The Bible has a lot say about bullies, one of the most notable passages is 1 Samuel 17–the account of David and Goliath. We marvel at this story of young boy named David who came up against a literal giant (bully) named Goliath. It is said that Goliath was over 9 feet tall—this is the height of floor to ceiling in many homes.
As we consider some verses in this chapter we see interesting parallels to the bullying dilemma. But, first we should note that “bullying” is nothing new to God. In fact, this passage is seen by many scholars as insight into the ultimate bully–Satan–who comes against Jesus the Good Shepherd of our Souls.
In verse one we notice the formation of a bullying environment,
“Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled” (v1)
The word gathered has the meaning of building numbers. We can see how this sets a prime environment for bullying. Bullies like to form large groups of dedicated followers; gatherings of terrorizing proportions.
One way this is achieved is through bullies cultivating loyalty. Of course, intimidation is the means by which they are successful. Have you ever experienced the strange sense of silence around a bullied person by the community at large? The quest for loyalty influences the group to either join the bullying, or keep quiet. Often, those who keep quiet are not loyal to the bully’s agenda, but stay quiet, anyway, out of fear of retribution. The famous quote by Martin Luther King might well apply here, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” For a bullied person, silence, often feels like betrayal. But keep in mind–the silence is a bully initiated tactic. The bully wants to disarm their target with a sense of non-support.
Verse four gives us further insight in the word champion.
“A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine Camp.” (V4)
Interestingly, we often think this story is soley about David and Goliath when in reality it was about the Israelites battle against the Philistines. Goliath was simply a tool, a means to an end. The Philistines are the obvious villains in our story, never-the-less, they were convinced that they were the victims and had their reasons for war. This brings us to another persuasive tactic used by villains—bullies playing the victim. They solicit sympathy. It is frustrating, to say the least, if you are the target of this kind bullying tactic. Bullies who hurt others, but portray themselves as the victim, are hoping to siphon sympathies for themselves.
In verse five we gain insight into the man selected as the ace-in-the-hole— Goliath (their pawn).
“He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shackles.” (V5)
Five thousand shekels is about 78 pounds. This bully was big, strong, and armed in the most superior way. Goliath was definitely what might be considered champion material. His stature itself was superior in nature. It comes as no surprise that bullies thrive on superiority.
Verse eight tells us that the bully, Goliath, verbally accosted the subjects of his bullying.
“Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel” (v8)
Discrediting is another powerful tool bullies use. We noted that loyalty, sense of cause, and superiority can play out powerfully, but now we see discrediting deliver a confusing and disorienting blow upon the psyche of the target. This very effective tactic unglues confidence. Hope begins to fade. No wonder the Israelites shuddered in terror.
Verse eleven gives us a clear picture of the effects of bullying.
“The Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” (V11)
Discrediting naturally causes a bullied victim to question their own narrative. This clever tactic is called gaslighting. Gaslighting is a common technique used by bullies, to not only sway the crowd, but to cause the bullied target themselves to question their own reality. At this point it feels like all is lost. It certainly did to the Israelites.
When young David came onto the scene, his brother, who was apart of the Israelites army, derided his presence. This is another issue that can happen in a bullying circumstance—breakdown from within our own support system.
David who was a sheep herder and had spent lots of time in fields meditating on God, delivered a different narrative that day. It was one of hope in something bigger than the bullies that stood before them—it was God Himself.
Sometimes we are so close to the emotions surrounding a bullying situation that we are unable to see the bigger picture. Yet, this is exactly what we need in a critical onslaught of bullying.
When news of David’s hope made it to the king, the king swiftly put him in the battle. The words David spoke to Goliath in verse forty five instantly changed the bullying climate, as well as, history.
“I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty.” (V45)
David placed complete confidence in the a Lord. David knew that he belonged to God and for the Philistine bully to come against him was to come against God’s people. In fact, it would mean the Philistines were trying to bully God. This perspective empowered David because it was completely reliant on a God’s provision. Amazingly, God had already armed David with the abilities he would need to face this particular giant. Fighting off bears and lions to protect his sheep made him a valiant warrior. David skillfully brought down the bully with a stone and a sling.
I pray that if you are currently in a bullying situation God would provide you with all the provision and the encouragement you need to face your Goliath.
For more information on the characteristics of a bully visit: