And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight this Philistine.1 Samuel 17:32
I have loved the story of David and Goliath since I first heard it as a boy. It appealed to me, this idea of a young boy staring down and killing a giant. All that “love one another” stuff is fine, but David kicked butt for God. He’s the closest thing to a Marvel superhero that the Bible has to offer. It’s a great story and a wonderful source of self-help inspiration.
As I’ve grown older, I still love David and Goliath, but the more interesting story to me is David and Saul.
Goliath was sent out by the Philistines as their champion. Your champion represented your army in one-on-one battle with the enemy’s champion. So, rather than have two armies maul each other, you send out your baddest dude and he fights with the other side’s baddest dude. Winner take all. And if you have an eight-foot guy with a surly disposition on your side, you can feel pretty confident about sending him out as your champion.
At some point it occurred to me to ask, “Who was supposed to be Israel’s champion?” Who was their Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown?
Turns out, it was Saul.
We learn in the 9th chapter of Samuel that “from his shoulders and upward, [Saul] was higher than any of the people.” The next chapter repeats this description. Saul, who stood head and shoulders above anyone else and was an accomplished warrior was the closest thing to Goliath that Israel had to offer. But when he saw Goliath and heard the giant’s threats, Saul was just like everyone else. He was petrified by fear.
David? Not so much. From what we can tell, he almost immediately started asking why everyone was shaking in their sandals over one (really big) guy. When Saul heard about this defiant and inexplicably fearless shepherd, he called for him. David offered Saul that he would take the fight to Goliath. The king, no longer head and shoulders above Israel, even less so this shepherd, accepted and sent a boy to fight his fight.
The source of David’s courage is explained a few verses before, when he responds to his brothers who want him to just shut the heck up, “Is there not a cause?” (Samuel 17:29). David’s courage came from knowing that he would be fighting for the true King of Israel. Moreover, he understood that he was not Israel’s champion at all. He tells Goliath, “I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts…and I will smite thee…that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.” (Samuel 17:45-46). The difference between Saul and David was that David understood what Saul forgot: The Philistines have a Goliath. We have a God. Jehovah is the Champion of Israel.
Courage can be hard to come by, especially when we have a clear understanding of our own weaknesses. The self-help books tell us that courage comes from within, and that we can cultivate and develop courage to conquer our own Goliaths. As we stand up to one challenge, we will develop the ability to stand up to others.
What a bunch of hooey.
Courage is a gift of the Spirit, a dispensation of grace that enables us to take action in God’s cause. It comes not from learning to be a tough guy and swallowing your fear. It comes from having your fears swallowed up in faith and knowing that if your cause is just, Christ, the great Jehovah, will be your Champion. He will fight your battles. We’re just kids with a pocketful of rocks.
One of my favorite quotes from Shakespeare is “Screw your courage to the sticking place.” Unfortunately, it’s said by Lady Macbeth. But even murderous old hags can stumble across the truth now and then. Our courage needs to be screwed or fixed to a solid, unmovable place. The sticking place is our Savior.
If we stay close to the Spirit, we can face obstacles with courage and confidence, knowing that as we take action in furtherance of God’s plans, we never fight alone.
Have we not a cause?
The call for courage comes constantly to each of us. Every day of our lives courage is needed—not just for the momentous events but more often as we make decisions or respond to circumstances around us. Said Scottish poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson: “Everyday courage has few witnesses. But yours is no less noble because no drum beats for you and no crowds shout your name.”Thomas S. Monson