1 Samuel 17:1-58
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1 Samuel 17:1-58
Saul is the king, but he has disobeyed God and God has rejected his kingship (chapter 15). God instructed Samuel to anoint David, and Samuel has done that, albeit secretly—Saul knows nothing of the anointing (16:1-13). The spirit of the Lord came upon David mightily (16:13).
David is a musician, and has played the lyre for Saul to calm Saul’s moods, and “he loved him greatly” (16:14-23). However, as we will see in chapter 17, Saul seems not to know David (17:31-37, 55-58). This might reinforce the idea that the story of Saul and David comes from more than one source, but it is also possible that Saul has enjoyed David’s entertainment, but David is such a minor figure in Saul’s court that the king fails to recognize him when they meet in an unfamiliar context—the battlefield.
The presence of multiple sources is evident from the fact that the Septuagint (LXX) is missing a number of verses that we find in the Masoretic Text (MT). The LXX is the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures, which was translated prior to Jesus’ birth. The MT is the Hebrew version of the Hebrew Scriptures, which was produced by the Masoretes about 600-950 A.D.
The LXX is missing verses 17:12-31, 41, 48b, 50, 55-58 as well as 18:1-5, 10-11, 17-19, 29b-30. The added verses in the MT expand David’s part in the story considerably. It is easy to isolate and print the added verses if you have a Bible program on your computer. If not, read chapters 17-18, noting the verses that are missing in the LXX.
I have chosen to include commentary on all of chapter 17, even though many of the verses have been omitted from the lectionary reading. If you are preaching a sermon based primarily on this story, I recommend reading the whole chapter aloud.
1 SAMUEL 17:1. NOW THE PHILISTINES GATHERED THEIR ARMIES TO BATTLE
1Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle; and they were gathered together at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim.
The Philistines have been Israel’s enemies ever since Israel occupied the Promised Land. During the period of the judges, Samson fought the Philistines (Judges 13-16). More recently, the Philistines destroyed Shiloh and captured the ark of the covenant (chapters 4-6). It was the threat of the Philistines (as well as lack of faith in Yahweh) that prompted the Israelite elders to ask for a king to govern them (chapter 8). Saul will die at the hands of the Philistines (chapter 31). Conflict with the Philistines will continue through David’s reign (8:1; 21:15-22). It will subside during Solomon’s reign, but will revive during the period of the divided monarchy (1 Kings 15:27; 16:15; 2 Chronicles 26:6-7; 28:18).
The word Palestine is derived from the Hebrew word (pelis·tim), which means Philistines.
“they were gathered together at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim“ (v. 1b). Socoh and Azekah are about 15 miles (24 km) west of Bethlehem (David’s hometown) and Jerusalem (which will be David’s capital when he becomes king). At present, Jerusalem is in the hands of the Jebusites (see 2 Samuel 5:6-10).
1 SAMUEL 17:2-3. THE PHILISTINES STOOD ON THE ONE SIDE
2Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and encamped in the valley of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines. 3The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side: and there was a valley between them.
These verses are not included in the lectionary reading, but they paint a picture of the Philistines on one mountain and Israel on another mountain with a valley between them. Right now, as far as Israel is concerned, that valley looks like the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
1 SAMUEL 17:4-7. A CHAMPION NAMED GOLIATH OF GATH
4There went out a champion(Hebrew: ‘is·hab·be·na·yim—literally “the man between the two”) out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6He had brass shin armor on his legs, and a javelin of brass between his shoulders. 7The staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and his shield bearer went before him.
“There went out a champion (‘is·hab·be·na·yim—literally “the man between the two”) out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span” (v. 4). The narrator goes into great detail describing fearsome Goliath. He is six cubits and a span tall—almost ten feet. In the Septuagint version, he is four cubits and a span tall—almost seven feet. Either way, he is clearly a giant of a man.
“He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had brass shin armor on his legs, and a javelin of brass between his shoulders” (vv. 5-6). Besides being tall, Goliath is heavily armored. He has a bronze helmet. His coat of mail is a garment made of metal scales or chain weighing five thousand shekels of bronze—about 125 pounds (57 kg). It protects his torso. The greaves of bronze are armor to protect his legs. Further protection is afforded by a shield-bearer who carries a large shield before Goliath.
