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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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1 SAMUEL 17

THE GIANT GOLIATH CHALLENGES ISRAEL; DAVID KILLS GOLIATH, THE PHILISTINE OF GATH


 
Verses 1-11
Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle; and they were gathered together at Socoh, which belongeth to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and encamped in the vale of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines. And the 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. And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. And he had a helmet of brass upon his head, and he was clad with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass. And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a javelin of brass between his shoulders. And 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. And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If 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 shall ye be our servants, and serve us. And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together. And when Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.

"Some twenty-seven years had passed since the defeat of the Philistines at Michmash";F1 and now that they had recovered their strength, they sought an opportunity to wipe out the disgrace of that disastrous rout and regain their ascendancy over Israel.

This paragraph relates chiefly the appearance of Goliath of Gath, giving a description of him, his arrogant challenge and the dismay and fear that fell upon all Israel as a result. The scene of this confrontation was, "The valley of Elah, one of the major passes from the Philistine plain up to the highlands of Judah."F2

The description of the giant's armor stresses the weight of it. Scholarly estimates of what the weight was in our own terminology vary considerably; but John Willis gives what must be considered as an approximation of the actual weight.F3 The coat of mail alone weighed 125 pounds; and the shaft of his spear weighed 17 pounds. This takes no account of the weight of the bronze helmet, the bronze javelin, and the greaves (shin-guards) of brass. In all, his armour probably weighed in the neighborhood of 200 pounds!

His height, allowing about 18 inches for a cubit, would have been over nine feet. The cubit was a common measurement, usually figured as the distance between a man's elbow and the tip of his extended middle finger; the span was a handbreadth, measured in two different ways, one across the palm, and the other between the tips of the thumb and little finger with the hand spread out.

He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel
(1 Samuel 17:8). This insulting procedure went on for forty days; and it is certain that the taunts and insults hurled at Israel varied from day to day. Young found an interesting variation of these in the Jewish Targum. Goliath boasted that he was the one who killed Hophni and Phinehas and carried the ark away to the house of Dagon, and also that he had killed many Israelites.F4 That these boastful insults were most certainly falsehoods was no problem whatever for a Philistine.

There is a shrill chorus of allegations from unbelieving critics who find nothing in these chapters except, "unhistorical material," "interpolations," "variable accounts" and "conflicting sources," but this writer rejects that kind of commentary as absolutely worthless. All of the alleged difficulties here are described by Keil as "trivial."F5 John Willis also has shown in his remarkable analysis that there is nothing whatever in these chapters that is not capable of being harmonized with all that is written.

One of the so-called problems regards the fact that in 2 Sam. 21:19, the Bible states that "Elhanan killed Goliath." There were whole generations of giants in those days, and the fact of two (or half a dozen) of them being named "Goliath" is no more unlikely than the fact that one may find two or three "Smith's" on the obituary page in a big city daily newspaper. "That Goliath killed by Elhanan was Lahmi, the brother of the Goliath of Gath (1 Chronicles 20:4-8); four different giants are mentioned as being born to the giant of Gath (Deut. 2:10,11,20,21, and Deut. 3:11-13)."F6

The importance of this explanation is seen in the fact that the false identification of the two "Goliath's" as the same person is, "One of the main arguments"F7 relied upon by critics who reject the passage as `unhistorical.'

All Israel. were dismayed and greatly afraid
(1 Samuel 17:11). Here the Israelites were guilty of the same sin that has plagued God's people through the centuries ... They did not really trust in God's power. David's faith stands out in bold contrast to that cowardiceF8

"1 Sam. 17:12-31 are omitted in the Vatican copy of the LXX,"F9 but the reason for this omission was solely due to the failure of translators to appreciate the proleptic nature of the preceding chapter. As Willis pointed out, "The events recorded here took place before David entered Saul's service as an armor-bearer, but after he had been brought to Saul's court to play the lyre, as indicated in 1 Sam. 17:15."F10

