Sunday, June 14, 2015

I Samuel 17: Already Equipped

David and Goliath. It's one of the Biblical references that has entered secular culture. A smaller business takes on a corporate giant...David and Goliath. An unranked sports team enters the athletic arena against a national championship team...David and Goliath. A handful of protesters halt production at a manufacturing facility...David and Goliath. There is no shortage of images depicting the lectionary reading from Hebrew scripture for Proper 7B/Ordinary 12B/Pentecost 4 (I Samuel 17).

Usually it is the battle between the shepherd and the giant that speaks to artists. Hulking giants that make the shepherd seem frail by comparison. The giant in a stone-assisted face plant. The sword that is ultimately the instrument of death for its owner. The Art&Faith Matters Facebook page will highlight some of those this week.

But there are other parts of the story, and one episode in particular offers us insight that may be especially helpful in our own times, when more and bigger seem to be considered better. In verses 38 and 39 Saul tries to give David his armor. The armor has protected Saul, has brought him victory, has given him an edge in battle. He wants to share that with this shepherd who has agreed to face Goliath on behalf of the nation. So David tries. He puts on the helmet and sword and other pieces.
Folio 28r. Morgan Bible (Paris, France). 1240s. Morgan Library, NYC. 
The progression of the story is told in the page of the Morgan Bible above. In the upper left David volunteers to face Goliath. In the upper right, David is given Saul's armor, including his helmet. It fits surprisingly well in the picture, given that Saul is almost twice David's height. But in the end, the armor is just too much. David isn't used to it. So he takes it off. And that may be the most humorous illustration.

David may one day be the greatest king of Israel, but here he looks like every person who has flailed around as they are trapped in a garment they are trying to remove. His head has disappeared and his hands are grasping at the excess chain mail, trying to pull it over his head. You can see the bump his head is making about halfway "up" the head covering. While the armor appeared to fit him in the upper right illustration, here we see how awkward David would be trying to fight in armor that is not his.

And that appears to be the point. David was equipped by God with the necessary skills to accomplish the task he was called to do. Trying to be someone else, trying to wear someone else's clothing (even protective armor) is simply a hindrance. When David sticks with what he knows, when he sticks with what God has given him, then it works.

The Dutch drawing below depicts the next part of the story. David has removed the armor and it sits like a pile of recyclables. Saul stands taller than the rest of the men with David at the right, gesturing at the pile. He acknowledges the thought behind the gift but understands (and announces) that he will leave the armor there. In a pile. Goliath won't be felled by armor but by God. It's a decision that David makes even before the battle begins. And in that decision lies the victory.
David Rejects Saul's Armor. Circle/School of Rembrandt. c. 1655. Drawing. British Museum, London.

For thoughts on the Gospel reading (Jesus calming the storm) Mark 4:35-41, click here.

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