Twenty-four fingers and toes.
It sounds grotesque. A person with 24 fingers and toes.
But watch videos of polydactyls, as they’re called, and you won’t notice the extra digits. Seriously. Their hands and feet look like regular hands and feet. In fact, in 2009 when Kamani Hubbard was born in San Francisco with 24 fingers and toes, no one on the medical staff saw it. His father spotted the extra digits, probably because he’d been born with one.
Twenty-four fingers and toes rarely happens and some think these polydactyls are blessed: Baby Hubbard’s doctor pointed out the advantage for finger-oriented activities like playing the piano; Cuban-born Yoandri Garrido uses those extra digits to climb trees for coconuts; and major league pitcher Antonio Alfonseca wasn’t hurt by his 24 fingers and toes.
National Geographic claims there’s evidence that extra digits were revered, at least in a civilization 1,000 years ago. That’s probably also true for a warrior 3,000 years ago’a giant in the Bible with 24 fingers and toes.
No, it’s not Goliath. Few realize that five giants challenged David, all of them Philistines. If you think about football rivals like Alabama and Auburn, Florida and F.S.U., you get a feel for the fierce rivalry between Israel and the Philistines. Like those teams, the nations have a checkered past of victories, sometimes Israel wins and sometimes it’s the Philistines. But check your Bible: when David quarterbacks, Israel always wins; and when David is off the field, the Philistines win.
David is born into an era when the Philistines have a garrison of soldiers stationed deep inside Israel, and the Philistines have such control that the Israelites are not allowed to make weapons. Israel’s first king and his crown prince turn the tide, winning decisive battles against the Philistines.
That’s when the Philistines send forth their giant, Goliath, causing every Hebrew to quake. Except young David. David not only kills Goliath, but leads Israel to victory after victory against the Philistines under King Saul. As I said, David is a winner—it’s a great time for Team Israel!
But King Saul’s jealousy gets the best of him. Saul forces David to flee, and the Philistines are back on top. They defeat Israel until they kill King Saul.
That’s a big tactical mistake by the Philistines. Why? Because David returns—this time to stay.
Once again, the Philistines put their giants on the field. Scripture names them differently, but they’re the same guys. First there’s Ishbi-Benob, who thought he could kill David. Then Suph (Sippai). Then Lahmi. (2 Samuel 21:15-22, 1 Chronicles 20:4-5)
Remember how years earlier no one was willing to challenge Goliath except David? That’s changed. David’s men take the Philistine giants on.
This is when 24 fingers and toes appears in Scripture. Since the Bible doesn’t name him, we’ll call him “Big Polly,” the jumbo polydactyl.
Big Polly is the fifth Philistine giant to confront David. Goliath had failed. Ishbi-Benob had failed as had Suph and Lahmi. Why does Big Polly think he’s different?
With 24 fingers and toes, there’s little doubt that Big Polly was seen as special. And obviously he’s quite confident—willing to taunt the living God. The fate of the other giants with their mere 20 fingers and toes doesn’t concern Big Polly.
You see this all the time. People who feel extraordinary for one reason or another. They can’t be bothered with God. Consider Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, who had more wealth than he could spend and no need for God.
You see them in the church. They have power, either tithing large sums or working their way to the top of one board or another. Sometimes it’s their wives or husbands who challenge God without realizing it, poking at Him in some way.
Like Big Polly, because they can.
It never ends well. Twenty-four fingers and toes had reason after reason to back away?Goliath, Ishbi-Benob, Suph, and Lahmi. But Big Polly had more fingers and toes than he had sense. He died in his insistence that he was bigger than God. (1 Chronicles 20:6-7)
Before you go to war against anyone, no matter how badly you want that victory, you better know whom you’re fighting. God is real. Get down on your knees and listen.
Don’t find yourself charging headlong into God.
Copyright (c) 2019 R. A. Mathews The Rev. Mathews is a faith columnist, attorney, and the author of “Reaching to God.” Write to her at [email protected]