David Kills Goliath, 1-58
The relationship between the previous chapter and this one will be commented on from time to time in these notes. We remark, to begin with, that they appear to be entirely independent of one another, with no attempt being made to harmonise the details. As Baldwin notes, we should not be surprised that there is no mention of David’s having been anointed, because that was a private affair, with no evidence that anyone, apart from Samuel and the Lord himself, was aware of its significance. But it is surprising that, whereas the previous chapter has David recruited as a member of Saul’s court, in the present chapter Saul is found asking who David is. It is possible, of course, that David had returned home and had matured into a bearded young man unrecognisable from what he had been (but see 17:15).
A standard critical account is give in the Oxford Bible Commentary:
‘In view of vv12-16, which so glaringly contradict what has gone before in 16:4-23, it is generally assumed that it is an alternative account of David’s introduction to Saul, possibly derived from a different source. Others interpret it, not as an alternative, but as providing the next step in David’s progression to the throne by testing his suitability. In contrast to the testing of Jonathan at Michmash (vv. 13-14) David proves himself a worthy successor to the throne.’
The same work discusses an apparent conflict between the present passage and 2 Sam 21:19
‘To avoid the difficulty caused by the statement in 2 Sam 21:19 that another Bethlehemite, called Elhanan, killed Goliath, several proposals have been made. Chronicles obviously attempted to harmonize the text by claiming that ‘Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath’ (1 Chr 20:5). A suggestion that has found some support is that Elhanan was the original name of the Bethlehemite who killed Goliath, David his throne name (Honeyman 1948). Other more acceptable solutions are: either that elements from a popular tradition about Elhanan became attached later to David (McCarter 1980), or else that in the course of time the name Goliath was given to an anonymous challenger (Hertzberg 1964).’
Davis (in a footnote) discusses the textual problems which beset this passage of Scripture:
‘There is a major debate about the text of 1 Samuel 17 (–18). The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, ca. 200 B.C.) does not have verses 12–31, 41, 50, 55–58 as in most English versions, which follow the traditional Hebrew text (called the Masoretic Text). (LXX also omits 18:1–5.) If one reads the story as LXX has it one finds a flowing, consistent account, free from the tensions and apparent inconsistencies of MT. That is why I suspect LXX here; it is too neat…Some of the problems in MT are: 16:14–23 shows David installed at Saul’s court, while chapter 17 has him back in Bethlehem; chapter 17 (vv. 12–15) reintroduces Jesse and David when we’ve already met them in chapter 16; if Saul had enjoyed David’s musical therapy in 16:23, why does he not seem to know David in 17:55–58? Of course, 17:15 indicates David’s appearances at court were intermittent and thus explains his absence at Goliath time. But in critical debate 17:15 hasn’t a prayer. If 17:15 were not there, someone would scream that there is a contradiction between 16:14–23 and chapter 17. However, when it is there, many dub it an “obvious harmonization,” placed there by an editor who wanted to smooth over the discrepancies in the accounts. So it’s a no-win situation. Nevertheless, it is only natural for David to be reintroduced in 17:12–15. After all the press given to Goliath (vv. 4–10) surely David merits equal time. And MT specifies Jesse as “this/ that Ephrathite” (v. 12), that is, the one who had already been mentioned (16:1, 18–19). As for verses 55–58, note that Saul’s question is about whose son David is (three times). It is not that Saul doesn’t know David’s name but he wants certitude about his roots, since his father’s house was to be made free (from taxation?) in Israel (v. 25). But don’t 16:19, 22 show that Saul knew who David’s father was? Not necessarily; such communication even at Saul’s rustic court would be drafted by a bureaucrat, not directly by Saul.’
Although the story of David and Goliath is the archetype of all subsequent ‘David and Goliath’ stories, it does not primarily focus on David’s courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, but rather on his faith in the Lord.
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).’
Saul and the Israelite army assembled – ‘were gathered’ (ESV, reflecting the passive voice), according to Chester. Already, the lack of leadership from Saul is apparent.
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 close to seven feet tall – following the LXX, which gives his height as ‘four cubits and a span’. The NIV, NEB and other EVV, follow 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. Josephus also has the 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.
‘This passage presents the longest description of military attire in the Old Testament. Goliath’s physical stature, armor, weaponry, and shield bearer must have made him appear invincible. However, the reader has just been warned against paying undue attention to outward appearances. The detailed description of Goliath’s external advantages here suggests that chap. 17 was intended in part to serve as an object lesson in the theology of the previous chapter (cf. 1 Sam 16:7).’ (Bergen)
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.
The strategy of one-on-one fighting between two champions meant that the winning side could be decided without a huge loss of life.
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.
