In the Mediterranean world the Late Bronze Age, roughly 1550–1200 BCE, was “a
brilliant, sophisticated, cosmopolitan era,” says Carol Redmount, professor
of Near Eastern Studies at the
It was a time of “great wealth
and unprecedented international contacts and exchange” throughout the eastern
Mediterranean. “People, goods, and ideas
flowed freely, by sea and by land, to an extent unparalleled in earlier
“The Late Bronze Age,” she says,
“was also an age of empire…superpower politics, and an international way of
It was an era of palace
economies. In palace economies wealth is controlled by a king or a pharaoh, a
sacred ruler. Wealth flows into the palace and then is redistributed to the
people, often through large public work projects like building palaces,
temples and pyramids. Palace economies support art and beauty.
The greatest palace economy of
the Late Bronze Age was Egypt
and the Egyptian Empire, which had spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean.
It was toward the end of the
Late Bronze Age that the Egyptian Empire began to weaken. An early sign of
its diminishing power, perhaps, was when a group of slaves in Egypt managed to escape and make their way
just outside the territory controlled by Egypt
into the hills of Canaan.
As the Egyptian Empire continued
to decline, a new coalition of peoples emerged called “the Sea Peoples.”
Historians are not sure who they were or precisely where they were from. They
seem to have been somehow connected to Greece
and Crete and Aegean culture. Archeological
studies of their pottery suggest this.
The Sea Peoples travelled in
ships. They were militaristic. They were at the forefront of the development
of the weaponry of their time. And they were ruthless.
When they conquered a territory
they destroyed the cities they found there…crushed them and burned them to
the ground. Then they brought their own people to the territory, shipload
after shipload after shipload. Then they built new cities on top of the ruins
of the cities they had destroyed – totally new cities many times larger than
the cities they had demolished.
They were good urban planners,
designing their new cities to be both commercially viable and livable. They
were good at agricultural development, planting whatever commercial crops the
lands they conquered were best suited for. They fished. They raised cattle,
sheep, and goats, but they specialized in hog farming. They loved pork. It
was their favorite dish. And they were great exporters and importers, using
their ships for trading.
Theirs was not a palace economy
like the superpowers of the Late Bronze Age but more a market economy. Their
goal was not to leave temples and monuments and pyramids behind. They did not
invest in great art and beauty. Their goal was to make money and to live
well, to eat and drink well, and to conquer new lands.
The Sea Peoples were not able to
defeat Egypt in Egypt, though they tried, but they did manage
to take over many territories that had formerly been controlled by Egypt…to
chip away at the empire. In the territories they conquered, they built their
new cities and farms and wine and oil presses and metal foundries and forges
and textile looms, and they became rich in things.
The Philistine city of Gaza is the same Gaza we
read about in the newspapers today and the name Philistine is the root of the
Settling in this territory made
the Philistines the nearest neighbors of the former slaves from Egypt who had migrated a generation or two
earlier to the foothills of Canaan – the
The Philistines developed the
sandy soil of their new territory into great agricultural and industrial
endeavors, growing grapes and olives and manufacturing wine and olive oil. They
fished. They built hog farms. They loved pork. Archeologists are still
digging up the pig bones. Some scholars believe the reason the Israelites had
a taboo against eating pork is because they did not want to be like the
The Israelites distained and
feared the Philistines, although they sometimes fraternized and loved their
women – Samson and Delilah. Philistine expansion forced one of Israel’s
tribes, the tribe of Dan, to relocate from the territory they had originally
settled to a less fertile, hillier area farther north. The book of Judges is
about the constant conflicts and battles between the Philistines and the
Israelites during the end of the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the
Early Iron Age.
Because of the way the Bible
portrays the Philistines, the word Philistine is still used today to refer to
someone who is devoted to material prosperity at the expense of intellectual
and artistic awareness.
