simply puffed-up, elitist snobbery that serves to make us feel superior to others (in the past or present).
At a moment when two nations are at war, there could hardly be a more humanitarian outcome than exercising single combat, like David and Goliath: have only one soldier from each side fight and risk death, and let the rest return home safely to their loved ones. In their case, only Goliath must die, rather than hundreds or thousands on each side. One might argue that the Israelites shouldn’t have pursued the Philistines following their victory, or that the authors of the text shouldn’t glorify David’s killing of another human, but that’s besides the point: for the Israelites living under Saul’s rule, this moment was a moment of profound celebration, because many lives that could have been lost were saved (and on both sides of the battlefield, no less!).
Many of us might like to think that we are more advanced or civilized than to descend this far into violence and war, but to do so would be to be a mistake: just because we are not used to seeing violence ourselves does not mean our tax dollars, our votes, our political influence is not all part of a system of violence far more egregious than that of David’s single combat with Goliath. We are not more “advanced” than other people around the globe who witness violence firsthand, who rejoice that their lives have been spared by some hero; we are simply the privileged few who live lives so far removed from violence that we forget it to be a part of our human nature.
As a Christian who is committed to a stance of nonviolence, I recognize the oddity of doing what may seem like an attempt to normalize bloodshed. This is anything but. If there is one thing that allows violence to continue in our world far beyond the point when it should be exposed and rooted out, it is the ignorance and naivete of people like myself who are too privileged to notice what’s going on in the world, so often to make us comfortable. Whether it’s the over-policing and mass incarceration of black and brown communities in our own country, proxy wars fought between great powers like the ones brewing between China and the U.S., or a seemingly endless conflict funded by U.S. tax dollars in Israel and Palestine, those like myself who live comfortable middle-class lives are the ones in whose name all this violence is being perpetrated.
I wish the death toll could be limited to just one. But sadly, it is not. As Christians, let us not be naive, looking down at sacred texts that make us confront historical bloodshed while refusing to consider the real and present-day violence perpetrated in our own names. Instead, if we are turned off by this story of violence, let it spurn us to greater action to work for God’s peace in our world today.