1 Samuel 17

1 SAMUEL CHAPTER 17

David and Goliath

        • The story of David and Goliath is certainly well-beloved and a Sunday school staple. But, I do want to make readers aware that there are some pretty major differences between the Seputagint’s version and the Masoretic’s version. The NET Bible’s text critical notes explains:

          • The content of 1 Sam 17-18, which includes the David and Goliath story, differs considerably in the LXX as compared to the MT, suggesting that this story circulated in ancient times in more than one form. The LXX for chs. 17-18 is much shorter than the MT, lacking almost half of the material (39 of a total of 88 verses). Many scholars (e.g., McCarter, Klein) think that the shorter text of the LXX is preferable to the MT, which in their view has been expanded by incorporation of later material. Other scholars (e.g., Wellhausen, Driver) conclude that the shorter Greek text (or the Hebrew text that underlies it) reflects an attempt to harmonize certain alleged inconsistencies that appear in the longer version of the story. Given the translation characteristics of the LXX elsewhere in this section, it does not seem likely that these differences are due to deliberate omission of these verses on the part of the translator. It seems more likely that the Greek translator has faithfully rendered here a Hebrew text that itself was much shorter than the MT in these chapters. Whether or not the shorter text represented by the LXX is to be preferred over the MT in 1 Sam 17-18 is a matter over which textual scholars are divided. For a helpful discussion of the major textual issues in this unit see D. Barthélemy, D. W. Gooding, J. Lust, and E. Tov, The Story of David and Goliath (OBO). Overall it seems preferable to stay with the MT, at least for the most part. However, the major textual differences between the LXX and the MT will be mentioned in the notes that accompany the translation so that the reader may be alert to the major problem passages.”

      • The Philistines gathered their armies for battle at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and camped at Ephes-dammim which is located between Socoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites were gathered and camped in the valley of Elah where they arranged their battle lines to meet the Philistines. The Philistines were standing on one hill and the Israelites were standing on another hill, with the valley between them.

      • Then a champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out from the Philistine camp. He was nine feet nine inches tall. He wore a bronze helmet and bronze scale coat of armor that weighed 125 pounds. He wore bronze shin guards on his legs and a bronze javelin was slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam and the iron point of his spear weighed 15 pounds. His shield bearer walked in front of him.

        • How tall was Goliath? There is debate, but I believe the 9 feet, 9 inch measurement best fits the textual evidence. I’ll list some discussion from a few different sources:

          • NET Bible’s text critical notes sides with the shorter height of 6 feet, 7 inches, “Heb ‘his height was six cubits and a span.’ The LXX, a Qumran manuscript of 1 Samuel, and Josephus read ‘four cubits and a span.’ A cubit was approximately 17.5 inches, a span half that. So the Masoretic text places Goliath at about 9½ feet tall (cf. NIV, CEV, NLT ‘over nine feet’; NCV ‘nine feet, four inches’; TEV ‘nearly 3 metres’ while the other textual witnesses place him at about 6 feet, 7 inches (cf. NAB ‘six and a half feet’). Note, too, that the cubit was adjusted through history, also attested in Babylon (NIDOTTE 421-424…). If the cubits measuring Goliath were reckoned as the cubit of Moses, his height at 6 cubits and a span would be approximately 7 feet 9 inches tall. This is one of many places in Samuel where the LXX and Qumran evidence seems superior to the Masoretic text. It is possible that the scribe’s eye skipped briefly to the number 6 a few lines below in a similar environment of letters. The average Israelite male of the time was about 5 feet 3 inches, so a man 6 feet 7 inches would be a very impressive height. Saul, being head and shoulder above most Israelites, would have been nearly 6 feet tall. That is still shorter than Goliath, even at ‘four cubits and a span,’ and makes a sharper contrast between David and Saul. There would have been a greater expectation that a 6 foot tall Saul would confront a 6 feet 7 inches Goliath, placing Saul in a bad light while still positioning David as a hero of faith, which is fitting to the context.”