It was because the Israelites
wanted a stronger army to defend themselves against the Philistines that they
decided to have a centralized government and a king. Up until then Israel
had been a loose confederation of tribes who only came together when they
needed to do so in order to defend themselves. They had no standing federal
government and no standing military.
According to the book of First
Samuel, God did not want Israel
to have a king. Through Samuel, the last of the judges, God warned them that
if they had a king, they would surely eventually have income taxes and a
military draft and a federal bureaucracy. (I Sam. 8: 10-18) (Samuel was sort
of the Ron Paul of his day.) But the
people insisted and God said, “OK, learn for yourselves the hard way.” And we
Israel selected as their first king a
man named Saul. They selected him because he was very tall and good looking
and his father was wealthy. (I Sam. 9: 1-2)
I Samuel 9: 2 says about Saul:
“There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he
stood head and shoulder above everybody else.”
They selected him because he was
tall and handsome.
He led Israel’s army in some successful
battles against the Philistines, but the Bible does not remember Saul fondly.
The Bible portrays him as becoming increasingly power hungry, paranoid, indecisive
and cowardly, and disobedient to God.
The second king Israel
selected was David, who was not tall or especially impressive looking.
All this is the context of the
story of David and Goliath, which we are talking about during the month of
The story of David and Goliath
was not originally about David. It was told about another Israelite named
It was originally the story of Elhanan and Goliath. But the Israelites so
loved the story and they so loved David that as the legend of David grew the
story was adapted and rewritten and expanded and became part of the legend of
If you read First Samuel up to
chapter 17 where the story of David and Goliath is told and then you continue
reading First Samuel after chapter 17, you will see that the story of David
and Goliath does not fit into the flow of the rest of the story in any
But the Israelites loved the
story and they loved David, so we have the story of David and Goliath.
The stories a people love tell
us a lot about them. The jokes a people laugh at tell us a lot about who they
are, and this story has lots of humor that would have made the Israelites
The Israelites loved the story
of David and Goliath.
The story begins with the
Philistine army invading Israel’s
territory. They are on one side of the Valley of Elah.
The Israelite army is on the other side of the valley. The Philistine soldier
Goliath of Gath would challenge and taunt the Israelites to send out a man to
Goliath, it says, was six cubits
and a span. That would be 9 feet 6 inches, almost 10 feet tall. An earlier
version of the story found in the Dead Sea
scrolls said Goliath was four cubits and a span. That would be 6 feet 7 inches
tall. This just goes to show that the Israelites were no different from us.
The more they told the story, the taller Goliath got.
But even 6 feet 7 inches would
have been tall in a culture where, according to archeological digs, most men
were less than 5 feet 6 inches tall.
Goliath has all the latest
military equipment. A helmet of bronze, a coat of mail (a coat of armor) that
weighs 5,000 shekels or 126 pounds, greaves of bronze on his legs. He is
armed with a javelin of bronze, the javelin had a point, a head, made of iron
that weighed 600 shekels or 15 pounds. The head of the javelins used in the
Olympics weight less than 2 pounds.
According to First Samuel the
Philistines had a monopoly on the production of iron. First Samuel 13: 19f
says: “Now there was no smith to be found throughout all the land of Israel;
for the Philistines said, ‘The Hebrews must not make swords or spears for
themselves,” so all the Israelites went down top the Philistines to sharpen
their plowshares, mattocks, axes and sickles….So on the day of the battle
neither sword nor spear was to be found in the possession of any of the
people with Saul and [his son] Jonathon, but Saul and his son Jonathon had
So here is Goliath the
Philistine at least a foot taller than the tallest men in the region at the
time, maybe four feet taller. Who is the tallest Israelite? Remember? Saul.
Goliath has a bronze spear with
an iron head. Who was the only Israelite with weapons made of iron? Saul and
his son Jonathon.
Saul should have been the one to
face Goliath, but he knew he could not win. When he saw and heard Goliath he
became dismayed and greatly afraid, and accordingly, when their king became
dismayed and greatly afraid, all of Israel’s troops became dismayed
and greatly afraid and disheartened.
