“The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath . . .” 1 Samuel 17:3
Like fans at a lethal sporting event, Israelites and Philistines assembled on opposite banks of the Valley of Elah (below) to watch Goliath and shepherd boy David duke it out. Israelites rallied on slopes to the north (left), while Philistines cheered from hills to the south (right).
All was quiet recently when I walked across this valley to the north side, to Elah brook. Here David “chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:40).
The duel between David and Goliath was a long time in coming. Two centuries earlier Israelites entered Canaan from the east, and soon controlled the central highlands. Philistines, having left the Aegean region for reasons unknown to us, arrived by sea a short time later. They entered Canaan from the west, and soon controlled the coastal plain:
During the reign of Saul, the first king of Israel, there were turf battles as Philistines and Israelites vied to control the foothills between them. A circle on the map above shows where the two armies were deployed when Goliath and David met for battle (1 Sam. 17:1; click on map to enlarge).
Warfare then–and now–seems like a catastrophic failure of imagination. Philistines and Israelites could have learned from each other and benefited from trade. Philistines were more advanced in metalworking (1 Sam. 13:19-22); Israelites were superior in writing. There was room for two distinct cultures to live in peace.
But David and Goliath fought a winner-take-all duel: If I win, your people will serve mine (1 Sam. 17:9). Instead of looking for common interests, leaders on both sides thought of domination or annihilation. Animosity degenerated into the kind of taunts that Goliath and David hurled at each other, and the swaggering led to years of bloodshed.
A thousand years after Goliath fell, people hailed Jesus as the “Son of David.” They hoped Jesus would be a king like David, triumphing over enemies. Instead, Jesus triumphed over hatred itself. At a time when Jews and Gentiles had reason to hate one another, Jesus created “one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace . . . through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it” (Eph. 2:15).
Pray that leaders with imagination will step forward from both sides in the current conflict in Israel/Palestine to seek the common good of Jews, Palestinians, and all peoples with historic claim to the Holy Land.
© 2014 J. Nelson Kraybill *******************************************For upcoming tours, see: From Nazareth to Rome: Holy Land, Empire and Global Mission, with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 3-15, 2014