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Panting hard and ignoring the shouted insults of the watching Philistine soldiers, 10-year-old Galen quickly raised his small round shield. It blocked the blow from the tree branch that Leander thrust at him. Instantly, Galen struck with his own branch, catching the older, heavier boy high on the chest above his shield.
A wild cheer of approval from the boys on Galen's team mingled with groans of those supporting Leander. The soldiers shouted encouragement to both boys as Leander landed a strong counterblow to Galen's arm just above where he gripped his branch.
Galen winced, but the pain was nothing compared to what he had suffered at the recent unexpected deaths of his parents and only brother.
Leander's muddy brown eyes glittered with joy. He puffed, "I told you that you'll never beat me! So quit before I have to hurt you!"
"No!" The word erupted from between Galen's clenched teeth. "You're bigger, but I'm going to carry Goliath's shield!"
Leander laughed nastily and feinted a thrust toward Galen's face. As Galen ducked behind his shield, he heard his adversary growl, "I'm already doing that, and no little lizard like you will ever take it from me! Now, this is your last chance! Quit now!"
Galen didn't reply, but in his frustration and pain he knew that his only hope for any future required him to give a strong account of himself in this elimination round of mock battle. He opened his mouth wide, yelled loudly, and began wildly slashing with his branch as he rushed upon his adversary.
This was so unexpected that Leander took two quick steps backward and tripped over his own feet. He fell to the sand. Derisive laughter erupted from the men, and Galen's friends shouted joyously.
Panting, Galen stood over his fallen foe. "Give up?"
"No!" Leander quickly swung his right leg up to hook his foot behind Galen's left knee. With a quick pull of his foot, Leander forced Galen's knee to buckle. He dropped heavily to the sand. Leander promptly kicked away Galen's shield and branch, then jumped onto his chest.
This brought roars of approval and loud applause from the soldiers, but Galen's friends groaned in unison.
The older, heavier boy leaned forward and thrust his dark face close to Galen's. Through clenched teeth, Leander hissed, "If you're ever going to be a big enough Philistine to carry Goliath's shield, you've got to win, no matter what! That's what I dowhile you lose!" Leander's crushing weight kept him from replying.
Galen was aware of a sudden silence from the spectators. A shadow fell across Galen. He squinted against the sun as Leander leaped to his feet and stood at attention.
Galen's light brown eyes focused on the shadow maker. "Goliath!" the boy whispered, surging upright at the sight of the giant who stood more than nine feet tall.
Even though Galen had performed menial chores for Goliath, the boy was always overwhelmed at the sight of the Philistine army's greatest warrior. He wore a bronze helmet with the distinctive feather-like crown that made him look twice as tall as Galen. Goliath wore his 125-pound coat of mail and bronze greaves on his legs as if they were light as the desert air.
His deep voice mocked, "An ant tries to fell a bear." He laughed, a great booming sound of power.
Galen knew that if he was ever going to become the giant's shield bearer, he should offer some defense for his unfortunate position. Yet he couldn't think of what to say.
Goliath's mocking continued, "Galen the healer fights Leander the lion-man, and this is what happens."
Leander drew himself up proudly and threw out his chest at the giant's praise. Galen wished the ground would open up and swallow him before he was further humiliated.
Goliath boomed again. "Galen, do you think a reed can fell a tree? You are foolish! You are nothing and you never will be anything!"
Galen's shame deepened as the great warrior turned to Leander. "Galen fights like an Israelite. Isn't that right?"
Emboldened, Leander exclaimed, "Yes! He punches the air as if it had breath, stabbing everywhere but the target!"
Goliath threw back his huge head and laughed deep in his throat. "Very good, Leander!" The giant gently placed a massive hand on Leander's shoulder before adding, "Come to my tent and help me prepare to again insult those Israelite dogs yapping across the valley! Maybe this evening one of them will finally have the courage to accept my challenge."
Galen closed his eyelids tightly to stop the tears that threatened to slide out. He stood there in misery, hearing the soldiers and Leander's followers drifting away while hurling scornful remarks over their shoulders.
Galen heard the ground crunch under a sandal next to him. He cautiously opened his eyes to see one of his friends anxiously looking at him.
"You all right?" Ziklag asked, lightly touching Galen's wrist where angry red welts were rising from Leander's hard blow.
Not sure he could trust himself to speak without his voice quivering, Galen only nodded. He was tempted to wipe away the fugitive tear that cruised unbidden down his right cheek, but he pretended it didn't exist.
"You could have beaten him," Ziklag declared with stout friendship. "He's two years older, taller, and outweighs you by thirty pounds, but you're brave and smart and quick. You had him down, fair and square, but he didn't fight fair. Otherwise, you would have won."
Galen found his voice. He bitterly exclaimed, "Goliath doesn't think so!"
"He missed seeing you take Leander down. Goliath only stepped from between the tents just before Leander tripped you."
Galen shrugged. "It doesn't make any difference, Zik. Goliath thinks I'm only a tiny ant, or a reed growing by the water." Galen's voice began to rise in anger. "But he's wrong! I'm a good fighter and am not afraid! I have a good head for thinking! I'll grow stronger, and I'll become a good warrior! You'll see!"
Zik protested, "You don't have to convince me! You're really strong for your age. More than that, I know from what you've been through that you're strong inside where it really counts. Next time, you'll beat Leander."
"I thought I had him today, but I was wrong," Galen sadly admitted. He bent and retrieved his shield but ignored the fallen branch. "Somehow," he mused, hefting the small round shield, "I've got to trade this in for the right to carry Goliath's shield."
Zik's eyes opened wide. "His shield? Have you ever tried to lift it?"
"No, but I can."
"I'm not so sure," Ziklag said uncertainly. "One time when Goliath was eating and drinking with the other soldiers, I slipped into his tent and picked up his bronze spear. The iron head alone must weigh between 15 and 25 pounds, so think how much heavier his shield has to be!"
"I don't care!" Galen said stubbornly. "Everything important in the world has been taken from me: my parents, my brother, my home. But when I carry Goliath's shield ahead of him into battle, all of our soldiers and even the Israelites will know I am somebody!"
"I hope you're right, Galen," his friend said sincerely. "But how are you going to do that?"
Pondering that question, Galen silently looked across the Valley of Elah where soon the Israelite army would gather, as they did every morning and evening. They had done this for more than a month while Goliath shouted insults and vainly called for the Israelites to send out one warrior to fight him, man-to-man.
But the inadequately armed Israelites had refused, knowing that if they sent a champion who lost to Goliath, all the others would become Philistine slaves.
Zik broke into Galen's musings to repeat his question. "So how are you going to do that?"
Galen firmly declared, "I don't know, but somehow I'll find a way. I must!"
Galen and Goliath by Lee Roddy
Copyright © 2001, Focus on the Family
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.