When most people think of David and Goliath they think of the face-off between a young boy vs a giant man, of small vs big, of weak vs strong, and the surprising victory of David over Goliath. What most people don’t know about is the story of what happened right before the fight. The choice that David makes which allows him to beat the seemingly impossible odds and win his battle against Goliath. This choice is what Jewish masculinity and being an ‘Aleph Male’ is all about. Here is the story of this choice.
Before he was ‘King’ David, he is just a Jewish boy named David. The Torah tells us in the Book of Samuel that before his famous confrontation with Goliath, David is told by his father to bring food to his older brothers in the Israelite army. When he arrives, the Israelite army is facing off against the Philistine army with the Elah valley in between them. The Torah brings down that the Philistine army declared that the Israelites should send out a champion to face their champion, and whichever army loses this ‘battle of champions’ surrenders into slavery. The Philistine’s champion is the gigantic Goliath from Gath. He is covered in copper armor and has a huge spear. For forty days Goliath taunts the Jewish army and even King Saul isn’t going out to battle. The Jewish army can’t find a champion, they are frozen with fear, and there are no volunteers.
When David shows up, he sees what’s going on, and proclaims to his brothers and their fellow Israelite soldiers, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the ranks of the living God? (Samuel 17:26)”. David’s faith in the God of Israel is unwavering and he is certain Goliath is doomed and someone just needs to slay him. He is willing to volunteer to be Israel’s champion. David is taken to King Saul and he says, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him [Goliath], your servant will go and battle with the Philistine.” (Samuel 17:32)”
King Saul sees that David is just a shepherd boy and says, "You are unable to go to this Philistine to battle with him, for you are a lad, and he is a warrior since his youth.” (Samuel 17:33)”
David tells of how as a shepherd he has already slain a lion and a bear while protecting his flocks and declares to King Saul, ”The Lord Who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will save me from the hand of this Philistine. (Samuel 17:37)”
Saul is convinced and he says, “Go, and may the Lord be with you.” And then Saul, “dressed David with his garments, and he placed a copper helmet on his head, and he dressed him with a coat of mail.(Samuel 17:37-38)”
Then David says to King Saul, "I cannot go with these, for I am not accustomed." And David took them off. (Samuel 17:39)”
This is the crucial choice that David made which lead to his victory. He took off the copper helmet, and he took off the coat of mail. Because they did not fit him, because he was not accustomed to them. Why does David take off the armor? What is David’s psychology? Wouldn’t he want the armor? After all, he is facing Goliath, a huge armor-clad giant, wouldn’t it make more sense to get some armor on and protect himself? Also, this is the armor of King Saul, wouldn’t he want the status and honor of using the king’s armor? David takes off the armor because the armor is not a reflection of who he is. He chooses to be true to himself. David has a different way of thinking. He goes to the fight vulnerable. Courageously vulnerable, and this is the secret of his victory.
Sometimes armor is not the way, in fact, sometimes armor gets in the way, especially when you can’t take it off. Many men become enslaved to psychological armor as a defense mechanism. They think they ‘have to have’ armor. In particular, they have to wear the armor of a ‘success object’. There is an idea that just as women are often under pressure to appear attractive and end up becoming a ‘sex object’, men too are under pressure to be a ‘success object’. A pressure to live up to a distorted stereotyped version of ‘alpha male’ masculinity in which men are supposed to ‘know’, be ‘in control’, and ‘dominate’ at all times. To always be strong and never be weak. To always win. Success object masculinity teaches that in order to be a ‘real man’ you need to appear like Goliath. Covered in armor and unbeatable.
Reducing a man’s worth as a human being to how much money, power, and success he has is a form of objectification. As young boys strive to appear in conformity with this ‘success object’ masculinity they disconnect from their authentic vulnerable self and their inner world. This disconnection from emotions, from their true self, along with the demand to be invulnerable, to feel no pain, to be an ‘alpha male’, can often lead to self-destructive coping mechanisms. Sometimes, the pain they are ignoring because they are supposed to be invulnerable is so great that it leads to suicide. They suffocate to death in their armor.
God did not create men to be success objects. It’s written in the Book of Genesis that human beings, men, are ‘made in God’s image’. Jewish masculinity teaches that the best a man can be is not ‘the top dog’ aka the ‘alpha male’, rather the best a man can be is ‘like God’. Judaism teaches that men have souls connected to the Infinite One. King David is a powerful archetype of Jewish masculinity, what we like to call an ‘Aleph Male’. Judaism depicts King David as weeping, praying, dancing, writing poetry, making mistakes and repenting. King David is a man who is connected to his inner world. King David is the archetypical ‘Aleph Male’, a man who is transparent to his Source, who walks with his Creator in the fullness of his being. Who fully lives and experiences life. But being in touch with your inner world doesn’t mean you can’t destroy, but it means when you wield destruction, you do it consciously, for the sake of life.
David is not playing the game on Goliath’s terms. If David were to have confronted Goliath covered in that armor, he would have been faking it. David knows that it’s a liability to try to be something that he is not. David makes himself vulnerable and in so doing he makes himself spiritually stronger than Goliath.
As it says:
“And he [David] took his staff in his hand, and he chose for himself five smooth pebbles from the brook, and he placed them in the shepherds' bag which he had, and in the sack, and his slingshot was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine…
And David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, and I come to you with the Name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel which you have taunted.
This day, the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I shall slay you, and take off your head, and I shall give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines this day, to the fowl of the air and to the beasts of the earth, and all the earth shall know that Israel has a God.
And all this assembly shall know that not with sword and javelin does the Lord save, for the battle is the Lord's, and He will deliver you into our hand.
And it was, when the Philistine arose and drew closer to David, that David hastened and ran to the battle array, toward the Philistine.
And David stretched his hand into the bag, and took a stone therefrom, and slung it, and he hit the Philistine in his forehead, and the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.
And David overpowered the Philistine with the slingshot and with the stone, and he smote the Philistine and slew him: and no sword was in David's hand.” (Samuel 17:40-50)
Even when it seems that the whole world is living in fear and clamoring for more armor, we learn from King David that we are not here to live in fear, to spend our lives trying to appear like something that we are not. It takes faith to believe that who you are is enough. That in being vulnerable and walking with God, we can defeat even the mightiest of enemies. That who we are does not come from outside of us because we have a spark of God inside of us that is stronger than all the Goliaths of the world.