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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

1 Samuel 17

 

 

Verse 1

1 Samuel 17:1. The Philistines gathered together their armies — Probably they had heard that Samuel had forsaken Saul, and that Saul himself was unfit for business. The enemies of the church are watchful to take all advantages, and they never have greater advantages than when her protectors have provoked God’s Spirit and prophets to leave them.


Verse 4

1 Samuel 17:4. Goliath of Gath — For to this city the Anakims fled when Joshua rooted them out of the land of Canaan, Joshua 11:22. And here they propagated a race of giants; that is, people of great strength and stature. Whose height was six cubits and a span — At least nine feet nine inches. And this is not strange; for besides the giants mentioned in Scripture, Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Pliny make mention of persons seven cubits high.


Verses 5-7

1 Samuel 17:5-7. He was armed with a coat of mail — Made of plates of brass laid over one another like the scales of a fish. Five thousand shekels of brass — The common shekel contained a fourth part of an ounce; and so five thousand shekels made one thousand two hundred and fifty ounces, or seventy-eight pounds; which weight was not unsuitable to a man of such vast strength as his height speaks him to have been. Greaves — Boots. The staff of his spear like a weaver’s beam — On which the weavers fasten their web. It was like this for thickness. And though the whole weight of Goliath’s armour may seem prodigious, yet it is not so much by far as one Athanatus did manage, of whom Pliny relates that he saw him come into the theatre with arms weighing twelve thousand ounces. A shield —

Probably for state; for he that was clad in brass little needed a shield.


Verses 8-11

1 Samuel 17:8-11. Let him come down to me — That the battle may be decided by us two alone. They were greatly afraid — This may seem strange, considering the glorious promises of God, and their late experience of divine assistance. And where was Jonathan, who, in the last war, had so bravely engaged a whole army of the Philistines? Doubtless he did not feel himself so stirred up of God as he did at that time. As the best, so the bravest of men, are no more than what God makes them. Jonathan must sit still now, because this honour is reserved for David.


Verses 12-15

1 Samuel 17:12-15. David was the son of that Ephrathite, &c. — Being chosen of God to combat with Goliath, we are here informed of whom he was descended. The man went among men — Was accounted; an old man — Therefore he went not himself to the camp. David was the youngest — Being young, he was not put to the hardships of war; but the three eldest undertook to serve their prince and their country in this time of common danger. David went and returned from Saul — Left his court, with his permission, for the present. Probably he returned upon his father’s sending his three eldest sons into Saul’s service. Having been instrumental in relieving Saul, he was not now particularly wanted at court, but probably was wanted to feed his father’s sheep, and might be sent for again when occasion should require.


Verse 17-18

1 Samuel 17:17-18. Jesse said, Take now for thy brethren, &c. — He thought provisions might be scarce with them. But, having other sons at home with him, it was, no doubt, through a divine influence that he sent David from the sheep upon this errand. Carry these ten cheeses unto the captain — Whose favour might be very serviceable to them. And take their pledge — That is, bring me some token of their welfare. Perhaps Jesse and his sons had fixed on some pledge between them, that they might be assured the messengers they sent to each other had been with them, and executed their commission.


Verse 19

1 Samuel 17:19. Fighting with the Philistines — That is, in a posture and readiness to fight with them, as it is explained 1 Samuel 17:20-21, being drawn up in battle array. In the valley of Elah — Not, strictly speaking, in the valley, but hard by it, on the side of the mountain, where they faced the Philistines, and showed themselves resolved to fight, if the latter came down from the other mountain to oppose them.


Verses 20-22

1 Samuel 17:20-22. He came to the trench — Probably the carriages wherewith the host was surrounded. As the host was going forth to the fight — Jesse little thought of sending his son to the camp just at that critical juncture. But the wise God orders the time and all the circumstances of affairs so as to serve the designs of his own glory. David left his carriage, &c. — He left the provision which his father had sent his brethren with some proper person, it being not a time to present it to them when the armies were just going to engage. And ran into the army — Eager to know what was doing there, being deeply concerned for the success of Israel, and desirous of seeing and speaking with his brethren before the commencement of the battle; for possibly it might be the last time he should ever converse with them or see them alive.


