Magazine | June 27, 2016, Issue


Spiritual Self-Interest

In the Week (April 11), a comparison between King David and Donald Trump was made. In describing David’s braveness, it was written: “As a boy, David fought his way to the front line so he could avenge a fearsome giant and blasphemer against the God of Israel.” That statement demonstrates a common misconception of the events leading up to David’s encounter with Goliath and unfortunately misses the point of the story, a point that most National Review readers would find true to their core values.

When David first joined the ranks of his brothers in the conflict, he was there to watch the battle. When Goliath made his challenge to any of the Israelites to fight him one on one, David’s response was the same as that of all the rest of the soldiers; he retreated back to camp. It was there that King Saul offered an incentive to anyone who would fight and kill Goliath: a reward consisting of Saul’s daughter’s hand in marriage and a special dispensation by which the hero’s family would not have to pay taxes. This reward so intrigued David that he asked three different times, “What is the reward for killing Goliath?” In effect, David was making sure this verbal contract was binding. Only then did David get up the courage to fight Goliath and make history.

The story of how David acquired the courage to fight Goliath exemplifies what conservatives often tell the Left: “That which gets rewarded, gets done.” David had no interest in fighting Goliath, in being a hero, or in winning a war. As the Biblical scholar Doug Wead once so appropriately put it, David wanted the girl. He wanted to be rich. Killing Goliath was just an avenue to reach those dreams.

Patrick Buckley

Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

The Editors respond: David tells Goliath that he intends to show “all the earth” that “there is a God in Israel” — a God who “saves not with sword and spear, for the battle is his.” That’s his motive. You think it’s a pious pretext and that what he wants is only upward mobility. Twice (no, not three times) he asks the men of Israel to confirm what the king’s reward is for slaying “this man,” as they call the giant — David calls him “this uncircumcised Philistine” — and is indignant at their hangdog resignation. The promise of wealth and assimilation into the royal family through marriage is commensurate with the value of the military task none of them has the guts to undertake. The greatness of the trophy betokens the greatness of the feat, not vice versa. Whether feat and trophy were for David bound up in a shining seamless garment is a fair question. His son Solomon asked for wisdom, and God gave him everything; his scion Jesus taught that, if we seek first the kingdom of God, other things will be added unto us. But to imagine that David sought first the other things and then, for show, added some talk about God is to project perhaps our own smallness of soul onto one of the greatest-souled men in world literature and, for that matter, recorded history.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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