        • However, the textual discrepancies on Goliath’s height do not exist for the listed weight of his armor/weapons. Numerous sources agree that the weight of the armor and weaponry would have been far too great for a 6 feet, 7 inch Goliath to battle in/with. Therefore, as the HCSB notes, “In view of the excessive weight of Goliath’s armor and weapons, the biblical author evidently understood the Philistine to be awesome in size; the MT’s figure is therefore probably the original.”

        • Keeping in mind Dr. Michael Hieser’s information which we reviewed in the last chapter, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes are particularly relevant, “Within the Bible itself, both giant individuals (e.g., King Og of Bashan, Dt 3:11) and entire races of giants are described (e.g., the Anakites [Nu 13:22; Dt 2:10] and Rephaites [Dt 2:11], the latter being the race of which Og was a remnant). A noteworthy extra-Biblical reference is found in the thirteenth-century BC Egyptian Papyrus Anastasi I, which ‘describes bedouin in Canaan, “some of whom are four cubits or five cubits (from) their nose to foot and have fierce faces.”’ Joshua, during the conquest period, was largely successful in wiping out the Anakites, but there were some survivors in Philistine cities of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod (Jos 11:21-22). Goliath may well have been one of these survivors.”

      • Goliath stood and shouted to Israel’s troops, “Why have you come out to form battle lines? Am I not a Philistine and are you not servants of Saul? Choose yourselves a man so that he can come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your servants. But if I overcome him and kill him, you will be our subjects and serve us.” Then the Philistine said, “Today I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man so we can fight each other!” When Saul and the Israelites heard what this Philistine said they were dismayed and terrified.

        • Guzik writes, “This was Goliath’s exact intention in issuing the challenge. The reason why he came out with full battle equipment and paraded in front of the Israelite army was because he wanted them to be dismayed and greatly afraid. Goliath defeated the Israelites on fear alone…Saul had special reason to be afraid. Goliath was the giant among the Philistines and Saul was head and shoulder taller than other Israelite men (1 Samuel 9:2). Saul was the logical choice to square off against Goliath, and we can expect he knew others expected him to fight Goliath.As battle loomed, this was Saul’s state. At one time he was known as a fierce and successful military leader (1 Samuel 14:52). But that was before the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul (1 Samuel 16:14). As the Spirit left Saul so did his courage.”

      • Now David was the son of Jesse, who was an Ephrathite from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons and in the days of Saul he was already an old man. Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to war: the firstborn was Eliab, the second Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, but David was going back and forth from Saul to Bethlehem so he could tend his father’s sheep.

        • As mentioned previously, the LXX is much shorter than the MT version. Some manuscripts of the LXX are missing the text than begins here. NET Bible’s text critical notes indicate, “Some mss of the LXX lack vv. 12-31.”

        • On Jesse as an “Ephrathite” the NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Ephrath is a name for Bethlehem (Gen 35:19; 1 Chr 4:4).”

        • The same source adds, “David apparently served as musician and armor bearer in Saul’s court (see 16:19-23) while maintaining his duties at home…”

        • Guzik makes this very important point, “David is said to be the youngest of eight sons of Jesse. Yet Psalm 89:27 calls David God’s firstborn, demonstrating that ‘firstborn’ is as much a title and a concept as a description of birth order. Therefore, when Paul calls Jesus firstborn over all creation in Colossians 1:15, he isn’t trying to say that Jesus is a created being who had a beginning. He is simply pointing to the prominence and preeminence of Jesus.”

      • For forty days, every morning and evening, the Philistine came forward and took his stand. Jesse told his son David, “Hurry to your brothers’ camp and take this half-bushel of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread to them. Also, take these ten cheeses to their commanding officer. See how your brothers are doing and bring back a confirmation from them.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “The English translation of this instruction from Jesse to David suggests that David was to bring back assurance that his brothers were faring well. This is one possible understanding of the Hebrew (‘some pledge’ or ‘some token,’…) There may also be a sense that David was to bring back some indication that he had fulfilled his mission and delivered the goods. In view of the responsibility of local populations to supply troops in their area, a further possibility is that David was to bring back a token as proof that Jesse had met his obligations to supply the army.”

