David Battles Goliath

Text: I Samuel 17:1-58

Goliath Challenges Israel - I Samuel 17:1-11

From BibleMapper.com

At some point, the Philistines once again attack Israel. This time the battle takes place near Socoh, which was near the Philistine’s border. Saul brought the Israelite army and camped on the hill opposite the Philistine camp with the valley of Elah in between the two camps.

The Philistines sent out their champion to challenge a champion of Israel to a one-on-one battle. Whichever side lost would become the servants of the winning side.

The Philistine’s champion, Goliath, was an imposing man. He called himself “the Philistine;” that is, he represents all the Philistines. He was 9 foot 9 inches tall. A cubit is the distance from your elbow to the tip of your fingers, which is about 18 inches. A span is the distance from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your little finger with your hand spread out. The average is 9 inches. His armor weighed just over 125 pounds and the head of his spear weighed just over 15 pounds. (A shekel is about 11.5 grams, though the weight varied between kingdoms and over eras.) To give you a comparison, medieval armor typically weighed around 50 pounds.

This man put Saul and all his army in terror.

For discussion:

  1. It is totally conjecture, but why didn’t Jonathan respond to the challenge?

Side Topic: How Tall Was Goliath?

Evidence for 6 Cubits Evidence for 5 Cubits Evidence for 4 Cubits
The Masoretic Text family (935 AD and later) Septuagint(n) The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew done about 150 BC
Septuagint(o Codex Venetus, eighth century AD 4QSam(a), one of the Dead Sea Scroll documents, about 50 BC
Codex Sigma(prime) Josephus, a Jewish historian about 70-90 AD in Antiquities, IV, 171.
Symmachus' Greek translation, AD 200 Lucian Recension, a third century AD revision of the Septuagint
Origen's Hexapla, third century AD Codex Vaticanus, fourth century AD Greek translation
Jerome's Translation, fourth century AD Codex Alexandrinus, fifth century AD Greek translation

A problem with the witnesses for four cubits is that Josephus heavily used the Septuagint version as his source. The Lucian Recension and the Codex Vaticanus are based on the Septuagint as well. Thus, the number of independent witnesses is less than it might first appear.

It isn’t that this size of a man was unheard of in these times. The bed of the king of Bashan was nine cubits long (Deuteronomy 3:11). Saul was a head taller than the men of Israel (I Samuel 9:2). If we assume the average man was 5'9" tall and the average human head is 9 inches tall, the Saul was about 6'3".

It comes down to the point that we don't know. The oldest copy we currently have says "four" but it is fairly certain that copies that said "six" were in existence near the same time period. However, a six-foot-nine-inch man, while impressively tall, would not be so unusual as to cause the entire Israelite army to tremble.

Elah Valley looking northwest from Socoh [Pictorial Library of Bible Lands] Used with Permission.

David Visits His Brothers - I Samuel 17:12-19

At this time Jesse is advanced in age and thus, unable to fight in battle. He is called an Ephrathite, which is the old name for the region around Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19). David's older brothers were in the battle against the Philistines. A man had to be at least 20 to be in the army (Numbers 1:3; 26:2). Since David is not with his brothers and it wasn't due to a lack of zeal, we must conclude that David is under the age of 20. David is the eighth son of Jesse. His three eldest brothers were in the army (I Samuel 17:14). David would be at least 5 years younger than the third son who was in the army. If we assume that the cut-off between the third and fourth son was due to age, that would put David at 15 or less -- this is why he is depicted as a youth and so described: "And Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth" " (I Samuel 17:33). The Hebrew word for youth is na'ar which refers to someone between infancy and adolescence.

Though David was earlier playing music in Saul’s court, it appears that he returned home. Perhaps it was because of the war that his services were not constantly needed by Saul. With three of his sons in battle, Jesse would need extra hands at home. David spent his time traveling between Saul and home and while at home, David took care of his father’s sheep.

Goliath had been challenging Israel’s army for forty days without a response from Israel. It happened that at this time, Jesse decided to send David with food for his brothers, gifts of cheese to their commanders, and to see how they were doing.

Aerial view of the Elah Valley and Brook [Pictorial Library of the Bible Lands] Used with Permission.

David Tries to Encourage Israel - I Samuel 17:20-30

David leaves early in the morning. He arrives as the armies go out to face each other once again. Each side comes out in battle array shouting war cries. But it appears to be a stalemate as neither side is willing to be the first to engage the enemy. David leaves his baggage with the baggage keeper and runs to battle with the excuse of needing to talk to his brothers. I’m sure it was exciting to get to see his brothers all decked out and ready to fight. The shouts, the noise, would be impressive.

As David is talking with his brothers, Goliath comes out to issue his usual challenge. Imagine the disappointment that fills David to see the men of Israel (and his brothers) trembling at Goliath’s challenge and leaving the battle lines. He overhears some of the soldiers talking about it. They mention that Saul had offered incentives to get someone to volunteer: wealth, marrying a princess, and his family would gain a tax-free status. And, still, no one wanted to volunteer.

David begins questioning the soldiers around him and verifies that he heard the incentives correctly. What he wanted to know was how could an uncircumcised Philistine get away with taunting an army of God’s people. His questions, while accurate and pointed, embarrass his eldest brother. Eliab accuses David of sneaking away from the family’s flock just to see a battle. He calls him lazy and wicked.

