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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

1 Samuel 17

 

 

Introduction

XVII.

(1 Samuel 17:1-58) The First Feat of Arms of David—the Encounter with the Philistine Giant.


Verse 1

(1) Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle.—There is nothing to tell us how long a time had elapsed since the victory of Saul over Amalek and the other events related in the last chapter. The compiler of the book is henceforth mainly concerned with the story of David, and how he gradually rose in popular estimation. The history does not profess to give anything like a consecutive account of the reign and wars of Saul. It was evidently compiled from documents of the time, but put into its present shape long afterwards. “Probably,” writes Dean Payne Smith, “at each prophetic school there would be stored up copies of Psalms written for their religious services, ballads such as those in the Book of Jashar, and in the book of the wars of the Lord, narratives of stirring events like this before us, and histories both of their own chiefs, such as was Samuel (the original founder of these famous educational centres), and afterwards Elijah and Elisha, and also of their kings.”

Pitched between Shochoh and Azekah.—The locality was some twelve or fifteen miles southwest of Jerusalem, and nine or ten from Bethlehem, the home of the family of Jesse. The name Ephes-dammim, the “boundary of blood,” is suggestive, and tells of the constant border warfare which took place in this neighbourhood.


Verse 3-4

(3, 4) And the Philistines stood. . . .—Conder, in his Tent Work in Palestine, writing on the spot, gives us a vivid picture of the scene of the well-known encounter between David and the giant Philistine:—“We may picture to ourselves the two hosts covering the low rocky hills opposite to each other, and half hidden among the lentisk bushes. Between them was the rich expanse of the ripening barley, and the red banks of the torrent, with its white shingly bed. Behind all were the distant blue hill-walls of Judah, whence Saul had just come down. The mail-clad warrior advanced from the west through the low corn, with his mighty lance perhaps tufted with feathers, his brazen helmet shining in the sun. From the east a ruddy boy in his white shirt and sandals, armed with a goat’s-hair sling, came down to the brook, and, according to the poetic fancy of the Rabbis, the pebbles were given voices, and cried, ‘By us shalt thou overcome the giant !’ The champion fell from an unseen cause, and the wild Philistines fled to the mouth of the valley, where Gath stood towering on its white chalk cliff, a frontier fortress, the key to the high road leading to the corn-lands of Judah and to the vineyards of Hebron.”

Goliath, of Gath.—The Philistine champion belonged to a race or family of giants, the remnant of the sons of Anak (see Joshua 11:22), who still dwelt in Gath and Gaza and Ashdod. The height mentioned was about nine feet two inches. We have in history a few instances of similar giants. This doughty champion was “full of savage insolence, unable to understand how any one could contend against his brute strength and impregnable panoply; the very type of the stupid ‘Philistine,’ such as has, in the language of modern Germany, not unfitly identified the name with the opponents of light and freedom and growth.”—Stanley.


Verse 5

(5) A coat of mail.—More accurately, breastplate of scales. This armour has been sometimes understood as “chain armour,” but it is more probable that the Philistine armour was made of metal scales, like those of a fish, whose defensive coat was, no doubt, imitated at a very early date by this warlike race, who dwelt on the sea-shore, and whose life and worship were so closely connected with the great sea. This coat of mail, or corselet, was flexible, and covered the back and sides of the wearer. The weight of the different pieces of the giant’s panoply largely exceeds the weight of mediæval suits of armour.


Verse 8

(8) Am not I a Philistine?—The literal rendering here gives a far more forcible reading: Am not I the Philistine? the famous warrior whom you know too well? The Targum of Jonathan adds here the proud boast of the giant warrior that it was he who had slain Hophni and Phinehas (the sons of Eli, the high priest), and had carried the Ark to the temple of Dagon. This Targum, although comparatively a late compilation, doubtless embodied many ancient national traditions.

And ye servants to Saul.—Thus taunting the soldiers of Israel with the memory of the former glory of their king. Will none of the famous servants of the warrior king dare to meet me?

