This Book Tells the Whole Story of David and Goliath
Why is it so important to include the fact that David cut off Goliath’s head?
A new children’s book from Ignatius Press (in partnership with Magnificat) stunned me recently.
I have a huge heart for Catholic children’s books. We have five kids right now, all under 9 years old at the writing of this post. I look at them as budding theologians, all of them. We often have discussions about Sunday readings, what they heard on the radio and what they might find in an episode of Pokémon. Homeschooled and young, they are highly impressionable, and my wife and I make it our life’s goal to help them understand the Bible and the Church’s magisterium. Catholic children’s books are a constant resource for us.
The new book is a familiar story: David and Goliath by Tomie de Paola. It’s a facelift — a second edition of a 1984 version from Winston Press. I have a handful of other versions of this story. It’s an important one for children to read from several points of view. David fills children’s minds with positive concepts like courage, trust and obedience to God. Kids also learn important spiritual concepts such as God’s use of the weak to overcome the boastful, or similarly, the way God confounds the wise by the lowly (1 Corinthians 1:27). There’s even a solid lesson about the triumph of humility over pride.
Christian families and CCD teachers have an abundance to discuss despite the brevity of this story. But this new Catholic children’s book of the famous biblical passage about the future king of Israel and ancestor of Jesus, the king of the universe, has one pretty noteworthy detail.
But before I reveal it — and I promise I’m not baiting the reader — my mind immediately goes back to 2020 when Raymond Arroyo’s Christmas book, The Spider Who Saved Christmas, was released. His book includes a reference to the slaughter of the Innocents — those baby boys, two years of age and under, who were ordered to be killed by Herod in an effort to kill Jesus.
There were plenty of upset parents who wished they’d avoided bringing this up to their children, having to explain such a tragedy. But these parents should realize this is the great and atrocious reality of the circumstances of Christ’s birth. It’s a biblical fact that doesn’t detract from the story of the Nativity, but bolsters it. It gives meaning, profoundness and veracity to the whole chronicle.
As does this important detail in the story of David and Goliath. After the great buildup of the story, and after the battle scene where David launches a river stone into the skull of the giant and boastful Philistine soldier, the children’s book notes that “David ran over to Goliath and stood over him. Then David took the giant’s sword and cut off Goliath’s head.”
What an overwhelming detail to include in a children’s book! It doesn’t just tell that he cut off his head — the author and artist include a depiction of the scene!
Compare this with the Little Golden Books story of David and Goliath.
The great giant fell dead, facedown on the ground. The frightened Philistine army turned and fled in panic.
So, long ago, the shepherd boy David killed the great Goliath — with a sling and a stone and a mighty belief in God.
Tame, as we might expect. Even for adults, this seems to be an outlandishly superfluous detail. But it’s right in the Bible:
And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone, and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground. ... Then David ran and stood over the Philistine, and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath, and killed him, and cut off his head with it (1 Samuel 17:49, 51).
What’s the significance of this? Why is it important that David cut off his head? And why should it be included in a book for children?
First, it’s what David promised to do. For the 40 days of boasting and the defiant ridicule of God, David declared in verse 46 that he will cut off his head (Deuteronomy 7). David is fulfilling his promise.
Second, David wants to show both armies — neither of which probably has the guts to get too close to the fight — that Goliath is truly dead, not just knocked out cold.
But there’s something more here, spoken best in David’s own words. He promises that by cutting off Goliath’s head, “all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand” (47). Again, it calls to mind that Pauline passage:
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29).
Something else is at play, too — a spiritually rich message found in a history lesson.
God had commanded the people of God to slaughter the Canaanites, to utterly remove them from the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 7. He wanted his people to settle there. But why did they need to kill? God tells them that they will be deceived, that their sons and daughters will be turned away from the Lord for other gods. But the Israelites did not complete the mission. They would on occasion, act mercifully to people like Rahab (Joshua 2). But on several other occasions, their laziness and waywardness with God’s commands caused them great grief as they fell prey to deceptions and participated in Baal worship.
It is a real story, but there is also a double meaning. God was at work revealing just how much he desires holiness. If the people were to be in the new land, they would have to rid the land of all evil, of all foreign gods. In return, the people’s obedience was a sign of their keeping his covenant (Deuteronomy 7:12).
This entire theme should sound familiar. Paul reminds us to be mindful of our battle against the evils of this world, that our fight requires a warrior’s armament (Ephesians 6:10-17). God’s command to us is no different than that given in Deuteronomy 7 — to eradicate all evil from our lives, to have no other Gods (1 Thessalonians 5:22). As a sign of our keeping in communion with him, Jesus likewise expects obedience: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
We find more than a story of a brave shepherd’s boy in David and Goliath. When David took up Goliath’s own sword and beheaded the giant, he was doing what many before did not have the courage to do: eradicate evil and utterly remove it from the presence of God’s holy people. And God calls us to do the same with virtue, prayer, fasting and frequent participation in the sacraments. David taking the head from Goliath is a biblical fact that doesn’t harm the story, but bolsters it. It gives meaning, profoundness and veracity to the whole chronicle.
My children love this book. Ignatius Press says its new book is for 3-5 year olds. I agree. But a lot of adults — not just my budding theologians — should contemplate the story too.