Does the Bible have anything to say about technology?
And if yes, what?
No, I am not suggesting there are obscure or hidden Bible verses mentioning digital audio consoles, DMX, or large sensor camera imagers. But I’ve heard (usually from church tech-arts brethren) that the Bible has little to say about technology. Maybe that assumption should be challenged?
In 1st Samuel the Bible reveals to us a story which has technology at its core, throughout, from beginning to end. It’s a story about the longing for better technology … and being denied technology … when it appeared very life itself would depend on it. I’m confident you’ve heard the Bible story countless times. Every Sunday School student has, but likely not in the context of technology … but it’s there, plain as day.
The back-story: The Hebrews had been ruled by judges, one of which was Samuel. As Samuel became older he repeated a mistake from Eli (a High Priest who raised Samuel) by appointing his own sons to succeed him. Unfortunately, Samuel’s sons turned out to be greedy and corrupt, therefore poor leaders for the people. The people then asked for “a King,” to be like the other nations. Saul (1046 BC), a young, tall, handsome man ascended to the nation’s newly formed throne. Prior to and during Saul’s reign there were ongoing wars and skirmishes with the Philistines as well as the Canaanites, both who occupied and controlled the western territories effectively cutting off the Hebrews from the Mediterranean sea. When our story takes place the Philistines exerted military dominance over the combined kingdom of Israel and Judah, garrisoning forces nearby to insure any potential Hebrew uprising could be quickly squelched. To insure a prompt and total victory over the Hebrews the Philistines enacted a law forbidding the Hebrews from engaging in blacksmithing (1 Samuel 13:19). This law not only insured the Hebrews would not be able to manufacture weapons (which could then potentially be used against Philistia), but it also meant the Hebrews would be dependent on Philistia for all metal work including farming implements needed to work the fields (1 Samuel 13:20-21).
The Bible suggests that after one of the previous battles the Philistine army confiscated all of Israel’s weapons. Scholars theorize that weapons, swords and spears, may have been available on a black market in Israel but likely at exorbitant costs due to their contraband status. As a result, one would have needed to be both very wealthy and politically powerful to own a sword or a spear at this time.
Due to the weapons confiscation and blacksmithing prohibition the Bible states that the entire weapons inventory for the entire Hebrew army was exactly two, yes TWO swords. These two swords were carried by none other than recently appointed King Saul and his son, Jonathan.
“So it came about on the day of battle that neither sword nor spear was found in the hands of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan, but they were found with Saul and his son Jonathan.”1 Samuel 13:22 NASB
The detail revealed in this verse is important for many reasons. The first being, most Sunday School students (like myself) might assume that when David met Goliath the armies of Israel were well equipped for battle with all of the common armaments of the day, swords, shields and spears; and therefore David’s use of a simple rock and sling would be by comparison atypical and unique. A close reading of the story however suggests the Hebrew army arrived for battle armed with farming implements (as these were not confiscated as they were allowed to be purchased from the Philistines), along with whatever else the Hebrews could get their hands on, including rocks, slings, sticks, etc. which in those times were not unheard of to go to battle with.
Judges 3:31 describes Shamgar killing six hundred adversaries with an ox goad (a long stick with a pointed end normally used to prod animals). Judges 20:16 describes soldiers from King Saul’s own tribe skilled at using a sling in battle. And 1 Chronicles 12:2 describes men in David’s army being skilled in throwing stones.
In light of understanding how the Hebrew army had been disarmed of swords and spears, young David’s willingness to fight Goliath was not remarkable simply because he willingly chose to battle Goliath with weapons inferior to those held by his fellow Hebrew comrades, but rather because David was willing to confront their foe confidently armed as his comrades. Equipped sufficiently with God’s favor and with disregard to the adversaries’ disparate size, weight, greater numbers and technology, David moved forward while others, including the new King (who it was noted was armed with a sword) did not.
The banning of blacksmithing in Israel had another note-worthy consequence. A few centuries before our story takes place most tools and weapons were made out of bronze, which is produced primarily from two source materials, copper and tin. These two metals are rarely found near each other and while copper is relatively easy to locate in the Mediterranean (Cyprus’ name interestingly actually means “copper”), tin is rare to the region. Since the required two ingredients are rarely found in the same geographic area, only nations with robust trade and commerce had access to the natural resources needed to create bronze. However as previously noted, Israel had been cut off from the Mediterranean and therefore were impeded to trade freely, hence lacking the raw materials needed to produce bronze even clandestinely.
At the end of the Bronze age – about 1200 BCE – international trade in the region broke down. Due to tin’s scarcity metallurgists focused instead on producing iron which while not a new discovery was previously difficult to produce due to iron ore’s mining requirements as well as the higher controlled temperatures needed to successfully produce iron. Those who figured out how to regulate and control temperatures and the smelting process correctly used coal as the fuel for their fires, resulting in carbon being introduced into their metal. An unexpected happenstance resulted, the invention and production of steel! Iron, when forged at the correct temperature, carburized and quenched (doused in water) allowed for the creation of formidable steel weapons, far superior to those of bronze in most all respects.
Which civilizations had advanced knowledge in the production of iron and steel? The Hittites, who passed their knowledge to the Canaanites and the Philistines, both of whom were now engaged in battles against Israel. Did the Philistines have iron weapons? Certainly. Not only did the Philistine army have iron weapons, the Bible notes Goliath’s spearhead was made of iron weighing approximately 15 lbs. (1 Samuel 17:7).
