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A war between the Philistines and the Israelites furnished David with the opportunity of displaying before Saul and all Israel, and greatly to the terror of the enemies of his people, that heroic power which was firmly based upon his bold and pious trust in the omnipotence of the faithful covenant God (1 Samuel 17:1-3). A powerful giant, named Goliath, came forward from the ranks of the Philistines, and scornfully challenged the Israelites to produce a man who would decide the war by a single combat with him (1 Samuel 17:4-11). David, who had returned home for a time from the court of Saul, and had just been sent into the camp by his father with provisions for his elder brothers who were serving in the army, as soon as he heard the challenge and the scornful words of the Philistine, offered to fight with him (vv. 15-37), and killed the giant with a stone from a sling; whereupon the Philistines took to flight, and were pursued by the Israelites to Gath and Ekron (vv. 38-54).
1 Samuel 17:1-11
Some time after David first came to Saul for the purpose of playing, and when he had gone back to his father to Bethlehem, probably because Saul's condition had improved, the Philistines made a fresh attempt to subjugate the Israelites. They collected their army together ( machaneh , as in Exodus 14:24; Judges 4:16) to war at Shochoh, the present Shuweikeh, in the Wady Sumt, three hours and a half to the south-west of Jerusalem, in the hilly region between the mountains of Judah and the plain of Philistia (see at Joshua 15:35), and encamped between Shochoh and Azekah, at Ephes-dammim, which has been preserved in the ruins of Damûm, about an hour and a half east by north of Shuweikeh; so that Azekah, which has not yet been certainly traced, must be sought for to the east or north-east of Damûm (see at Joshua 10:10).
1 Samuel 17:2-3
Saul and the Israelites encamped opposite to them in the terebinth valley ( Emek ha-Elah), i.e., a plain by the Wady Musur, and stood in battle array opposite to the Philistines, in such order that the latter stood on that side against the mountain (on the slope of the mountain), and the Israelites on this side against the mountain; and the valley ( הגּיא , the deeper cutting made by the brook in the plain) was between them.
1 Samuel 17:4-5
And the (well-known) champion came out of the camps of the Philistines ( הבּנים אישׁ , the middle-man, who decides a war between two armies by a single combat; Luther, “ the giant,” according to the ἀνὴρ δυνατὸς of the lxx, although in 1 Samuel 17:23 the Septuagint translators have rendered the word correctly ἀνὴρ ὁ ἀμεσσαῖος , which is probably only another form of ὁ μεσαῖος ), named Goliath of Gath, one of the chief cities of the Philistines, where there were Anakim still left, according to Joshua 11:22. His height was six cubits and a span (6 1/4 cubits), i.e., according to the calculation made by Thenius, about nine feet two inches Parisian measure, - a great height no doubt, though not altogether unparalleled, and hardly greater than that of the great uncle of Iren, who came to Berlin in the year 1857 (see Pentateuch, p. 869, note).
And “ greaves of brass upon his feet, and a brazen lance (hung) between his shoulders,” i.e., upon his back. כּידון signifies a lance, or small spear. The lxx and Vulgate, however, adopt the rendering ἀσπὶς χαλκῆ , clypeus aeneus; and Luther has followed them, and translates it a brazen shield. Thenius therefore proposes to alter כּידון into מגן , because the expression “between his shoulders” does not appear applicable to a spear or javelin, which Goliath must have suspended by a strap, but only to a small shield slung over his back, whilst his armour-bearer carried the larger צנּה in front of him. But the difficulty founded upon the expression “ between his shoulders ” has been fully met by Bochart ( Hieroz. i. 2, c. 8), in the examples which he cites from Homer, Virgil, etc., to prove that the ancients carried their own swords slung over their shoulders ( ἀμφὶ δ ̓ ὤμοισιν : Il. ii. 45, etc.). And Josephus understood the expression in this way ( Ant. vi. 9, 1). Goliath had no need of any shield to cover his back, as this was sufficiently protected by the coat of mail. Moreover, the allusion to the כּידון in 1 Samuel 17:45 points to an offensive weapon, and not to a shield.
1 Samuel 17:7
“ And the shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and the point of it six hundred shekels of iron ” (about seventeen pounds). For חץ , according to the Keri and the parallel passages, 2 Samuel 21:19; 1 Chronicles 20:5, we should read עץ , wood, i.e., shaft. Before him went the bearer of the zinnah, i.e., the great shield.
1 Samuel 17:8
This giant stood and cried to the ranks of the Israelites, “ Why come ye out to place yourselves in battle array? Am I not the Philistine, and ye the servants of Saul? Choose ye out a man who may come down to me ” (into the valley where Goliath was standing). The meaning is: “Why would you engage in battle with us? I am the man who represents the strength of the Philistines, and ye are only servants of Saul. If ye have heroes, choose one out, that we may decide the matter in a single combat.”