“The staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and his shield bearer went before him “ (v. 7). Goliath is well armed. He carries a javelin (or a scimitar—the Hebrew is uncertain) between his shoulders. His spear has a heavy shaft—like a weaver’s beam. The spear’s head weighs six hundred shekels of iron—about 15 pounds (7 kg). No mention is made of a sword at this point, but we will later learn that Goliath has been carrying a sword as well (vv. 50-51—verses not included in the lectionary reading).
The point is that Goliath is so big that no ordinary man can defeat him—and so well protected that no weapon can touch him—and so well armed that he can choose among many options for a way to kill his opponent.
1 SAMUEL 17:8-11. CHOOSE A MAN FOR YOURSELVES
8He stood and cried to the armies of Israel, and said to them, “Why have you come out to set your battle in array? Am I not a Philistine, and you servants to Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 9If he be able to fight with me, and kill me, then will we be your servants; but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then you will be our servants, and serve us.” 10The Philistine said, “I defy the armies of Israel this day! Give me a man, that we may fight together!” 11When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.
“He stood and cried to the armies of Israel, and said to them, ‘Why have you come out to set your battle in array? Am I not a Philistine, and you servants to Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me‘” (v. 8). This is psychological warfare—intimidation—designed to strike fear into the hearts of the Israelites. If the Philistine (he is named only in vv. 4 and 23—a way of discounting him) can succeed at this—and verse 11 tells us that he does—he can come close to winning the battle even before the battle is engaged. Kings who are convinced that they cannot win usually can’t. Soldiers who believe that they are doomed to lose tend to run or hide instead of standing to engage the enemy. The Philistine doesn’t need to be a great warrior to advance the Philistine cause—just a great intimidator.
The Philistine giant presents a challenge. Instead of both armies putting themselves at risk, he invites the Israelites to choose a man to represent them. The Philistine giant will represent the Philistines. The two representatives will fight to the death. The nation of the one who dies will become servants to the nation of the one who lives.
“When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid“ (v. 11). As the Philistines had hoped, The Philistine’s giant’s words strike fear in Israelite hearts, including the heart of Saul, the king of Israel. The Philistine has achieved his first objective. For the Philistines, the battle is half won. For Israel, it is nearly lost.
1 SAMUEL 17:12-18. NOW DAVID WAS THE SON OF JESSE
12Now David was the son of that Ephrathite of Bethlehem Judah, whose name was Jesse; and he had eight sons: and the man was an old man in the days of Saul, stricken among men. 13The three eldest sons of Jesse had gone after Saul to the battle: and the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. 14David was the youngest; and the three eldest followed Saul. 15Now David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. 16The Philistine drew near morning and evening, and presented himself forty days.
17Jesse said to David his son, “Now take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers; 18and bring these ten cheeses to the captain of their thousand, and see how your brothers are doing, and bring back news(Hebrew:we’et·’arub·ba·tam—pledge or assurance).”
As noted above, verses 12-30 are missing from the LXX. Verses 12-18 are also missing from the lectionary reading.
The camera shifts to David—a young man quite unlike The Philistine. David is the young son of an old man—Jesse. This story resembles the earlier Joseph story at several points (Genesis 37). Jesse has three older sons on the battle lines, and David is merely a runner to take food to his brothers and to convey messages—and a shepherd to take care of his father’s sheep at Bethlehem—about 15 miles (24 km) distant from the battle.
The provisions that David is to carry to the battlefield are substantial—an ephah (about half a bushel or 15-20 liters) of grain, ten loaves of bread, and ten cheeses. Presumably David has a donkey to carry this load, but we aren’t told how he manages it. It would take a day to walk 15 miles leading a provision-laden donkey. To feed his army, Saul more than likely depends in part on living off the land and in part on contributions from family members.
David is also a shepherd, in charge of Jesse’s flock of sheep. We aren’t told of the arrangements that he makes to care for the sheep in his absence, but David’s comments about shepherds in the Psalms lead us to believe that he has found a way to keep the sheep safe. Perhaps Jesse watches the sheep while David is visiting his brothers.
The narrator interjects a note that the Philistine comes forth twice a day to challenge the Israelites—and that this goes on for forty days (shorthand for “a very long time”).
Jesse charges David to take the supplies to his brothers. The cheeses are for their commander—not their immediate commander but the commander who is over a thousand. Jesse also charges David to see how his brothers are doing and to “bring back news” (v. 18)—some assurance that they are all right.