“If he is able to fight with me and strike me down, we will become your servants” – ‘So certain is he of winning the fight that he commits his fellow countrymen to slavery if he fails, though when the unexpected happened, and Israel triumphed, the Philistines did not serve Israel.’ (Baldwin)
‘The fact that Goliath is recorded as explaining the practice to the Israelites suggests that they had not previously participated in a contest like this; the fact that the Philistines later reneged on the agreement (cf. 18:30) suggests that representative combat was not taken seriously even by those who advocated it.’ (Bergen)
“I defy Israel’s troops this day!” – But readers already know from Hannah’s prayer that the Lord brings down the arrogant (1 Sam 2:3–4)
They were upset and very afraid – Even Saul, who was himself a man of impressive stature (1 Sam 9:2, 10:23) felt intimidated by Goliath. This argues a lack of courage and leadership on the part of Saul.
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.
Jesse…had eight sons – Seven, according to 1 Chron 2:13. The difference may be accounted for by the early death of one of the sons.
Jesse was old and well advanced in years – too old for military service.
His three oldest sons had followed Saul to war – Suggesting, but not proving, that these were the only sons who were above the age of 20, which was the minimum age for military service (Num 1:3,19).
David was going back and forth from Saul in order to care for his father’s sheep in Bethlehem – ‘While Saul was fully occupied with military manoeuvres he would not need his minstrel, so David was back home for a while.’ (Baldwin)
Emphasised here are ‘David’s youth, his simple shepherd life, and his obedience to his father’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)
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.”
Jesse sends David on a mission to help feed the army, which had been enduring a 40-day stand-off with the Philistines.
Commanding officer – lit. ‘the leader of the thousand’, once again suggesting a wide scope of meaning for this numeral.
“Bring back their pledge that they received the goods” – lit. ‘and their pledge take.’ Jesse was probably looking for some kind of confirmation that his sons were safe. An alternative view (favoured by Bergen) is that this ‘pledge’ was some kind of promissary note of reward (from a portion of the plunder) for the families who had underwritten the war.
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.
These verses help the reader to understand that David’s visit to the battle field was not with the intention of fighting.
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.
He spoke the way he usually did, and David heard it – As Bergen remarks, this may have been the very first time that David had heard his Lord being insulted in this way. The strength of his reaction is clear from what follows.
How do we feel when the Lord is ridiculed or misrepresented? Do we, like the men of Israel, retreat in fear (v24), or, like David, confront the situation in God’s strength?
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.”
He will give him his daughter in marriage – and so confer invaluable privileges within the royal household.
This verse helps to explain David’s rise to prominence, cf. 1 Sam 18:17.
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.”
Davis observes that these are the first recorded words of David in the Bible. Now that his silence is broken, we find that his words are as weighty as Goliath.
“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he defies the armies of the living God?” – ‘David injects the first theological note into the narrative’ (Payne). We say that are the people of the living God; doesn’t he have a stake in all of this? Do you suppose that he is indifferent to these slurs on his reputation?
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!”
Eliab is outraged that their youngest brother should presume to join them in the battle. (Was he feeling guilty that he, along with the rest of the army, was so afraid of Goliath?). Eliab’s attitude is even more explicable in the light of the Lord’s rejection of himself, and acceptance of David, as recorded in the previous chapter.
Goliath will be contemptuous towards David (vv. 42–44), but his own eldest brother has already expressed utter contempt. (Davis)
Davis remarks that David had to deal with two Goliaths before he confronted the giant himself: Eliab, who had the contempt of Goliath, and Saul, who had the thinking of Goliath (victory is on the side of the big and well-equipped).
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!”
‘The conversation of vv. 26-32 [regarded as popular legendary material] emphasizes that David did not enter into battle because of arrogance or a spirit of adventure, but because he was destined for this part in God’s plan.’ (Oxford Bible Commentary)
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.”
David’s comments testify to the fact that, although the Lord ‘looks on the heart’, he by no means despises natural ability together with early training and experience. But attitude of ‘the heart’ is the main thing, and David’s heart is displayed in his confidence in the Lord.
“The LORD who delivered me from the lion and the bear will also deliver me from the hand of this Philistine!” – ‘What Yahweh has done in the wilderness of Judah he will do in the Valley of Elah’ (Davis). What God has done is the guarantee of what he will do.
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.
Saul clothed David with his own fighting attire – Saul, in contrast to David, was placing his trust entirely in human means.
