1 Samuel 17


‘Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them. A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armour of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him. Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, ‘Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.’ Then the Philistine said, ‘This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.’ On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.’ 1 Samuel 17:1-11

David And Goliath

It was common practice for the Philistines to get their best fighter to intimidate and challenge an opposing army for a fight. Goliath was the Philistine’s champion who stood at over nine feet tall, his armour weighed around 125 pounds and his spear would have weighed around 17 pounds. This doesn’t even take into account the weight of the bronze helmet, the bronze javelin, and the brass shin guards. The total weight may have been possibly around 200 pounds.

Understandably, the Israelites were dismayed and terrified, not only because of the size of Goliath and not only because a champion couldn’t be found among the Israelites but because if a champion of Israel fought Goliath and lost, they would have to subject themselves again to the Philistines.

‘Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul’s time he was very old. Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand. Now Jesse said to his son David, ‘Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.’ 1 Samuel 17:12-19

Jesse, who is obviously much older now has three of his sons in the Israelite army. David was still a shepherd who looked after his father’s sheep. Goliath came to the Israelites morning and evening for forty days to torment the Israelites, and it appears that Israel still didn’t find anyone brave enough to face him.

Jesse tells David to go to the front line and take some food for his brothers, this was the custom of the day to provide food for your family who was in the army, ready for war.

‘Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear. Now the Israelites had been saying, ‘Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.’ David asked the men standing near him, ‘What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?’ They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, ‘This is what will be done for the man who kills him.’ 1 Samuel 17:20-27

When David finally reaches the army posts, he gave the supplies for his brothers to the keeper of supplies but ran to the front line to see how his brothers were doing. On arrival Goliath once again tormented Israel and once again Israel ran away from him.

Saul appears to have offered a great reward for anyone who would kill Goliath, lots of wealth, along with his daughter in marriage which would mean whoever married her would have great status in Israel, along with the bonus of not paying taxes.

Notice how David describes Goliath, he calls him a disgrace and uncircumcised. It’s now that we begin to see David’s faith shining through, he calls the Israelites, ‘the armies of the living God’, in other words, he still believed that God was still fighting for Israel.

While Saul and his army were terrified, which showed a lack of faith in God, David still had great faith in God. While the Philistines believed in dead gods, that is idols, which can do nothing, David knew his God was very much alive.

‘When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, ‘Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.’ ‘Now what have I done?’ said David. ‘Can’t I even speak?’ He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him. David said to Saul, ‘Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.’ Saul replied, ‘You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’ But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.’ Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the LORD be with you.’ 1 Samuel 17:28-37

When David finally reached his oldest brother, Eliab, we would have thought that he would be grateful that David came to see how he was doing but this wasn’t the case. Eliab burned with anger towards David and was highly offended that David would come to him and ask how he was doing.

He accuses him of being filled with pride but the truth was, David was filled with faith, he trusted that God could help, whilst Eliab was filled with pride and didn’t even think about God helping them.

Everyone in Israel was terrified of Goliath and no one volunteered to fight him and so David who fully trusted in God to use him volunteered to fight the giant. David tells Saul that he is a shepherd, who fought off lions and bears and killed them when they tried to attack his father’s sheep.

Notice that he gave all the credit for killing these lions and bears to God, he says if God has helped him kill those animals, He will certainly help him kill Goliath. In a sense, God was using David’s past experiences to help prepare him for this fight against Goliath.

‘Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. ‘I cannot go in these,’ he said to Saul, because I am not used to them.’ So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine. Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. ‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!’ David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.’ 1 Samuel 17:38-47

Notice that David tried on Saul’s armour, he knew he couldn’t fight with all that armour on but maybe there’s something else going on here which is often overlooked.

If David had worn Saul’s armour, Saul, being the king, could have claimed a vital share of the glory of the victory, it’s possible that David was aware of this and didn’t want to give Saul any credit for the victory over Goliath, he wanted the all the credit to go to God.

Notice also that David was also offered a sword but he refused to take it, this will prove to be a significant decision later when he cuts off Goliath’s head with Goliath’s own sword, 1 Samuel 17:51.

David completely trusted in what he was familiar with, his staff, his sling and stones, Judges 2:16, which were all used to defend and protect his father’s sheep. He knew as long as God was with him, these would be more than enough to defeat Goliath.

Why did David choose five smooth stones?

If David trusted God that much, why not just take one? We all know that God fights for us, but we still need to fight with God. Although David trusted in God, he also knew that to take on any challenge, even with God’s help, he needed to be as well prepared as he could be.

Something which is often overlooked is that Goliath actually had four brothers, 2 Samuel 21:19-22, and David knew that when he killed Goliath, his four brothers may well want to come to the front and seek revenge. That’s why David took five stones, one for Goliath and the other four, just in case his brothers came to challenge him.

When Goliath sees David and verbally abuses him and it’s clear that he isn’t impressed with this so-called Israelite champion. David recognises Goliath’s sword, spear and javelin but he isn’t impressed, and so David says he comes to Goliath in the name of the God of the armies of Israel, Exodus 15:1-3.

It’s clear that David’s courage didn’t come from his physical strength or because of the weapons he had with him, he was courageous because God was fighting for him.

David’s confidence in God was so great, that he knew the purpose behind the victory, he says the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. David wasn’t full of himself, as his brother had suggested earlier, 1 Samuel 17:28, David wants everyone to know that it will be God who gives him the victory over Goliath and all the credit should be given to God, Judges 7:1-8 / Matthew 6:1-6 / Matthew 6:16-18.

‘As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp. David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.’ 1 Samuel 17:48-54

As Goliath runs towards David, David takes a stone from his bag and slingshots the stone with deadly accuracy. The stone strikes Goliath right between the eyes, on the forehead, this stuns him and he falls to the ground.

Notice that David runs over and cuts off Goliath’s head, using Goliath’s own sword, this was greatly humiliating for Goliath and the Philistines, Judges 4:21. As a result of Goliath being killed by David, the Israelites became more confident and pursued the Philistines and the Philistines fled for their lives.

Notice also that David took Goliath’s head, to Jerusalem, 2 Samuel 5:6-10, and he put Goliath’s weapons, in his own tent. The reference to the ‘tent’ here should be understood as the tabernacle, this becomes clear when we read 1 Samuel 21:8-9.

‘As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, ‘Abner, whose son is that young man?’ Abner replied, ‘As surely as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know.’ The king said, ‘Find out whose son this young man is.’ As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head. ‘Whose son are you, young man?’ Saul asked him. David said, ‘I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.’ 1 Samuel 17:55-58

Saul wanted to know who it was who killed Goliath and so he asks Abner who was the commander of Saul’s army to find out. There appears that some time has gone by from when David first met Saul and played the lyre for him, 1 Samuel 16:19-21 / 1 Samuel 16:23, and the time here when David fights Goliath but Saul didn’t recognise him.

Why didn’t Saul recognise David?

Some commentators believe that David played behind a screen or a curtain for Saul, so Saul never actually saw David’s face. Other commentators believe that because of the distressing spirit, Saul wasn’t entirely in his right mind, 1 Samuel 16:15.

We do know that David didn’t spend all of his time at Saul’s palace but went home to tend his father’s sheep from time to time, 1 Samuel 17:15. It is also possible that David’s appearance had changed during the time when he was away from Saul, so Saul didn’t immediately recognise him.

One thing is clear though, God was preparing the way for David to take Saul’s place as king and leader of Israel.

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