1 SAMUEL 17:19-23. DAVID HEARD GOLIATH
19Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.20David rose up early in the morning, and left the sheep with a keeper, and took, and went, as Jesse had commanded him; and he came to the place of the wagons, as the army which was going forth to the fight shouted for the battle. 21Israel and the Philistines put the battle in array, army against army.22David left his baggage in the hand of the keeper of the baggage, and ran to the army, and came and greeted his brothers. 23As he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke according to the same words: and David heard them.
As noted above, verses 12-30 are missing from the LXX. However, verses 19-23 are included in the lectionary reading.
When we last heard of the Israelite army, Goliath was challenging them daily and “they were dismayed, and greatly afraid” (v. 11). No one has answered Goliath’s challenge, so the armies are battling each other. We aren’t given any progress reports on the battle. Presumably men are dying on the battlefield, but there has been no decisive victor.
David leaves his supplies with the keeper of the baggage, and goes to greet his brothers. As they are talking, Goliath comes out to repeat his challenge, as he has been doing day by day. “Give me a man, that we may fight together,” he cries (v. 10). The soldiers are familiar with this taunt by now, but it is the first time that David has heard it.
1 SAMUEL 17:24-27. THE ISRAELITES WERE VERY MUCH AFRAID
24All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were terrified. 25The men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? He has surely come up to defy Israel. It shall be, that the man who kills him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father’s house free in Israel.” 26David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, “What shall be done to the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” 27The people answered him in this way, saying, “So shall it be done to the man who kills him.”
As noted above, these verses are missing from the LXX. They are also missing from the lectionary reading.
The Philistine giant strikes fear in the hearts of the Israelites. No one volunteers to step out onto the battlefield with the giant, even though Saul has promised great rewards to anyone who tries and succeeds. The soldiers talk about potential rewards—wealth, marriage to the king’s daughter, and freedom. We aren’t sure what freedom means in this context, since Israelites are already free. Perhaps it involves freedom from taxation or permits free access to the king.
David responds by asking the soldiers to recount again the rewards promised to the man who kills The Philistine and “takes away the reproach from Israel” (v. 26a). This latter phrase, “takes away the reproach from Israel,” is important. David is concerned, not only for the reward, but also for the shame that has befallen Israel. The Philistine is guilty of shaming not only Israel, but also Israel’s God.
1 SAMUEL 17:28-30. ELIAB’S ANGER WAS KINDLED AGAINST DAVID
28Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride, and the naughtiness of your heart; for you have come down that you might see the battle.” 29David said, “What have I now done? Is there not a cause?” 30He turned away from him toward another, and spoke like that again; and the people answered him again the same way.
As noted above, these verses are missing from the LXX. They are also missing from the lectionary reading.
This is a classic case of sibling rivalry, similar to that which existed between Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37). Eliab is Jesse’s firstborn—a tall, good-looking man (16:6-7). As firstborn, he enjoys a favored position in the family structure. He would be the acknowledged leader of the brothers, and is due a double portion of the inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). David, as the eighth son of Jesse, is at least eight years younger than Eliab, probably more. The fact that David has been assigned to home duty and courier service suggests that he is not yet old enough for military service. The battlefield is a man’s world—a macho world. Eliab might welcome the provisions that his youngest brother has brought, but he doesn’t welcome David’s presumption in discussing with the soldiers the rewards that a brave soldier might win by defeating the Philistine giant in single-handed combat.
David is out of his element in this combat environment. To suggest that he might battle the giant and claim the rewards seems ridiculous to Eliab, who responds accordingly. Eliab reminds David where he belongs—with the sheep in the wilderness—not on the battlefield. He accuses David not only of presumption, but also of an evil voyeurism—a desire to see men in combat—to witness the gore and to experience the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat—to treat this life-and-death situation as a mere spectator sport.
We wonder how Eliab, who witnessed Samuel anointing David (16:13) could be so dismissive of the anointed one. Two possibilities occur. First, older brothers find it difficult to acknowledge younger brothers, even when the younger brothers have achieved notably—and David has not done anything yet. Second, Eliab doesn’t possess the faith and vision to see what David sees—one reason that the Lord rejected Eliab earlier (16:6-7).
David responds to Eliab’s dismissive jibe with an equally dismissive answer. “What have I now done? Is there not a cause?” (v. 29)—the natural response of a younger brother to the challenge of an older brother. Moreover, David refuses to be silenced by Eliab’s challenge. He turns his back on Eliab and continues his conversation with the soldiers. (v. 30).
