David vs. Goliath: the Campaign Ad by Sandie Gravett

When people look at Michelangelo’s David, few see the shepherd boy described in 1Sam 17 or in countless children’s stories. Although certainly youthful, this David’s impressive physique and confident bearing combine with a forceful expression to capture the moment he makes the decision to take on the warrior Goliath. He looks composed and resolute—like a future king—and in this presentation he becomes a representative of the republic of Florence and a protector of that city.

Though not sculpted in marble, the biblical David is also definitely shaped into the image of an ideal king. Nowhere does the construction of his legend show as clearly as in the mythical tale of David and Goliath. Set in a time of war, with opposing armies camped on different hillsides (1Sam 17:1-3), the story of the daily goading of the powerful Philistine (1Sam 17:8-10) builds a tense atmosphere (1Sam 17:11, 1Sam 17:16). A terrified Israel cowers and no one steps forward to meet the challenge. The boy David emerges as a hero not because of his stature or his strength. In fact, the story goes to great lengths to demonstrate that he lacks both by presenting him as physically incapable of wearing the mantle, helmet, armor, or sword of King Saul (1Sam 17:38-39). Instead, he comes to victory with meager tools (1Sam 17:40) along with the bravado of youth and a strong conviction that God will deliver Israel (1Sam 17:46-47).

Much like the short films now used to introduce presidential candidates to the American voting public, the encounter with the champion Goliath initiates a campaign narrative for David that extends until he becomes king of all Israel (2Sam 5:1-5). This story transforms David into the embodiment of an idealized Israel—courageous, faithful, and trusting that a small nation could be victorious over its far more powerful neighbors. Such political stories often take on a mythic hue. The legend of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree, for instance, serves to underscore the importance of an honest character in the office of the president. Here, David’s exemplary bravery inaugurates a storyline of destiny. Who other than such a man should rule Israel?

More critical readers recognize the apocryphal nature of this tale. Not only is it one of two accounts of how David came into the service of Saul (the other being as a musician, 1Sam 16:18-23), it also conflicts with 2Sam 21:19, which states that a fighter named Elhanan defeated Goliath in a different battle. In order to depose a successful sitting king and all of his heirs, David needed a compelling biography. Here, he gets it by demonstrating prowess in the art of war (see 1Sam 18:5-8, 1Sam 18:30 also). Further, he wins the right to marry into the family of the king (1Sam 17:25, 1Sam 18:17-29).

For the biblical writers, David becomes not only the first true king but also the model for what all kings should be and what the Messiah will be. The backstory they create underscores that role by showing that David, like Israel, can slay giants against all odds.

Sandie Gravett, "David vs. Goliath: the Campaign Ad", n.p. [cited 17 May 2022]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/passages/related-articles/david-vs-goliath-the-campaign-ad


Sandie Gravett

Sandie Gravett
Professor, Appalachian State University

Sandie Gravett is a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Appalachian State University. Her research focuses on the intersection of biblical materials with contemporary culture.

Evaluating its subject carefully, rigorously, and with minimal preconceptions. "Critical" religious scholarship contrasts with popular and sectarian studies.

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

1Sam 17

David and Goliath
1Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Aze ... View more

1Sam 17:1-3

David and Goliath
1Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Aze ... View more

1Sam 17:8-10

8He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a ma ... View more

1Sam 17:11

11When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

1Sam 17:16

16For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.

1Sam 17:38-39

38Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail.39David strapped Saul's sword over the armor, and he ... View more

1Sam 17:40

40Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd's bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, a ... View more

1Sam 17:46-47

46This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army ... View more

2Sam 5:1-5

David Anointed King of All Israel
1Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh.2For some time, while Saul ... View more

1Sam 16:18-23

18One of the young men answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a warrior, prudent in speech, and a ma ... View more

2Sam 21:19

19Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose s ... View more

1Sam 18:5-8

5David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved.6As ... View more

1Sam 18:30

30Then the commanders of the Philistines came out to battle; and as often as they came out, David had more success than all the servants of Saul, so that his fa ... View more

1Sam 17:25

25The Israelites said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. The king will greatly enrich the man who kills him, and wi ... View more

1Sam 18:17-29

David Marries Michal
17Then Saul said to David, “Here is my elder daughter Merab; I will give her to you as a wife; only be valiant for me and fight the Lord's ... View more

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