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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 17

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-11

First Samuel - Chapter 17

The Philistine Champion, vs. 1-11

When Saul had grown better of his mania he had to contend again with a Philistine invasion of the country. This time they invaded the tribe of Judah. Three places are mentioned. Their gathering place was Shochoh (or Socoh, as it is also called), in the hill country of Judah sloping down to the Mediterranean Sea. Their army arrayed itself between Socoh and Azekah, across the valley of Elah, about five miles north of Socoh. The area was called Ephes-dammim (also called Pas­dammim), scene of bloody encounters between Israel and the Philistines, the name meaning "boundary of blood." Saul gathered his army and set his battle in array along the valley of Elah facing the Philistines.

Pitched on opposite mountains with the valley between them the two armies faced off against each other. At this point the Philistines put forth a champion to challenge Israel, Goliath, a descendant of the giants whom Caleb drove out of Hebron (Joshua 11:21-22). Goliath was six cubits and a span in height, or about nine feet, six inches. He was attired in very formidable military apparel. A brass helmet protected his head, an armored coat covered his upper torso. This coat weighed five thousand brass shekels. His legs were protected from the sword’s edge by brass covering also. Goliath was well supplied also with weapons. The target between his shoulders was a spear. Its staff was as long as a weaver’s beam, and the head of it contained six hundred shekels of iron. In addition he also had a man to accompany him bearing a shield to help ward off the thrusts of sword and spear, or to turn aside arrows.

This huge man defied Israel to send out one to accept his challenge to fight one on one. He ridiculed Saul and his army as a dictatorial overlord and a bunch of groveling slaves. If one of them would come out to fight, Goliath said, the winner would be acclaimed as the winner for the whole army. If Goliath is overcome the Philistines would serve Israel, but if Goliath should kill the Israelite champion he agreed that the Israelites should be their servants. Goliath had an unfair advantage, from the fleshly standpoint, so that he should not be counted a great, brave champion. Rather it seems cowardly that such a monstrous man -should be willing to call it an even draw for an ordinary man. He should have been ready to fight two men!

Saul and the whole army of Israel were terribly afraid and filled with dismay. This condition results from failure to live in obedience to the Lord’s commands (see Joshua 1:8-9). To be dismayed is to be indecisive at a time when a decision is needed.

Verses 12-19

Jesse’s Sons, vs. 12-19

Heretofore David has been little known outside the circle of his family and those in the king’s employ. The Lord was moving David by stages into the eye of the nation, and now the time had come for him to gain notoriety. He is consequently re-introduced as the son of Jesse, an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah. Ephrath was the old name of Bethlehem, and citizens of the town were often called Ephrathites.

Jesse had eight sons. The three oldest, Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah, and David, the youngest, are named here. They were also introduced at the time of David’s anointing (1 Samuel 16:6 ff). Eliab is called Elihu (1 Chronicles 27:18), while Shammah is written Shimea (1 Chronicles 20:7), Shimeah (2 Samuel 13:3; 2 Samuel 13:32), Shimma (1 Chronicles 2:13). Jesse is said to have had eight sons, seven being named in 1 Chronicles 2:13-17, the eighth being unmentioned in the genealogy. Two daughters are also mentioned, who were perhaps half-sisters of David, their sons (Joab, Abishai, Amasa) being of the same age, or older, than David. The account says that Jesse went for an old man in those days, indicating that he was then of extreme age in contrast to those around him.

The three oldest sons of Jesse had joined the army of Saul and were a part of the stalemate in the valley of Elah caused by the fright­ening challenge of Goliath. David had at some time returned from the court of Saul and taken up his pursuit of a shepherd with Jesse’s sheep. David may have been permitted to return after Saul’s improvement consequent on David’s music-making, or he might have been sent home before the Philistine war due to his youth. Forty days passed while no Israelite was found willing to contend with the Philistine giant, and Jesse grew anxious for the welfare of his three older sons.

So Jesse determined to send David to inquire of the circum­stances, carry food supplies for the brothers and their captain, and to return with a pledge of their health. The parched corn was probably barley, the word "corn" here, as elsewhere in the King James Version of the Bible, meaning simply "grain." Ten loaves of bread were also sent them and ten cheeses for their captain of their thousand.

