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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

1 Samuel 17

 

 

Verses 1-11

The Philistine challenge17:1-11

The Elah (Oak) Valley is an S-shaped valley just south of the Sorek Valley, where Samson earlier lived. It runs east and west parallel to it. Socoh stood to the east and Azekah to the west. Some authorities believe Ephesians -dammim stood west of Socoh and south of Azekah, but its location is debated. Gath was7 miles to the west and was the closest Philistine town.

"That Saul now came to meet the Philistines, even at the west end of the Elah Valley-and so before the enemy could penetrate Israelite country very far-shows that he had not given up in his rule just because he had been rejected. As far as he was concerned, apparently, he was still king and he was going to carry on as though nothing had changed." [Note: Wood, Israel"s United . . ., p151.]

Goliath was apparently9 feet9 inches tall. Another view is that he was6 feet9 inches tall. [Note: See the note on 1 Samuel 17:4 in the NET Bible, and J. Daniel Hays, "Reconsidering the Height of Goliath," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society48:4 (December2005):701-14; Clyde E. Billington, "Goliath and the Exodus Giants: How Tall Were They?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society50:3 (September2007):489-508; and Hays, "The Height of Goliath: A Response to Clyde Billington," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society50:3 (September2007):509-16.] He was probably a descendant of the Anakim who had moved to Philistia after Joshua drove them out of Hebron ( Joshua 11:21-22). Five thousand shekels" weight equals125 pounds ( 1 Samuel 17:5). Goliath"s spearhead weighed15 pounds ( 1 Samuel 17:7), about the weight of a standard shot-put. This is an unusually long description of an individual for the Old Testament. The writer evidently wanted to impress Goliath"s awesome power and apparent invulnerability on the readers so we would appreciate David"s great courage and faith.

The Philistines proposed a battle in which two representative champions from Israel and Philistia would duel it out, a not uncommon method of limiting war in the ancient world (cf2Samuel2). [Note: Harry A. Hoffner Jeremiah , "A Hittite Analogue to the David and Goliath Contest of Champions?" Catholic Biblical Quarterly30 (1968):220. See also George I. Mavrodes, "David, Goliath, and Limited War," Reformed Journal33:8 (1983):6-8.] However, the Israelites had no one who could compete with Goliath physically. That was the only dimension to the conflict that Saul and his generals saw. Since Saul was the tallest Israelite and the king, he was the natural choice for an opponent. However, as earlier ( 1 Samuel 14:1-2), Saul was staying in the background when he should have been leading the people.


Verses 1-58

2. The reason for God"s selection of David ch17

The exciting story of David and Goliath illustrates what it was that God saw in David"s heart that led Him to choose David for the position of king. It also shows how and why others in Israel began to notice David. David fought the Lord"s battles, as Samuel did (ch7). He also did so as Saul, God"s previously anointed king, had done (chs10-11 , 14-15).

Saul"s defeat of the Ammonites ( 1 Samuel 11:1-11) followed Saul"s anointing ( 1 Samuel 10:1). Similarly David"s defeat of the Philistines (ch17) follows the record of his anointing ( 1 Samuel 16:13). Both victories demonstrate God"s blessing on His newly anointed leaders. [Note: For a brief discussion of the problem of the shorter Septuagint version of chapters17,18 , see The NET Bible note on1Samuel17:1.]


Verses 12-25

The reason for David"s presence at the battle17:12-25

At this time in his life David was assisting Saul as his armor-bearer when he was not tending his father"s sheep ( 1 Samuel 17:15). Moses, too, had been tending sheep before God called him to shepherd His people Israel ( Exodus 3:1). The site of battle was15 miles due west of David"s hometown, Bethlehem. The Old Testament writers sometimes used "Ephratah" ( 1 Samuel 17:12), an older name for Bethlehem, to distinguish the Bethlehem in Judah from the one in Zebulon (cf. Micah 5:2). David journeyed to the battle site to bring food (including cheeseburgers? 1 Samuel 17:18) to his brothers and their fellow soldiers and to collect news to bring back to his father. Compare the similar events in young Joseph"s life, who was also anointed in the midst of his brothers, and then went on an errand to find his brothers, only to experience a life-changing encounter. Little did Jesse expect that the news David would bring back home was that he had slain Goliath and that the Israelites had routed the Philistines. The battle had been a standoff for40 days ( 1 Samuel 17:16). The number40 often represents a period of testing in the Bible (cf. the Israelites" testing in the wilderness for40 years, Jesus" testing for40 days, etc.). This was another test for Israel. Would the nation trust in the arm of the flesh or in God?

Part of the reward for defeating Goliath that Saul had promised was that the victor"s family would be tax free in Israel ( 1 Samuel 17:25). [Note: See McCarter, p304; and Shemaryahu Talmon, King, Cult, and Calendar in Ancient Israel: Collected Studies, pp65-66.] The giving of the leader"s daughter in marriage to a valiant warrior was not without precedent in Israel (cf. Caleb"s challenge in Joshua 15:16).