Verse 23-24

1 Samuel 17:23-24. Behold there came up the champion — Although the armies stood ready to engage, yet the vanity of Goliath made him once more desirous that the matter might be determined by single combat, and to challenge the whole host of Israel to produce a man to fight with him. And all the men of Israel fled from him — That is, none of the Israelites dared to come to an equal distance from their camp as Goliath did from that of the Philistines; and probably some that had advanced farther than the rest, retired back when they saw him approaching. Nay, it seems wherever he advanced they fled from him. But surely one Philistine could never have thus dismayed and put ten thousand Israelites to flight, unless their Rock, being forsaken by them, had justly sold them, and shut them up, Deuteronomy 32:30.


Verse 25-26

1 Samuel 17:25-26. The king will make his father’s house free — Free from all those tributes and charges which either the court or the camp required. Who is this uncircumcised Philistine? &c. — Thus David expresses a high indignation that they, who were the servants of the living God, and fought under his banners, should be thus terrified by the great bulk of this idolater, as if the strength of God were not greater than that of this giant.


Verse 28

1 Samuel 17:28. He said, Why camest thou down hither? — His passion made him forget that David came by his father’s order, in obedience to him, and out of kindness to them. With whom hast thou left those few sheep? — Thus he intimates that David was fitter to look after sheep than to fight a giant. I know thy pride — Thy false confidence, vain glory, and curiosity. See the folly and wickedness of envy! How groundless its jealousies are, how unjust its censures, how unfair its representations! May God save and preserve us from such a spirit!


Verse 29

1 Samuel 17:29. David said, Is there not a cause? — Of my thus speaking? Is this giant invincible? Is our God unable to oppose him, and subdue him? However, David is not deterred from his undertaking by the hard words of Eliab. They that undertake public services must not think it strange if they be opposed by those from whom they had reason to expect assistance; but must humbly go on with their work, in the face, not only of their enemies’ threats, but of their friends’ slights, suspicions, and censures.


Verse 30

1 Samuel 17:30. He turned from him — For, being secretly moved by God’s Spirit to undertake the combat, he speaks with divers persons about it, that it might come to the king’s ear.


Verse 32-33

1 Samuel 17:32-33. Let no man’s heart fail him, &c. — it would have reflected upon his prince to say, Let not thy heart fail; therefore he speaks in general terms, Let no man’s heart fail. A young shepherd, come but this morning from keeping sheep, has more courage than all the mighty men of Israel! Thus doth God often do great things for his people by the weak things of the world. Thou art but a youth — Not above twenty years old; and a novice, a raw and an inexperienced soldier.


Verse 34-35

1 Samuel 17:34-35. There came a lion and a bear — Not both together, but at different times. I went out after him — I pursued the beast. When he arose against me — Turned again upon me; I caught him by his beard — I had resolution and strength enough given me to close with him, and, catching him by the hair of his beard, smote and killed him on the spot. David does not say with what instrument he did this; but probably it was with a sword or spear. It is not improbable but in that age, and in those countries, it was usual to pursue, with proper arms, those wild beasts that came to devour their flocks. And travellers tell us, that, at this day, a single Arab, that is properly instructed and armed, will pursue a lion, and, if he overtakes him, will overcome him. But that such a youth as David should have such extraordinary courage and strength cannot be accounted for but by supposing, as the Scriptures inform us, that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and that God intended by these things to train him up and fit him for the greater things he was to be called to perform.


Verse 36-37

1 Samuel 17:36-37. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear, &c. — There is a remarkable, and never to be sufficiently admired modesty in this relation of David, which he concludes by attributing all he had done to the goodness and power of God. And he takes encouragement from the experience which he had already had of these divine attributes being exerted on his behalf on a less important occasion, to believe that they would be exerted on this occasion also, which was much more important, as peculiarly involving the glory of God and the best interests of his people, which had not been the case in the former instances. This uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them — Goliath debased himself below a brute by his blasphemy, and therefore he now carried no more terror with him to David than a lion or a bear. Seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God — Here we see the foundation of David’s confidence of success. The Philistine had defied the living God in defying his armies, and had openly avowed himself his enemy. And David therefore comes forward, as his friend, to espouse his cause. It is as if he had said, The lion and the bear were only enemies to me and to my sheep, and it was only in defence of them that I attacked these brute beasts; but this Philistine is an enemy to God and his people, and it is for their honour that I attack him.


