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- In a recent survey asking people to vote which Bible story is the most famous, ranked first was the Crucifixion of Christ. Ranked second was David and Goliath.
- Children know about David and Goliath.
- Any sporting event that pins a heavy favorite and a helpless underdog will likely reference David and Goliath.
- So let's jump in and look at part one of this most beloved Bible story.
- We'll organize today's passage into four sections: Goliath's Defiance (v.1–11), David's Dedication (v.12–22), David's Decisiveness (v.23–27), and Eliab's Denunciation (v.28–30)
1. Goliath’s Defiance (v.1–11, 16)
The Geography (v.1–3)
“Now the Philistines gathered their camps for battle; and they were gathered at Socoh which belongs to Judah, and they camped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim.“ (v.1)
- Socoh is 23 km (14 mi) west of Bethlehem on the Philistine border. Azekah is 5 km NW of Socoh and 8 km east of the Philistine capital of Gath. [RSB]
So “Saul and the men of Israel were gathered and camped in the valley of Elah and arranged themselves for battle to meet the Philistines.” (v.2)
- The Philistines occupied the coastal area along the Mediterranean Sea, and they can approach the heartland of Judah through several valleys. One is the Valley of Elah. [CSBSB]
- The Valley of Elah runs east to west from Bethlehem to Gath through the “shephelah” or foothills, of Palestine. [RSB]
“Now the Philistines stood on the mountain on one side while Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with the valley between them.” (v.3)
- “Valley” here in verse 3 is a “ravine” (CSB) and denotes a narrow more sharply defined valley. It is a different Hebrew word then “valley“ in verse 2 which designates a broad, flat valley. [CSBSB]
Goliath's Appearance (v.4–7)
“Then a champion came out from the camps of Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.” (v.4)
- Hebrew word translated champion, in the entire OT, is only used here and in verse 23. The word comes from a preposition meaning “in between.” [USBH]
- Champion can denote a person who steps out between two opposing armies to engage in single combat, where the outcome of a fight to the death between two champions is taken as the will of the gods. [RSB]
- Although there is another biblical account of "representative combat" in 2 Samuel 2:12–16, it appears that the use of "representative combat" of a champion was not common among the Semitic people during this time.
- MT should be trusted, and Goliath’s height was 6 cubits and 1 span.
- A cubit (elbow to tip of middle finger of an adult male) is about 18 inches, and 1 span (tip of thumb to tip of little finger when a man’s hand is spread out) is about 9 inches. Therefore, Goliath is described to be 3 meters or 9 feet 9 inches tall.
Notice Goliath’s armor
- His metal helmet
- He was clothed in scale-armor weighing 5,000 shekels (approx. 55 kg or 125 pounds).
- His bronze greaves. Greaves is a technical term for shin guards that protect the legs.
- Most of Goliath’s body was protected which foreshadows what will later take place in verse 49.
Notice Goliath’s weapons
- His javelin (small spear that was thrown at the enemy)
- His spear’s head, made of iron, weighted 600 shekels (7 kg or 15 pounds)
- His shield-carrier or shield bearer who walked in front of Goliath would be carrying Goliath’s shield which was likely very large.
A. Goliath’s Defiant Words (v.8-10)
Goliath called out to Israel, “Why do you come out to arrange yourselves for battle? Am I not the Philistine and you slaves of Saul?” (v.8b)
- These questions Goliath posed to Israel were intended to challenge, insult, and taunt.
“Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and strike me down, then we will become your slaves; but if I prevail against him and strike him down, then you shall become our slaves and serve us.”
- Because this was not common, Goliath had to explain the procedure of representative combat with the army of the losing combatant submitting themselves to servitude to the victorious one.
Again the Philistine said, “I openly reproach the battle lines of Israel this day.”
- The Hebrew word חרף (charaf) translated “reproach” or “defy” (ESV, CSB, NIV) will be used four more times in this chapter (v.25, 26, 36, 45). [CSBSB]
- This word for “defy” suggests an attitude of insolence and contempt. It means to try to provoke.
