By: Justus Juma
- “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin,” David said to Goliath, “but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.…All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
- Twice David mentions Goliath’s sword and spear, as if to emphasize how profoundly different his intentions are. Then he reaches into his shepherd’s bag for a stone, and at that point no one watching from the ridges on either side of the valley would have considered David’s victory improbable. David was a slinger, and slingers beat infantry, hands down.
- “Goliath had as much chance against David,” the historian Robert Dohrenwend writes, “as any Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an [opponent] armed with a .45 automatic pistol.”
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11
It is time for purposeful politics. I am part of a growing force of Kenyans who say politics should be defined by how much empathy we show to the vulnerable. Politics that is issue based, people-centered, result-oriented and accountable to the public, not personalities. Not politics that is largely constrained by oppressive governments, that are corrupt and out of touch to earn the respect and support of the public.
To promote peaceful, inclusive and cohesive societies, there needs to be coexistence for sustainable development with access to justice. We must look at new engines of political and economic revival.
The biggest mistake in strategy is to think that there is only one way to compete.
Am reminded of the story of David and Goliath.
“Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?”
At the heart of ancient Palestine is the region known as the Shephelah, a series of ridges and valleys connecting the Judaean Mountains to the east with the wide, flat expanse of the Mediterranean plain. It is an area of breathtaking beauty, home to vineyards and wheat fields and forests of sycamore and terebinth. It is also of great strategic importance.
Over the centuries, numerous battles have been fought for control of the region because the valleys rising from the Mediterranean plain offer those on the coast a clear path to the cities of Hebron, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem in the Judaean highlands. The most important valley is Aijalon, in the north. But the most storied is the Elah.
The Elah was where Saladin faced off against the Knights of the Crusades in the twelfth century. It played a central role in the Maccabean wars with Syria more than a thousand years before that, and, most famously, during the days of the Old Testament, it was where the fledgling Kingdom of Israel squared off against the armies of the Philistines.
The Philistines were from Crete. They were a seafaring people who had moved to Palestine and settled along the coast. The Israelites were clustered in the mountains, under the leadership of King Saul. In the second half of the eleventh century BCE, the Philistines began moving east, winding their way upstream along the floor of the Elah Valley. Their goal was to capture the mountain ridge near Bethlehem and split Saul’s kingdom in two. The Philistines were battle-tested and dangerous, and the sworn enemies of the Israelites. Alarmed, Saul gathered his men and hastened down from the mountains to confront them.
The Philistines set up camp along the southern ridge of the Elah. The Israelites pitched their tents on the other side, along the northern ridge, which left the two armies looking across the ravine at each other. Neither dared to move. To attack meant descending down the hill and then making a suicidal climb up the enemy’s ridge on the other side. Finally, the Philistines had enough. They sent their greatest warrior down into the valley to resolve the deadlock one on one.
He was a giant, six foot nine at least, wearing a bronze helmet and full body armor. He carried a javelin, a spear, and a sword. An attendant preceded him, carrying a large shield. The giant faced the Israelites and shouted out: “Choose you a man and let him come down to me! If he prevails in battle against me and strike me down, we shall be slaves to you. But if I prevail and strike him down, you will be slaves to us and serve us.”
In the Israelite camp, no one moved. Who could win against such a terrifying opponent? Then, a shepherd boy who had come down from Bethlehem to bring food to his brothers stepped forward and volunteered. Saul objected: “You cannot go against this Philistine to do battle with him, for you are a lad and he is a man of war from his youth.” But the shepherd was adamant. He had faced more ferocious opponents than this, he argued. “When the lion or the bear would come and carry off a sheep from the herd,” he told Saul, “I would go after him and strike him down and rescue it from his clutches.” Saul had no other options.
He relented, and the shepherd boy ran down the hill toward the giant standing in the valley. “Come to me, that I may give your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field,” the giant cried out when he saw his opponent approach. Thus began one of history’s most famous battles. The giant’s name was Goliath. The shepherd boy’s name was David.
David and Goliath is a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants. By “giants,” I mean powerful opponents of all kinds—from armies and mighty warriors to disability, misfortune, and oppression. Each chapter tells the story of a different person—famous or unknown, ordinary or brilliant—who has faced an outsize challenge and been forced to respond. Should I play by the rules or follow my own instincts? Shall I persevere or give up? Should I strike back or forgive?
Through these stories, I want to explore two ideas. The first is that much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty. And second, that we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are.
The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable. We need a better guide to facing giants—and there is no better place to start that journey than with the epic confrontation between David and Goliath three thousand years ago in the Valley of Elah.
When Goliath shouted out to the Israelites, he was asking for what was known as “single combat.” This was a common practice in the ancient world. Two sides in a conflict would seek to avoid the heavy bloodshed of open battle by choosing one warrior to represent each in a duel. For example, the first-century BCE Roman historian Quintus Claudius Quadrigarius tells of an epic battle in which a Gaul warrior began mocking his Roman opponents. “This immediately aroused the great indignation of one Titus Manlius, a youth of the highest birth,” Quadrigarius writes. Titus challenged the Gaul to a duel:
He stepped forward, and would not suffer Roman valour to be shamefully tarnished by a Gaul. Armed with a legionary’s shield and a Spanish sword, he confronted the Gaul. Their fight took place on the very bridge [over the Anio River] in the presence of both armies, amid great apprehension.
Thus, they confronted each other: the Gaul, according to his method of fighting, with shield advanced and awaiting an attack; Manlius, relying on courage rather than skill, struck shield against shield and threw the Gaul off balance. While the Gaul was trying to regain the same position, Manlius again struck shield against shield and again forced the man to change his ground.
Party leader (JFP)