      • Now Saul, and they, and all the Israelite men were in the valley of Elah fighting the Philistines. David got up early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went just as Jesse had instructed him. He arrived at the encampment as the army was going out to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines lined up in their battle lines facing each other. David left his supplies in the care of the equipment keeper, ran to the battle line, and went and greeted his brothers. While he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, came forward from the Philistine battle line and shouted his usual words. David heard him. When the Isaelite men saw the man, they ran away from him and were very afraid.

      • The men of Israel had been saying, “Do you see this man that keeps coming out? He does this to defy Israel. The king will make the man who kills him very wealthy. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and exempt his family from paying taxes in Israel.”

      • David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and frees Israel from this humiliation? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” The soldiers repeated what they had been saying, telling him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.”

        • Guzik writes, “This must have been the approximate scene for forty days. The armies gathered on each hillside, screaming and shouting at each other across the valley. Goliath made his parade and shouted his insults, and after a while the Israelites slinked away in shame…The situation had become so desperate that Saul needed to offer a three-part bribe including a cash award, a princess, and a tax exemption – to induce someone, anyone to fight and win against Goliath…Other soldiers focused on the danger of the battle or the material rewards to be won. It seems that David alone focused on the reputation of Israel and the honor of the living God.”

      • When his older brother Eliab heard him talking to the men he became very angry with David and said, “Why have you come down? Who did you leave those few sheep with in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is. You only came down to watch the battle.” David replied, “What have I done now? Can’t I even speak?” Then he turned away to someone else and asked the same thing, and the men gave him the same answer he’d gotten before. What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul had David brought to him.

        • Guzik says, “We might have thought that David’s visit would please Eliab, especially considering all the things he brought from home. But David’s words angered Eliab and there were many reasons why. First, he was angry because he felt David was an insignificant, worthless person who had no right to speak up, especially with such bold words…Second, he was angry because he felt he knew David’s motivation…, but he didn’t really know David’s heart…Third, he was angry because he thought David tried to provoke someone else into fighting Goliath just so he could see a battle…Eliab himself was a tall man of good appearance (1 Samuel 16:7), and he may have felt David was trying to push him into battle. Finally, he was angry because David was right! When you are dismayed and greatly afraid or dreadfully afraid, the last thing in the world you want is someone telling you to be courageous.”

      • David said to Saul, “Don’t let anyone lose heart because of this Philistine, your servant will go and fight him.” But Saul replied, “You can’t go fight this Philistine. You’re only a young man and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes tells us that the LXX renders verse 32 a little differently. It has David telling Saul (“my lord”) not to lose heart as opposed to not letting anyone (“a man”) lose heart, “The LXX reads ‘my lord,’ instead of ‘a man.’”

        • Oftentimes we see this battle between David and Goliath depicted as if David was a little boy. This is not really an accurate image. The following two commentaries elaborate:

          • Matthew Poole’s Commentary: “But a youth; either, 1. For age, to wit, comparatively to Goliath, being now not much above twenty years old, as is supposed. Or rather, 2. For military skill, as the words following explain it; as if he should say, Thou art but a novice, a raw and unexperienced soldier, and therefore unable to fight with him.”

        • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: “Compared with the giant David was but a youth, though he had already shown sufficient promise to be called ‘a man of war’ by Saul’s servant (1 Samuel 16:18).”

      • David answered, “Your servant has been tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I would go after it, strike it down, and rescue the sheep from its mouth. If it rose up against me, I would grab it by its fur, strike it, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears and this uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.” He continued saying, “Yahweh, who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul replied, “Go, and may Yahweh be with you.”

        • On the lion and bear David refers to, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds writes, “the lion. Probably of the Asiatic variety (Panthera leo persica), which closely resembles the African lion, but is now virtually extinct- there are less than 300 still in the wild in the Gir Forest of northwestern India and 200 or so in zoos worldwide. The last sure evidence of a lion in Palestine was one killed in the thirteenth-century AD…the bear. A brown bear, probably of the subspecies Ursus arctos syriacus, a somewhat smaller and paler relative of the well-known grizzly bear…These paler-than-normal brown bears can still be found in parts of the Middle East, but they disappeared from the area around Israel in the first half of the twentieth-century AD…Tangible evidence of lions and bears- in the form of their remains- has been unearthed by archaeologists excavating Iron Age levels in Palestine (the period of the settlement and monarchy).”

Panthera leo persica
Ursus arctos syriacus
      • Then Saul had his own armor put on David- a bronze helmet and body armor. David strapped his sword on over his fighting attire and tried walking around, but he wasn’t used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I can’t walk in these because I’m not used to them.” So David took them off. Instead, he picked up his staff, chose five smooth stones from the stream, and put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag. Then, with his sling in his hand, he approached the Philistine.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “In Israel, slings were used mainly by shepherds to ward off marauding animals, but they were used in Egypt and Assyria as weapons of war. These slings consisted of a patch of leather or cloth, with leather straps or rope cords tied to opposite ends. Holding the ends of the cords firmly in his hand, the warrior would swing the loaded sling around above his head and then, when it had reached maximum speed, release one of the cords. The sling stones could reach speeds of 100-150 miler per hour. The stones used by the Assyrians at Lachish in the eighth century BC were two and a half to three inches in diameter and weighed about nine ounces. (ESV Archaeology Study Bible says ‘comparable in size to a tennis ball’.) Slings were affordable but effective weapons…David’s background as a shepherd would have afforded him opportunity to develop considerable skill in the use of a sling.”

Photo: Sling stones from Lachish, British Museum
      • The Philistine came closer and closer to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. The Philistine looked David over and when he saw that he was just a young man, healthy and handsome, he despised him. He said to David, “Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” And he cursed David by his gods. Then he said, “Come here and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the wild animals of the field!”

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes say, “Most LXX mss lack v. 41.” Additionally, on Goliath’s reference to David coming after him with sticks, “Sticks is a pejorative reference to David’s staff (v. 40); the same Hebrew word (maqqel) is used for both.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds that this, “..May suggest that Goliath did not see David’s sling, which he certainly would have known to be a dangerous weapon in skilled hands…”

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “In ancient Israel and the wider ancient Near East, having ones body consumed by animals was a standard covenant curse and sign of divine judgment (Deut 28:26; see also Gen 40:19 and Ezek 39:17).”

      • David replied, “You come against me with a sword, spear, and javelin, but I come against you in the name of Yahweh of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel- you have defied Him. Today, Yahweh will hand you over to me. I will strike you down, cut off your head, and give the corpses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the wild animals of the field. Then the whole world will know that Israel has a God and everyone gathered here will know that it isn’t by the sword or spear that Yahweh saves, because the battle is Yahweh’s and He will hand you over to us.”

      • As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. He reached into the bag, took out a stone, and slung it. The stone struck the Philistine, sinking into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

      • David triumphed over the Philistine with just a sling and a stone, striking him down and killing him. There was no sword in his hand. David ran and stood over him, grabbed the Philistine’s sword, drew it from its sheath, killed him, and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they ran away.

        • A few notes from NET Bible’s text critical notes, “Most LXX mss lack the second half of v. 48. Most LXX mss lack v. 50. Verse 50 is a summary statement; v. 51 gives a more detailed account of how David killed the Philistine. Most LXX mss lack the words ‘drew it from its sheath.’”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “It is difficult to decide between these two interpretations, but the result in either case was that Goliath was toppled and quickly dispatched by David, using Goliath’s own sword. The text does not clarify whether the sling stone or the sword actually ended Goliath’s life. The language would allow that the stone stunned Goliath and the he was then killed by decapitation, but it is also possible that he was already dead and David cut his head off to use for the typical display.”

      • Then the troops of Israel and Judah rose up shouting a war cry and chased the Philistines as far as Gath and to the gates of Ekron. The Philistine corpses lay fallen along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camps. David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his own tent.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The Israelites chased the Philistines to Gath, some six miles to the west. Ekron was a Philistine city five miles north of Gath. Shaaraim was a city of Judah near Azekah (17:1).”

        • Also, the city of Jerusalem was not under Israelite control at the time of this incident. This calls into question the text indicating that David took Goliath’s head there. The same source writes, “Jerusalem became an Israelite city later, when David captured it from the Jebusites (2 Sam 5:6-7). Jerusalem was probably the final destination of Goliath’s head, after David had become king. But David might have taken it to Jerusalem earlier to intimidate the non-Israelite occupants.”

      • As Saul watched David going out to confront the Philistine, he asked Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is that young man?” Abner answered, “As surely as you live, O king, I don’t know.” The king replied, “Find out whose son this young man is.” When David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him to Saul. He was still holding Philistine’s head. Saul asked him, “Young man, whose son are you?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.”

        • This passage certainly can seem odd, particularly if one reads into it that Saul had no idea who David was at this point. There are a few different things to consider about this passage:

          • As the NET Bible’s text critical notes point out, this entire section plus the beginning of chapter 18, are not present in the LXX version, “Most LXX mss lack 17:55-18:5.”

        • HCSB offers the following reconciliation, “…this text does not indicate that Saul did not know who David was, only that he did not know the name of his father…Saul was seeking the information he needed to issue the decree of tax exemption promised for David’s family (see v. 25).”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible offers a twist on the approach above, “As musician for Saul (16:14-23; 18:10; 19:9), David may have been one of many adjutants who served Saul and to whom he paid little attention. Though he would have known David’s name and family at one point, that information may not have been retained. Here it is important for him to know from which family David has come, because benefits have been offered to that family…”

          • The mental state of Saul when David played before him was such that the king failed to recognise him on the present occasion, and Abner probably had never seen him before.”

          • Some length of time had elapsed since his last visit to the court, and as he was then in very early manhood, he had, so to speak, grown, in a comparatively speaking short space of time, out of Saul’s memory.”

          • The real solution of the difficulty probably lies in the fact that, as has been before stated, this and the other historical books of the Old Testament were made up by the inspired compiler from well-authenticated traditions current in Israel, and most probably preserved in the archives of the great prophetic schools. (See Notes on 1Samuel 17:1; 1Samuel 17:15.) There were, no doubt, many of these traditions connected with the principal events of David’s early career. Two here were selected which, to a certain extent, covered the same ground. The first—preserved, no doubt, in some prophetic school where music and poetry were especially cultivated—narrates the influence which David acquired over Saul through his great gift of music. The power of music and poetry in Saul’s mental disease was evidently the great point of interest to the original writer of 1Samuel 16:14-23. Now, in the narrative contained in these ten verses no note of time occurs. The events related evidently were spread over a considerable, possibly over a very long, period. The afflicted king might have seen the young musician perhaps in a darkened tent once or twice before the Goliath combat, but the great intimacy described in 1Samuel 16:21-23, we may well assume, belonged to a period subsequent to the memorable combat with the giant. Following out this hypothesis, we may with some confidence assume that King Saul failed entirely to recognise the young player whom he had only seen (possibly only heard in his darkened tent) on one or two sad occasions; and Abner probably had never seen him. As for the great love on the part of the king, and position of royal armour-bearer these things we have little doubt came to David after the victory over the giant Philistine, and very likely indeed in consequence of it…”

Click here to go to chapter 18