DAVID COMES TO THE BATTLE LINES AND HEARS GOLIATH'S BLASPHEMOUS TAUNT


 
Verses 12-23
Now David was the son of that Ephrathite of Beth-lehem-judah, whose name was Jesse; and he had eight sons: and the man was an old man in the days of Saul, stricken [in years] among men. And the three eldest sons of Jesse had gone after Saul to the battle: and the names of his three sons that went to the battle were Eliab the first-born, and next unto him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. And David was the youngest; and the three eldest followed Saul. Now David went to and fro from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Beth-lehem. And the Philistine drew near morning and evening, and presented himself forty days. And Jesse said unto David his son, Take now for thy brethren an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry [them] quickly to the camp to thy brethren; and bring these ten cheeses unto the captain of their thousand, and look how thy brethren fare, and take their pledge. Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the vale of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. And David 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 host which was going forth to the fight shouted for the battle. And Israel and the Philistines put the battle in array, army against army. And David left his baggage in the hand of the keeper of the baggage, and ran to the army, and came and saluted his brethren. And as 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 spake according to the same words: and David heard them.

David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem
(1 Samuel 17:12). The correct translation of this was given by Keil, David was the son of THAT Ephratite,F11 thus referring to Jesse who was introduced in the preceding chapter. This shows the continuity of the narrative and frustrates the false charges of diverse sources.

David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father's sheep
(1 Samuel 17:15). This verse solves much of the difficulty that some have found in understanding this narrative. The time element is not stated here; but the strong probability is that years passed between that time when David was used for playing the lyre for Saul, and this event, much later, when David fought Goliath. These were crucial years in David's life, during which he passed from adolescence to vigorous and full-grown manhood. If, in the meanwhile, David had grown a full beard, that would be reason enough why neither Saul nor Abner recognized him when he went out to fight Goliath.

Ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand
(1 Samuel 17:18). The Hebrew word for `thousand' here is [~'eleph], which may also refer to some division of the army.F12 In this fact may lie the solution to the problem of many of the numbers given in O.T. accounts which appear in the eyes of some scholars to be `exaggerated,' or `unrealistic.'

DAVID SEES AND HEARS GOLIATH'S CHALLENGE


 
Verses 24-27
And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid. And the men of Israel said, Have ye seen this man that is come up? surely to defy Israel is he come up: and it shall be, that the man who killeth him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father's house free in Israel. And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? And the people answered him after this manner, saying, So shall it be done to the man that killeth him.

David was obviously impressed with the great rewards promised to the slayer of Goliath, as indicated by his asking both the soldiers, and then a little later, "the people." David's older brothers had observed this interest on David's part and proceeded to rebuke and belittle him.

"Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God"? "Here David injected the first theological note in the whole narrative."F13 How strange it is, that up to this point, the knowledge on Israel's part of the loving protection of God seems to have been forgotten altogether. After forty days of those continued insults from Goliath, this seems even more incredible. Evidently there burned in the heart of David a most unusual and confident faith in God; and that certainly must have been the secret of God's special blessing in that terrible encounter with Goliath.

ELIAB ANGRILY OPPOSES DAVID'S INTENTION


 
Verses 28-30
And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men; and Eliab's anger was kindled against David, and he said, Why art thou come down? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thy heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle. And David said, What have I now done? Is there not a cause? And he turned away from him toward another, and spake after the same manner: and the people answered him again after the former manner.

Eliab's anger was kindled
(1 Samuel 17:28). The reason for Eliab's anger is not readily discernible. Some have ascribed it to jealousy.F14 His mention of the sheep sounds unreasonable, because the bringing of supplies from their father made it clear that David had Jesse's permission to make the journey. Perhaps Willis has the best explanation: He was angry with David for associating with the soldiers, indirectly chastising them for not accepting Goliath's challenge, and implying that he (David) was able to defeat the giant.F15 That David had indeed indicated that he was able to fight the giant is clear from 1 Sam. 17:31. The very things with which Eliab charged his brother, presumption and wickedness of heart, were very apparent in Eliab's scornful reproof.F16

Before leaving this, it should not be overlooked that as the great O.T. type of the Son of God, David's brethren rejected him, just as Jesus' brethren later rejected him.