Must we not deem it probable that the fact of the separation of the prophet from the king had been made public in Philistia, and that the present daring challenge was owing to their knowledge that the Spirit of the Lord—whom we know these enemies of the Hebrews dreaded with so awful a dread—had departed from Saul and his armies?


Verse 9

(9) Then will we be your servants.—Each of the positions which the two opposing armies held was well-nigh impregnable; thus it seemed as though a single combat was the only way of deciding the present campaign: besides which, in those far back times such single combats between renowned chieftains of the opposing armies were not by any means uncommon. The reader of the Iliad will ever readily call to mind—in colloquies before the deadly duel—words not altogether unlike the haughty, boastful challenge of the giant Philistine. See, for instance, the speeches of Glaucus and Diomede in Book VI. of the Iliad: “Come hither,” says Glaucus, “that you may quickly reach the goal of death.”


Verse 11

(11) They were dismayed, and greatly afraid.—Saul the king, perhaps, was restrained from personally accepting the challenge by motives of dignity, but the marked silence on his part, and the utter hopelessness of his army, reads in strange contrast to the former records of Hebrew daring. Where was Jonathan, for instance, ever the bravest of the brave, and his gallant armour-bearer? There had assuredly been a time when neither motives of dignity nor prudence would have restrained Saul and his warriors from accepting the challenge of the uncircumcised enemy. We notice, too, here there is no inquiry of the Urim and Thummim, no mention of prayer to the God of the armies of Israel. An evil spirit was indeed upon the King of Israel.


Verse 12

(12) Now David was the son of that Ephra-thite.—This verse, and the following verses to the end of 1 Samuel 17:31, are left out altogether, with 1 Samuel 17:55-58, in the Vatican LXX. This omission was, no doubt, owing to the difficulty connected with this mention of David, where he is apparently introduced for the first time into the history; the LXX. translation not un-frequently adding or subtracting from the text when anything met them which they could not readily understand. The passage, as we find it, is undoubtedly genuine; the probable explanation of what puzzled the LXX. is given below.

It is, however, better (with the Syriac Version) to place all the words after “Beth-lehem-judah” down to the end of 1 Samuel 17:14 in a parenthesis. 1 Samuel 17:15, after the parenthesis descriptive of Jesse and his three elder sons, takes up the account of David again, thus: “But David went,” &c.

Went among men for an old man.—This rendering follows the translation of Jerome’s Vulgate, “Senex et grandævus inter viros,” rather than the Hebrew. The literal translation of ba-baănashim would be went among men. It is best to assume that the verb ba- here is used elliptically for ba-bayamin, “was advanced in days,” that is, “was an old man.” Keil renders baanashim “among the weak,” that is, “Jesse had come to be reckoned among the weak” (or the aged). Maurer and others believe the present Hebrew reading corrupt; the sense, however, is clear.

Jesse is represented in this parenthesis, descriptive of the father of David, for some reason known only to the compiler, as already an old man. Possibly this notice is inserted to explain the reason why the father of the future hero-king of Israel was not among the warriors of Saul.


Verse 15

(15) Returned from Saul to feed his father’s sheep.—This short statement was, no doubt, introduced by the compiler of the First Book of Samuel to show that, in spite of this apparent introduction of David into the history for the first time in this chapter (see 1 Samuel 17:12 and following verses), and the inquiry of King Saul from Abner respecting the young hero’s father (see 1 Samuel 17:55-58), he, the compiler, was perfectly aware that David had already visited the court of Saul in the capacity of a musician (see 1 Samuel 16:18-23). As has been already suggested, these historical books of the Old Testament are, no doubt, made up from contemporaneous documents, stored up most probably in one or other of the prophetic schools. It is, therefore, to be expected that certain facts will be found occasionally repeated. The circumstances connected with the healing influence of the music of David in the case of the soul malady of King Saul were of course preserved with great care and detail in these “schools,” where music and poetry were so highly cultivated and esteemed. We have here many of the very words of the original narrative preserved to us. Similarly the story of the first exploit of David is incorporated in the history probably unchanged. Each of these ancient and favourite “memories” of David, as being complete in themselves, would of course contain some of the same details.

