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February 27, 2014
Column #1,696
“David and Goliath”
By Mike McManus

Yesterday I decided to write about Malcolm Galdwell’s book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants,” #3 on the New York Times best-seller list.

By coincidence, or perhaps a “God-incidence,” in my daily reading of Scripture to my wife, I read I Samuel 17, the story of David and Goliath! Goliath, who is over nine feet tall, wearing 125 pounds of armor, dares the Israelites to send out a fighter. “If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects.”

The Israelites were terrified, but David, a shepherd boy, offers to King Saul to “go and fight him.” Saul replies, “You are only a boy and he has been a fighting man from his youth.”

David told him that he had killed a lion and a bear who had come for his father’s sheep. “This Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.”

Saul agreed, and offered him his coat of armor; David refused. He picked up five smooth stones, and went to Goliath with his sling and his staff.

Having read Gladwell’s book, I noticed odd elements of the story. Goliath walks behind a shield bearer. Why? Then when he sees he is up against only a boy, he is insulted, “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” (What sticks? David has only his staff.)

Goliath shouts, “Come to me that I may give your flesh to the birds…” Why does he say, “Come to me?” Why can’t he go to David?

David runs to Goliath and shouts, “You come against me with sword, spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty…This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.”

That’s exactly what happens. David puts a rock in the sling and whips it around faster and faster, and aims for Goliath’s forehead, the giant’s only point of vulnerability. He did so in about a second, with a velocity comparable to that of a .45 pistol shot that would penetrate his skull.

Gladwell writes, “The powerful and strong are not always what they seem…Medical experts now believe, in fact, Goliath had a serious medical condition…acromegaly, a disease caused by a benign tumor of the pituitary gland.” That made him very tall – but also gave him poor eyesight and diplopia or double vision. He saw two staffs.

That’s why he was led into the valley by an attendant, his visual guide. He asks David to come to him because “I cannot locate you otherwise.”

Gladwell then tells many stories of underdogs defeating the powerful.

When Vivek Randadive decided to coach his daughter’s basketball team, he had two principles. He would never raise his voice to his team of 12-year-olds, but speak calmly. Second, he would not keep his team at one end of the court, which was the norm, but play the whole field. He knew his girls could not shoot well, and were not very tall. So they became runners.

And they fought unconventionally. When opponents began playing by throwing the ball in from the side to a team member, his girls often grabbed the ball away and ran for a score. Opposing coaches screamed at their girls, but Ranadive’s team won national championships.

Lawrence of Arabia did not fight like most British officers. He learned Arabic and how to ride a camel, and led the Arab revolt against the Turkish army occupying Arabia. In Spring, 1917 his troops dynamited 60 rails, cut telegraph lines and derailed trains.

Lawrence’s masterstroke was an assault on the port of Aqaba. The Turks expected an attack from British ships patrolling the Gulf of Aqaba. So Lawrence led his troops 600 miles in an audacious attack from the unprotected desert. His band of several hundred killed or captured 1,200 Turks while losing only two men.

When Paris was the center of the art world 150 years ago, painters competed to have their work displayed at the Salon, Europe’s most important art exhibition. Such painters as Manet, Degas, Cezanne and Renoir developed a new style, impressionism, but were rarely chosen.

Therefore, they held their own show in 1874, attracting 3,500 people – 175 on the first day. “Off by themselves, the Impressionists found a new identity. Before long, the outside world began to notice.” Those paintings today are worth $1 billion.

All giants have weaknesses that clever underdogs can exploit to defeat them.


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