THE KING ACCEPTS DAVID'S OFFER TO FIGHT GOLIATH


 
Verses 31-40
And when the words were heard which David spake, they rehearsed them before Saul; and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, Let no man's heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine. And Saul said to David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth. And David said unto Saul, Thy servant was keeping his father's sheep; and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth; and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant smote both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. And David said, Jehovah that 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. And Saul said unto David, Go, and Jehovah shall be with thee. And Saul clad David with his apparel, and he put a helmet of brass upon his head, and he clad him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword upon his apparel, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him. And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in the shepherd's bag which he had, even in his wallet; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.

You are but a youth. this man a man of war from his youth
(1 Samuel 17:33). The providence of God was surely operative in the news of David's willingness to fight Goliath reaching the king. The soldiers began talking about what David said; the news spread far and wide; some of them might possibly have been intrigued with the possibility of seeing `that young smart-aleck from the country' humiliated by his cowardice when confronted with the prospect of actual combat. However it happened, the news reached Saul, and Israel's champion in the person of the youthful David stood before him.

Notice that in Saul's reluctance to approve David as his champion, he did not mention David's physical stature, his strength or his height, but only his age. The notion that David was a "mere lad" or an "immature stripling" at this time is contradicted by the fact of his being able to put on the king's armor. Saul was head and shoulders above all the people; and this passage states that David also was a man of immense physical power and every whit as tall as the king himself. It is amazing to this writer how few commentators even notice this fact. "The fact that David tried on the armor of Saul indicates that he approximated the height of Saul."F17

If David had worn the armor of Saul, the king could have claimed a vital share of the glory of the victory; but the essential common sense of David frustrated that maneuver on Saul's part.

Note that the armor of the king included a sword; but David elected to fight without sword, and, as we shall see, below, this was probably an essential element in his triumph.

He took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the brook
(1 Samuel 17:40). All of the Bethlehemites were skillful in the use of the sling; and, In the exercise of David's calling as a shepherd, he may have become as skillful in the use of it as those fellow-Benjamites of his, who could sling at a hair's breadth and not miss (Judges 2:16).F18

Regarding those five smooth stones which David put in his shepherd's bag, it is rather amazing that one writer spoke of those stones as the size of a man's fist. Such an idea could have come only from that remarkable statue of David which stands in front of the Uffizi Gallery in Italy and exhibits a rock the size of a man's fist in David's sling! That was only the artist's way of emphasizing the stone. No rock of that size could possibly have "sunk into the forehead of Goliath."

THE CHAMPIONS CONFRONT EACH OTHER


 
Verses 41-47
And the Philistine came on and drew near unto David; and the man that bare the shield went before him. And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and withal of a fair countenance. And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the birds of the heavens, and to the beasts of the field. Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a javelin: but I come to thee in the name of Jehovah of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will Jehovah deliver thee into my hand; and I will smite thee, and take thy head from off thee; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day unto the birds of the heavens, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that Jehovah saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is Jehovah's, and he will give you into our hand.

The imprecations shouted upon each of the contestants here were the customary preliminaries to the type of mortal combat that took place.

The Philistine came and drew near to David
(1 Samuel 17:40). This is important because it shows that the Philistine was either walking or running toward David.

DAVID KILLS THE PHILISTINE CHAMPION


 
Verses 48, 49
And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hastened, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead; and the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell upon his face to the earth.

This mortal combat lasted less than a minute. God gave David the victory in a matter of seconds. Scholars have raised many questions about this, but there is nothing at all difficult about what is said here.

How did that stone strike Goliath in the forehead while the giant had on his helmet? "The giant's helmet had no visor, that protection not having as yet been invented."F19 However, even if his helmet had been equipped with a visor, Goliath would have felt no need whatever to close it. In any event, his forehead was exposed.

