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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 17

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 17.

YHWH’s Anointed Is Revealed As Being YHWH’s Chosen Champion By His Defeat Of The Philistine Champion (1 Samuel 17:1-54).

It is interesting to note how the revelation of David’s kingship to the reader follows the pattern of that of Saul’s. Both were anointed secretly by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:13 compare 1 Samuel 10:1), the Spirit of YHWH came mightily on both (1 Samuel 16:13, compare 1 Samuel 10:10) and both established their popularity in Israel by an outward manifestation of the power of the Spirit of YHWH that was on them (1 Samuel 17:12-54, compare 1 Samuel 11:1-13). Other parallels include the descriptions of their suitability physically (1 Samuel 16:12, compare 1 Samuel 9:2), and their dedication to looking after animals who were their responsibility (1 Samuel 17:34-36, compare 1 Samuel 9:3-4). This latter would count for much among an agricultural people.

The incident described here which brings out that the Spirit of YHWH is now on David begins with an indication of Israel’s parlous situation. The Philistines were once again seeking to exert their authority over Israel, and had advanced up the Valley of Elah to the lowlands of Judah where the opposing forces were facing each other. But while the Philistines had their ‘champion’ (‘the man who stands between two armies’), we are to see that Israel had no champion who could act on their behalf, because there was now no one who was filled with the Spirit of YHWH who could act for them. The man who was head and shoulders above all the others, and who had once been endowed by the Spirit of YHWH, was now a broken man because of his disobedience. He was thus powerless to do anything. And there was no one else to act in his place. Even the mighty Jonathan and the great Abner paled before the challenge of Goliath, and no doubt Saul would not allow them to go out against him. He did not want to lose his eldest son or his commander-in-chief.

This method of pitting champions against each other before a battle was a common one in the ancient world (compare 2 Samuel 2:14-15). It was believed that by this means the gods would reveal, without the necessity for the spilling of unnecessary blood, who were destined to be the victors. The idea was that once one’s champion had been defeated in battle there was no point in fighting on, for it indicated that the gods were clearly against you. Thus the issue would be seen as already been determined. (It also did not help, of course, if your opponents’ champion was a great deal larger than anyone else).

In the end, however, this story is about a man who was mightily endued with the Spirit of YHWH. The result was that he revealed his true faith in YHWH. There were many slingers among the Israelite ranks, some of whom could probably sling within a hair’s breadth (Judges 20:26), but not one of them thought of challenging Goliath. Had they even considered it they would have recognised immediately that their slinging arm might well fail them under such pressure, and that should that happen in a circumstance like this it would in the end result, not only in their own deaths, but also in the humiliation of Israel. It was only David who was so confident in YHWH that he knew that his hand would not fail, and who was so angered at the thought of the Philistine defying the armies of YHWH of hosts that he could think of nothing else but to bring him down. In the light of that he did not even consider the possibility of losing for he was totally confident that YHWH could not fail him. And we are in the secret and know why. It was because he was filled with the Spirit of YHWH.


Verses 1-19

Goliath Challenges Israel With No Takers. David Is Sent To Take His Brothers Food (1 Samuel 17:1-19).

This passage brings us face to face with two figures, the first the formidable Philistine warrior, Goliath, who challenges Israel to send a man to fight him, with no takers, and the second a shepherd boy who is sent to take food to his brothers who are in the Israelite army and to gather news of them.

Analysis.

a Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and they were gathered together at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim (1 Samuel 17:1).

b And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and encamped in the vale of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines (1 Samuel 17:2).

c And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, and there was a valley between them. And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span (1 Samuel 17:3-4).

d And he had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was clad with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze, and he had greaves of bronze on his legs, and a javelin of bronze between his shoulders. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron, and his shield-bearer went before him (1 Samuel 17:5-7).

e And he stood and cried to the armies of Israel, and said to them, “Why have you come out to set your battle in array? Am not I a Philistine, and you servants to Saul? Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and kill me, then will we be your servants, but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall you be our servants, and serve us” (1 Samuel 17:8-9).

f And the Philistine said, “I defy the armies of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together” (1 Samuel 17:10).

e And when Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid (1 Samuel 17:11).

d Now David was the son of that Ephrathite of Beth-lehem-judah, whose name was Jesse, and he had eight sons: and the man was an old man in the days of Saul, stricken in years among men. And the three eldest sons of Jesse had gone after Saul to the battle, and the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the first-born, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. And David was the youngest, and the three eldest followed Saul. And David went to and fro from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Beth-lehem (1 Samuel 17:12-16).

c And the Philistine drew near morning and evening, and presented himself forty days (1 Samuel 17:17).

b And Jesse said to David his son, “Take now for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers, and bring these ten cheeses to the captain of their thousand, and see how your brothers fare, and take their pledge” (1 Samuel 17:18).

a Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the vale of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. (1 Samuel 17:19).

Note that in ‘a’ the Philistines were gathered to battle against Israel, and in the parallel Israel were in the Vale of Elah fighting with the Philistines. In ‘b’ Saul and the men of Israel were gathered in the Vale of Elah, and in the parallel we learn how they are being fed. In ‘c’ the Philistine champion came out to challenge Israel, and in the parallel he comes regularly to challenge Israel. In ‘d’ we have the details concerning Goliath as a mighty man of war, and in the parallel we have the details stressing that David is a mere feeder of sheep whose elder brothers are men of war. In ‘e’ the Philistine issues his challenge, and in the parallel the Israelites are greatly afraid. Central in ‘f’ is the fact that the Philistine is defying the armies of Israel, and is seeking a man whom he can fight. These are two central themes in the whole passage, Goliath’s defiance of Israel and their God, and the man whom God has chosen to put him in his place.

1 Samuel 17:1

Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and they were gathered together at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim.’

Once again the Philistines had gathered their fighting forces to seek to bring Israel into subjugation. This time they had approached the lowland territory of northern Judah near Azekah but had immediately found themselves faced with a large Israelite army under Saul. The place where this took place was at Ephes-dammim, (the boundary of blood), a place where no doubt much blood had been spilled in past border battles.

1 Samuel 17:2

And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and encamped in the vale of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines.’