But David replies, “It is just a question!” However, it wasn’t just a question. His questions pointed out that there was no reason Goliath’s challenge should be unanswered. Eliab found David’s questions embarrassing because he would not consider meeting Goliath in one-on-one combat. It is easier to dismiss the one who makes you uncomfortable by categorizing him as someone who doesn’t need to be listened to. But notice that David ignores his brother and continues to ask his questions. David is trying to motivate someone to take on Goliath, not because he wants to see a fight, but because God should not be defied.

David Asks Saul to Meet Goliath’s Challenge - I Samuel 17:31-39

Saul eventually hears about David and sends for him. David declares that he will fight Goliath. Saul tries to talk him out of it but David argues that he has the skill and that God would be with him. I’m not sure why Saul consents to allow a boy to fight Goliath, but I suspect it was David’s confidence in God’s help that swayed him. Yet, it was with Saul’s permission that David was allowed to represent all of Israel in this battle.

Saul gives David his own equipment to use. But the lad is not used to the weight of the armor nor has he had practice with the weapons.

Nothing is said about David's height, but we do know that he was shorter than Saul because when Samuel was sent to anoint David, he assumed God would pick Eliab, David's eldest brother: "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (I Samuel 16:7). Yet, David was a handsome youth. "Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking" (I Samuel 16:12). How tall David grew up to be, we are not told.

The armor doesn't necessarily tell us David's height. Not everyone in those days was clad from head to toe like the knights in England. An armor similar to what is described in Ephesians 6 would be closer to the armor of David’s time. Such armor would not greatly depend on a man's height. However, a youth unaccustomed to carrying a shield and sword or spear would find them too heavy to use effectively.

David Battles Goliath - I Samuel 17:40-51

Instead, David takes his shepherd’s staff and gathers up five stones from a brook. Why five stones? It wasn’t because David lacked faith in God’s help. But he is going into battle and God didn’t tell him he would win, let alone on the first strike. David isn’t going to put God to the test, so David is prepared for whatever is required of him. We should also note that in I Chronicles 20:4-8, we learn that Goliath had relatives. There are three listed. Perhaps David had a stone for each of them and one for Goliath’s armorbearer. After all, he is dealing with Philistines and he likely doesn’t trust them to fight fair or keep their word.

As David approaches, Goliath is insulted that a mere boy with no weapons of war and no armor is sent to face him. Likely he believes the Israelites are taunting him by sending out a boy to do battle. Here we learn that Goliath is not an honorable man. An honorable man would have refused to attack a boy. Instead, Goliath curses David in the names of the Philistine gods and tells David that he will use David’s body to feed the birds and the wild animals.

However, David boldly proclaims that this confrontation wasn’t about his hatred of the Philistines or of Goliath. He is there because Goliath insulted God. As a result, David predicts that he will strike Goliath down, behead him, and birds and wild animals will feed on the bodies of the Philistine army (not just Goliath). When his words come true, all will know that there is a God in Israel who will deliver the Philistines into Israel’s hands. David later wrote words in Psalms 139:19-22 that capture his view. David’s encounter with Goliath was about justice being served.

As Goliath moved forward, David ran to meet him. David’s courage and faith were on display. He shoots a stone from his sling so hard that the stone sinks into Goliath’s forehead. Goliath fell dead, face first into the ground. David then took Goliath’s own sword and cut off his head. The Philistines, upon seeing their champion quickly defeated, ran.

But where was God? Did God guide the stone? Did He give it greater power? Or was it something else? That is the thing about providence. You know God was working, but you don’t know how He accomplished His ends. So how do we know God was involved? Simple. A boy with a staff and sling doesn’t take out a trained warrior. God used the small things, the weak things, to take down the mighty (I Corinthians 1:26-29).

Israel Drive Off the Philistines - I Samuel 17:52-54

Seeing the Philistines fleeing, Israel’s army gave chase, pushing the Philistines out of the valley and pursued them all the way to Gath and Ekron. They then returned and plundered the things the Philistines had abandoned.

Meanwhile, David took Goliath’s head to Jerusalem, but he kept Goliath’s weapons. Jerusalem was jointly occupied by both the Jebusites and the Israelites at this time (Joshua 15:63; Judges 1:8). Commentators speculate as to why David left Goliath’s head in Jerusalem, but we aren’t told the reason.

Saul Inquires of David’s Family - I Samuel 17:55-58

As Saul watched David going out to meet Goliath, he asked Abner, his commander, whose son was David. Abner admitted that he didn’t know. Saul’s question tells us a bit more about his character. Here was a man who had people working for him, yet he did not really know them well.
Notice that Saul did not ask for David's name. He asked who David's father was. We sometimes forget that time passes between recorded events. We read them one after another, but it doesn't mean they happened one immediately after another. David did spend time playing for Saul and became Saul's armor bearer (I Samuel 16:14-23). Even asking Jesse for permission to have David stay with him doesn't mean that Saul would necessarily remember who he sent a message to if this took place years later. Time did pass because in I Samuel 17:15 we find that "David occasionally went and returned from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem." Remember that during the time of the Philistine war, David was at home (I Samuel 17:17). We are not told how long David had been gone on this last trip. Yet, Saul does appear to be familiar with David when he had David appear before him (I Samuel 17:31-39); after all, he was willing to loan David his own armor.

Saul asked his captain to remind him who David's father was, but Abner did not know (I Samuel 17:55). At the time, David was just going on the field and perhaps Saul was thinking he would need to send condolences to his family. After David, a mere youth, so soundly defeated Goliath and brought Saul Goliath’s head, I can see Saul's mind working. If a young man can do so much, what might his older brothers, if he had any, be able to do? He didn't get an answer from his staff, so he naturally asked David directly when he returned and found out that his father was Jesse in the town of Bethlehem.

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