The apparent ignorance of Saul and Abner respecting the young shepherd’s family will be discussed in the note on 1 Samuel 17:55-58.


Verse 16

(16) And presented himself forty days.—Wordsworth, following Augustine, sees here a reference to the temptation of the true David, who “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted of the devil.” “In David is Christ . . . do not, therefore, read this history of David as if it did not concern you who are members of Christ.” (Aug. in Psalms 143).


Verse 18

(18) Look how thy brethren fare.—The same learned commentator (Wordsworth), following out this curious line of Patristic interpretation, remarks on these words: “David is sent by his father to his brethren from Bethlehem. So the Divine David, Jesus Christ, who was born at Bethlehem, was sent to His brethren by his Heavenly Father.” He completes the analogy between David and Christ by pointing out how David was ill-received by his brethren, though he came at his father’s bidding to show them an act of kindness; so Christ, when sent by His Father from heaven on an embassy of love, was ill-received by His own brethren, the Jews. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11).


Verse 19

(19) In the valley of Elan, fighting with the Philistines.—The words of this verse, which read in the English Version as an explanatory parenthesis, are really part of Jesse’s direction to his shepherd son, telling him where he would find his brethren. “They are in the valley of the Terebinth (Elah), fighting with the Philistines.”


Verse 20

(20) He came to the trench.—Literally, to the wagon rampart; a circle of wagons formed a rude fortification about the camp of Israel. There—that is, within the fortified enclosure—he left (1 Samuel 17:22) his baggage, the ten cheeses, &c, and hastened to the “front,” where he knew his brethren and the men of Judah would be posted. (See Numbers 10:14.)


Verse 22

(22) And David left his carriage.—That is, his baggage. The word “carriage,” as signifying baggage, is used in the English Version in this archaic sense in Isaiah 10:28 : “At Michmash he hath laid up his carriages;” and in Acts 21:15 : “We took up our carriages.”


Verse 23

(23) The Philistine of Gath.—There is a difficulty connected with the Philistine giant’s name, for we read in 2 Samuel 21:19 how that Goliath of Gath, the giant, “the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam,” was slain by Elhanan, the son of Jaare-oregim, a Bethlehemite, after David had been made king. It is possible that Goliath was a general designation of these monstrous descendants of the ancient Anakim in Gath; but Ewald suggests that the name Goliath really only belongs to the giant slain by Elhanan, some years after the exploit of the youthful son of Jesse, and that it was transferred in error to the “champion” whom David slew (who is, moreover, generally called simply “the Philistine”) when his proper name had been lost.


Verse 24

(24) Fled from him, and were sore afraid.—The student of the history can hardly understand this great fear of a giant Philistine which seems to have come upon the warriors of Saul. When we remember the gallant deeds of the people in former years, it reads like a page out of the story of another race. A dull, cowardly torpor had come over Saul, the punishment for his self-will and disobedience, and the king’s helpless lethargy had settled now on the hearts of the soldiers he had trained so well in his earlier and nobler days.


Verse 25

(25) And make his father’s house free in Israel.—Among the lavish offers Saul made to the one who should vanquish the giant was this, “The family of the successful combatant should be free in Israel.” The exact signification here of the Hebrew word rendered “free” is disputed. The simple meaning would seem to be freedom from personal service in the army and elsewhere, what in mediaeval history is known by the general term Corvée. It also probably includes a certain exemption from taxation or enforced contributions to war expenses.

Ewald goes still further, and considers that the royal. promise included the elevation of the house of the victorious warrior to noble rank, as henceforth they would be “free”—“freeholders,” a family released from the ordinary service of subjects; and this high distinction, the great German scholar considers, would easily come to be looked upon as hereditary, and thus such favoured houses would form an intermediate stage between the king and the simple subject. Although it is clear that a wonderful advance in the internal development of the kingdom of the children of Israel had taken place in Saul’s reign, yet it is doubtful if the government of the first king was as yet sufficiently organised to justify us in accepting, in its fulness, the conclusion of the ingenious comment of Ewald here. It does not appear from the narrative that these promises were ever fulfilled by Saul in the case of the house of Jesse.


