Literary Analysis of David and Goliath
A Character Analysis of David and Goliath When studying any piece of literature there are many different methods and techniques that can be used. The Bible, in specific, is often referred to as a source of moral code, hope, and answers to social, ethical, and political questions. However, this incredibly influential book can also be read as if it were any other novel.
The events, settings, and characters can all be evaluated for what they are, forgetting the notion that they are from a religious text. This approach is called narrative criticism.
When regarding to the Bible in this way, we do not need to know any historical information or focus on seeking a deeper theological meaning. Instead, the stories are evaluated in terms of how well the characters, settings, and events portray the overall theme or message of the narrative. The story of David and Goliath in particular, does a great job in using its characters to achieve this goal. Though there are many different interpretations of this story, I am going to focus on one: the idea that power and strength is not needed to succeed or win, but instead it is our heart and determination, intelligence, and above all, our faith in God.
To get this point across, the implied author uses narratives to tell us about David and Goliath as well as show us specific and relevant character traits through their actions and beliefs. In order to understand how the characters portray the message of the story we must first develop a set of traits based on what the information given to us by implied author. In the very beginning of the story we are given a detailed description of Goliath: And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion names Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.
He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slug between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighted six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him” (1 Samuel 17: 5-7). Based on this description we can easily come to the conclusion that Goliath is extremely strong and powerful and an experienced warrior.
He is prepared, confident, and willing to take on whatever he is faced with. It is also explained that Goliath’s height is “six cubits and a span,” which is about nine feet in today’s society, making him extremely tall. Furthermore, we are explicitly told that he is a “champion,” alluding to the idea that he never loses a battle. It is here where the implied reader would initially assume that Goliath is most likely to prevail. It is also stated in the text, through the words of David, that Goliath is uncircumcised.
Though this minor detail can easily be overlooked it is important to note because it demonstrates Goliaths lack of faith in God. In addition to what the implied author explicitly tells us, there are several characteristics of Goliath that can be presumed from his own actions as well as those around him. For example, Goliath’s character can be described as arrogant and cocky based on his command to fight an Israelite to death for victory. He shouts to the Israelites, “Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me.
If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him, then you shall be our servants and serve us” (1 Samuel 17: 8-9). Before the battle can even begin, Goliath immediately takes it upon himself to set the terms and conditions of how to fight the battle at Socoh. He becomes very commanding and authoritative, bossing everyone around. Instead of both armies fighting one another, like a typical battle, Goliath is so confident in his fighting ability that he declares a one-on-one battle to determine the outcome of the battle.
In reaction to Goliath’s demand, Saul and all the Israelites “fled from Goliath, and were very much afraid” (1 Samuel 17:24). Not only does this show the power and terrifying quality of Goliath, but it also demonstrates a weakness in Saul, who is suppose to lead and protect the Israelites, and his people. At this point, it is hard to side with either the Philistines or the Israelites since neither show desirable qualities. Goliath, though strong and powerful, shows nothing beyond that. He shows no faith in God and is entirely dependant on his fancy armor and swords.
Goliath has no other source of strength other than his physical stature and possessions. David, on the other hand, is depicted as a character that is lacking brute strength and weaponry. We are told through the voice of Goliath that he is “only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance” (1 Samuel 17: 42). It is evident that David is meant to appear as an average kid with no exceedingly superior or spectacular qualities. This simple portrayal of David is significant because it sets in motion the development of realistic empathy from the implied reader towards David.
It is important for the implied reader to feel empathetic towards David because even though David kills Goliath in the end, we are meant to view him as a hero, not a murder. Building a connection between the implied reader and David makes this possible. Though David represents a seemingly common boy at the time, he has several qualities that make him stand out. However, these character traits are never simply told to us. Instead, the implied author uses David’s actions, decisions, and beliefs to reveal his nature.
For example, while his two brothers followed Saul “David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem” (1 Samuel 17:15). Through this simple action we see the first sign of David’s loyalty and commitment. Despite the fact that both of his brothers decide to focus on their loyalty to Saul, David continues to devote his time to helping his father and stays true to his obligation. Though the ability to be loyal is not enough to help David win the battle against Goliath, the implied reader is able to identify with David creating a deeper and more developed sense of realistic empathy.
We are then provided evidence that David does in fact possess a set of military skills. When faced with Saul’s doubt and disbelief that he will be able to successful take on Goliath, David tells him a story of how he protects his Father’s sheep from lions and bears. David proclaims, “your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it.
Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:34-36). Providing us with this story of the sheep is a very effective way for the implied author to demonstrate David’s skill set. He is unmistakably very courageous for taking on the lion and bear in the first place and appears utterly fearless and determined when he continues to strike and kill them. These, in truth, are qualities that prove to be useful when in a fight. Though David is initially epicted as an underdog, his victory in this story provides the implied reader with more reason to continue building empathy towards him. However, above all these traits, is David’s unwavering and unconditional faith in God. David states, “the LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and form the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17: 37). This verse clearly depicts David’s relationship with God. Instead of relying on armor, swords, and spears, like Goliath, David puts his fate in Gods hands. He undoubtedly trusts that God will allow him to prevail, just as he did against the lions and bears.
This is in contrast with Goliath, who worships false Gods and is completely dependant on his weapons and physical strengths. David then prepares for battle when Saul presents him with his armor, which he refuses to wear because it is too heavy for him to walk in. This simple gesture shows that David is confident in his own abilities and the power of God. Instead of relying on the armor for protection, like Goliath, he plays up his skills and utilizes his familiarity with a sling and stones. When David first appears to Goliath, Goliath “disdained him, for he was only a youth” (1 Samuel 17:42).
Goliath goes on to mock him stating, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the fields” (1 Samuel 17:43-44). Through this statement, we can conclude that Goliath represents a bully figure. He appears cruel and harsh, trying to make David feel lesser than him for having no armor, no sword or spear, but just a sling and some rocks. However, David is not frightened or fazed by Goliaths attempt to scare and discourage him. In fact, the very opposite occurs.
In his response to Goliath, David exudes bravery, determination, and loyalty to God and his people. David exclaims, “This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel and that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD’s and he will give you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17: 46-47).
Not only is David’s faith further portrayed in this statement, but also it provides great evidence towards David’s character. Instead of backing down to Goliath, he asserts himself and stands up to him. He also mocks Goliath by mimicking him in that he will “feed his body to the birds,” displaying his courage and bravery in the face of overwhelming force. Though the climatic point in this story is when David actually defeats Goliath, it is in this very statement where the meaning behind the action derives.
The implied author explicitly tells us that it is not force and weapons that win the battle, but it is the ability to fully entrust in God. However, despite the fact that the implied author plainly states the message of the story, the power behind it would cease to exist without the strong character development. It is necessary for us to create a distinct image of Goliath as a tall, strong, and powerful fighter with intense weaponry to understand that these qualities are not what lead to success.
Alternately, it is courage and mental strength, combined with faith and trust in a higher power, which is demonstrated through the character of David. Instead of choosing to back down when faced with the tremendous force, Goliath, David steps up and places a strong belief in his abilities and in God. The fall of Goliath is not simply a tale of an unexpected defeat, but of the value of faith in accomplishing the impossible.