- Goliath is not just defying Israel. Goliath is mocking God.
- So how do Saul and Israel respond?
B. Israel’s Fearful Response (v.11)
When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. (v.11)
- The two verbs translated “dismayed” and “greatly afraid” are near-synonyms. [USBH]
- Saul and the Israelites had “lost their courage.” (CSB)
- “They were terrified.” (NIV)
- “They were deeply shaken.” (NLT)
- Even Saul’s son Jonathan, showing much courage and valor in 1 Samuel 13, seemed defeated.
The Israelites needed their leader to articulate a plan of response, but King Saul had none. [CSBSB]
King Saul was now a broken man, out of touch with God. [Mackey, ESVEC]
Remember. Saul was described as taller than any of the people (1 Sam 9:2).
The logical choice to serve as Israel's champion was Saul, but he was terrified like everyone else. [RSB]
No mention is made that Israel sought to pray and seek God's assistance.
C. Goliath’s Persistent Defiance (v.16)
"Then the Philistine approached, morning and evening, for forty days and took his stand." (v.16)
- 40 is often a round number in the Old Testament [UBSH]
- The number forty also denotes a period of trial and testing [RSB]
- Rained 40 days (Gen 7:4)
- Desert wandering for 40 years Num 14:33)
- Jesus fasted for 40 days before confronting Satan. (Matt 4)
- Goliath took his stand, both rising up early in the morning and again setting out late in the evening, for 40 days.
- There is nothing new under the sun.
- The world has always defied God and his people.
- Lamech in Genesis 4.
- Goliath here is 1 Samuel 17.
- Every human being today who does not possess Jesus as Savior and Lord.
2. David’s Dedication (v.12–22)
We get a proper introduction to our protagonist, David. When an important person is introduced in the Old Testament, we are usually given his genealogy.
- King Saul's introduction in 1 Samuel 9:1–2 included his genealogy.
- Back in chapter 16 when we were first introduced to David, the author didn't even initially give his name.
And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are these all the young men?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and behold, he is shepherding the sheep.” Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him, for we will not turn around until he comes here.” So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with beautiful eyes and a handsome appearance. And Yahweh said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” (1 Sam 16:11–12)
- Before his anointing of oil and the Spirit of Yahweh, David was unknown, insignificant. David was a nobody.
- Here we are formally introduced to David, and the author focuses not on his external appearance but rather David's exemplary character of dedicated service.
Now David was the son of the Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, whose name was Jesse, and he had eight sons. And Jesse was old in the days of Saul, advanced in years among men. And the three older sons of Jesse had gone. They had gone after Saul to the battle. (v.12–13a)
- Jesse was now too old for military service, and so their family contributed their best three fighting men, the eldest sons.
- Samuel had warned Israel back in chapter 8 that Israel’s king will require the best young men and women from each family.
- Jesse’s best young men were his three eldest sons.
A. David Is Faithful (v.15)
"David went back and forth from Saul to shepherd his father's flock at Bethlehem." (v15)
- We assume that David had already been summoned to Saul's royal court as his personal musician (16:21).
- So, we see David's dedication. He is working two jobs. He was attending as a royal musician in Gibeah for Saul, and he fulfills his obligations at home in Bethlehem by serving his father Jesse.
- His father Jesse acknowledges David's dedication by commissioning David to bring rations to his three older brothers.
B. David Is Dependable (v.17)
Then Jesse said to David his son, "Take now for your brothers an ephah of this roasted grain and these ten loaves and run to the camp to your brothers." (v.17)
- Families of soldiers normally provided their sustenance on the battlefields. [CSBSB]
- This reminds us of Jacob's trust in Joseph when he sent Joseph to check on his older brothers in Shechem.
- "And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them.” (Gen 37:13a)
C. David Is Diligent (v.20a)
"So David arose early in the morning" (v.20a)
- David followed his father's instructions immediately without any reservations. He "arose early in the morning."
- The journey to the battle area likely was about 25 km (15 miles) away. [CSBSB]
- If David’s plan was travel 15 miles to reach the battle lines by the end of the day, there was no rush.