Saul and the men of Israel had ‘gathered together’ as a result of the call to arms going out to the tribes and they were encamped on a slope in the Vale of Elah in which there was a ravine separating the two armies. Their forces were all set in their battle lines with weapons at the ready.

1 Samuel 17:3

And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side: and there was a valley between them.’

The scene is set. On the mountain on one side of the valley were the Philistines with their chariots, and horsemen, and weapons of iron, and on the mountain on the other side were the Israelites, mainly fighting on foot and only having bronze weapons, while between them was the valley itself through which went a ravine which helped to keep the two armies apart.

1 Samuel 17:4-7

And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span, and he had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was clad with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze, and he had greaves of bronze on his legs, and a javelin of bronze between his shoulders. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron, and his shield-bearer went before him.’

But there was another snag. The Philistines had issued a challenge through their ‘champion’ (more literally ‘the man in the space between’). He had come down into the valley and laid down his challenge for someone to meet him in single combat. This was a regular custom in those days, and such a combat would be seen as having a significant impact on what followed, because it would be seen as demonstrating whose side the gods were on. No army liked to fight if its champion had been defeated, for it was seen as a mirror image of what would follow. Thus it was a challenge that could not be ignored.

And the further problem was that this champion was huge. He was nine foot six tall, covered in huge and impressive armour reinforced with copper or bronze, and bristling with offensive weapons, such as spear, sword and javelin. There is no good reason for doubting the statistics. Skeletons of men of that size coming from that era have been dug up in Palestine, and they crop up throughout the ages. The coat of mail would have been made of overlapping plates of metal and have reached down to the knees. The greaves protected the shins.

He was named ‘Goliath’ and came from Gath. He may have been descended from the Rephaim (Deuteronomy 2:20-21; 2 Samuel 21:22) or the Anakim (Joshua 11:21-22). It is quite probable that ‘Goliath’ was the name given to whoever was the recognised Philistine champion at the time, so that when this Goliath died another Goliath would replace him. This would explain how he could later seem to be slain again (2 Samuel 21:19). We can compare how the early Philistine commander-in-chiefs were all called Phicol, and their kings Abimelech (Genesis 20; Genesis 21:22-34; Genesis 26; Psalms 34 heading). For a similar phenomenon compare also the Pharaohs in Egypt and the Tartans who were commanders-in-chief over the Assyrian army (2 Kings 18:17).

1 Samuel 17:8-9

And he stood and cried to the armies of Israel, and said to them, “Why are you come out to set your battle in array? Am not I the Philistine, and you servants to Saul? Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and kill me, then will we be your servants, but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall you be our servants, and serve us.” ’

Each day this giant of a man would stride out into the valley with his shield bearer in front of him, and hurl his challenge at the Israelite army. And every day the Israelites looked at him, cowered back, and grew more and more afraid, for they knew that if no one dared to face Goliath it proved that YHWH was not with them. And they were aware only too well of what that would mean.

Then Goliath would laugh at their battle array and ask them why they went to all the trouble to arm themselves when all that they had to do was send out a champion to meet him. Once they were ready to do that they could come to an agreement that whichever champion won, their army would be seen as the victors and the other army would submit. It was all so easy (if you had such a man as your champion).

“The Philistine.” That is, the one who represented the whole of the Philistine army. Whoever fought him would, as it were, be fighting the whole of the Philistine army. Note how the title is repeated. All saw him in this way.

1 Samuel 17:10

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

As the days went by his challenge grew more and more fierce. He defied the armies of Israel and called for a man to fight him. He was getting impatient. In this verse we note two of the themes of the whole passage, the Philistine’s defiance of Israel, and therefore of YHWH, and the fact of a man who will arise to deal with him once and for all. His ‘prayer’ will be answered.

1 Samuel 17:11

And when Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.’

But all that these words did was sow terror among the ranks of Israel, which was of course their purpose. It is very probable that the Philistines did not expect an Israelite response. Who would want to fight Goliath alone? But they knew that the longer it went on, the more dismayed the Israelites would become for they would know that it presaged disaster not to meet him, and they would be little short of terrified.

1 Samuel 17:12

Now David was the son of that Ephrathite of Beth-lehem-judah, whose name was Jesse, and he had eight sons, and the man was an old man in the days of Saul, stricken in years among men.’

And suddenly into the picture in the mind of the writer comes a new development. Although they did not yet realise it the Israelites had an answer in the man on whom was the Spirit of YHWH. The writer knows this and that is why he gives David’s full details here, even though he has given them to us before. For this is Israel’s champion, David, the youngest son of Jesse the Ephrathite of Bethlehem-judah, the Jesse who had eight sons as described in the last chapter. And this Jesse was himself very old, which was why he was not with the army, while this David was one of his sons, his youngest. Of course we know of him already from the previous chapter, but the details are mentioned again in detail in order to bring out his importance in this situation. It is clear that he was not yet twenty as he had not been of an age to join up with the army.

1 Samuel 17:13

And the three eldest sons of Jesse had gone after Saul to the battle, and the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the first-born, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah.’

His youth is emphasised by the fact that his three oldest brothers were with the army and were named Eliab, Abinadab and Shammah. So he comes from a war-like family, but is not a warrior himself. But the other four brothers, like David, were also not in the army. That would be because they also were under twenty, or because they had recently married (Deuteronomy 24:5).

1 Samuel 17:14

And David was the youngest; and the three eldest followed Saul.’

And David was the youngest and could not enlist in the army, even though the three eldest had. Even granted that the other four included twins, with one or two also recently married, he could in fact not have been more than seventeen. Thus we recognise that David was from a soldierly family and of an age too young to fight. In contrast his three elder brothers followed Saul and were with him on the battlefield (Of course, like many young men of his age, David would not have seen it that way. He probably felt that he was quite old enough to fight).

1 Samuel 17:15

Now David went to and fro from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Beth-lehem.’

As we know from earlier on David spent some time as a musician to Saul when Saul was going through his bad periods, but we learn here that he combined that with his duties as a shepherd, especially when Saul was on the front line and thus fully occupied, which would be quite often. Part of the reason for David’s visits would be in order to keep his brothers supplied with food. Many Israelite family members would be doing the same for their relatives.

