goliath02I Samuel 17

1. Now the Philistines gathered their armies together to battle, and were gathered at Sochoh, which belongs to Judah; they encamped between Sochoh and Azekah, in Ephes Dammim.

Now the Philistines gather their armies and again prepare for war with Israel. They never seem to learn their lesson, for they were humiliatingly defeated by the LORD the last time they fought with Israel! Yet now some years later they are ready to try again. They gather their armies at Shochoh, which means “Bushy,” and is a city in the lowlands of Judah. (There was another city with the same name in the mountains, but this is the one in the lowlands.) They make their camp between Sochoh and another place called Azekah, which means “Dug Over,” and is also a town in the lowlands. This place between the two cities is called Ephes Dammim, which means “Edge of Blood,” and is a place sixteen miles southwest of Jerusalem in Judah.

2. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and they encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in battle array against the Philistines.

Saul and his army of the men of Israel prepare to meet this threat. They make their camp in the valley of Elah. “Elah” was a type of tree in Israel, the terebinth, but this valley was named after a person who had this name. Having pitched their camp, the Israelite army sets themselves in battle array against the Philistines, as the custom was at that time.

3. The Philistines stood on a mountain on one side, and Israel stood on a mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.

The picture is painted for us of the Philistines standing on a hillside on one side and Israel on a hillside on the other side with nothing but a valley between the two of them. We can imagine these ancient armies facing each other across the valley.

4. And a champion went out from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.

Now we learn the plan of the Philistines as to how they think they can win this time.  They have a champion, a giant! This champion’s name is Goliath, which means “Splendor,” and he is from Gath, which means “Winepress,” and was a Philistine city. His height is described for us, but the exact length of a cubit or a span is controversial and somewhat unknown. The common idea today is that the cubit was 18 inches, being the average length between a man’s elbow and his fingertips. The span was thought to be the measure of a man’s stretched hand from fingertip to fingertip, which would be about nine inches. By this measurement, then, Goliath would have been 9 feet 9 inches tall. However, some would make the cubit larger than this, and suggest that he could have been as tall as 13 feet 6 inches! Whatever his height, he was a massive physical specimen indeed.

5. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze.

It is clear that goliath was not thin like a basketball player when we consider his armor. He wore a bronze helmet and a mail coat. The coat is said to have weighed five thousand shekels of bronze. This is about 195 pounds. No normal human could wear such a coat! And notice that this is just his mail coat, and excludes his helmet and leg armor, not to mention his weapon.

6. And he had bronze armor on his legs and a bronze javelin between his shoulders.

He had bronze armor on his legs, which would have made his complete set of armor weigh even more! Between his shoulders he had something else of bronze, which the New King James suggests was a javelin. The word is different from the word for “spear” in the next verse. The old King James suggested a target, which was a small shield. The eight uses of this word kiydown do not make it clear whether it was offensive or defensive.

7. Now the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his iron spearhead weighed six hundred shekels; and a shield-bearer went before him.

The shaft of his spear is like a weaver’s beam. A weaver’s beam was used to hold the heddles in a loom. It was a big piece of wood! Just the head of the spear weighed about 23.4 pounds! This was a most heavy spear, and would have needed a man of great strength to thrust it hard enough for a killing stroke. He also had a great shield which he did not carry himself, but had a man whose job was just to carry it for him.

8. Then he stood and cried out to the armies of Israel, and said to them, “Why have you come out to line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me.

Goliath the champion stands up and cries out a challenge to the armies of Israel. He suggests that a full-scale war between their two armies is unnecessary. He wants a personal combat rather than a war.

9. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.”

Goliath makes a proposal: if an Israelite champion is able to defeat and kill him, the Philistines will be Israel’s servants, whereas if Goliath defeats and kills the Israelite champion, then Israel will serve Philistia. Thus the war will be decided by this combat, not by a full-scale war. Of course, there is nothing holding either side to this agreement, and it is highly unlikely the Philistines would meekly line up to be made servants once an Israelite champion wins. Yet an Israelite win is surely not what the Philistines were anticipating. Goliath certainly believed no one could kill him! If Israel were willing to line up and become slaves upon Goliath’s victory, then the Philistines would be happy to accept their surrender.

10. And the Philistine said, “I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.”

Goliath defies the whole army of Israel. He does not believe that they have a man who will be brave enough to come out and face him. He must have made a truly awe-inspiring sight, with his massive size and unbelievable armor. Yet this was not just a case of one nation defying another, for it was not the army of Israel that had won their glorious victory against the Philistines in their last encounter. Truly Goliath was defying Yahweh Who owned the army of Israel. His insult was primarily against Him, and not against the army cowering at his challenge.

11. When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Just as in I Samuel 13 when facing the Philistines, Saul and his army once again forget Who is their weapon. We saw in chapter 14 that only Jonathan remembered that the LORD was their helper, and it was through his faith that Israel was saved. However even Jonathan does not step forward here, as he did in the past. Perhaps even he is dismayed and fearful at the great size and impressive outfit of the Philistine champion.