Verse 26

(26) And David spake . . .—Very vividly does the historian here depict the scene that morning in the “front:” the dismayed soldiers of King Saul watching and listening to the boastful, impious words, as the giant champion shouted them across the narrow ravine which parted the outposts of the two armies; the enthusiastic shepherd boy, glowing with religious fervour, going from group to group of the advanced guard in the front, as they stood gloomily leaning on their spears, asking questions, and gleaning all the information possible about this insulter of his God.


Verse 28

(28) And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David.—There were probably many years between the ages of the eldest and youngest of these eight brothers, and this jealous anger was, no doubt, no new thing in Eliab. The casual mention (1 Samuel 17:34) of the boy’s prowess, when the lion and the bear attacked his father’s flock, tells us that the boyhood and youth of David had been no ordinary one, and Eliab’s jealous disposition had been, doubtless, often aroused. Probably, too, the envious elder brother well remembered the visit of the great seer to Bethlehem, and how Samuel had, for some mysterious, and as yet unknown, reason, anointed this young brother of his, and had chosen him to be his pupil and companion. Was he now come with power unknown to him (Eliab) to perform some startling deed of daring?


Verse 29

(29) Is there not a cause?—David answers his jealous and over-bearing elder brother with all gentleness and forbearance, but he does not cease to make his inquiries of the soldiers respecting the giant, nor does he refrain from loudly expressing his astonishment at such a public insult to the God of Israel being allowed to continue for so many days. The Hebrew here would be more literally rendered, “Is it not a word,” or “It was only a word,” thus deprecating his elder brother’s anger. “What have I done? It was but a mere word. I was only speaking with holy anger about this impious challenge of the Philistine; nothing more.” The ancient versions thus understand this clause.

If we render as the Authorised Version, then the sense is quite clear. “You seem bitterly displeased with my zeal in this matter, but surely, is there not a good cause for my passionate emotion here—such an insult to our God?”


Verse 31

(31) He sent for him.—No doubt much more was said by the brave shepherd boy than the compiler of the history has preserved for us in the brief account here. David felt that supernatural strength had been communicated to him by the Spirit of God, which came upon him on the day of his anointing (1 Samuel 16:13), and it is probable that he had openly avowed his earnest desire of meeting the dreaded foe face to face. This had been reported to Saul.


Verse 33

(33) And Saul said to David . . .—The king evidently looked on the brave boy with love and admiration, but at first doubted in his heart the reality of David’s mission. Whether or not Saul recognised the youth as the sweet singer who had charmed away, perhaps more than once, that terrible soul malady of his which was desolating his once vigorous manhood, is doubtful. (See the Note at the end of this chapter.) He—more than any one in that armed camp—evidently felt that David possessed powers not usually bestowed on the sons of men, and was clearly disposed from the first to grant the shepherd boy’s startling petition that the honour of Israel might be entrusted to his almost child-hands. Still, Saul would talk with him, and set before him the grave perils of the terrible encounter he was so eager to engage in.


Verse 34

(34) Thy servant kept his father’s sheep.—Here follows in the colloquy between the king and the boy that simple brave narrative which children listen to with glowing cheeks—that simple story, bearing the stamp of truth on every word—of what had happened to him in past days. Fierce wild animals, the terror of the Hebrew shepherds, had attacked his flock: these he had met and slain, almost without arms. Another had helped him when he did his brave duty then; and he felt that the same invisible Guardian would give him nerve and strength now in this more dangerous encounter. Only let him try. There was nothing to fear; he must succeed, he and his Divine Helper!


Verse 36

(36) The lion and the bear.—The lion and the bear were, in the days of Saul, common in Palestine; the country then was densely wooded. In some of the wilder districts bears are still numerous.

Shall be as one of them.—“He, the idolator, must know that he has not to do with mere men, but with God: with a living God will he have to do, and not with a lifeless idol.”—Berleburger Bible.