- But David shows his diligence, rushing to make it there while it is still morning.
D. David Is Responsible (v.20b)
"[David] left the flock with a keeper and carried the supplies and went as Jesse had commanded him." (v.20a)
- "keeper" is not the specific word for shepherd but a general term for a person who keeps watch over or guards anything.
- This highlights David's priority to protect and guard the family assets, their flock of sheep.
- If you want to take care of the house, you may hire a handyman or a housecleaner.
- If you want to protect your house, you find a security guard or a good guard dog.
- David shows responsibility by ensuring the family’s sheep were well protected.
- David carried and hand-delivered the supplies himself.
"David left his baggage in the care of the baggage keeper."
- Again. We see that David is careful to deliver his supplies securely.
E. David Is Devoted (v.22)
[David] ran to the battle line and entered in order to greet his brothers. (v.22b)
- David doesn't just walk or take a short break. He sets out before the break of day, and now while it is likely still morning, he does not tarry.
- He had delivered the supplies.
- Now David searched for his brothers so he can report back to his father on their welfare.
- When Goliath is introduced, the author focused on Goliath's externals: what he looked like, and what he wore.
- When we are formally introduced to David, the author draws attention to his character through his dedication.
- And remember 1 Samuel 16:13.
- David was empowered and enabled when the Spirit of Yahweh came upon him mightily.
- Are you faithful, dependable, diligent, responsible, devoted?
- God’s Spirit in you empowers your dedication to Him.
- Let’s learn more about David, who was Spirit enabled, through his decisiveness.
3. David’s Decisiveness (v.23–27)
We see David's decisiveness as he responds to what he hears and sees.
A. David Hears (v.23)
As [David] was speaking with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine from Gath named Goliath, was coming up from the battle lines of the Philistines, and he spoke these same words; and David heard them. (v.23)
- Some English Bible translations ignore this word, but the word "behold" (ESV, NASB) could also be translated "suddenly." The focus abruptly returns to the menacing enemy warrior. "Suddenly, the champion named Goliath...came forward" (CSB)
- Goliath approached closer than before, actually coming partway up the ravine. [CSBSB]
- The Hebrew verb here is "to come up." Having descended into the valley, Goliath began to climb up from the canyon toward the Israelite army.
- He came close enough that when he spoke, David was able to hear Golaith's words.
- And notice what David sees.
B. David Sees (v.24-25)
Now all the men of Israel saw the man, and they fled from him and were greatly afraid. (v.24)
- The men of Israel saw Goliath up close, and they shuttered in fear.
- Even on the high ground, Israel's army retreated back from the giant.
And the men of Israel said, "Have you seen this man who is coming up? Surely he is coming up to reproach Israel." (v.25a)
- The subject "men of Israel" is actually singular (not plural) in the Hebrew.
- The CSB reads, "Previously, an Israelite man had declared" (CSB)
- But in Hebrew, the singular can be used in a collective sense which is why many Bible translators use “men of Israel” in the plural.
- So it could mean, these men of Israel spoke "to each other" or spoke "among themselves."
- David sees that the armies of Israel are inoperative. They are in disarray.
- Goliath is defying Israel, yet this does not rouse any Israelite to take action.
- None are persuaded by the king's rewards of (1) great riches, (2) the king's daughter hand in marriage, and (3) freedom from paying taxes.
- So David hears the defying words of Goliath, and David sees the fear and inactivity of Israel.
C. David Speaks (v.26)
Throughout the entire narrative thus far, David has been a literary mute. He has never spoken before in this story.
- In verse 26, David breaks his silence. His first recorded words consisted of two questions.
"What will be done for the man who strikes down this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should reproach the battlelines of the living God?" (v.26)
- Based on the context, David was not asking for more information.
- David was not questioning the appropriateness of the rewards promised.
- David asks these questions to ignite righteous indignation against the Philistine.
- At the surface, this story is about two people groups contesting for control.
- But David discerned that Goliath's threat was not merely physical or political. It was theological.