12. Now David was the son of that Ephrathite of Bethlehem Judah, whose name was Jesse, and who had eight sons. And the man was old, advanced in years, in the days of Saul.

We are once again introduced to David. This might seem strange to us, but he is being brought into the story here, even though he was already introduced to us in this book earlier. This occasion was when he really was for the first time brought to the attention of Israel, so perhaps it seemed fitting to Samuel to give him another introduction here.

David is called an Ephrathite. Ephrath means “Ashiness” or “Fruitfulness,” and is the old name of the town of Bethlehem. Even though this was no longer its name, it was used to distinguish this Bethlehem in Judah from the other Bethlehem in the tribal territory of Zebulun. Bethlehem means “House of Bread,” and Judah means “Praised.” We are introduced to Jesse, David’s father, again. He is old, advanced in years at this time, and has eight sons. David was the youngest, so even though he was yet a teenager, his father was not as young as we might expect the father of a teenager to be. It would seem that his father did not live to see David take the throne, as we never read of him after David is finally made king.

13. The three oldest sons of Jesse had gone to follow Saul to the battle. The names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah.

We learn that Jesse’s three oldest sons have gone to join the army and follow Saul to the battle. Probably every family was expected to provide soldiers for the army, and Jesse has done so. He would not be expected to send all his sons, however, as some would need to stay behind to keep his family business running. Therefore, he has sent the three oldest. Since the older children were typically the most privileged, it is clear that joining the army was considered an honor, not an annoying necessity, at least in Jesse’s family.

The three sons who went were Eliab the firstborn, Abinadab the second, and Shammah the third. We already met these sons back in chapter 16.

14. David was the youngest. And the three oldest followed Saul.

We are reminded once again that David was the youngest, and so was not privileged to join the army. He is probably 16 or 17 at this point, which would be too young to join the army anyway. His three oldest brothers are following Saul, while he is not at the battle.

15. But David occasionally went and returned from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.

We know from chapter 16 that David had been conscripted by Saul to play the harp for him. However, it seems that he was not kept by Saul perpetually. As Bethlehem was not too far from Saul’s capital in Gibeah, David could return home when not needed and fulfill his duties feeding his father’s sheep. In this case, it was probably thought that a musician would not be needed on the battlefield, so he probably went home when Saul left his residence and went off to battle.

16. And the Philistine drew near and presented himself forty days, morning and evening.

For forty days there is a stalemate between Israel and the Philistines, and every day of the stalemate the Philistine champion draws near and presents himself to taunt Israel. The Israelites were too afraid to attack by Goliath, it seems. Yet why did the Philistines not attack? Perhaps they too were afraid to attack Israel after what happened to them the last time, as we saw in chapter 14! Also causing this stalemate was probably the fact, as we learned from verse 3, that they were both camped on the side of a mountain or high hill with a valley in between. For either army to move to attack the other, they would have to descend into the valley, thus giving their enemies the advantage of the high ground. So they remain in stalemate, with both sides afraid to attack the other, and with the Israelites trembling in fear of Goliath. They should have remembered their former victory over the Philistines and found their courage, but they did not. Instead, they were all afraid of Goliath.

17. Then Jesse said to his son David, “Take now for your brothers an ephah of this dried grain and these ten loaves, and run to your brothers at the camp.

Things change when Jesse decides to send David on an errand to the army. We are so used to our governments feeding everyone from soldiers to criminals that it might seem strange to us, but just because you were gathered with the army did not necessarily mean the army was going to feed you. The soldiers in the army had to depend on the generosity of the farmers in the surrounding farms to feed them. This was even true to some extent with our own army back in the Revolutionary War. So Jesse is concerned for his sons, and sends David to bring them some food. Bethlehem was not far from the place the armies were encamped, so this was no problem for him to do.

Therefore David is to carry food to his brothers. First Jesse sends an ephah of dried grain and ten loaves of bread. An ephah is about three quarters of a bushel.

18. And carry these ten cheeses to the captain of their thousand, and see how your brothers fare, and bring back news of them.”

Jesse also sends food for their army commander, who is their captain over a thousand men. He is to receive ten cheeses, which no doubt would be a welcome gift. Once David has delivered this food, Jesse wants a letter or message from the army commander as well as from his sons, which David will bring back to him. No doubt he wants to know that they are safe and all right, and to hear the news as to what is going on. After all, his home being close to the battlefield could be dangerous for him if Israel were to lose, as then the Philistines would have pillaging and looting in mind, and he would not want his farm to be in the way!

19. Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the Valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.

We are reminded that Saul and David’s three brothers and all the army are nearby in the Valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.

20. So David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, and took the things and went as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the camp as the army was going out to the fight and shouting for the battle.