1 SAMUEL 17:31. WHEN THE WORDS WERE HEARD WHICH DAVID SPOKE
31When the words were heard which David spoke, they rehearsed them before Saul; and he sent for him.
Eliab is not prepared to take David seriously, but others are. The word begins to spread among the soldiers that there is a young man in their midst who is not intimidated by the Philistine giant—a man who has expressed interest in collecting the reward money. After being publicly shamed for forty days by the Philistine giant, the Israelites would welcome news that there is a brave man among them who might save them from the giant and deliver them from their shame. The word percolates through the ranks until King Saul hears of it, and Saul sends for David. Saul has been waiting for more than a month to shake the hand of a brave man, and wants to meet the man who seems prepared to meet the giant on the battlefield.
1 SAMUEL 17:32-37. YOUR SERVANT WILL GO AND FIGHT THIS PHILISTINE
32David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” 34David said to Saul, “Your servant was keeping his father’s sheep; and when a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb out of the flock, 35 I went out after him, and struck him, and rescued it out of his mouth. When he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and struck him, and killed him. 36Your servant struck both the lion and the bear. This uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.”37David said, “Yahweh who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go; and Yahweh shall be with you.”
“David said to Saul, ‘Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine‘” (v. 32). David offers to fight The Philistine, but shows his disdain by referring to him as “this Philistine” rather than by naming him.
“You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth“ (v. 33a). Saul states the obvious. David is just a boy, and this is a man’s job. The law says that Israel is to go to war with men “from twenty years old and upward” (Numbers 1:3; 26:2). David must be a teenager.
“and he a man of war from his youth“ (v. 33b). The Philistine has been a warrior for many years—probably longer than David has been alive. Not only is the Philistine huge and well-armored and well-armed, but he is also experienced. No telling how many men he has killed. The Philistine has yelled, “Give me a man, that we may fight together” (v. 10), and David is not yet a man. How can Saul send a boy to face a giant?
“David said to Saul, ‘Your servant was keeping his father’s sheep; and when a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb out of the flock,I went out after him, and struck him, and rescued it out of his mouth. When he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and struck him, and killed him.Your servant struck both the lion and the bear'” (vv. 34-36a). David makes a case that he is fit for the job. In his role as shepherd, he has fought lions and bears. He not only drove them off, but killed them. The giant Philistine is no more fearsome than an enraged lion or bear (vv. 34-35). If David could fight lions and bears, he can also fight this Philistine).
“This uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them“ (v. 36b). David moves the argument into the theological arena. Who is this who dares to challenge Israel? An uncircumcised Philistine—one of the unwashed—a man who lives outside the circle of the Lord’s favor!
“since he has defied the armies of the living God“ (v. 36c). More than that, this Philistine “has defied the armies of the living God.” This is the point! It isn’t the Israelite army that is powerful. As a matter of fact, their army is largely an ad hoc army of soldier-citizens—farmers, artisans, merchants, and others who are doing their duty (temporary duty, they hope) to protect their nation and their families from the Philistine enemy. But they aren’t dependent on their marginal skills or courage to save Israel, but on their living God.
“David said, ‘Yahweh who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine‘” (v. 37a). A giant backed by a nobody-god is no match for a boy backed by the living God. The same God who helped a boy shepherd to kill lions and bears will help this same boy to kill the Philistine giant.
“Saul said to David, ‘Go; and Yahweh shall be with you'” (v. 37b). So Saul, having no one else clamoring to face the giant—and being unwilling to do it himself—says, “Go; and Yahweh shall be with you.”
1 SAMUEL 17:38-40. DAVID TOOK HIS STAFF AND STONES AND SLING
38Saul dressed David with his clothing. He put a helmet of brass on his head, and he clad him with a coat of mail. 39David strapped his sword on his clothing, and he tried to move; for he had not tested it. David said to Saul, “I can’t go with these; for I have not tested them.” David took them off. 40He took his staff in his hand, and chose for himself five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his wallet. His sling was in his hand; and he drew near to the Philistine.
“Saul dressed David with his clothing. He put a helmet of brass on his head, and he clad him with a coat of mail“ (v. 38). If Saul is going to permit this lad to represent Israel in battle against the Philistine giant, he wants to help him. He surrenders his own personal armor to David. We immediately sense that there is something inappropriate here. David has faced lions and bears armored only by his faith in the living God. It is the Philistine who hides behind coats of mail and shields.
