David and Goliath
The context is that as there was war between Saul and the Philistines (1Sam. 14:52), where the Philistines gathered together for battle against Israel, facing off in the hill region between the mountains of Judah and the plains of Philistia. It is thought by Calmet that this war happened eight years after the anointing of David, and ten or twelve years after the war with the Amalekites . A well armed, literal giant named Goliath, whose height has been estimated to be between approx. 9–11 feet taunted Saul's army for 40 days, morning and evening, defying them to provide a man to fight and kill him, with the winner to gain the submission of all their respective opponents. Upon hearing his defiance, the Israelite's were “dismayed, and greatly afraid.” (1 Sam. 17:1-11)
Meanwhile, David's father had become frail, and his 3 eldest sons had followed Saul to battle. David returned home to feed his sheep. With the Philistine crisis now ongoing for 40 days, Jesse instructs David to take provisions to the camp of his sons, and some cheese for their captain. David was to inquire as to their condition, and to bring some evidence of their welfare back, as they were in conflict with the Philistines in the valley of Elah. (1Sam. 17:12-19)
David then left his sheep with a caretaker and entered the battle. He greets and talks to his brethren, but as he does, he hears Goliath speaking his words of defiance. This sends the Israelite's around him fleeing, and they declare what manner of reward Saul shall give to the man who slays Goliath, that of great riches, Saul's daughter in marriage, and freedom from any slavery one might be under. David inquires of this from those close by him, “for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God”, and is it confirmed. When David's oldest brother hears of Davids words, his response is not one of encouragement but chastisement, accusing David of neglecting his sheep and of ill motives, that of coming just to see the battle. David's response indicates he has heard such before but will not be dissuaded, saying, “What have I now done? Is there not a cause?”, and which question he repeats to others. (1Sam. 17:20-30) However, when King Saul hears of David's words, then he calls for him. To him David asserts there is no cause to fear Goliath, as David “thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul protests that his youth disallows fighting such a seasoned man of war, to which David responds by stating how he killed both a lion and a bear who were after his sheep. David goes on to assert that Goliath shall be as one of them, “seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God”, for the LORD who delivered him previously would do so in this battle. This is seen to example David's basic hatred of evil, and his faith toward God, and fearless character in faith. At this Saul gives David his blessing, and gives David his armor. However, David finds Saul's armor unsuitable for him, burdening him rather than being his defense. Instead, David takes five smooth stones out of the brook, places then in a shepherd's bag, and with his sling in his hand he drew near to the Philistine. (1Sam. 17:32-40)
Goliath, with his shield bearer, looks around and sees David and scorns the ruddy handsome youth, and drawing closer, he expresses that he is insulted that they would send such a lowly warrior. He curses David by his pagan gods, and invites him to battle, so that he may give his flesh "unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field." David's response is known as classic, contrasting the giants reliance upon earthly means of warfare with David's reliance upon God, in whose name he fights, with the purpose being that “all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.” And so that “this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD'S.” (1Sa 17:45-47) Similar statements of faith would be later be made by certain good kings of Israel, (2Chrn. 14:11 32:8), and his his reliance upon God is also seen in Jonathan, another warrior of faith for Israel. (1Sa 14:12)
When the Philistine arises, David charges to meet him, grabs his slingshot and launches one stone that hits the Goliath's forehead, who then falls upon his face to the earth. David next uses Goliath's sword to cut off his head, at which point the Philistines flee, with Israel soon in pursuit. David saves both Goliath's head and his armor. (1Sa 17:48-54) That the text (vs. 50,51) says that David “slew” (KJV) the Philistine with the stone, while the next verse attributes the means of death to David cutting off his head, may refer to Goliath being as good as dead from the stone in lieu of what would happen next. (cf. Gn. 20:3) Saul then inquires as to whose son this hero was, and which seems odd considering that David had been chosen to serve him previously, (1Sam. 16:23), but which many commentators see as due to Saul's troubled mind. Says Henry, “Saul had forgotten him, being melancholy and mindless, and little thinking that his musician would have spirit enough to be his champion; and therefore, as if he had never seen him before, he asked whose son he was. Abner was a stranger to him, but brought him to Saul (1Sam. 17:57), and he gave a modest account of himself, 1Sam. 7:58. And now he was introduced to the court with much greater advantages than before, in which he owned God's hand performing all things for him.” Other objections to the text are also made and dealt with.
- Keil & Delitzsch, ibid.
- Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A., (1715-1832), 1Sam. 17:1
- Clarke, 1Sam. 17:4
- Gill, 1Sam. 17:15
- Matthew Henry, 1Sa 17:31-39
- Smooth Stones, James Patrick Holding
- Who killed Goliath, David or Elhanan?, Matthew J. Slick