A Three Year Old, David & Goliath, & God’s People

My three year old stepson was recently exposed to a lot of Bible stories and has been recounting them to us with great flourish. One story in particular has really stuck with him and he loves to tell it to us over and over again: David and Goliath. I take issue with the violent nature of that story, now that I’m a mom, and wonder why on earth it’s a favorite for teaching to young children. I’ve had to repeatedly explain to my stepson that the point of the story is not how exciting it is to kill a giant, but that sometimes people have to do very brave things to protect themselves and the people they love. My stepson was pretending that everything was a giant to be killed; as he whipped his sling around (usually a sock) he would shout that he was killing ____ in God’s name (!!!!). We naturally put a stop to that. How can anyone expect a three year old to respond differently, though? Tell a child that story and all he’ll remember is the excitement of whirling a sling around and killing something. The child has no understanding of killing and death, of course, but that is what he will latch onto. After a lot of discussion I’ve noticed my stepson has begun to alter his version of the story to better match up with what I’ve taught him, which is encouraging.

Another point I’ve had to discuss with him is bravery. In the version of the story he learned, God blessed David and made him brave enough to fight Goliath. I’m trying to instill into my stepson that people can be brave even without being blessed from above. People can certainly ask for help through prayer etc., but we each have a lot of strength within ourselves and can do brave things on our own. So far my explanations have been met with adamant replies that things have to be like the story said they are, but that’s okay. So long as he’s hearing more than one side of things on regular basis, then I am content. I realize that he thinks everything in the world is either black or white, right now, and if some people say one thing is true while other people say something else is true… that’s confusing.

The remaining part of the story I have yet to address is the part where Goliath is attacking “God’s people.” Even in a book written for tiny children, the concept of Israel as being extra special to God is worked in as fact. This bothers me. The whole concept of one group of people being “God’s people” bothers me a lot. I personally view the Old Testament as Jewish mythology – the Israelites’ ancient views of the Divine – so if they set themselves up as special people… fine. But why should I or anyone else agree that they are some special, chosen group of people? The branch of Christianity I came from believed Israel had a divine right to all the land promised to it in the Old Testament. My pastor blamed Abraham’s lack of faith in God for the creation of the Palestinians (Hagar’s son, Ishmael), and basically set them up as the perpetual thorn in Israel’s side. Israel could do no wrong. Anything America did that was not 100% in support of Israel was viewed as one more step closer to the world ending, per the book of Revelations.

How do I explain to a three year old that children his age are living in utter terror right now, because “God’s people” are bombing the crap out of their homeland? How do I tell him about the four small boys who were playing on the beach, or the children hiding in schools… all dead or traumatized because “God’s people” are attacking them? How do I explain that a lot of people think it’s okay, particularly his Christian relatives, because Israel is God’s special people and they just want to protect the land God gave them? How do you explain to a three year old that sometimes people hate each other so badly that they will do everything possible to kill each other, no matter the cost?

I always felt bad for Ishmael when I heard/read his story. He and his mother were abandoned by the man who should have stood up for them and then sent away to die in the desert. God interceded and Ishmael was told he would be the father of a great people… but that doesn’t erase all the horrible things that happened to him. I always wondered why there wasn’t more pity for this boy and the people he supposedly spawned. Why was it okay that he and his people were the outcasts, the thorn in the side of Isaac’s people? Isaac and Ishmael were brothers, the sons of a powerful patriarch. Imagine the things they could have accomplished together if their situation had played out differently!

The situation in Gaza is complicated and horrible, no matter how you view it. People all over the world – including Gaza and Israel – wish for the attacks to stop. I do not know how history will remember the deaths of so many Palestinians, but it would seem that the “Israel can do no wrong” mindset is beginning to fade. Israel is not a ruddy young boy trying to be brave and protect his people from a scary giant. Life isn’t as simple as such stories. What made Goliath and his people any worse than the Israelites, who wiped out the original inhabitants of the promised land because their god told them so?

Hamas hates Israel. Hamas wants to destroy Israel and is happy to use their fellow man as human shields. Now that Israel is retaliating by slaughtering thousands of civilians, how do you think those civilians will view Israel? Wouldn’t you want to join the fight to avenge your lost loved ones and homes? Fighting begets more fighting. Israel’s massacre will only bring more hatred and violence. I hope that I can instill into my boys how horrible and pointless fighting is. There is nothing glorious about men marching off to battle, no matter what the stories say. As I repeatedly tell my stepson, it is always sad when someone is killed/is dead, even if that person was a “bad guy.” “Bad guys” were once precious, innocent babies too.

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