Malcom Gladwell on David and Goliath

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling GiantsMalcom Gladwell, author of multiple best-selling books on the nature of success, marketing, and culture, released a new sure-thing bestseller that reframes the story of David and Goliath from the typical “Sunday school” understanding.

He gave a TED talk explaining his premise (16 min video)

He also spoke recently at the Catalyst Conference on the issue. Matt Perman (who live-blogged the conference) wrote a great summary of the talk.

The basic premise is that we misconstrue David as the underdog and Goliath as the impossible-to-defeat foe, as David miraculously defied logic and nature (and the giant), defeating him with a simple sling and stone.

This is a misconstruation, according to Gladwell, because essentially the sling is the military equivalent of a .45 handgun, and Goliath is something of a “paper tiger”: a blind(ish), deformed, human with “giantism”, who is slow to move and short-sighted.

The point of the story for Gladwell: giants aren’t always what they seem, David was not the underdog, and never underestimate the power of superior tech, nimbleness, and heart.

I didn’t like it one bit. Not at all. Sucks the story dry of God, for example. But I’ve done a 180. Well, maybe a 160.

David not being an underdog actually preserves the Christological typology of the story better! Remember from my earlier post, David is a “type” of Christ here.

The correct theological “analogy” (actually typology) here is that Goliath, the foe, is sin. We are the Israelites, who cower in submission for fear of death, and David is Jesus, the Messiah who rescues us from the foe.

David was not afraid of Goliath. He was indignant and fearlessly ran to meet the enemy. However, he does so in an unexpected way, as Gladwell points out. Not toe-to-toe, on the enemy’s terms, but with a sling. David knew his foe and knew exactly how to conquer that foe, and confidently did just that.

Similarly, Jesus conquered sin and death in the most surprising way possible. Jesus knew The Foe, and knew exactly how to conquer The Foe. And did so, by allowing himself to be captured, tortured, and brutally murdered, the punishment we deserve for our sin, and then by rising from the dead by God’s power. He thus conquering sin and death.

I’m a fan of Gladwell’s basic understanding of the story. I hope he sees the deeper connections.

  • oldtbirds

    Matt, somehow I knew you would get that Gladwell’s take on the epic conflict in no way diminishes God’s hand in it. In fact, it more clearly points to the fact that the Army of Israel and its king only saw and feared a giant while David sized up the situation and executed (no pun intended) an easy victory. I Samuel 16:7 “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” David was looking at the situation through a different set of eyes because of his relationship with the One who sees clearly.

    • http://www.mattheerema.com Matt Heerema

      There you have it.

  • renaudr

    Also, Gladwell’s book isn’t about David and Goliath, per se. The story is a metaphor that sets up the book.

    • http://www.mattheerema.com Matt Heerema

      Indeed, but he gets the usage of the story as a metaphor by making historical judgements on it first, which is what initially irked me until I gave it some further thought.