Verses 26-30

David"s interest in God"s reputation17:26-30

David seems to have considered himself capable of defeating Goliath from the first time he heard of Goliath"s insults to Yahweh. The fact that he referred to Yahweh as the "living God" ( 1 Samuel 17:26) shows David"s belief that Yahweh was still the same Person who could defeat present enemies as He had done in the past. His was the simple faith of a child. He had apparently heard about God"s promises to Moses and Joshua , that if the Israelites would attack their enemies, God would defeat them ( Deuteronomy 31:1-8; Joshua 1:1-9). Faith in God always rests on a word from God in Scripture. Most of the Israelites took Goliath"s challenge as defying Israel ( 1 Samuel 17:25), but David interpreted it as defying the living God, the only true God ( 1 Samuel 17:26). Here David"s heart for God begins to manifest itself (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).

"Eliab sought for the splinter in his brother"s eye, and was not aware of the beam in his own. The very things with which he charged his brother-presumption and wickedness of heart-were most apparent in his scornful reproof." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p181.]

"Eliab"s anger is the anger of a man who feels small because of the Israelite army"s inability to deal with Goliath, and he particularly resents looking small in the eyes of his young brother [whom Samuel had anointed king-elect instead of himself]." [Note: Gordon, p156.]

David continued to inquire about the prize for slaying Goliath, probably to make sure he understood what he would risk his life to obtain.


Verses 31-40

David"s qualifications to fight Goliath17:31-40

When David volunteered to be Israel"s champion, Saul scoffed at him because he evaluated David"s chances for success solely in physical terms, as usual. The Hebrew word na"ar translated "youth" ( 1 Samuel 17:33) usually describes an older teenager (cf. 1 Samuel 3:1).

"The opposite of the fear of the Lord is the fear of man. No greater contrast of these opposing fears could be presented than when David confronted Goliath. Saul and his men feared Goliath the Prayer of Manasseh , but David by virtue of his fear of Yahweh did not." [Note: Homer Heater Jeremiah , "Young David and the Practice of Wisdom of Solomon ," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, p53.]

David responded that if that was the criterion Saul wanted to use, he had already defeated two formidable beasts ( 1 Samuel 17:34). However, David"s real confidence lay in the fact that Goliath had set himself against the living God ( 1 Samuel 17:36). David viewed Goliath as just another predator that was threatening the safety of God"s flock, Israel, and the reputation of Israel"s God. [Note: See T. A. Boogaart, "History and Drama in the Story of David and Goliath," Reformed Review38 (1985):209.] He gave credit to God for allowing him to kill the lion and the bear ( 1 Samuel 17:37). The same faith in Yahweh had inspired Jonathan"s deed of valor ( 1 Samuel 14:6). Saul again showed that he trusted in material things for success by arming David as he did ( 1 Samuel 17:38). Gordon wrote that Saul tried to turn David into an armadillo. [Note: Gordon, p157.] David preferred the simple weapon that he could handle best ( 1 Samuel 17:40).

"Nothing comes more naturally to people than trying to get someone to fight our battles the way we would were we fighting them." [Note: Chafin, p145.]

Some students of this passage have suggested that David chose five stones because Goliath had four brothers, and he wanted to be ready to attack them too. However there is no indication in the text that David had any concern for them or even that they were present at this battle. He probably chose five stones simply so he would have some in reserve if his first shot missed its mark.

The sling David used was not the toy catapult with which children play, namely, a slingshot. It was an ancient offensive weapon that shepherds also used to control their sheep. Shepherds usually made a sling out of a long, thin strip of leather and formed a pouch in its middle. Talented slingers could propel small objects hundreds of feet at very high speeds with great accuracy (cf. Judges 20:16). [Note: Unger"s Bible Dictionary, 1957 ed, s.v. "Armor, Arms."] Pictures of slings and stones from this time show the stones typically being from two to three inches in diameter. [Note: See Ovid R. Sellers, "Sling Stones in Biblical Times," Biblical Archaeologist2:4 (1939):41-42 , 44.] Probably David"s stones were about the size of a modern baseball or even larger. David beat Goliath, not with the weapons of a warrior, but with the tools of a shepherd. Critics of the Bible have tried to prove that David did not really kill Goliath as the Bible says. [Note: Norvelle Wallace Sharpe, "David, Elhanan, and the Literary Digest," Bibliotheca Sacra86 (July1929):319-26 , rebutted such an attempt.]


Verses 41-49

David"s victory by faith17:41-49

Goliath disdained David because the lad had no battle scars; he was not a warrior at all but simply a fresh-faced boy ( 1 Samuel 17:42). Goliath assumed that he would win because his physical power and armaments were superior. As often happens, pride preceded a fall ( Proverbs 16:18).

1 Samuel 17:45-47 give the clearest expression to David"s faith in Yahweh. He viewed Yahweh as the commander of Israel"s armies, a view of God that Saul never accepted but which made the difference between Saul"s failure and David"s success as the Lord"s anointed ( 1 Samuel 17:45). He also saw God as the real deliverer of Israel ( 1 Samuel 17:46). Furthermore, David was jealous for the reputation of God ( 1 Samuel 17:47), not his own glory, which so preoccupied Saul. His faith must have rested on God"s promises concerning victory against the enemies of God"s people for their confidence in Him and their obedience to His word ( Genesis 12:3; Deuteronomy 31:1-8; Joshua 1:1-9).