Verses 20-29

David Goes to the Camp, vs. 20-29

In this incident are revealed several commendable traits of character in David. First, he is prompt and obedient to his father; second, he is careful and concerned for his responsibilities in regard to the sheep; third, he is loyal and patriotic toward his nation; fourth, he is jealous and zealous for the cause of his God.

The trench was a defensive structure of the army against assault by the Philistines. This is where David found his brothers, and it was the occasion when the armies were assembling for battle. David shouted to encourage the Israelites against the enemy. In the meantime he left the carriage, by which he was conveying the presents of food, with a keeper. While thus employed the battle plans were disrupted by the renewed challenge of Goliath, repeating the same words he had used morning and evening for forty days. This time there was a new pair of ears to hear them, David’s, and the young man was appalled to see the Israelite soldiers running and cringing in fear of the great giant.

Someone stopped to explain to David the situation. He learned that the king had offered a handsome reward to anyone who would fight against Goliath and kill him. He would be enriched by the king, would be given the princess to wife, and would have his father’s house freed from the king’s taxes. David could hardly believe his ears and asked to have it explained to him again. It was astounding that none would stand out to fight this one who defied the very God of Israel. Perhaps Saul excused himself as the king and Abner because he was the captain of Israel’s army. But did brave Jonathan excuse himself because he was the crown prince? Why were all so abjectly frightened at this man?

Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard these words of rebuke from his young brother and bristled with anger. No doubt David’s words condemned Eliab, for he was a man of war, claiming the Lord as his God, but like all the rest unwilling to fight this one who ridiculed and mocked not just Israel, but the living God of Israel. He spoke contemptuously to David, in so doing dishonoring his father and falsely accusing David. He mocked the poverty of Jesse and mocked David’s motives. There is an ill-conceived resentment, perhaps, of David’s choice by Samuel to be the successor of Saul.

David answered with convicting questions. What have I done? Is there not a cause? To answer David’s questions truthfully the soldiers, the captains, the king, all would have to admit that David had convicted them of their weak faith in the Lord. And it would remind them that there is cause for such conviction, as well as a cause for which all God’s children should be ready to stand and fight.

Verses 30-39

A Match for Goliath, vs. 30-39

David looked around, speaking to others around him, to verify the words with which he replied to his brother. The people continued to emphasize the words of the king, and someone went off to tell the king that a champion for Israel had been found. Saul sent for David and had him appear before him. At what point he realized that it was his former court musician who was volunteering to fight Goliath is not apparent. David told the king no man’s heart should fail him for fear of the giant for he would go and fight with him.

Saul was not impressed with David’s ability to withstand the giant. David was only an untrained youth whereas Goliath was a mature warrior, trained in warfare from his youth. It was beyond reason that David could meet Goliath in hand to hand combat. However David had no qualms about defeating the enemy of the Lord and the Lord’s people.

He also claimed experience. In his keeping of Jesse’s sheep he had encountered lions and bears come to steal the sheep and had slain them. On one occasion the lion had roared against him seeking to attack David, but David had seized him by his beard and slain him.

David gave God the credit for delivering him out of the paw of the lion and the bear, and he believed the Lord would also deliver him out of the hand of the uncircumcised, pagan Philistine, Goliath. In fact, David had no doubt of the outcome, for the giant had defied the armies of the living God. At this Saul realized that it was only in the Lord that David could win, and that David had the faith in God to win, so he extended to him permission to go with the prayer that he would win.

Saul tried to prepare David as best he could for the encounter. He took off his own armor and put it on David, the whole panoply, brass helmet, coat of mail, and put upon him the king’s own sword. David could hardly move in it and immediately concluded that he could not fight the giant in this unproved armor. David would use the proven methods by which the Lord had given him previous victories over the lion and the bear.

Verses 40-54

David Slays Goliath, vs. 40-54

The saga of David’s battle with Goliath began with his emerging from the Israelite camp with his shepherd’s staff in his hand, pausing at the brook in the valley to choose five smooth stones, then heading for the huge giant he intended to fight. The scrip was a shepherd’s bag in which he carried his food or other things he would need in the field with his sheep.

Speculation about David’s taking five stones when one was sufficient has included the idea that the giant had huge relatives who might have to be vanquished also. More likely it was a mere common­sense precaution, for David did not know how many stones it might take to fell his adversary, though he fully expected to kill him.