Thompson suggests that there is a ‘subtle feature in this story, namely the fact that Saul divested himself of his armour, his helmet of bronze and his coat of mail and clothed the youthful David with these (1 Sam. xvii 38, 39). Saul’s son Jonathan was to do a similar thing after the battle with Goliath (1 Sam. xviii 4). And David himself after he had struck Goliath down with a stone ‘stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head’ (1 Sam. xvii 51). Further, David ‘put his armour in his tent’ (1 Sam. xvii 54). The passing of arms from the lesser to the greater so carefully described by the narrator, seems to have had political impli-cations in the Ancient Near East 1).’ (The Significance of the Verb Love in the David-Jonathan Narratives in 1 Samuel, Vetus Testamentum Vol. 24, Fasc. 3 (Jul., 1974), pp. 334-338)
David removed them – Confirming, once again, that David is no mere clone of Saul. He is his own man, and the battle belongs to him (or, rather, to his Lord).
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!”
The Philistine cursed David by his gods – and David will respond by declaring his great confidence in the Lord, vv45-47.
‘[The] theme of “weakness” has been building throughout the chapter. All the important people regard David as weak. If we might colloquialize, Eliab tells him, “You’re a pain” (v. 28), Saul warns, “You’re green” (v. 33), and Goliath sneers, “You’re puny” (v. 42).’ (Davis)
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.”
“Then all the land will realize” – or, ‘all the world’ (NIV). David’s God was no tribal deity.
‘This was no ordinary battle, but one in which God’s honour was at stake, and in this circumstance David’s exposure to danger permitted God’s honour to be more clearly acknowledged than if David had more obviously been a match for the Philistine.’ (Baldwin)
Chisholm comments on David’s theologically rich portrayal of God:
‘David twice calls the Lord the “living God” (vv. 26, 36). This title is not just an affirmation of God’s existence (alive, as opposed to nonexistent or dead). It also focuses on his active presence, self-revelation, power, authority, and ongoing involvement in history. He is the living God in the sense that he actively intervenes for his people. He rescues his people (v. 37), saves them (v. 47), and hands their enemies over to them (vv. 46–47). He is a mighty warrior king, who is “the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel” (v. 45). In this context the title “LORD Almighty” (traditionally, “Lord of Hosts” [KJV]) depicts the Lord as the one who leads his “hosts” (here the Israelite army) into battle. He is an invincible warrior. In fact, the battle belongs to him; he determines its outcome regardless of how well equipped the combatants may be (v. 47).’
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.
‘The scene shows that everyone expects this battle to be fought at close quarters:
- Goliath’s weaponry (javelin [or perhaps scimitar], spear, and sword; cf. vv. 6–7, 47, 51) is designed for fighting at close quarters.
- Saul tries to outfit David with his armor and sword, as if expecting a hand-to-hand struggle.
- David’s reference to fighting wild animals at close range hints that he might fight Goliath in the same way.
- Goliath’s movements (v. 41) and challenge, “Come to me” (v. 44), suggest that he is expecting a close-range conflict.’
It is significant that the account of David’s faith (vv45-47) is nearly twice as long as the description of David’s feat.
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.
David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem – This would probably have been later, after David captured Jerusalem, 2 Sam 5. However, Baldwin notes the fluctuating status of the city with regard to the Israelites, and wonders if ‘David [was] already becoming the strategist, giving this important city reason to recognize Israel’s dominance?’
He put Goliath’s weapons in his tent – ‘The passing of arms from the lesser to the greater so carefully described by the narrator, seems to have had political implications in the Ancient Near East’. (J. A. Thompson, quoted by Baldwin)
When the armour is next mentioned, it is in the tabernacle, 1 Sam 21:9.
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!”
It seem strange that neither Saul nor Abner appear to know the identity of Goliath’s slayer. However, the emphasis on ‘Whose son is this?’ (rather than, ‘Who is this?’) suggests that Saul, mindful of the promise he has made about giving his daughter’s hand in marriage, is seeking information about David’s family
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? Some have suggested that belongs chronologically before 16:14-23. This is the view of Longman and Dillard (An Introduction to the Old Testament), who suggest that
‘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.’
This view is shared by Payne (NBC).
Even on the evidence of the present chapter, it is clear that David and Samuel had met prior to the killing of Goliath (17:31ff).
‘The questions Saul put to Abner were not so much about David, in fact, as about his family, presumably because Saul was now under obligation to give David his daughter in marriage, in fulfilment of his vow (17:25). It was, therefore, important for him to find out all he could about the background of the man who would now be a court figure.’
Chisholm notes that David’s victory is reminiscent of that of Joshua and Caleb, who defeated the gigantic Anakites when Israel was gripped with fear (Num 13:26–33; Josh. 11:21–22; 14:12–15; 15:13–14; Judg 1:10, 20), focusing on the Lord’s enablement, rather that the strength of the enemy (Josh 14:12).