David gets up early the next morning to fulfill his task. First he prepares for his absence by getting someone to watch the sheep while he is gone. This shows that David is a responsible man, not forgetting or shirking one duty when he is given another. He then takes the food Jesse gave him and heads out to the army camp. He happens to arrive just in time to see the army heading out to fight and shouting to bolster their courage for the battle. Yet this over forty days had become a daily ritual. To David it must look like a fight is about to take place, but that will not be the case when the champion comes out.

21. For Israel and the Philistines had drawn up in battle array, army against army.

Israel and the Philistines had both drawn their armies up in two lines in battle array. This was the old way of doing it, lining up to look impressive to the other army, and preparing each part of the line to meet the corresponding part of the enemy’s line.

22. And David left his supplies in the hand of the supply keeper, ran to the army, and came and greeted his brothers.

David is not afraid of the coming battle. Instead, having dropped off the food he brought with the supply keeper of his brother’s division, he runs to the army, finds his brothers in the line, and greets them. No doubt he is seeking to carry out his other instruction and get a message from them. No doubt Jesse did not anticipate his youngest son doing this while they were drawn up in the battle line!

23. Then as he talked with them, there was the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, coming up from the armies of the Philistines; and he spoke according to the same words. So David heard them.

As David talks with his brothers, the daily challenge takes place. The champion from Gath, the Philistine Goliath, comes out from the battle line and speaks to challenge and mock Israel. Thus David hears the boast of the giant.

24. And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were dreadfully afraid.

The Israelites are still afraid of this giant. As has happened on other days, the Israelites lose their desire to fight at this point, and flee back from him rather than face the challenge he issued.

25. So the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel; and it shall be that the man who kills him the king will enrich with great riches, will give him his daughter, and give his father’s house exemption from taxes in Israel.”

David hears the men of Israel around him talking about this giant. They know that he has come up to defy Israel, but notice that they have forgotten or failed to take into account that he ultimately defied the LORD by what he was doing. No one was brave enough to face him. To try to encourage someone to step up and be the champion, Saul has tried to bribe his soldiers. Whoever will kill Goliath has Saul’s promise that he would enrich him and give him his daughter to make him his son-in-law. Certainly being related to the king would be an honor! Finally, he will reward his family business, his father’s house, by making them exempt from paying taxes in Israel.

26. Then David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, “What shall be done for 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?”

David is disgusted at the very idea that Saul would offer a reward for killing this Philistine. In his mind, every single soldier in the army should be eager to be the one to have the privilege to take on this champion! Why? Because Israel has been reproached by him, and by reproaching Israel’s armies, he has really defied the armies of the living God. It seems to him that every soldier should be eager to prove God’s power and take away this reproach. How silly, then, to offer a reward for doing something that everyone should be vying for the honor to do in the first place! David’s outlook on the situation is entirely different from that of the rest of Israel’s army. He remembers that this Philistine is uncircumcised. Circumcision was the symbol of the covenant relationship that Israel had with God, and so by saying he was uncircumcised, David was pointing out that Goliath has no relationship with God. This heathen man really defies the living God, and who is he, no matter how big and tall he is, to do that?

27. And the people answered him in this manner, saying, “So shall it be done for the man who kills him.”

Just as David can hardly even understand the cowardly and faithless mindset of the people, so the people cannot understand the courageous faith that dominated David’s mindset. Therefore when he asks this question, they completely miss his point, and merely answer by repeating the reward that is to be done for whoever is brave enough to be the hero and slay this champion. So it is that lack of faith rarely even can understand faith, and the one without faith cannot really grasp the outlook of the believer. We should not be surprised when the world does not understand the faith in which we stand.

28. Now Eliab his oldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab’s anger was aroused against David, and he said, “Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.”

Eliab, David’s oldest brother, is offended at him for these words. He, at least, gets what David means, knowing David and his faith, though he did not have such faith himself. After all, Eliab has been fleeing in fear from this giant, just like everyone else. No doubt he was not pleased when God chose his youngest brother over him, and he probably felt quite a bit of jealousy toward his youngest brother who had been chosen out by God. So he mocks David for his courageous words of faith. He makes fun of his job as a shepherd, pointing out the relative unimportance of his job taking care of the sheep versus the important task that he, the oldest brother, had in fighting for their family in the army. He accuses David of speaking these words not out of faith, but out of pride. Finally, he claims he has just come down as a young boy who naughtily leaves his work out of curiosity in order to come and see the battle.

29. And David said, “What have I done now? Is there not a cause?”

It seems that David is used to getting grief from his older brothers. Perhaps this isn’t the first time jealous Eliab has accused him of something unfairly! David believes he is justified to say what he has said, as indeed he is, though the unbelieving Eliab does not acknowledge it.

30. Then he turned from him toward another and said the same thing; and these people answered him as the first ones did.

David ignores his sneering older brother and continues to plead his case, but still no one understands his zeal for God. They were so distracted by the physical that they couldn’t even grasp the argument of someone who keeps God in his place and so puts this giant in perspective.

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