“David strapped his sword on his clothing, and he tried to move; for he had not tested it. David said to Saul, ‘I can’t go with these; for I have not tested them.’ David took them off“ (v. 39). This inappropriateness takes a comic turn when we remember that Saul is a tall man who “from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people” (9:2). We have been told that David is handsome (16:12), but nowhere has it been suggested that he is tall. The picture we get here is of a young man dressed in armor four sizes too large—struggling even to walk, much less to wage battle. David, who has known all along from whence his strength comes (see Psalm 121:1-2), removes the armor (v. 39b). He then arms himself with the kinds of weapons with which he is familiar—a wooden staff, a sling, and five carefully chosen stones (v. 40a).
It is worth noting that David does not go barehanded to face the giant. He doesn’t eschew weapons, but chooses weapons matched to his physique and skills. His weapons of choice aren’t as impressive as the giant’s weapons, but they are deadly nevertheless—designed not to intimidate but to kill. In fact, his most deadly weapon, the sling, is so small and unobtrusive that The Philistine will remark only on David’s staff (v. 43)—not even noticing the weapon that will kill him.
“He took his staff in his hand, and chose for himself five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his wallet. His sling was in his hand; and he drew near to the Philistine“ (v. 40). So armed, David moves to engage the Philistine.
1 SAMUEL 17:41-44. THE PHILISTINE CURSED DAVID BY HIS GODS
41The Philistine came on and drew near to David; and the man who bore the shield went before him.42When the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and withal of a fair face. 43The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” The Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky, and to the animals of the field.”
“The Philistine came on and drew near to David; and the man who bore the shield went before him“ (v. 41). The Philistine giant doesn’t enter the battlefield alone. He is accompanied by his shield-bearer—his first line of defense. We can be sure that this shield-bearer is one of the best Philistine soldiers—hand-picked for his strength, courage, and athletic prowess. We can imagine him training daily to keep his strength and agility at their peak. It will be a rare spear or arrow that gets by this shield-bearer. The Philistine giant is well-armored, but it is this shield-bearer’s job to see that he needs no armor (v. 1).
“When the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and withal of a fair face“ (v. 42). When the Philistine giant sees David, he sees only a pretty-boy—handsome, but nothing more—an unworthy opponent.
“The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?‘” (v. 43a). Referring to David’s staff (and failing to notice David’s sling) The Philistine shouts, ” Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?”
“The Philistine cursed David by his gods“ (v. 43b). We learned earlier that the Philistine god is Dagon. When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they “brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon” (5:2b). But “when they of Ashdod arose early on the next day, behold, Dagon was fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of Yahweh” (5:3). They set Dagon back in his place, but the next day found him fallen on his face once again. This time, his head and hands had been severed (5:4). The Philistines concluded, “The ark of the God of Israel shall not stay with us; for his hand is severe on us, and on Dagon our god” (5:7).
So being cursed by the Philistine gods holds no terror for David. As the Apostle Paul will later say, “no idol is anything in the world, and that there is no other God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4). But these many centuries earlier, David already knows that.
“The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky, and to the animals of the field‘” (v. 44). Then the Philistine giant turns his intimidation tactics on David—tactics that have served him so well so often. He invites David to engage in battle, and threatens to feed David’s flesh to the birds and wild animals (v. 44). This would be especially repugnant to Israelites, who value proper burial and burial rites (Genesis 50:5-9; Deuteronomy 21:23; Joshua 8:29; 2 Samuel 3:31; 2 Kings 9:10; 2 Chronicles 16:14; Proverbs 30:17; Jeremiah 16:4; 22:19; 34:5; Ezekiel 39:15).
1 SAMUEL 17:45-47. I COME TO YOU IN THE NAME OF YAHWEH OF ARMIES
45Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a javelin: but I come to you in the name of Yahweh of Armies, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46Today, Yahweh will deliver you into my hand. I will strike you, and take your head from off you. I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky, and to the wild animals of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that Yahweh doesn’t save with sword and spear: for the battle is Yahweh’s, and he will give you into our hand.”
“Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a javelin: but I come to you in the name of Yahweh of Armies, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today, Yahweh will deliver you into my hand'” (vv. 45-46a). David is not intimidated by the giant or his threats. He notes that the Philistine giant derives his power from his sword and spear and javelin, but David derives his power from “the name of Yahweh of Armies, the God of the armies of Israel” (v. 45b).
David doesn’t claim military expertise or athletic prowess. Even when telling Saul about the lions and bears that he killed, he made it clear that it was the Lord who saved him from these wild animals—and that it would be the Lord who would save him from this Philistine giant (v. 37). It is this Lord whom this Philistine has defied (v. 45c).