This fact that David is a mere feeder of the sheep, and not even qualified to be a warrior, is deliberately contrasted in the chiasmus with the picture drawn of the mighty Goliath.

1 Samuel 17:16

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

Meanwhile ‘the Philistine’ who was the cause of their problems still came out each morning and evening and presented his challenge. This had by now continued for ‘forty days’. ‘Forty days’ is a recognised length of time indicating a portentous period in which YHWH is involved (Genesis 7:17; Genesis 8:6; Exodus 24:18; Exodus 35:28; 1 Kings 19:8). But the Philistine was unaware of that. He scoffed at YHWH. Thus he was not aware that the ‘forty days’ hung like a dark shadow over his head.

1 Samuel 17:17-18

And Jesse said to David his son, “Take now for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers, and bring these ten cheeses to the captain of their unit, and see how your brethren fare, and take their pledge.” ’

And while the Philistine was presenting himself for forty days YHWH was preparing His champion. Jesse called David and told him to take food to his soldier brothers and to the captain of their unit, and to obtain news of how they fared and to bring back some evidence that they were still alive. We often do not stop to ask ourselves how armies were provisioned, especially when on their own territory where looting could not, of course, be allowed. Here we are given a solution. The families of the soldiers would send them provisions, and even extra provisions for others. Parched corn consisting of grains of wheat roasted in a pan were a common form of food in Palestine. It will be noted that while the brothers are expected to make do with basic food, their captain receives something somewhat more luxurious. He would be a man of high rank and important in Israel. ‘Ten’ may here indicate ‘a number of’ (compare Genesis 31:41; 1 Samuel 1:8).

“Their pledge.” The pledge required would be something, such as a note of hand, which demonstrated that the brothers were still alive.

1 Samuel 17:19

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

Meanwhile, the writer reminds us, Saul and all the men of Israel, were in the vale of Elah fighting with the Philistines. He recognises that this account would be read out at the festivals and wants to keep the audience up to date. There may also be an intentional indication here that not one of ‘all of the men of Israel’ could solve Israel’s problems. It would require a teenager who was not yet a man, but who was filled with the Spirit of YHWH. The emphasis is on the fact that when YHWH delivers it will not be as a result of Israel’s capabilities.


Verses 20-30

David Arrives At The Battlefield And Is Appalled That ‘This Uncircumcised Philistine’ Dares To Defy the Armies Of The Living God (1 Samuel 17:20-30).

Central to the last passage was that Goliath defied ‘the armies of Israel’. Central to this passage is that David sees him as defying ‘the armies of the living God’. It should be noted that the people see Goliath merely as ‘defying Israel’ (1 Samuel 17:25). They do not have the deep faith that brings God fully into the equation. But it is precisely because to David YHWH is the living God, in whom he has absolute confidence, that he is stirred into action. His concern is not for his own glory, but for the honour of YHWH, the living God, who by Israel’s failure to take up the challenge is being presented as unable to deal with Goliath. And it is because he is so aware that He is the living God that David cannot understand why this is so. He is genuinely puzzled why no one responds, for surely all must know that the living God will be their strength and enabling. And with the living God with them how could they fail? He was not yet old enough to realise that all Israelites did not have the same strong faith that he had.

Analysis.

a And David rose up early in the morning, and left the sheep with a keeper, and took, and went, as Jesse had commanded him; and he came to the place of the wagons, as the host which was going forth to the fight shouted for the battle (1 Samuel 17:20).

b And Israel and the Philistines put the battle in array, army against army (1 Samuel 17:21).

c And David left his baggage in the hand of the keeper of the baggage, and ran to the army, and came and saluted his brothers, and as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke in accordance with the same words, and David heard them. And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid (1 Samuel 17:22-24).

d And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who is come up? Surely to defy Israel is he come up, and it shall be, that the man who kills him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father’s house free in Israel (1 Samuel 17:25).

e And David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, “What will be done to 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?” (1 Samuel 17:26).

d And the people answered him in this way, saying, “So will it be done to the man who kills him (1 Samuel 17:27).

c And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men, and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness?” (1 Samuel 17:28 a)

b “I know your pride, and the mischief in your heart, for you have come down so that you might see the battle (1 Samuel 17:28 b).

a And David said, “What have I done now? Is there not good reason?” And he turned away from him towards another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again in the same way (1 Samuel 17:29-30).

Note that in ‘a’ we are given the reason why David has come to the camp, while in the parallel he declares that he has good reason for doing so. In ‘b’ the battle is put in array and in the parallel David is accused of having come in order to see the battle. In ‘c’ David comes to talk with his brothers, and in the parallel he gets an earful from them. There may well be an intended comparison between the cowering armies of Israel and the few sheep in the wilderness. In ‘d’ the people declare what the king will do for the one who defeats Goliath, and in the parallel it is repeated. Centrally in ‘e’ comes the vital point that Goliath by his challenge is defying the armies of the living God.

1 Samuel 17:20

And David rose up early in the morning, and left the sheep with a keeper, and took, and went, as Jesse had commanded him, and he came to the place of the wagons, as the host which was going forth to the fight shouted for the battle.’

Obedient to his father’s wishes David arose early next morning and, leaving the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions and went on his way ‘as Jesse had commanded him’. As with Saul previously (1 Samuel 9:3-4) he was revealing himself to be a filial son. (None realised but God that he was going to another flock of sheep who needed a keeper).

He arrived at ‘the place of the wagons’ just as the host were yelling their war cries in readiness for battle. This nerving of themselves was necessary in case the Philistines decided to attack, for the purpose of the war cries was in order to strengthen their resolve, and (hopefully) to frighten the enemy. It was with the hope of keeping their spirits up. But in their hearts all knew what would follow, and after the first few days it must have been difficult shouting the war cries with any degree of assurance. The wagons, which contained provisions for the soldiers, would be behind the army out of harms way, and we can imagine how the young man’s blood was stirred as he stood among the wagons and heard the war cries of his heroes, the host of YHWH. To him they were magnificent.

1 Samuel 17:21

And Israel and the Philistines put the battle in array, army against army.’

Then, as David watched avidly, the two sets of forces set themselves in battle array, as they had done every day for forty days, ready to face each other.

1 Samuel 17:22

And David left his baggage in the hand of the keeper of the baggage, and ran to the army, and came and saluted his brothers.’

Excited at being a small part of it David immediately ran to find his brothers, leaving what he had brought in the hands of the quartermaster. He knew that he had to get there before battle commenced in order to obtain their pledges. And he found them and greeted them, and spoke with them.

1 Samuel 17:23

And as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke according to the same words, and David heard them.’

And as he talked with his brothers the champion, Goliath ‘the Philistine of Gath’, came out from the ranks of the Philistines and issued his usual challenge. When David heard his words he must have been awed and amazed. It was the first time that he had seen such a thing and the question that must have immediately arisen in his mind was as to which of his heroes would go forward to meet this insolent challenge. We can imagine his expectation growing. Which of them would stride forward? The host of YHWH would soon make this insolent Philistine bite the dust.

1 Samuel 17:24

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

But to his amazement the men of Israel did not all volunteer as one man. Instead they cowered back and retreated. Not one of them dared to face up to Goliath. And this applied equally to Saul and all his chief captains.

1 Samuel 17:25

And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who is come up? Surely to defy Israel is he come up, and it shall be, that the man who kills him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father’s house free in Israel.” ’

Then as David listened aghast, the men of Israel began to mutter among themselves about what could be done about the situation. They had been doing it every day as the size of the rewards for the man who would dare to face Goliath, and would defeat him, grew greater and greater. And now it had reached the point where anyone who accomplished the feat would be given great riches and married to the king’s daughter (compare Joshua 15:16), while their close family would be freed of the burden of all taxes and other exactions in perpetuity.

1 Samuel 17:26

And David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, “What will be done to 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 just could not believe his ears. To him as a young man and a fervent believer in the power of YHWH, Who would surely be with whoever went to meet the Philistine, he could not believe that any reward was necessary. Surely what was being offered (to fight for the living God) was a privilege? It did not require reward. Here was this man who was bringing reproach on Israel, and therefore on Israel’s God, a man who was simply ‘an uncircumcised Philistine’ and who therefore had no part in God, and he was defying the armies of the living God. Surely all of them would want to fight him. What were they saying would be done for such a man? It sounded incredible.

1 Samuel 17:27

And the people answered him after this manner, saying, “So will it be done to the man who kills him.” ’

The people around him assured him of exactly what would be done for the man who killed Goliath, reiterating what had already been said. How they all must wished it could be them. But not if it meant facing Goliath.

1 Samuel 17:28

And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men, and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride, and the mischievousness of your heart, for you have come down so that you might see the battle.” ’

But Eliab his brother had overheard what he had said when he spoke to the man and he was very angry. He did not like his little brother getting caught up in the battle talk. Perhaps also he was a little afraid of what David might do (never dreaming of course what he would do). He more than any other had cause to know the hair-raising activities that David sometimes got involved with. He knew that his little brother was a young man without fear. And he did not want David involved in any battle.

So he seeks to put him in his place like a typical elder brother. Why has he really come to the battlefield? Let him remember that all that he knows anything about is looking after ‘a few sheep’ (a deliberate under-play) in the pasture-land. That does not qualify him to be a soldier on the battlefield. And he assures him that he, his elder brother, can read his mischievous thoughts and knows exactly what is in his mind. He simply wants to get involved in battle.

We must be fair to Eliab (and we must remember that he was proved right). He was probably concerned for his little brother and did not want him to come to any harm. It is a further and deliberate reminder to us from the writer that David is nothing but a shepherd boy. If deliverance was to come it would be through YHWH.

But there is more to it than that. The writer is bringing out three more things. Firstly that David is ‘only a keeper of a few sheep’ (this is emphasised twice in the passage) and that secondly he is simply ‘our kid’, the little brother who should not really be there. But thirdly, underlying this fact is that now David is among a flock of sheep who are afraid of the great enemy who faces them, wanting one of the sheep from the flock to come and challenge him. And, as we will soon learn, it is the experienced keeper of the few sheep who is required in this situation.

1 Samuel 17:29

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

David was indignant and asked what harm he had done. All he had done was ask a few questions.

“Is there not a cause?” He may have meant ‘did I not have good reason for coming?’ This view is supported by parallel in the chiasmus. Or he may simply have meant, ‘was there not good reason for me to ask the question in view of the circumstances?’ All that was happening was after all quite exciting for a young man. But underlying both possibilities is a third which combines with them, which may well have been in the mind of the writer, and that is that YHWH had a cause for him being there.

1 Samuel 17:30

And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke after the same manner, and the people answered him again after the former manner.’

So he turned back to the men around him and continued to ask similar questions. And he received the same reply from all. David was incredulous. It all seemed so cut and dried to him. Here was this barbarous Philistine, and he was opposing the army of the living God. It was no contest. He just could not accept the idea that not one of his heroes was willing to go forward and do what was necessary when they must have known that YHWH was on their side. Why he himself had often fought a lion or a bear knowing that YHWH was with him. And that was hardly as important as this.


Verses 31-39

David Offers To Take Up Goliath’s Challenge And Is Accepted By Saul As The Champion of Israel (1 Samuel 17:31-39).

Once again we should note that central to this passage also is the fact that the Philistine was defying the armies of the living God (1 Samuel 17:36). As we have seen it is the theme of the whole chapter. And it was something that David in his great faith in YHWH felt that he could not allow. He was alive with concern for the honour of YHWH, and the honour of YHWH’s Name. And so because of such defiance the Philistine must be defeated. He must not be allowed to trample on the people of God. That was why David had no doubt of what would be the consequence of his accepting the challenge. It was because of his confidence that YHWH would be with him so as to defend His Name. There was nothing egotistical about it. It was rather that experience had demonstrated to him that in such challenges YHWH never failed.

