The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7), June 23, 2024

May 15, 2024 | by Gabrie'l Atichson

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
1 Sam 17:32-49 Psalm 9:9-20 2 Cor 6:1-13 Mark 4:35-41

As a student in Divinity School, I absolutely fell in love with the story of Jonah. The story of Jonah has some fast-paced action, some humor, and a deep message. Reading the Bible from the lens of literary criticism helped me appreciate many of the stories that are often flattened into simple Sunday School lessons. Like Jonah and the “big fish,” the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17), found in this week’s lessons is interesting and rich with meaning.

In 1 Samuel 17, David is a young man having his first opportunity to demonstrate his legitimacy as a leader. The story also helps us to understand exactly what God sees in David that led to his anointing earlier in the story.

We learn that Goliath is six cubits and a span tall. There are different accounts about the conversion rate of cubits to feet; however, we can feel certain that Goliath is a very large man. In addition to his size, Goliath is known for being a champion. He is so confident in his ability to win any battle that he wages the freedom of his own people. Goliath stands at the battle line between the Philistines and the Israelites and challenges the Israelites to choose one man to fight him. He says, “If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects, but if I overcome and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” (1 Samuel 17:9). Goliath’s bluster was frightening to Saul and all the Israelites.

In sharp contrast to Goliath’s behavior, we find David tending to the sheep. When David overhears Goliath’s threats, he tells his brothers and the rest of the men not to be afraid. Finally, David tells Saul to send him into the battle. When he is discouraged by Saul, David explains that he had to battle lions and bears in his protection of the sheep and God protected him at those times. These victories make David believe that God would help him win the fight against Goliath as well.

Saul reluctantly supports David. Even the armor Saul provides David with is too big. So, David goes into the battle with no armor. Our hero, vulnerable and small, takes down Goliath with a slingshot and a few small stones. David explains, “the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands!” (1 Samuel 17:47b)

It might be challenging for contemporary Christians, who often connect their faith to ideals of peace activism, to relate to military victories in the Bible. However, it can be helpful to relate David’s battle to the spiritual and emotional battles we all experience in life. There is a lesson about being strong of character, having faith and being bold. We can move through the world with the confidence that God will make us victorious. We can face whatever the world dishes out if we rely on God.

Gabrie’l J. Atchison earned an M.A. in Religion from Yale Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from Clark University. She is an adjunct professor of Gender Studies, a blogger, and an author. Dr. Atchison is the editor of Environment and Religion in Feminist-Womanist, Queer, and Indigenous Perspectives a series by Lexington Books. She is author of Are You The Unchurched?: How to Develop a Relationship with God Inside or Outside of Church and a co-author of More to this Confession: Relational Prison Theology with Chris Barbera. She is a contributor to Preaching the Uncontrolling Love of God, Edited by Jeff Wells, Thomas Jay Oord, et. al. and The Creation Care Bible Challenge, Edited by Marek P. Zabriskie. She lives in Buffalo, New York with her dog, Jack.