Guest Blog: Selective Hearing

Many years ago, I had one of those early voice recognition packages. The problem was, the voice recognition package didn’t always recognise my voice.

So when I tried to dictate a passage I was preaching on from Acts 2:5-47 where God-fearing Jews from every nation were staying in Jerusalem speaking in other languages, it came up with its own translation. When it came to Parthians, Medes and Elamites, it wrote ‘parsons, Leeds United’s’.

Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia became ‘punters, Asia, Hertfordshire, paraphernalia’ – with ‘Cretans and Arabs’ mysteriously changed into ‘curtains and Harrods’.

Of course, depending on our background, lack of knowledge or limitations, there’s a tendency for us – like voice recognition packages – to mishear, misunderstand, or make things up.

And this, I think, can sometimes apply to our understanding of Scripture. Because of books we’ve read, films we’ve seen, preachers we’ve heard or churches we’ve been to, we sometimes come up with our own misconceptions.

Take the shepherd David.

Many years ago, before working at MAF, I worked at a Christian film distribution company and once saw a film about David and Goliath that showed a small boy dressed in armour that was far too big for him. Unable to walk, the boy actor handed the armour back to King Saul and slew the giant, who was played by a tall adult.

But when I recently looked at 1 Samuel anew as part of a talk I was doing, I realised that’s not what Scripture actually tells us.

In 1 Samuel 17:38-40 we read: ‘Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them… So he took them off.’

It wasn’t that the armour and helmet were too big for David – he just wasn’t used to them.

And although David was young (in verse 42 Goliath ‘saw that he was little more than a boy’), Goliath didn’t call him a ‘little boy’.

Indeed, in many translations, he’s described as a ‘youth’ rather than a ‘boy’.

But translations vary considerably. So how can we be sure David wasn’t a little boy – armed with kind of Horrible Henry, Dennis the Menace or Just William type catapult?

Well, if we take a closer look at the text, we see that, when Saul suffered from an evil spirit, ‘One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior… And the LORD is with him”’ (1 Samuel 16:18).

So, despite Goliath calling him ‘little more than a boy’, David entered Saul’s service ‘and became one of his armour-bearers’.

Now I’ve no idea if the armour Saul wore was as heavy as the kind Henry VIII staggered about in but, however much it weighed, I guess you’d have to be fairly strong to carry it.

Scripture also indicates that armour-bearers not only looked after other people’s armour, but fought as well.

In 1 Samuel 14:1-14, Jonathan and ‘his young armour-bearer’ go over to the Philistine outpost. ‘In that first attack,’ we read, ‘Jonathan and his armour-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.’

And, when Saul tells David, ‘You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth’ (1 Samuel 17:33), he merely contrasts David’s youth with the fact that Goliath is a seasoned, battle-hardened veteran who has been a soldier from a young age.

But David, Saul’s armour-bearer, is no callow youth. He tells Saul, ‘When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it’ (1 Samuel 16:34-36).

So the image of some sort of physically precious preteen doing something like that appears highly unlikely.

And here’s another thing! The stone that strikes Goliath doesn’t necessarily kill him.

According to the New Living Translation of 1 Samuel 17:50-52 (and others): ‘So David triumphed over the Philistine with only a sling and a stone, for he had no sword. Then David ran over and pulled Goliath’s sword from its sheath. David used it to kill him and cut off his head’.

Again, I can’t quite see a small boy having the physical strength to wield a giant sword and cut through sinew, flesh and bone to decapitate a massive giant.

Indeed, in Tudor times, even the burliest of executioners could find their grisly work hard. It took a number of blows from an axe before Henry VIII’s former friend and confidant Thomas Cromwell was finally beheaded.

The point I’m directing at myself and to others is simple. When studying or expounding the Bible, let’s ensure we leave aside our presuppositions or preconceptions, read what it actually says, and fully engage brain whilst reading or preparing a talk.

That way, we can hopefully grow in our understanding, handle the Word of God correctly (2 Timothy 2:15), and avoid our occasional tendency to misread, mishear or misrepresent Scripture – unlike my pagan voice recognition package which, when I referred to 1 Thessalonians, promptly translated it to ‘one old Etonian’ or ‘one or two Estonians’!

Gary Clayton is married to Julie and father of Christopher (12) and Emma (10). He worships at Hayes Lane Baptist Church, served for 15 years as Managing Editor of the Hudson Taylor mission OMF, and is now Copywriter and Editor at MAF UK. To learn more about how MAF aircraft help some of the world’s most isolated people, visit