“I will strike you, and take your head from off you. I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky, and to the wild animals of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel“ (v. 46b). David outlines his plan—a plan that must seem preposterous to the Philistine giant. David will strike down the giant and cut off his head. Not only will the birds and wild animals feed on the giant, but the soldiers of the Philistine army will share his fate (v. 46a). The purpose of this action is so “that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (v. 46b). Furthermore, “this assembly” (Philistines and Israelites alike) will learn that “Yahweh doesn’t save with sword and spear” (v. 47a). They will also learn that “the battle is Yahweh’s” and that Israel will prevail because the Lord “will give you (the giant and the Philistine army) into our hand” (v. 47b).
David consistently makes it clear that it is not his strength or the strength of Israel that will defeat the Philistines. The Lord is in charge, and the Lord will give the giant into David’s hands and the Philistines into Israel’s hands.
1 SAMUEL 17:48-49. GOLIATH FELL ON HIS FACE TO THE EARTH
48 It happened, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew near to meet David, that David hurried, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. 49David put his hand in his bag, took a stone, and slung it, and struck the Philistine in his forehead; and the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth.
“It happened, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew near to meet David, that David hurried, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine“ (v. 48). The Philistine giant, burdened by his armor and weaponry and hiding behind his shield-bearer, draws near to meet David—but David, unencumbered, runs quickly to meet the Philistine. The giant is ponderous and slow, but David is nimble and quick.
“David put his hand in his bag, took a stone, and slung it, and struck the Philistine in his forehead“ (v. 49a). David minces neither words nor actions. He takes out a stone—one of five that he has chosen—and slings it toward the Philistine’s forehead. Where others saw only the giant’s armor, the Lord has led David’s eye to the one place where the giant is vulnerable—his forehead.
“and the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth“ (v. 49). The stone sinks into the giant’s forehead, and he falls face down on the ground—like his god, Dagon, before him (5:3ff.). This is a fitting fate for one who has defied the armies of the living God (v. 26). The law prescribes death by stoning for anyone, “the foreigner as well as the native-born,” who is guilty of blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16).
1 SAMUEL 17:50-54. DAVID CUT OFF GOLIATH’S HEAD
50So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine, and killed him; but there was no sword in the hand of David. 51Then David ran, and stood over the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of its sheath, and killed him, and cut off his head therewith. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. 52The men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until you come to Gai, and to the gates of Ekron. The wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath, and to Ekron.53The children of Israel returned from chasing after the Philistines, and they plundered their camp.54David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armor in his tent.
The narrator reaffirms that David has brought down the Philistine giant, and has done so without a sword (v. 50). Then David goes to the fallen giant, grasps the giant’s sword, and uses that sword to kill the giant. Then he cuts off the giant’s head (v. 51a). There is grand irony here, of course. The giant has used this sword and his other armor and weaponry to intimidate and defeat his opponents. This sword has been his strength. Now, because the Lord has willed it so, this sword has become his undoing.
The Philistine army has been enjoying watching Goliath intimidate the Israelites, but now the shoe is on the other foot. Seeing a mere boy make such quick work of their giant, they become the intimidated. They break and run (v. 51b), and the soldiers of Israel and Judah pursue and kill them (v. 52). They then plunder the Philistine camp (v. 53).
The mention of Israel and Judah (v. 52a) is odd, since the kingdom is under Saul is composed of twelve tribes. It will not become the ten tribes of Israel and two tribes of Judah until after Solomon’s death. This suggests that this account was written or edited sometime after that split takes place.
The mention of Jerusalem (v. 54a) also seems anachronistic, because David won’t capture Jerusalem for quite some time (2 Samuel 5:6-9). The mention of David’s tent (v. 54b) also seems odd.
1 SAMUEL 17:55-58. WHOSE SON IS THIS YOUTH?
55When Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the captain of the army, “Abner, whose son is this youth?”
Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I can’t tell.”
56The king said, “Inquire whose son the young man is!”
57As David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 58Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, you young man?”
David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”
The battle won, Saul takes an interest in learning more about young David. He asks Abner, commander of his troops, about David’s father, but Abner knows no more than Saul. Told to pursue the matter, Abner brings David to Saul. David is still carrying the Philistine’s head in his hand. When Saul asks David who his father is, David replies, “Jesse the Bethlehemite.”
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan