David Kills Goliath

17:1  The Philistines gathered their troops for battle. They assembled at Socoh in Judah. They camped in Ephes Dammim, between Socoh and Azekah. 17:2 Saul and the Israelite army assembled and camped in the valley of Elah, where they arranged their battle lines to fight against the Philistines. 17:3 The Philistines were standing on one hill, and the Israelites on another hill, with the valley between them.

Critical scholarship regards the account of David versus Goliath as legendary; a backstory created to confer on David the credentials required as the model king of Israel.  Sandie Gravett, for example, says: ‘More critical readers recognize the apocryphal nature of this tale. Not only is it one of two accounts of how David came into the service of Saul (the other being as a musician, 1 Sam 16:18-23), it also conflicts with 2 Sam 21:19, which states that a fighter named Elhanan defeated Goliath in a different battle. In order to depose a successful sitting king and all of his heirs, David needed a compelling biography. Here, he gets it by demonstrating prowess in the art of war (see 1 Sam 18:5-8, 1 Sam 18:30 also). Further, he wins the right to marry into the family of the king (1 Sam 17:25, 1 Sam 18:17-29).’

17:4 Then a champion came out from the camp of the Philistines. His name was Goliath; he was from Gath. He was close to seven feet tall. 17:5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and was wearing scale body armor. The weight of his bronze body armor was five thousand shekels. 17:6 He had bronze shin guards on his legs, and a bronze javelin was slung over his shoulders. 17:7 The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and the iron point of his spear weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer was walking before him.

He was over nine feet tall – based on the Masoretic (received) text which gives his height as ‘six cubits and a span’ (a cubit was about 18 inches and a span about 9 inches). The tallest known human being in modern times was Robert Wadlow (died 1940), with a height of 8 feet, 11.1 inches. The LXX, however, gives his height as ‘four cubits and a span’ – 6 feet and nine inches.  Josephus also has this lower (but still highly unusual) height).  This more modest height is supported by the oldest available Hebrew manuscript, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.  See this discussion by J. Daniel Hays in JETS, December 2005.

17:8 Goliath stood and called to Israel’s troops, “Why do you come out to prepare for battle? Am I not the Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose for yourselves a man so he may come down to me! 17:9 If he is able to fight with me and strike me down, we will become your servants. But if I prevail against him and strike him down, you will become our servants and will serve us.” 17:10 Then the Philistine said, “I defy Israel’s troops this day! Give me a man so we can fight each other!” 17:11 When Saul and all the Israelites heard these words of the Philistine, they were upset and very afraid.

Dale Ralph Davies remarks that this account is not really about ‘slaying our own Goliaths’ (be they school bullies or personal sins).  One key to its true import is the repetition of a word than means ‘to reproach, defy, mock, or deride’ (vv 10, 25, 26, 36, 45).  Goliath is not simply a big oaf; he dishonours Israel’s God.

17:12  Now David was the son of this Ephrathite named Jesse from Bethlehem in Judah. He had eight sons, and in Saul’s days he was old and well advanced in years. 17:13 Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to war. The names of the three sons who went to war were Eliab, his firstborn, Abinadab, the second oldest, and Shammah, the third oldest. 17:14 Now David was the youngest. While the three oldest sons followed Saul, 17:15 David was going back and forth from Saul in order to care for his father’s sheep in Bethlehem.
17:16 Meanwhile for forty days the Philistine approached every morning and evening and took his position. 17:17 Jesse said to his son David, “Take your brothers this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread; go quickly to the camp to your brothers. 17:18 Also take these ten portions of cheese to their commanding officer. Find out how your brothers are doing and bring back their pledge that they received the goods. 17:19 They are with Saul and the whole Israelite army in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.”
17:20 So David got up early in the morning and entrusted the flock to someone else who would watch over it. After loading up, he went just as Jesse had instructed him. He arrived at the camp as the army was going out to the battle lines shouting its battle cry. 17:21 Israel and the Philistines drew up their battle lines opposite one another. 17:22 After David had entrusted his cargo to the care of the supply officer, he ran to the battlefront. When he arrived, he asked his brothers how they were doing.
17:23 As he was speaking with them, the champion named Goliath, the Philistine from Gath, was coming up from the battle lines of the Philistines. He spoke the way he usually did, and David heard it. 17:24 When all the men of Israel saw this man, they retreated from his presence and were very afraid.
17:25 The men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who is coming up? He does so to defy Israel. But the king will make the man who can strike him down very wealthy! He will give him his daughter in marriage, and he will make his father’s house exempt from tax obligations in Israel.”
17:26 David asked the men who were standing near him, “What will be done for the man who strikes down this Philistine and frees Israel from this humiliation? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he defies the armies of the living God?” 17:27 The soldiers told him what had been promised, saying, “This is what will be done for the man who can strike him down.”
17:28 When David’s oldest brother Eliab heard him speaking to the men, he became angry with David and said, “Why have you come down here? To whom did you entrust those few sheep in the desert? I am familiar with your pride and deceit! You have come down here to watch the battle!”
17:29 David replied, “What have I done now? Can’t I say anything?” 17:30 Then he turned from those who were nearby to someone else and asked the same question, but they gave him the same answer as before. 17:31 When David’s words were overheard and reported to Saul, he called for him.
17:32 David said to Saul, “Don’t let anyone be discouraged. Your servant will go and fight this Philistine!” 17:33 But Saul replied to David, “You aren’t able to go against this Philistine and fight him! You’re just a boy! He has been a warrior from his youth!”
17:34 David replied to Saul, “Your servant has been a shepherd for his father’s flock. Whenever a lion or bear would come and carry off a sheep from the flock, 17:35 I would go out after it, strike it down, and rescue the sheep from its mouth. If it rose up against me, I would grab it by its jaw, strike it, and kill it. 17:36 Your servant has struck down both the lion and the bear. This uncircumcised Philistine will be just like one of them. For he has defied the armies of the living God!” 17:37 David went on to say, “The LORD who delivered me from the lion and the bear will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!” Then Saul said to David, “Go! The LORD will be with you.”
17:38 Then Saul clothed David with his own fighting attire and put a bronze helmet on his head. He also put body armor on him. 17:39 David strapped on his sword over his fighting attire and tried to walk around, but he was not used to them. David said to Saul, “I can’t walk in these things, for I’m not used to them.” So David removed them. 17:40 He took his staff in his hand, picked out five smooth stones from the stream, placed them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag, took his sling in hand, and approached the Philistine.