Goliath was the Philistine’s
shock and awe, and it worked. Saul knew he could not win.
The story of David and Goliath
is about what you do when you know you are facing an enemy, an obstacle, an
issue, a problem, that you can not defeat.
You are the tallest person in Israel,
but your tallness, which has always worked for you before, will not help you
now. You are the best looking person in Israel and your looks have always
worked for you before but they will not help you now. You have the best armor
and the weapons in Israel
and they have always worked for you before, but you know they will not help
you now. You have the highest position and the most power of anybody in Israel
and power and position have always worked for you before but they will not
help you now.
Goliath is an economy that has tanked
and landed on top of you. Goliath is a phone call from your doctor saying
that there are some tests she wants you to take today. Goliath is an addiction you used to be able to manage when
you were younger. Goliath is a love that you can not win. Goliath is a
relationship you can not fix. Goliath is a project you can not finish.
Goliath is a skill you can not learn. Goliath is an emotion you can not
You used to be able to get by on
your tallness or your looks, your armor or your weaponry, your power or your position.
But those things won’t work this time.
The story of David and Goliath
is about when the Late Bronze Age ends and the Early Iron Age begins in your
life and mine. Everything changes. Nothing works the same way it used to
work. We just figured out how to survive the Egyptians in the Late Bronze Age
but now the Early Iron Age has come and brought the Philistines with it. We
When we are facing an enemy, an
obstacle, an issue, a problem, and we know we can not win, the story of David
and Goliath believes that there are other resources to which we can turn.
There is a David in us.
But we can not hold on to our
tallness and good looks; we cannot hold onto our armor and weapons; we can
not hold onto our power and position and win. We’ve got to give up every
thing that has made us successful in the past.
Ronald Heifetz teaches
leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
He is very practical, very much aware of what life is like in the real world.
But he ends his book Leadership on the
Line by saying that there are three virtues of leadership that are more
important than all the skills and abilities and determination that leaders
need. He is Jewish but he says he sees these three virtues in Christ. Reb
Jesus, he calls him.
The first of the three virtues
is innocence. He defines innocence as “the capacity to entertain silly ideas,
think unusual and perhaps ingenious thoughts, be playful in your life and
work, even to be strange to your organization or community.”
The second virtue is
curiosity…the realization you don’t know all the answers, maintaining a sense
of the mystery of it all, learning all the time.
The third virtue is compassion
or caring…. To keep feeling the joys and pains of life rather than becoming
numb or calloused.[iv]
caring…that is the David in you and me and when the Late Bronze Age ends and
there is an enemy we know we can not defeat, those are the only things that
will save us. Innocence, curiosity, caring.
Martin Linksy, who co-authored Leadership on the Line with Ronald
Heifitz has written about his father’s last week of life. Everybody knew it
was his father’s last week of life. His father arranged for private
conversations with each of his four grandchildren, exploring with them their
values and sharing his values based on his almost 80 years of living. He gave
his granddaughter a rousing pep talk before she retook her driver’s test. He
met alone with his former daughter-in-law to tell her he was grateful for the
way she raised his grandchildren and to tell her he loved her.
Finally, an hour before his
death, he asked his son to get him a beer. “What kind?” his son asked.
“Bud,” his father said.
“Light or regular?” his son
“Light’s fine,” his father said.
Tears running down his face,
Martin Linksy ran to a store across the street from the hospital, brought
back a six pack of Bud Light, ran back to the hospital room, poured his
father and himself a beer. They clinked glasses, and soon his father died.
What Martin Linsky says he
learned is that even in the face of the final enemy it is possible to win…so
long as we remain innocent, curious and caring. Even in the face of the final
enemy it is possible to win if we remain innocent, curious and caring.
This is the David within us.
Even more, this is great David’s greater Son, Reb Jesus.[v]