Verse 37

(37) Go, and the Lord be with thee.—This permission and blessing of King Saul recalls the Saul of old days, before the covenant between him and the Mighty One of Israel was broken, before the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him. It was a great act of courageous trust in the Glorious Arm which had, Saul knew, so often fought for Israel. We must bear in mind that it was no mere duel between two fighting men, an Israelite and a Philistine, but that the fortunes of the nation for an indefinite period were to be staked on this momentous single combat between a tried warrior of gigantic strength and a boy quite unaccustomed to martial exercises, and, as we shall presently see, a stranger even to a soldier’s dress and martial equipment.


Verse 38

(38) And Saul armed David with his armour.—But the king was determined to omit no earthly means of securing victory to his young champion, and we read how he made him try on his own various pieces of fighting array, doubtless the best-tempered and costliest that the camp of Israel possessed. The word rendered “his armour” literally signifies his garments, that is, the dress worn beneath the mail. Upon this was buckled on the heavy metal armour suit, with the great fighting sword and the royal helm. It is not necessary to suppose David was at all of the same proportions as Saul, for much of the dress could have been speedily adjusted to the requirements of one slighter and shorter than the king; besides, the result shows they were, in spite of alteration, far too heavy and cumbersome. “I cannot go with these,” simply said the brave boy, his purpose, however, of meeting the Philistine giant quite unshaken, though he found his comparatively weak person unable to bear the weight of the king’s panoply or to wield his arms.


Verse 40

(40) And he took his staff in his hand.—It was a true stroke of military genius in David, this determination of his to fight only with the weapons, weak and unimportant though they seemed, with which he was familiar, and in the use of which he was so skilful; nor was the issue of the combat, now he had resolved to use the sling, even doubtful. It has been well said he was like one armed with a rifle, while his enemy had only a spear and a sword, and if only he could take sure aim the result was absolutely certain.

Wordsworth, again, on the words “chose him five smooth stones out of the brook,” refers to Augustine’s Commentary, who finds here a deep mystical signification. It is an admirable specimen of the Patristic School of Exposition, which, although quaint, and not unfrequently “far-fetched,” will always, and with good reason, possess great power over the minds of the earnest and devout student. “So our Divine David, the Good Shepherd of Bethlehem, when He went forth at the temptation to meet Satan—our ghostly Goliath—chose five stones out of the brook. He took the five books of Moses out of the flowing stream of Judaism. He took what was solid out of what was fluid. He took what was permanent out of what was transitory. He took what was moral and perpetual out of what was ceremonial and temporary. He took stones out of a brook, and with one of these He overthrew Satan. All Christ’s answers to the tempter are moral precepts, taken from one Book of the Law (Deuteronomy), and He prefaced His replies with the same words, ‘It is written;’ and with this sling and stone of Scripture He laid our Goliath low, and He has taught us by His example how we may also vanquish the tempter.” (See St. Augustine, Sermon 32)


Verse 43

(43) Am I a dog?—The Philistine warrior—as the shepherd boy, all unarmed, drew near—rose apparently, for he was seated, as was often the custom with these heavily-clad warriors of antiquity when not actually engaged in combat, and coming towards David, taunted him and his cause with the most contemptuous expressions. “Am I a dog,” he asked—and dogs are animals held in many parts of the East in great contempt—“that you come against me with sticks and staves?” The LXX. missed the force of this plural “of contempt,” and altering the text, translates “with staff and with stones.”

By his gods.—This should be rendered by his God. No doubt the idolator here made use of the sacred Name, so dear to every believing Israelite, thus defying the Eternal of Hosts.


Verse 44

(44) Come to me.—In similar terms Hector addresses Ajax—

“And thou imperious! if thy madness wait

The lance of Hector, thou shalt meet thy fate.

That giant corse, extended on the shore.

Shall largely feed the fowls with fat and gore.”—

Iliad, xiii. 1053.


Verse 46

(46) I will smite thee.—David reiterated to the Philistine, as he had done to Saul, his certainty of victory, but in the same breath says that the victory will be that God’s whose name the Philistine had just been contemptuously using.


Verse 47

(47) For the battle is the Lord’s . . .—Although we possess no special ode or psalm composed by David on the occasion of this mortal combat, in which, owing to his sure trust in Jehovah, he won his never-to-be-forgotten victory, yet in many of the compositions attributed to him in the Psalter we find memories of this, his first great triumph. So in Psalms 44:6-8 we read—

“I will not trust in my bow,

Neither shall my sword save me.