“’The fellow dressed up as Goliath had progressively revealed a list of childhood sins by peeling card-board strips off his breastplate one by one, as the speaker explained the kind of ‘Goliaths’ we all have to meet.  Then a strapping young David appeared on cue, and produced his arsenal – a sling labelled ‘faith’ and five stones listed as ‘obedience’, ‘service’, ‘Bible-reading’, ‘prayer’, and ‘fellowship.’”  (G. Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 10)

17:41  The Philistine kept coming closer to David, with his shield bearer walking in front of him. 17:42 When the Philistine looked carefully at David, he despised him, for he was only a ruddy and handsome boy. 17:43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you are coming after me with sticks?” Then the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 17:44 The Philistine said to David, “Come here to me, so I can give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the field!”
17:45 But David replied to the Philistine, “You are coming against me with sword and spear and javelin. But I am coming against you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel’s armies, whom you have defied! 17:46 This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand! I will strike you down and cut off your head. This day I will give the corpses of the Philistine army to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the land. Then all the land will realize that Israel has a God 17:47 and all this assembly will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves! For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will deliver you into our hand.”
17:48 The Philistine drew steadily closer to David to attack him, while David quickly ran toward the battle line to attack the Philistine. 17:49 David reached his hand into the bag and took out a stone. He slung it, striking the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank deeply into his forehead, and he fell down with his face to the ground.
17:50  David prevailed over the Philistine with just the sling and the stone. He struck down the Philistine and killed him. David did not even have a sword in his hand. 17:51 David ran and stood over the Philistine. He grabbed Goliath’s sword, drew it from its sheath, killed him, and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they ran away.

There is an apparent contradiction between this account and that of 2 Sam 21:19, where the slayer of Goliath is named as Elhanan, not David.  Furthermore, 1 Chron 20:5 says that Elhanan killed Lahmi, brother of Goliath, not Goliath himself.

For critical scholars, these apparent discrepancies provide evidence of the legendary nature of the accounts themselves.  Some conservative scholars suggest that ‘Elhanan’ could be another name (a throne name, perhaps,  or a nickname, meaning ‘beloved’) for David, or that ‘Goliath’ might be a title, rather than a personal name, with two fighters from Gath thus titled.  The trouble with these interpretations is that they are more or less conjectural.

More plausibly, Hard Sayings of the Bible suggests that one or more copyist errors have crept into the account recorded in 1 Chron 20:5.  It was David who killed Goliath, and Elhanan who slew the brother of Goliath (1 Chron 20:5).  But, as far as 2 Sam 21:19 is concerned:

‘The copyist…made three mistakes: (1) He read the direct object sign that comes just before the name of the giant that Elhanan killed, namely Lahmi, as if it were the word “Beth,” thereby getting “the Bethlehemite,” when the “Beth” was put with “Lahmi.” (2) He also misread the word for “brother” (Hebrew ˒āḥ) as the direct object sign (Hebrew ˒eṯ) before Goliath, thereby making Goliath the one who was killed, since he was now the direct object of the verb, instead, as it should have been, “the brother of Goliath.” (3) He misplaced the word “Oregim,” meaning “weavers,” so that it yielded “Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim,” a most improbable reading for anyone: “Elhanan the son of the forests of weavers.” The word for “weavers” should come as it does in 1 Chronicles 20:5 about the spear being “a beam/shaft like a weaver’s rod.”’


17:52 Then the men of Israel and Judah charged forward, shouting a battle cry. They chased the Philistines to the valley and to the very gates of Ekron. The Philistine corpses lay fallen along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 17:53 When the Israelites returned from their hot pursuit of the Philistines, they looted their camp. 17:54 David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, and he put Goliath’s weapons in his tent.
17:55  Now as Saul watched David going out to fight the Philistine, he asked Abner, the general in command of the army, “Whose son is this young man, Abner?” Abner replied, “As surely as you live, O king, I don’t know.” 17:56 The king said, “Find out whose son this boy is!”
17:57 So when David returned from striking down the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul. He still had the head of the Philistine in his hand. 17:58 Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” David replied, “I am the son of your servant Jesse in Bethlehem.”

“Whose son are you?” – The previous chapter (1 Sam 16:14-23) has David in Saul’s court and soothing the king with his music.  How is it that in the present text Saul does not seem to recognise David?  According to Longman and Dillard (An Introduction to the Old Testament), ‘a probable explanation of this anomaly is that the text is not focused on chronological reporting but intends rather a dual topical introduction of David, who as a young man already manifested the gifts that would gain him renown as the sweet psalm-singer of Israel as well as the mighty warrior of the Lord.’