Having been offered Saul’s own armour David finally rejects it and goes out in the clothing that he has always worn when acting under YHWH’s power and inspiration. The writer wants us to see that David is not Saul’s man, but YHWH’s man. What he accomplishes he does because the Spirit of YHWH is on him. He seeks no glory from man, only glory for YHWH. For he is YHWH’s replacement for Saul, YHWH’s chosen king.

Analysis.

a And when the words were heard which David spoke, they rehearsed them before Saul, and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:31-32)

b And Saul said to David, You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth” (1 Samuel 17:33).

c And David said to Saul, “Your servant was keeping his father’s sheep, and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth, and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him (1 Samuel 17:34-35).

d “Your servant smote both the lion and the bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:36).

c And David said, “YHWH Who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37 a).

b And Saul said to David, “Go, and YHWH will be with you”. And Saul clad David with his own clothing, and he put a helmet of bronze on his head, and he clad him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword on his clothing, and he tried vainly to go, for he had not tested it (1 Samuel 17:37-38).

a And David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not proved them.” And David put them off him (1 Samuel 17:39).

Note that in ‘a’ David offers to go and fight the Philistine as Saul’s servant, but in the parallel it is made clear that he does so not as Saul’s servant but as YHWH’s. He will act under YHWH’s protection, not Saul’s. In ‘b’ Saul declares that David is not ‘a man of war’, and in the parallel he vainly tries to make him one. In ‘c’ David describes his experiences with ‘the lion and the bear’, and in the parallel stresses that the same YHWH Who delivered him from ‘the lion and the bear’ will deliver him from this Philistine. Centrally in ‘d’ he guarantees that the Philistine will be dealt with in the same way as the lion and the bear because he has defied the armies of the living God. In other words, because he has challenged God Himself.

1 Samuel 17:31

And when the words were heard which David spoke, they rehearsed them before Saul, and he sent for him.’

David’s words began to spread among the men. Possibly they provided some amusement in the midst of their fears. Possibly some were even offended. And his words the result was that they eventually reached Saul. When he heard that, ‘There is a young man who seems ready to take on the Philistine’, his ears pricked up. And in consequence Saul, who did not, of course, know the circumstances, immediately sent for this bold man. He must be a mighty warrior indeed. Perhaps here was the answer to his prayers.

He must thus have been very disappointed when the man who appeared before him was merely a teenager and one of his part time servants, and only a musician at that. And his dismay probably showed on his face.

1 Samuel 17:32

And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him, your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” ’

Then David said to Saul, ‘Don’t worry. I will go and fight the Philistine.’ We must recognise what was behind this. It was not that David was arrogant. It was because he had such total confidence in YHWH that to him the situation was no-contest. For how could a barbarous Philistine ever expect to oppose YHWH? And we, of course, know the secret of why he thought like this. It was because the Spirit of YHWH was upon him.

1 Samuel 17:33

And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” ’

Saul was simply incredulous. How could this teenager, brave and well built as he might be, hope to cope with the Philistine champion? It was impossible. Why he was only a youth with a shepherd’s staff, while Goliath had been a warrior from his youth. The whole situation was ludicrous.

1 Samuel 17:34-36

And David said to Saul, “Your servant was keeping his father’s sheep, and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth, and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Your servant smote both the lion and the bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing that he has defied the armies of the living God.” ’

David’s reply was trusting but simple. When he had been keeping his father’s sheep there had often come a lion or a bear which had taken one of the lambs from the flock. And without any thought for his own safety (as a teenager he had no doubt thought himself invulnerable) he had gone after them, killed them, and rescued the lamb from their mouths. And if they had turned to rend him he had taken them by the beard and had smitten them and slain them. It had seemed the natural thing to do, for he believed with all his heart that YHWH was with him. So he had not given the matter a second thought (although no doubt his family had. But what could you do with someone like David?).

Then David applies the lesson. He had defeated the lion and the bear. So what to him was this uncircumcised, barbarous Philistine who had dared to defy the armies of the living God, in other words, had defied YHWH Himself? Could anyone be in any doubt what YHWH would do to him as well? To David it was incomprehensible that anyone could see it in any other way.

There were many lions and bears in Palestine in those days, roving on the mountains and in the forests, and especially found, in the case of lions, in the thickets of the Jordan rift valley. And when they were hungry and left their lairs in order to prowl for food they would be a terror to most of the inhabitants. And shepherds were always on the lookout for them.

There is for us here, in the thought of the lion and the bear, one of the most important lessons of our spiritual lives, and it is that if God is one day expecting us to face up to a Goliath in the future, He will make sure that we are prepared beforehand. That is why when we face trials we should recognise that they may well simply be preparations for the future. For He will never call on us to face tests to which we do not have an answer and for which He has not prepared us (1 Corinthians 10:13).

1 Samuel 17:37

And David said, “YHWH who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and YHWH will be with you.” ’

Then David made his declaration of faith, and revealed his ultimate justification. YHWH Who had delivered him from ‘the hand’ of the lion and ‘the hand’ of the bear would deliver him from the hand of ‘this Philistine’ (his contempt for his opponent is made clear). Here was the reason for his courage. He had absolute faith in YHWH.

Saul was clearly impressed, certainly impressed enough, in the midst of his desperation, to consider it a possibility. And as he looked at this young man with his vibrant faith it almost seemed possible to him that this young man could achieve the impossible. For all knew that YHWH often did the impossible. Perhaps He would do it here. So he gave his permission. ‘Go,’ he said, ‘and YHWH will be with you.’ It was a pious hope and a policy of desperation, but What else was there? His hope, and the hope of all Israel, could only be that YHWH would somehow be with David and give him victory. That was what he was pinning his hopes on. The difference between Saul and David was that David did not just see it as a ‘hope’. He was confident that He would.

1 Samuel 17:38-39

And Saul clad David with his own clothing, and he put a helmet of brass on his head, and he clad him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword on his clothing, and he made an effort to go, for he had not proved it. And David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not proved them.” And David put them off him.’

