Every now and then a student says something that impacts me.  Cole Ballard, son of Indianapolis Colts general manager incidentally, told me about this book by Malcolm Gladwell.  Saying that he really does not read at all and that this book really captured his attention, I was curious.  Plus the title definitely caught my attention as well.

The first part of the book caught my attention very quickly as it was discussing the battle between David and Goliath.  It did so because it was attempting to explain that the battle’s result was obvious and that God needn’t be involved at all.  As this goes against everything I learned in Sunday School it was a hard sell, but regardless, it was compelling. 

It said that ancient armies had 3 three kinds of warriors.  First was cavalry – armed men on horseback or chariots.  Second was infantry – foot soldiers carrying swords and armor and shields.  Third were the projectile warriors – today we might call them artillery – archers and slingers. (Gladwell p23)

Slinging seems like a nearly impossible task.  But Gladwell says that in a good slinger’s hands it was a devastating weapon.  Rocks or lead balls that could hit a bird in mid flight or a coin from as far away as one could see it. (Gladwell p23)  If one was skilled and experienced one could kill or seriously wound someone up to two hundred yards.  There were even special tools that had been developed to remove stones which had been embedded in some poor guy’s body.

The three kinds of warriors balanced one another out – buffs to nerfs if you will or rock, paper, scissors.  Infantry could stand against cavalry with their long pikes.  Cavalry could maul projectile warriors.  Projectile warriors were deadly versus infantry. 

Goliath is heavy infantry and believes that he will battle in one on one combat with another infantry soldier.  When he tells David to come to him so that he can whip his behind, blah-blah, the most important thing is he says “come to me.” Goliath wants to go toe to toe and fight at close quarters.  Saul thought the same thing as he is attempting to put heavy armor on David, but David has no intention of playing Goliath’s game.  He tells Saul that he is going to kill Goliath in the same manner he has killed wild animals, making it quite clear that he is going to fight as a projectile warrior.

He runs at Goliath, because he can, not encumbered with all that heavy gear and picks up a stone and starts whipping it around and around.  Six or seven revolutions per second.  There were studies done that a typical sized stone from thirty-five meters would have hit Goliath’s forehead at thirty-four meters per second, which is plenty fast enough to penetrate his skull and render him unconscious.  In terms of stopping power, these speeds would be comparable to a fair-sized modern handgun. Force = mass(speed squared). 

Goliath is standing there all filled with bluster and scorn, but that had to have rapidly turned into abject horror as he realized that the battle he expected was not to be.

45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This 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 host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”
1 Samuel 17: 45-47

Notice how he speaks of sword and spear two times?  This was to make it clear that his intentions for this battle were very, very different.  Those watching the battle at this point would not  have considered David’s victory improbable.  Rock, paper, scissors – in the world of ancient warfare, slingers beat infantry, hands down.

Goliath had as much chance as a bronze age warrior did against an opponent armed with a .45 automatic pistol. (Gladwell p27)

So where does this leave God?  My belief is that all things from the bible are true and accurate, but God’s ways are mysterious are they not?  If the bible says it was so, then it is.  It all went to plan, of this, I am certain.

This is a lot of information, but it is an example of the way Gladwell looks at things.  An engrossing perspective applied to real world situations.  Game theory as it applies to the Civil Right movement?  Sure thing. It takes a look at what we perceive to be weaknesses and how they can become strengths.  It compellingly examines concepts such as big fish/little pond versus small fish/big pond. (Strangely enough it explains that big fish in small ponds has some less than obvious benefits, particularly with how it affects our psyche.)  It delves into the way power is handled by the powerful and the manner in which those impacted by those in power think about the powerful.  It appealed to my former economic ways of thinking. (Opportunity cost anyone?)  It grabbed me and I read it very quickly  It was very, very interesting and has changed the way I think about a great many things.  Good read – check it out.

  • Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath. Penguin Books, 2014.