"Intimidation. That"s our MAJOR battle when we face giants. When they intimidate us, we get tongue-tied. Our thoughts get confused. We forget how to pray. We focus on the odds against us. We forget whom we represent, and we stand there with our knees knocking. I wonder what God must think, when all the while He has promised us, "My power is available. There"s no one on this earth greater. You trust Me." ...

"David lived by a very simple principle: nothing to prove, nothing to lose. He didn"t try to impress anybody in the army of Israel. He didn"t try to impress his brothers. He didn"t even try to impress God. He just ran to meet Goliath." [Note: Swindoll, p46.]


Verses 50-58

The results of David"s victory17:50-58

God used a humble weapon to give His people a great victory in response to one person"s faith. This is another instance of God bringing blessing to and through a person who committed himself to simply believing and obeying God"s Word (cf. 1 Samuel 14:1). Stoning was the penalty for blasphemy in Israel ( Leviticus 24:16; Deuteronomy 17:7). Usually death by stoning required many large stones, but David executed this Philistine blasphemer with only one stone. God"s unseen hand propelled and directed it. One small stone was all God needed to get what He wanted done.

The stone that hit Goliath in the forehead evidently only knocked him out. David then approached the fallen giant, slew him with his own sword, and cut off his head. [Note: Baldwin, p128; Ariella Deem, ""And the Stone Sank Into His Forehead": A Note on1Samuel xvii49 ," Vetus Testamentum28:3 (1978):350.] 1 Samuel 17:50 seems to be a summary of the whole encounter. 1 Samuel 17:49; 1 Samuel 17:51 apparently describe what happened blow by blow. By cutting off Goliath"s head David completed the execution of the giant and demonstrated to everyone present that he really was dead. Like the image of Dagon, that had previously fallen before the ark and had its head broken off ( 1 Samuel 5:4), so Dagon"s champion now suffered the same fate.

The Israelites chased the fleeing Philistines back home to their towns. The towns mentioned stood to the north and northwest of the battlefield ( 1 Samuel 17:52). David took Goliath"s head as a trophy of war to Jerusalem and put the giant"s weapons in his own tent temporarily ( 1 Samuel 17:54). They became memorials of God"s great deliverance on this occasion. It is unclear whether David took the giant"s head to Jerusalem, which was still a Jebusite city, immediately, or if he took it there later when David captured Jerusalem and made it his capital. Goliath"s sword eventually went to Nob near Jerusalem ( 1 Samuel 21:1-9). The central sanctuary (tabernacle) may have stood there even at this time.

Saul needed to know the name of David"s father to deliver the prize that he had promised to anyone who would defeat Goliath ( 1 Samuel 17:25). Perhaps he had never asked David about this before or had forgotten whose son he was. Another explanation of Saul"s strange ignorance is that the events of chapter17 may have happened chronologically before those of chapter16.

". . . the text is not focused on chronological reporting but intends rather a dual topical introduction of David, who as a young man already manifested the gifts that would gain him renown as the sweet Psalm -singer of Israel as well as the mighty warrior of the Lord." [Note: Longman and Dillard, p23.]

Another possibility is that Saul"s words could have been an idiom for, "What is his background?" Perhaps the writer included this reference to David"s family in the text because David"s trust and obedience resulted in his family enjoying special blessings from God through Saul. 1 Samuel 17:55-58 focus on the question of whose son David was. This event proved that David was a true son of God who had the reputation and interests of his Father and his Father"s people at heart (cf. John 8:29).

David emerges as superior to Saul as well as Goliath in this story. We have already seen that Yahweh was superior to Dagon (chs4-6). David"s victory over Goliath was a major step toward Israel"s throne for him. It was a turning point in his life. God did not base David"s election for salvation on David"s conduct. God chooses whom He will to save. However, God did choose David to serve as Israel"s king because of David"s conduct, which resulted from his devoted heart. God promotes the faithful to higher positions of service (cf. Luke 19:12-27).

"His victory that day in the valley of Elah made a national hero of him, as well as entitling him to the hand of the king"s daughter in marriage; but it also evoked jealous feelings in Saul, thus indirectly setting in motion the events which fill the rest of1Samuel." [Note: Gordon, p153.]

In applying this story, I believe it is legitimate to see Goliath as representing the many enemies that frustrate individual believers as we seek to live for God. However, I believe primarily the application deals with defeating those enemies bent on defeating and destroying God"s people en masse. Contemporary movements designed to discredit God and remove Christianity from a land are what Goliath personifies.

We remember too that a great son of David arose who defeated another Goliath in His day, namely, Jesus Christ. While Satan is not yet dead, Jesus Christ has felled him. He has won a great victory over this enemy who was behind Goliath and is behind all the enemies of God and His people.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/1-samuel-17.html. 2012.

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