- A fight between representatives of the warring factions avoids a more general engagement. But the logic behind such contests was grounded in the belief that battles were ultimately decided by God or the gods; thus, the champion representing the more powerful deity would triumph. [ZIBBCOT, vol 2, p.346]
Notice another kind of silence in these first 25 verses. There is no mention of God.
- Look carefully.
- There is no Yahweh. No Elohim. No mention of God.
- David introduces a whole new worldview. He injects God into his question.
"Just who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (CSB)
- "Doesn't having a living God make a difference in all this?
- We have the living God. They have Dagon, a lifeless idol.
- Do you expect a living God to allow an uncircumcised Philistine to trample his name and reputation in military and theological mud? 
- To David, God's honor was at stake.
- Israel thought the Philistine was invulnerable.
- David recognized he was simply uncircumcised, an outsider of God's covenant.
- So David tells the armies of Israel, "Who does he think he is? This pagan Philistine is nothing before God, and he has no right to mock the army of the Living God." [UBSH]
- Don't be surprised. It's not a question of "if" but "when."
- Our fallen world that defies the living God will taunt, mock, and insult you.
- So what is your response when others defy you for being associated with the living God?
- "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt 5:10–12)
4. Eliab’s Denunciation (v.28–30)
Sometimes, strong discouragement and resistance come from our own family.
- Job's wife counseled Job, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9)
Eliab, David's eldest brother, is upset.
- He had witnessed David's anointing by Samuel, fueling his envy and anger.
- Eliab resented that he was being outdone by his little brother.
"Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I myself know your arrogance and the wickedness of your heart, for you have come down in order to see the battle." (v.28b)
- Eliab gives five accusations.
- He accuses David of wrong motives, irresponsibility, insolence, wickedness, and selfishness.
David responds, saying, "What have I done now? Was it not just a word?" (v.29)
- Seeing the adverb "now," we can infer that this is not the first time Eliab has denounced David harshly.
- One person paraphrased David this way. "What have I done to offend you now? I happen to have been asking about a very important matter."
- But David was not deterred.
Then [David] turned away from [Eliab] to another and said the same word, and the people responded to him with the same word as before. (v.30)
- David continues to ask other Israelite soldiers the same questions he had asked in verse 26.
- "What will be done for the man who kills that Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Just who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (v.26 CSB)
- At this point, David does not outright volunteer to fight Goliath.
- Instead, by using this line of questioning, David is hoping to persuade other soldiers who are bigger, stronger, and more experienced, to discern the significance of this situation and to take action.
- It’s not that David thought he alone eas able to fight the giant.
- Any Israelite could defeat Goliath, with help from the living God.
ὀνειδίζω is the parallel Greek verb to the Hebrew verb חרף (charaf) which means "to taunt" or "to defy."
- In the New Testament, ὀνειδίζω is used once to describe a man insulting and defying God.
- It is the account of the two men who hung on the cross beside Jesus.
The chief priests...with the scribes and elders, were mocking [Jesus] and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the [two] robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him [reviling Him, taunting Him, ridiculing Him, heaping insults on Him, ὀνειδίζω] with the same words. (Mt 27:41–44)
If anyone fails to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, denies Jesus's claim as the only mediator to God the Father, he is insulting and defying the Living God.
A few hours later, miraculously, Scripture says.
And one of the criminals hanging there was blaspheming [Jesus], saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”
But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for what we have done; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”
And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Lk 23:39–43)
- Don't defy God.
- Follow the second criminal.
- Repent and plead to Him for mercy and forgiveness.
- God can give you a new heart, even today.
https://www.thetoptens.com/religious/most-famous-bible-stories/ (October 28, 2023) ↩︎
John L. Mackay, J. Gary Millar, and John W. Olley, 1 Samuel–2 Chronicles, ed. Iain M. Duguid, Jr. Hamilton James M., and Jay Sklar, vol. III, ESV Expository Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 185. ↩︎
Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, Focus on the Bible Commentary (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 184. ↩︎
Robert Bergen, Christian Standard Bible: Notes, 1 Sam 17:29–30 ↩︎