The Philistine saw the approach of David and came to meet him along with his shield-bearer. When he had carefully observed David the giant was humiliated. The Israelites had sent a mere boy to fight a great warrior like him. The "fair countenance" of David suggests that he was not yet old enough to have a beard. Also when Goliath looked him over he could see nothing resembling a weapon beyond the shepherd’s stick. He sneered at David, asking if he was a dog to be beaten with sticks.

David answered the Philistine giant with a very significant retort. He had been cursed by Goliath in the name of his pagan gods and threatened with being made carrion for the wild birds and beasts. David noted that the giant came relying on formidable weapons like sword, spear, and shield. But David had a secret weapon which Goliath could not yet appreciate. He came in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel’s armies.

David assured Goliath that the Lord would that very day give the giant into his hand, and he would smite him and cut off his head, though he had no sword. He would then proceed to give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the fowls of the air and the wild beasts.

The godly intent of David in victory over Goliath could not but succeed, and that he stated to the giant. Generally it was that all the earth should know that there is a God in Israel. Then the assembly there gathered, both Philistine and Israelite, would understand that the Lord does not save by men’s weapons, as swords and spears.

For it was not the battle of Israel, but the Lord’s own battle against evil and defiant men who would subjugate His people, and He would fight it successfully.

The Philistine giant then began to move in to kill David. If he expected David to cringe or turn tail and run he was greatly surprised at what happened. For David began to run to meet Goliath, putting his hand into the bag and bringing out one of his stones, and placing it in his sling. Running toward his victim would increase the force of the slung stone, and when David released it, it went straight to its mark and imbedded itself in Goliath’s forehead.

The giant pitched forward on his face, a dying man, but David speedily finished his execution. He stood upon the huge body and drew the giant’s sword out of its sheath, with which he cut off the great head.

When the young shepherd held high the bloody head of the Philistines’ champion they were filled with panic, turned and fled toward their lowland cities. The men of Israel were encouraged and embold­ened. They raised a great shout and gave pursuit to the Philistines. Many Philistine men were stricken down on the road to Shaaraim, just past Azekah, on the road northwest to the city of Ekron. Some of them fled southwest toward their city of Gath, and the Israelites chased them to the gates of these cities.

Much spoil was taken from their tents. David displayed the head of Goliath in the Jebusite city of Jerusalem in the tribal allotment of Benjamin. The pagan inhabitants of that city would, in after years, have great cause to remember the exploit of this young man from nearby Bethlehem, for he will conquer their city at last (2 Samuel 5:6-10). The armor of Goliath David claimed as his prize of war, keeping it in his tent.

Verses 55-58

Saul’s Suspicions, vs. 55-58

There is an apparent difficulty here in that it seems Saul did not know David, although he had been his court musician and even served for a time as his armor-bearer (1 Samuel 16:21). Furthermore it is found even in chapter 17 (v. 15) that David had returned home from Saul’s court before the Philistine conflict had been resumed. It would further seem that Abner should have remembered David as Saul’s musician, since he was a part of the king’s council.

The suggestion that Saul’s demented condition made him forget about David seems hardly worthy of note and comment. Saul was certainly not that devoid of mind, since he was still leading his army. It would seem that the question must be associated with Saul’s anxiety over the pronouncement of Samuel that he would lose the kingdom. He was doubtless on the lookout for any possible contender for his throne. Though his suspicions may not yet have been fully aroused they were certainly so aroused very shortly thereafter (1 Samuel 18:6-9).

So the inquiry into the identity of this instant hero was for the purpose of learning his standing in Israel, whether he might be considered a potential king. Learning that his father was Jesse who was only a poor shepherd of Bethlehem, may have alleviated his fears briefly.

Many lessons could be, and have been, garnered from this popular chapter of the Bible. Some worth repeating are 1) the devil stands as a challenge against the Lord’s people today; 2) it ill becomes all of God’s people who will not oppose Satan; 3) one can always be found with courage and faith to withstand Satan, knowing the victory is sure; 4) there is a cause for Christians to speak out, and it should never be neglected; 5) the enemy can be overcome by use of the tried and true weapons of God’s Word; 6) the battle is the Lord’s, and He will deliver Satan into the hand of His children; 7) the Lord takes the obscure and makes them worthy in His service.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/1-samuel-17.html. 1985.
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