If David was to venture his life in this way the very least that Saul felt that he could do was to ensure that he had the best possible equipment. So he provided David with the ultimate in privilege. He clad him in the king’s clothing and armour. To give one’s own clothes to someone was to pay them the highest honour. It demonstrated they were under the giver’s protection and seen almost as his other self (compare 1 Samuel 18:4). And indeed that was what David would now be, the king’s champion. ‘His own clothing’ probably referred to a special military dress designed to be worn with armour with the sword scabbard fastened to it.

David complied, for he had never worn armour before, although he had possibly tried on his brothers’ armour which would have been far less substantial. He was probably quite excited at the thought. ‘The king’s own armour!’ But once he had put the armour on he knew immediately that it just would not do. For when he tried to walk around in it he found it impossible. He realised that it would simply be a hindrance to him. It was far too much of an encumbrance for him for it to be suitable. He was just not used to it. He had not ‘proved it’. So he said to Saul, ‘I can’t go in these, I’m not used to them.’

The significance behind this incident must be carefully noted. The writer wants us to recognise the fact that Saul was trying to make David act as his representative, fighting in his way, but that what was important for David was that he fought in YHWH’s way, allowing the Spirit of YHWH to act through him. If he went forward merely as Saul’s representative he would fail.

We should note that this does not teach us that we do not need to make the best preparation that we can when we serve God. But what it does teach us is that we must not seek to rise above what God has prepared us for. David did not disdain Saul’s armour because he was careless about his own safety, or because he was foolish, but simply because it was not what he was used to dealing with. He did not want to handicap himself by pretending to be what he was not. He wanted to be dressed in the way that he had been when YHWH had delivered him in the past.


Verses 40-50

David Meets Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40-50).

As has been the pattern throughout the chapter the emphasis in this passage is again on the fact that the Philistine has defied YHWH, but here in a more personalised way. Note in fact the build up to this point (and note that each of these verses is central to a chiasmus):

“I defy the armies of Israel this day” (1 Samuel 17:10).

“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26).

“This uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of these, seeing as he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:36).

“I come to you in the name of YHWH of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel Whom you have defied” (1 Samuel 17:45).

So here in this passage David is answering Goliath’s challenge of 1 Samuel 17:10. He wants Goliath to know that he has come in the Name of YHWH, the God Whom he has defied, and he then goes on to stress that it is YHWH who will deliver ‘the Philistine’ into his hand. The inter-play of words before battle has been a regular feature of such battles throughout history as each sought to gain an advantage over the other by words before the action began. The aim was to unsettle the opponent. We see a similar situation reflected on our television screens today when two boxers face up to each other at the weigh-in, and then in the centre of the ring, each seeking to gain a psychological victory over the other before battle commences.

Analysis.

a And he took his staff in his hand, and chose for himself five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine (1 Samuel 17:40).

b And the Philistine came on and drew near to David; and the man who bore the shield went before him. And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and with it all of a fair countenance (1 Samuel 17:41-42).

c And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods (1 Samuel 17:43).

d And the Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the heavens, and to the beasts of the field” (1 Samuel 17:44).

e Then said David to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of YHWH of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, Whom you have defied” (1 Samuel 17:45).

d “This day will YHWH deliver you into my hand, and I will smite you, and take your head from off you, and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the heavens, and to the wild beasts of the earth” (1 Samuel 17:46 a).

c “That all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that YHWH saves not with sword and spear: for the battle is Jehovah’s, and he will give you into our hand” (1 Samuel 17:46-47).

b And it came about that when the Philistine arose, and came and drew near to meet David, that David hastened, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took from there a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead; and the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth (1 Samuel 17:48-49).

a So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him, but there was no sword in the hand of David (1 Samuel 17:50).

Note that in ‘a’ David selects his stones and goes out with his staff and his sling in his hand, and in the parallel it is stressed that David defeated Goliath with a sling and a stone, and without a sword. In ‘b’ the Philistine approaches David in order to do battle, and in the parallel David does battle with him and defeats him. In ‘c’ the Philistine disdains David, and in the parallel David runs to meet him. In ‘d’ the Philistine expresses his anger that David comes against him ‘with staves’, and in the parallel David retaliates that YHWH does not save by sword and spear because the battle is His. In ‘e’ the Philistine says that he will give David’s body to the scavengers, both bird and beast, and in the parallel David retorts that he will similarly give the bodies of the whole Philistine army to the scavengers. Centrally in ‘e’ David points out that the Philistine has a sword, a spear and a javelin, but that he has the Name of YHWH on his side, the YHWH Whom the Philistine has defied.

1 Samuel 17:40

And he took his staff in his hand, and chose himself five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his wallet, and his sling was in his hand. And he drew near to the Philistine.’

David already knew in his mind how he was going to fight this battle so he provided himself with the weapons that he was used to. He took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the brook that ran through the valley, and putting them in the shepherd’s wallet which he had, he went forward with his sling in his hand. To him it was almost as though he was going forward to meet the next bear, even if it was a large one. He felt completely at home, for this was how he had been dressed when YHWH had delivered him before. So he felt fully armed. And it was dressed in that way that David went forward to meet the Philistine who was clothed in full armour and bristling with weapons and waiting impatiently in the valley for an opponent to come forward.

1 Samuel 17:41

And the Philistine came on and drew near to David, and the man who bore the shield went before him.’

Seeing someone advancing from the ranks of Israel the Philistine also advanced and approached David, and before him went his shield bearer. We are intended to catch the contrast. The teenage shepherd boy with his staff and shepherd’s attire, and the mighty warrior in full armour accompanied by his shield bearer. And both were bristling with confidence.

1 Samuel 17:42

And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he was full of disdain for him, for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and with it all of a fair countenance.’

We get the impression that as he advanced Goliath did not really at first appreciate what kind of opponent he was facing, and that it was only when he focused his attention that he became aware of the truth and discovered that his opponent was but a lad, reddish-haired and somewhat good looking, but not the warrior type at all, and that he had come out to meet him with a staff! He may, of course, have been short sighted, or it may simply be that he had been too arrogant to try to measure his opponent up. And it could well be that the bushes in the valley had prevented him from getting a full sight of him.