In God we boast all the day long,

And praise thy Name for ever.”

And in Psalms 33:16-20,

“There is no king saved by the multitude of an host,

A mighty man is not delivered by much strength.”

* * * * *

“Our soul waiteth for the Lord,

He is our help and our shield.”


Verse 49

(49) And smote the Philistine in the forehead.—The LXX. add the words “through the helm” The Greek translators could not understand the fact of the forehead being unprotected. But the head-pieces of the armour then do not appear to have possessed “visors;” the face was covered with the heavy shield, which was borne, we are told (1 Samuel 17:7), before him. No doubt the Philistine, utterly despising his youthful “unarmed” antagonist, advanced towards him without using, as was customary, the face protection of the shield.

Slinging stones had been brought among the Israelites to an extraordinary perfection. Many years before this time we read that in the tribe of Benjamin were “700 chosen men left-handed; every one could sling stones at an hair’s breadth, and not miss” (Judges 20:16).

A work by W. Vischer, on “Ancient Slings” (Basel, 1866), quoted by Lange, speaks of slingers who could hit the part of the enemy’s face at which they aimed.


Verse 50

(50) But there was no sword in the hand of David.—The story of the daring of the son of Jesse dwells, and with good reason, on the extraordinary valour and skill of the young champion of Israel. Had his heart for one instant failed him—as, indeed, it well might; had he not possessed a confidence which nothing could shake in an unseen Helper—or had his skill as a marksman failed him in the slightest degree, the Philistine with one blow would have laid David lifeless at his feet; or had the active shepherd boy eluded his giant antagonist, it must have been by flight. In any case, the single combat upon which Israel had staked so much would have gone against the chosen people.


Verse 51

(51) And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled.—The Philistines had agreed to consider this single combat as decisive. They had no fears as to its result, and when they saw their boasted champion fall they were seized with a sudden panic. Their adversaries, the children of Israel, on the other hand, seeing the unarmed shepherd boy with the head of the great warrior who had so long defied them in his hand, felt that the old power had come back to them, and that once more their Invisible King was with them, so they at once, with an irresistible shout, charged their dismayed foes, and the battle, as far as the Philistines were concerned, became a total rout.


Verse 52

(52) To the valley.—More accurately, to a valley; there is no article in the Hebrew. This want of the article at once suggests that the “valley” here spoken of so indefinitely was not that well-known valley or ravine which divided the two armies; besides which, it is nowhere suggested that the Philistines had ever crossed the valley or ravine.

Keil remarks that it is strange that no further mention is made of this “valley of the pursuit. The LXX. render, instead of “to a valley,” “to Gath.” These Greek translators probably then had before them the true text: Gath, instead of gai, a valley. Gath is mentioned in the next sentence.

The way to Shaaraim.—This was a town in the lowlands of Judah (see Joshua 15:36); the name has probably been preserved in the modern Kefr Zakariya. The LXX., however,” do not understand Shaaraim as a city at all, but render, instead of “by the way to Shaaraim,” “in the way of the gates.” The “gates” of Ekron are mentioned as one of the notable places of the flight in the preceding sentence.

If the LXX. interpretation be adopted, we must understand by this expression the space between the outer and the inner gates of Ekron.


Verse 54

(54) The head of the Philistine.—There is no real difficulty here, for although the fortress of Jebus, on Mount Zion, was in the hands of the Jebusites, and continued to be so until David captured the stronghold, many years later, the city of Jerusalem already belonged to the Israelites. (See Joshua 15:63; Judges 1:21.) This “place of arms” was naturally selected for the home of the famous trophy, being the nearest stronghold to the scene of the victory.