Willis questioned whether or not a victim thus struck would have fallen on his face, writing that, "It would appear that a blow to the forehead would cause one to fall backward."F20 Such a view does not take into account that the giant was moving toward David and that, with some 200 pounds of armor, the inertia of that mass would have made it absolutely impossible for him to fall in any other direction except forward on his face.

THE COMPLETE ROUT OF THE PHILISTINE ARMY


 
Verses 50-54
So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David. Then David ran, and stood over the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until thou comest to Gai, and to the gates of Ekron. And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even unto Gath, and unto Ekron. And the children of Israel returned from chasing after the Philistines, and they plundered their camp. And David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armor in his tent.

Some scholars profess to find a difficulty with the statement in this narrative that David killed Goliath with a sling and with a stone (1 Samuel 17:50), and in the very next verse, the text states that David took the giant's sword and, "killed the giant and cut off his head."

This is no difficulty whatever, being merely the way the Biblical narratives are written with much redundancy and repetition. Another example is the case of Jael's killing Sisera. After the enemy was already lying there with his head nailed to the ground with a tent-pin driven though his temples, the narrative states that, "He was in a deep sleep, and swooned and died" (Judg. 4:21, ASV)! This is merely the way that ancient historians wrote.

After that smooth stone hurled from David's sling "sank into the forehead" of Goliath, he was as dead as if he had been shot between the eyes with a deer rifle! Subsequent references to David's "killing" Goliath are merely repetitions for the sake of emphasis.

Still another so-called problem regards the statement that David took the head of Goliath to Jerusalem. There is no problem when it is remembered that when David did this is not mentioned. Also, David, at that time, did not have a tent, and the tent where Goliath's armor was placed was evidently the tabernacle where the ark of God was kept. It would seem that David's recovering the sword of Goliath from that tabernacle at a later time should be accepted as sufficient proof of this (1 Samuel 21:8,9).

SAUL AND ABNER DO NOT RECOGNIZE DAVID


 
Verses 55-58
And when Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said unto Abner, the captain of the host, Abner, whose son is this youth? And Abner said, As thy soul liveth, O king, I cannot tell. And the king said, Inquire thou whose son the stripling is. And as 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. And Saul said to him, Whose son art thou, thou young man? And David answered, I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Beth-lehemite.

When Saul saw David go down against the Philistine
(1 Samuel 17:54). This should read, When Saul had seen David go down against the Philistine. Saul would not have inquired about David until after his victory.

Several things appear in this paragraph of great interest. Saul is already jealous of the great victory David won, hence the belittling of his champion by such words as "stripling," and "young man." Neither of these designations was appropriate for a man who had just tried on the armor of Israel's king Saul, who was something of a giant himself.

But why did neither Saul or Abner recognize David. Simply because it had been a long time since David and played the lyre for Saul, and the changes in David's appearance in the meanwhile make their recognition impossible. As the splendid scholar Robert Jamieson stated it, "The growth of the beard and other changes in the now full-grown youth prevented the king from recognizing his former favorite minstrel."F21 Thus, in one day's time, God set in motion the events that would eventually elevate David to the throne as Saul's successor.


Footnotes for 1 Samuel 17
1: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 185.
2: The Teachers' Bible Commentary, p. 172.
3: John T. Willis, p. 180.
4: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, Samuel, p. 286.
5: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 2b, p. 178.
6: Albert Barnes, Samuel, p. 42.
7: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 2, p. 971.
8: John T. Willis, p. 181.
9: Albert Barnes, op. cit., p. 43.
10: John T. Willis, p. 182.
11: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 171.
12: John T. Willis, p. 182.
13: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 296.
14: Ibid.
15: John T. Willis, p. 185.
16: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 181.
17: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 287.
18: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 183.
19: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 325.
20: John T. Willis, p. 190.
21: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 186.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=1sa&chapter=017>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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