But we do not have to use much imagination to appreciate what he thought when he saw that his opponent had come out to meet him without armour, and was simply carrying a wooden staff, with something hanging from his other hand. And that he was a mere youth. He really must have thought that it was some kind of deliberate insult being practised by the Israelites. He probably recognised that it was hardly going to be a serious fight, and that even when he had ‘won’, as he could hardly fail to do, the Israelites would have been able to claim that it was all a joke. He presumably felt that he was being deliberately humiliated, a situation that he was not used to.

In fact in the event David’s clothing probably did him a great service, for had he been dressed in armour Goliath might well have been more wary, and even have taken into account the sling. But when all he saw was a shepherd boy with a staff, he was totally disarmed, and thus he and his shield bearer were careless. In his view the whole situation was clearly intended to make him look ridiculous. It was obvious to all that it was simply intended to be an insult to the Philistines.

1 Samuel 17:43

And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.’

His words reveal his fury. The describing of people whom you despised as ‘dogs’ (predatory wild scavengers who roamed around cities looking for scraps) was a well known insult. It indicated the total contempt that you had for someone. Thus he saw himself as being treated with the utmost contempt. And to have come against him with only a staff simply added to the insult. (The words are revealing. The most dangerous weapon was discounted. For who had ever heard of anyone engaging in close combat with a sling? Goliath was not used to fancy weapons). He was so angry that he cursed David by his gods.

1 Samuel 17:44

And the Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the heavens, and to the beasts of the field.” ’

Then he snarled, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the heavens, and to the beasts of the field.’ In other words he is saying, ‘you have treated me like a scavenger. So I will cut you up and feed you bit by bit to the scavengers.’ He had no sympathy for David. The insult he had suffered was too great for there to be any sympathy left in his heart.

1 Samuel 17:45

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of YHWH of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” ’

But David was not perturbed, for he knew that he had YHWH on his side, and he called on Goliath to recognise the odds that he was up against. The Philistine may have a sword, and a spear, and a javelin. But what were they against the Name of YHWH of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom Goliath had defied? ‘The name’ to an Israelite represented all that YHWH was. To come in His Name was to come in all His authority and power. To defy the Name was thus to defy YHWH and to David there was nothing that was worse than defying YHWH. And he knew that history was full of stories of how YHWH had bested Israel’s enemies who had defied YHWH.

1 Samuel 17:46-47

This day will YHWH deliver you into my hand, and I will smite you, and take your head from off you, and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the heavens, and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that YHWH does not save with sword and spear, for the battle is YHWH’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

Then he responded to the Philistine in the way that the Philistine had spoken to him. He informed the Philistine that that very day YHWH would deliver him into his hand, and that as a result he would smite him and take off his head. It was the custom at that time for the victor to cut off the head of a defeated foe (compare 1 Samuel 31:9). And after he had done that, he informed him, not just Goliath’s body, but the bodies of the whole Philistine army would be fed to the vultures and the scavengers among the wild beasts so that all the earth might know that there was a God in Israel worthy of the name, and that all the Israelites who were gathered there (the assembly of Israel) would know that YHWH did not save with sword and spear (compare 1 Samuel 13:22). He did not need them. And as the battle was His and His alone He would give the enemy into their hand without them.

We have only to think to recognise the insult that such words must have conveyed, coming as they did from a precocious youth and being addressed to the Philistine champion. His eyes must have been starting out of his head with fury.

1 Samuel 17:48

And it came about that, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, David accelerated, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.’

Filled with great anger the Philistine advanced on David, and as he got closer David hurried to meet him, thereby advancing to meet the army of the Philistines who would be watching eagerly to see the defeat by Goliath of this arrogant foe. He was taking on the whole Philistine army and was unafraid.

1 Samuel 17:49

And David put his hand in his bag, and took from there a stone, and slung it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, and the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth.’

Then David put his hand in his shepherd’s bag and did what he had done a thousand times before, did indeed what he had constantly practised as he watched the sheep. He took out a large stone and fitted it into his sling, and then slung it and hit the Philistine right in the forehead. And the Philistine fell on his face to the earth.

The sling was in fact a formidable weapon, for it could despatch a three inch diameter stone at a speed of 100-150 miles per hour. The only problem lay in ensuring that it hit its target where it could be effective, which was not easy when a man was covered in armour. It required pin point accuracy. Nor would it have pierced a shield. But Goliath had probably been lulled into a false sense of security by the ridiculous appearance of a boy with a staff as his main weapon. He felt in no danger at all.

1 Samuel 17:50

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him, but there was no sword in the hand of David.’

And that was how David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, smiting him and slaying him. But there was no sword in the hand of David, and so in order to fulfil his promise to cut off Goliath’s head he had to use a borrowed one. This fact that ‘there was no sword in the hand of David’ reminds us of 1 Samuel 13:22. It emphasises that YHWH did not need swords.


Verses 51-54

The Routing Of The Philistines (1 Samuel 17:51-54).

Having brought the Philistine down David ran over to him and cut off his head with his own sword, and on seeing their champion humbled the Philistines had no further stomach for a fight. Terror appears to have taken hold of them, for they could no doubt see the Israelite army suddenly emboldened and ready to attack. And when they did so, what greater evidence of what the God of Israel could do to them did they need than this? They turned and fled leaving their baggage behind (wagons would only have delayed them). All defiance was over.

The exuberant Israelites meanwhile gave out a loud war-cry and chased after them, following them all the way to their own cities, slaughtering those who were too slow, after which they plundered the camp which the Philistines had left behind. And David, having cut off the head of his opponent took it up to Jerusalem of Judah, where the men of Judah regularly celebrated their triumphs (Judges 1:7), while his armour he put in his own tent.

Analysis.

a Then David ran, and stood over the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of its sheath, and slew him, and cut off his head with it (1 Samuel 17:51 a).

b And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until you come to Gai, and to the gates of Ekron (1 Samuel 17:51-52 a).

c And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath, and to Ekron (1 Samuel 17:52 b).

b And the children of Israel returned from chasing after the Philistines, and they plundered their camp (1 Samuel 17:53).

a And David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armour in his tent (1 Samuel 17:54).