But he put his armour in his tent.—Ohel, the Hebrew word rendered here “tent,” is the ancient word for “dwelling.” If we understand that David kept for the present the armour of his mighty adversary, we must suppose he took it to his dwelling at Bethlehem, and after a time presented it to the sanctuary at Nob. In 1 Samuel 21:9 we read of the “sword of Goliath wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod.” Abarbanel, however, with great probability, believes that by the expression “in his tent” the “tabernacle of Jehovah” is meant—“His tabernacle,” so termed pointedly by the compiler of the history, because David, in later days, with great ceremony, “pitched it” in his own city (2 Samuel 6:17). In Acts 15:16 the writer of this New Testament Book expressly calls the sacred tent “the Tabernacle of David.”


Verse 55

(55) Whose son is this youth?—A grave difficulty, at first sight, indisputably exists here. It is briefly this. In the preceding chapter (1 Samuel 17:18-23), David, the son of Jesse, is chosen to play before the mentally sick king; his playing relieved the sufferer, who became attached to the young musician, and in consequence appointed him to a position about his person that certainly would have involved a lengthened, if not a continuous, residence at the court. In this and the following verses we read how this same David, at the time of his great exploit, was apparently unknown to the king and to Abner, the captain of the host. The LXX., fully conscious of the difficulty, determined to solve it by boldly, if not wisely, cutting the knot. They literally expunged from their version all the later passages which they could not easily bring into harmony with the earlier. The Greek Version, then, simply omits these four last verses of 1 Samuel 17, together with the first five verses of 1 Samuel 18, and the whole of the section 1 Samuel 17:12-31.

Various ingenious explanations have been suggested by scholars.

(a) The mental state of Saul when David played before him was such that the king failed to recognise him on the present occasion, and Abner probably had never seen him before.

(b) Some length of time had elapsed since his last visit to the court, and as he was then in very early manhood, he had, so to speak, grown, in a comparatively speaking short space of time, out of Saul’s memory.

(c) The purpose of Saul’s inquiry was not to find out who David was—that he knew well already—but to ascertain the position and general circumstances of the young hero’s father, as, according to the promise (in 1 Samuel 17:25), in the event of his success (which evidently the king confidently looked for), the father of the champion and his family would receive extraordinary honours.

The real solution of the difficulty probably lies in the fact that, as has been before stated, this and the other historical books of the Old Testament were made up by the inspired compiler from well-authenticated traditions current in Israel, and most probably preserved in the archives of the great prophetic schools. (See Notes on 1 Samuel 17:1; 1 Samuel 17:15.) There were, no doubt, many of these traditions connected with the principal events of David’s early career. Two here were selected which, to a certain extent, covered the same ground. The first—preserved, no doubt, in some prophetic school where music and poetry were especially cultivated—narrates the influence which David acquired over Saul through his great gift of music. The power of music and poetry in Saul’s mental disease was evidently the great point of interest to the original writer of 1 Samuel 16:14-23. Now, in the narrative contained in these ten verses no note of time occurs. The events related evidently were spread over a considerable, possibly over a very long, period. The afflicted king might have seen the young musician perhaps in a darkened tent once or twice before the Goliath combat, but the great intimacy described in 1 Samuel 16:21-23, we may well assume, belonged to a period subsequent to the memorable combat with the giant.

Following out this hypothesis, we may with some confidence assume that King Saul failed entirely to recognise the young player whom he had only seen (possibly only heard in his darkened tent) on one or two sad occasions; and Abner probably had never seen him.

As for the great love on the part of the king, and position of royal armour-bearer these things we have little doubt came to David after the victory over the giant Philistine, and very likely indeed in consequence of it.

In the later of the two sections of the Goliath history, the compiler cared little for the musical detail; his work was to show that the foundation stone of David’s brilliant and successful life was intense faith in the Jehovah of Israel, a perfect child-like trust in the power of the Invisible King.

In the former of the two sections the relater—no doubt in his day a famous teacher in some school of prophetic music—was, only concerned to show the mighty influence of his Divine art upon the souls and the lives of men, as exemplified in the story of the early days of the sweet Psalmist-King of Israel.

The musical details connected with the early life of David, the composer of so many of the famous hymns sung in the Tempie Service and also in the public gatherings of the people, would be—in the eyes of this writer—of the deepest interest to coming generations.

 


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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/1-samuel-17.html. 1905.

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