Verse 38

1 Samuel 17:38. Saul armed David with his armour — Not that which he was wont to wear himself, for he was so tall it would not have fitted David, but with armour taken out of his armory. The Hebrew word מדיו, madaiv, however, here rendered armour, more properly signifies his vestments, or his garments, and is so translated chap. 1 Samuel 18:4, and in most other places where it occurs. Indeed his armour is distinguished from this, and particularly described in the following words. He therefore, doubtless, speaks in this clause of some military vestments which were then used in war, and were contrived for defence, as buff coats now are.


Verse 39

1 Samuel 17:39. David girded his sword upon his armour — Literally, above, upon his vestments. He assayed to go יאל ללכת, joel lalecheth. The learned translate these words different ways, but nearly to the same sense, Voluit ire, tentavit ire, conatus est incedere; he willed, wished, tried, or endeavoured to go; that is, to walk or march. As he had never worn such things before, not being used to go armed, he wished to try how he could walk in them; and finding that they were likely rather to encumber him than facilitate his enterprise, he begged leave to lay them aside. “David marched with difficulty, as not accustomed to these; therefore he said to Saul, I cannot go with these arms, for I am not accustomed to them; and David put them off.” — Houb.


Verse 40-41

1 Samuel 17:40-41. He took his staff — His shepherd’s staff. These arms in themselves were contemptible, yet chosen by David, because he had no skill to use other arms; because he had inward assurance of the victory, even by these weapons; and because such a conquest would be more honourable to God, and most shameful and discouraging to the Philistines. He drew near — Probably a signal was made that the Philistine’s challenge was accepted. David, however, it seems, made the first motion toward him, to show he did not fear him.


Verse 42-43

1 Samuel 17:42-43. He disdained him — He had looked about, expecting to meet some tall, strong man; but when he saw what a mean figure he made with whom he was to engage, he despised him, and thought it below him to enter the lists with him, fearing that the contemptibleness of the champion with whom he contended would lessen the glory of the victory. For he was a youth of a fair countenance — Not having so much as the countenance of a martial person. Am I a dog? — Dost thou think to beat me as easily as thou wouldst thy dog? The Philistine cursed David by his gods — Imprecating the impotent vengeance of his idols against him, wishing that Dagon, Ashtaroth, and the rest of his gods would confound and destroy David. Thus the Romans used to curse their enemies, saying, “All the gods and goddesses destroy thee.”


Verse 44-45

1 Samuel 17:44-45. Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air — It will be a tender and delicate feast for them. With such confidence did he presume on his success! Thus the security and presumption of fools destroy them. Then said David, I come to thee in the name, &c. — By a commission from Him who commands all creatures in heaven and earth, and who has called me to, and animated me for, this undertaking. I rely on him as thou dost on thy sword and spear.


Verse 46

1 Samuel 17:46. This day will the Lord deliver thee into my hand — He speaks with as much assurance as Goliath had done, but upon better grounds, confiding, not in his own strength, but in the divine omnipotence, and expecting, through it, certain victory, not only over Goliath, but over the whole army of the Philistines. That all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel — Superior to all others. Hebrew, That God is for Israel, or on Israel’s side, and against you. Or, that Israel hath a God, a God indeed! one who is able to help them; and not such an impotent idol as you serve.


Verse 47

1 Samuel 17:47. Saveth not with sword and spear — That is, that he can save without these arms, and with the most contemptible weapons, and that he needs not human force to effect his designs. For the battle is the Lord’s — The events of war are wholly in his power. And he will give you into our hands — David speaks thus confidently, because he was assured of success, by particular inspiration. How great is the difference between the speech of Goliath and that of David! The former consists of the vain- glorious boasting words of a man proudly confiding in his own strength, and thinking of nothing but his own glory. The words of the latter, although expressing an equal assurance of victory, are humble and modest, attributing nothing to himself, but all to the power and goodness of God; building his hopes upon, and rejoicing in, the honour that would accrue to God from his success, instead of puffing himself up with the glory that would arise to himself therefrom.


Verse 48-49

1 Samuel 17:48-49. The Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh — Like a stalking mountain. Having nothing but victory in his thoughts, he marched in a stately manner, pompously covered over with armour, and fearing nothing. But David, being loaded with no armour, ran nimbly toward him, so far was he from fear! David smote the Philistine in his forehead — Which was bare, perhaps the proud giant contemning David so much as to neglect to pull down his helmet over his face, lifting up that part of it which covered his forehead; or else the stone was thrown with such force that it pierced the helmet first, and then the forehead, or went in at the place that was left open for his eyes. However it was, the divine hand directed it. And he fell upon his face to the earth — “See,” says Henry, “how frail and uncertain life is, even then when it thinks itself best fortified, and how quickly, how easily, and with how small a matter, the passage may be opened for life to go out and death to enter. Goliath himself has not power over the spirit to retain the spirit, Ecclesiastes 8:8 : let not the strong man glory in his strength, nor the armed man in his armour. See how God resists the proud, and pours contempt upon those that bid defiance to him and his people! None ever hardened his heart against God and prospered.”


Verse 51

1 Samuel 17:51. David took his sword — Hence it appears that David was not a little man, as many fancy, but a man of considerable bulk and strength, because he was able to manage a giant’s sword. The stone threw him down to the earth, and bereaved him of sense and motion; but there remained some life in him, which the sword took away, and so completed the work. God is greatly glorified when his proud enemies are cut off with their own sword.


Verse 54

1 Samuel 17:54. And brought it to Jerusalem — After he had shown it to Saul, 1 Samuel 17:57, and exposed it to all the people, chap. 1 Samuel 18:6. Jerusalem was now become a noted city, which was the reason why he brought his head thither. Some think, however, that this is spoken of a future action, namely, that when David was come to the kingdom, and had made Jerusalem his royal seat, he ordered the scull of Goliath to be fixed up in some public place there, as a monument of this most signal victory. But he put his armour in his tent — A tent which probably was set up for David on this occasion. The sword was afterward placed behind the ephod in the tabernacle, being consecrated to God, and preserved as a memorial of the victory to his honour, 1 Samuel 21:9.


Verse 55

1 Samuel 17:55. Whose son is this youth? — It may, at first sight, appear strange that Saul should be represented here as not knowing who David was, when we have a relation in the foregoing chapter of his sending for him to court, being highly pleased with his behaviour, and much delighted with his music, making him his armour-bearer, and sending to his father Jesse to ask his leave for his continuance at court. But it may be observed that Saul, in this place, does not express an entire ignorance of David, but only inquires whose son he was — A question of the more consequence to him, as he had promised his daughter in marriage to the conqueror of Goliath. Either Saul had never before made any inquiry about his parentage, or both he and Abner had forgotten whence he was. And this might very easily happen to a king and a general of an army, who daily see and have to do with so many different faces, and who pay so little regard to things of this sort. Nay, if Saul had entirely forgotten David, it would not have been strange, considering that he had been but little with him, had some time ago been dismissed from the court, and was returned home, where he had remained at least a year or two, during which time Saul had not seen him. Besides, the distemper of Saul’s mind might make him forgetful, and David might now be much changed, both in his countenance and in his habit. Abner said, I cannot tell — Abner’s employment was generally in the camp, when David was at the court; and when Abner was there he probably took little notice of a youth so much inferior to him as David was.

“We may learn from the whole of this pleasing chapter,” says Dr. Dodd, “how ready God is to help those who trust in him; for whose defence and protection he makes use of means apparently the most weak, to humble the pride of the wicked, and to destroy the powers which seem most formidable. Some writers have considered this destruction of Goliath by David as a type of the victory of Jesus Christ, in his state of weakness and humiliation, over the strong and gigantic powers of hell and the grave.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/1-samuel-17.html. 1857.

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