Note that in ‘a’ David cuts off Goliath’s head, and in the parallel he brings it to Jerusalem. In ‘b’ the victorious Israelites chase the fleeing Philistines, and in the parallel they return from doing so and plunder their camp. Centrally in ‘c’ the Philistines, far from defying Israel and YHWH, are humiliated all the way home.

1 Samuel 17:51

Then David ran, and stood over the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of its sheath, and slew him, and cut off his head with it. And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.’

So he ran over to where the Philistine had fallen, stood over him, took out the Philistine’s own sword from its sheath, and slew him and cut off his head. The Philistines were meanwhile struck with awe and terror. They could hardly conceive how it had happened. And recognising that the gods must be against them, and that the Israelite army, whom they could see mobilising, would soon arrive in strength, they turned and fled. Of what use fighting when even the gods seemed against them? They would simply be cut to pieces.

1 Samuel 17:52

And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until you come to Gai, and to the gates of Ekron. And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath, and to Ekron.’

Having watched in silence the unexpected turn of events the men of Israel in their turn became exultant. Most of them probably could not believe their eyes. The huge warrior who had defied them day after day now lay dead, slain by an Israelite shepherd boy. It was clear that YHWH was fighting with them and was on their side. And they arose and yelled their war cries, and then pursued the Philistines all the way to Gai, to the very gates of Ekron. And as they pursued they put the stragglers to the sword, and wounded men fell down by the road to Shaaraim, all the way to Gath and Ekron. And what a story they would have to tell.

Gai means ‘valley’. It was possibly the name given to a town situated in a well known valley, or to a prominent valley which had become known as ‘The Valley’. ‘The road to Shaaraim’ would be a recognised highway. The picture of wounded men falling by the wayside all along the route is in contrast with their previous defiance. They are defiant no longer. (The whole makes an interesting comparison with how the statue of Dagon also lost its head and fell before the Ark in 1 Samuel 5:4).

1 Samuel 17:53

And the children of Israel returned from chasing after the Philistines, and they plundered their camp.’

Once the chase was over the children of Israel then returned from chasing the Philistines, and plundered their camp and all their wagons, filled with praise to YHWH.

1 Samuel 17:54

And David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem, and he put his armour in his tent.’

And David meanwhile took the head of the Philistine back to his shepherd’s tent which was by Jerusalem where he had been pasturing his sheep (Bethlehem was only five miles from Jerusalem), and he put the Philistine’s armour in his tent. He would certainly get a nice feeling every time he looked at it, and it would remind him of YHWH’s goodness in giving him victory.

“Brought it to Jerusalem.” If David’s shepherd encampment was near Jerusalem it make perfect sense for him to bring Goliath’s head back to his tent along with his armour. However, there are grounds elsewhere for seeing Jerusalem of Judah as the place to which men of Judah regularly brought the trophies of victory. See, for example, Judges 1:7, where after they had defeated Adoni-bezek the men of Judah ‘brought him to Jerusalem’ (the part of Jerusalem occupied by Judah). Thus it may be that that was why David of Judah saw this as the place to which to bring his trophy.

There appears to have been a threefold Jerusalem, for it was on the border of Judah and Benjamin and covered a wise area. There was the unconquered Jebusite citadel on the highest hill of Jerusalem, which would later fall to David, and then there was a Benjaminite Jerusalem (Judges 1:21) and a Jerusalem belonging to Judah (Judges 1:7-8), both of which were necessarily on other hilltops outside the citadel.

Others see ‘and brought it to Jerusalem’ as referring to what David did later in the future after he had captured the Jerusalem fortress. But Jerusalem of Judah had been held by them for a long time and was clearly seen by them as important (Judges 1:8) so that there is no reason why David should not be seen as visiting Jerusalem in Saul’s day, especially if the people of Judah saw it as their main city.


Verses 55-58

The Aftermath. Having Promised His Daughter To David Saul Enquires About His Antecedents (1 Samuel 17:55-58).

Analysis.

a And when Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the captain of the host, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” (1 Samuel 17:55 a).

b And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I cannot tell you” (1 Samuel 17:55 b).

c And the king said, Enquire you whose son the stripling is” (1 Samuel 17:56).

b And as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand (1 Samuel 17:57).

a And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Beth-lehemite” (1 Samuel 17:58).

Note that in ‘a’ Saul asks after David’s ancestry, and in the parallel asks David himself about it. In ‘b’ he asks Abner to follow the question up and in the parallel Abner does so by bringing David to Saul. Centrally in ‘c’ Saul wants to know whose son the stripling is. From what ‘tree’ is he stripped?

1 Samuel 17:55

And when Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the captain of the host, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I cannot tell.” ’

Meanwhile Saul, as he watched David go out to fight the Philistine, was mindful of the fact that he had promised his daughter to whoever defeated the Philistine, and he was thus now concerned about David’s antecedents, so he turned to Abner his general and asked, ‘Whose son is this?’ It had not been important who Jesse was when all Saul had been doing was employ him as a musician. And he had probably forgotten the details of David’s background, if he had ever known them. He could hardly have been expected to remember the details of the families of all his servants. It was, however, a totally different matter if he was to receive him into the family. Abner’s reply was that he simply did not know (emphasising that David was a nobody).

1 Samuel 17:56

And the king said, “You enquire whose son the stripling is.” ’

So the king asked him to enquire into David’s antecedents. The reference to a ‘stripling’ has in mind the source from which David came. He was like a small strip from the parent stem.

1 Samuel 17:57

And as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand.’

And when David returned from his defeat of Goliath, Abner took him and brought him before Saul. David was carrying the head of Goliath in his hand as an indication of YHWH’s victory. In the writer’s eyes this told Saul whose son he was. He was the ‘son’ of YHWH Who had given him this great deliverance. He was the new anointed of YHWH.

1 Samuel 17:58

And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Beth-lehemite.” ’

As a result of Abner’s action Saul was able to question him himself, and he asked him whose son he was. David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Beth-lehemite,” after which there was further conversation (1 Samuel 18:1) in which he would have given more details about himself and his family. What he did not tell him was that he was also the anointed of YHWH. That is for the reader (and listener) to know as he stands there with the head of Goliath in his hand.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-samuel-17.html. 2013.

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