Not only did the Philistines prevent Israel from producing their own tools and weapons of bronze, they effectively denied Israel the practical technical knowledge and experience of working with the latest and most technically advanced raw materials to produce the highest quality weapons. If your subjects are not allowed to blacksmith there is little need to worry about them learning out how to produce iron or steel.
Even if the Philistines had allowed the Hebrews to blacksmith, Israel was decades behind the Philistines in metallurgic sciences and therefore the latest weapon production capabilities. In fact, the first mention of iron in the kingdom of Israel occurs near the end of David’s reign as king (1 Chronicles 22:3). But that was many years in the future as our story takes place under Saul’s kingship, not David’s.
A nation with iron or steel weapons like Philistia could easily defeat a nation with even the best bronze weapons when in equal quantities. However when the Philistine armies marched into battle against the Hebrews the Bible describes the Philistine infantry numbering “as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude” (1 Samuel 13:5). If outnumbering the Hebrew army was not in itself sufficient the Philistines also mustered 6,000 men on horseback and another 30,000 on chariots. Combined with the Philistine’s superior iron weapons, the odds against King Saul and the Hebrews were militarily insurmountable.
If one accepts the fact that technology (albeit not AVL per se) existed in ancient times, what lessons might we be able to take away from 1st Samuel?
The dominant message in 1st Samuel is that technology is neither of great or of no consequence. Iron weapons are generally superior to bronze. A sword or spear is generally superior to a sling or a stick. A large army is generally superior to a small one. However all of these facts are offset by God’s own hand.
“… not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts”– Zechariah 4:6 NKJV
While it is clear our faith must be put in the Creator, not our technological creations, in church circles we sometimes risk the pendulum swinging toward a pious neo-luddism. God is not against technology. He is against technology becoming our god. When relying on Him for the outcome, we can achieve more with technology than without it.
In the chapters before David meets Goliath (1 Samuel 17), King Saul’s son Jonathan attacked the Philistines on multiple occasions, despite the Philistines many advantages. In 1 Samuel 13:3 Jonathan attacked the Philistines while commanding an outnumbered Hebrew force of only 1,000 men. In 1 Samuel 14 Jonathan conducted a raid against a Philistine encampment accompanied only by his armorbearer, a young boy with him (1 Sam 14:1, 14:6). In these battles one could argue that Jonathan faced similar if not worse odds than David did against Goliath, and it should be noted in both Jonathan was armed, using all the personal armaments (technology) available to him and was victorious against the Philistines in each.
“Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the LORD will work for us. For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.’”– 1 Samuel 14:6 NKJV
It was not 1,000 men, or armorbearer, or his sword that caused Jonathan to be victorious, but God. Nonetheless, Jonathan used his sword.
“So the LORD saved Israel that day ….”– 1 Samuel 14:23 NKJV
It should also be noted that although David rejected King Saul’s armor and weapons – as David was unpracticed and therefore uncomfortable with them – David’s battle against Goliath actually reinforces the importance of technology. For if the use of certain weapons would have no impact whatsoever on the outcome of the battle – because God would have given David the victory no matter – then David could have just as easily defeated Goliath with Saul’s armaments as without them. Even with God’s favor David’s preference was to use only those weapons to which he was familiar. And although the sling was sufficient to debilitate Goliath, it was a sword, Goliath’s own sword now in David’s hands which took Goliath’s life (1 Samuel 17:51).
“Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.'”– 1 Samuel 17:45
As a final note, it’s interesting allegorically that superior steel and iron weapons require far more maintenance to keep up operationally than the older technology bronze weapons. Iron and steel, when exposed to oxygen and moisture will rust. Bronze on the other hand will keep an edge for hundreds of years even if left untouched.
So not unlike AVL, unless you plan on having a sword you don’t use for 400 years after your death, steel and iron (newer, better technology) is superior.
A few months have now past since the FILO (First In Last Out) conference. FILO (and other tech conferences) are a great resource for the church tech-arts community where people learn, are encouraged, meet others who share similar ministry challenges, develop relationships, all while having the opportunity to watch the FILO and Willow Creek Community Church tech teams execute production at high levels of excellence. The event is held in a facility well suited to high production-value experiences. The campus is huge. There are multiple well-equipped modern rooms. The church has updated and upgraded over time. They have some of the best cameras, LED screens, PA systems and lighting found anywhere, by any standard, House of Worship or secular.
It’s easily to feel, especially if you come from church of 30, 300, or 3,000, “why bother? We will never reach that level!” And a somber realization is for many of us, we likely may not ever serve at a mega-church with >50,000 attendees anytime in our future or for that matter enjoy the production facilities and large tech teams commensurate with those mega-sized needs. And that’s ok.
Be faithful with what you have. Use it to it’s fullest. God is not against technology. He is against anything (including technology) becoming our god.
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”Hebrews 13:5 NKJV
Tom D’Angelo has worked in television production and AVL corporate theater for nearly four decades. He is Emmy Award nominated (Best Director category, Mid-Atlantic) and has been part of various teams nominated or winning national Emmys. As the Media Director at a megachurch in the 1980’s he developed a love for the Church and church performing and technical artists.