1 Samuel 17:9-10
“ If he can fight with me, and kill me, we will be your servants; if I overcome him, and slay him, ye shall be our servants, and serve us.” He then said still further (1 Samuel 17:10) , “I have mocked the ranks of Israel this day (the mockery consisted in his designating the Israelites as servants of Saul, and generally in the triumphant tone in which he issued the challenge to single combat); give me a man, that we may fight together! ”
1 Samuel 17:11
At these words Saul and all Israel were dismayed and greatly afraid, because not one of them dared to accept the challenge to fight with such a giant.
1 Samuel 17: 12-31
David's arrival in the camp, and wish to fight with Goliath. - David had been dismissed by Saul at that time, and having returned home, he was feeding his father's sheep once more (1 Samuel 17:12-15). Now, when the Israelites were standing opposite to the Philistines, and Goliath was repeating his challenge every day, David was sent by his father into the camp to bring provisions to his three eldest brothers, who were serving in Saul's army, and to inquire as to their welfare (1 Samuel 17:16-19). He arrived when the Israelites had placed themselves in battle array; and running to his brethren in the ranks, he saw Goliath come out from the ranks of the Philistines, and heard his words, and also learned from the mouth of an Israelite what reward Saul would give to any one who would defeat this Philistine (1 Samuel 17:20-25). He then inquired more minutely into the matter; and having thereby betrayed his own intention of trying to fight with him (1 Samuel 17:26, 1 Samuel 17:27), he was sharply reproved by his eldest brother in consequence (1 Samuel 17:28, 1 Samuel 17:29). He did not allow this to deter him, however, but turned to another with the same question, and received a similar reply (1 Samuel 17:30); whereupon his words were told to the king, who ordered David to come before him (1 Samuel 17:31).
This is, in a condensed form, the substance of the section, which introduces the conquest of Goliath by David in the character of an episode. This first heroic deed was of the greatest importance to David and all Israel, for it was David's first step on the way to the throne, to which Jehovah had resolved to raise him. This explains the fulness and circumstantiality of the narrative, in which the intention is very apparent to set forth most distinctly the marvellous overruling of all the circumstances by God himself. And this circumstantiality of the account is closely connected with the form of the narrative, which abounds in repetitions, that appear to us tautological in many instances, but which belong to the characteristic peculiarities of the early Hebrew style of historical composition.
“ But David was going and returning away from Saul:” i.e., he went backwards and forwards from Saul to feed his father's sheep in Bethlehem; so that he was not in the permanent service of Saul, but at that very time was with his father. The latter is to be supplied from the context.
1 Samuel 17:16-17
The Philistine drew near (to the Israelitish ranks) morning and evening, and stationed himself for forty days (in front of them). This remark continues the description of Goliath's appearance, and introduces the account which follows. Whilst the Philistine was coming out every day for forty days long with his challenge to single combat, Jesse sent his son David into the camp. “ Take now for thy brethren this ephah of parched grains (see Leviticus 23:13), and these ten loaves, and bring them quickly into the camp to thy brethren.”
1 Samuel 17:18
“ And these ten slices of soft cheese (so the ancient versions render it) bring to the chief captain over thousand, and visit thy brethren to inquire after their welfare, and bring with you a pledge from them ” - a pledge that they are alive and well. This seems the simplest explanation of the word ערבּתם , of which very different renderings were given by the early translators.
1 Samuel 17:19
“ But Saul and they (the brothers), and the whole of the men of Israel, are in the terebinth valley,” etc. This statement forms part of Jesse's words.
1 Samuel 17:20-21
In pursuance of this commission, David went in the morning to the waggon-rampart, when the army, which was going out (of the camp) into battle array, raised the war-cry, and Israel and the Philistines placed themselves battle-array against battle-array. וגו והחיל is a circumstantial clause, and the predicate is introduced with והרעוּ , as וגו והחיל is placed at the head absolutely: “ and as for the army which, etc., it raised a shout.” בּמּלחמה הרע , lit. to make a noise in war, i.e., to raise a war-cry.
1 Samuel 17:22
David left the vessels with the provisions in the charge of the keeper of the vessels, and ran into the ranks to inquire as to the health of his brethren.
1 Samuel 17:23
Whilst he was talking with them, the champion (middle-man) Goliath drew near, and spoke according to those words (the words contained in 1 Samuel 17:8.), and David heard it. פל ממּערות is probably an error for פל ממּערכות ( Keri, lxx, Vulg.; cf. 1 Samuel 17:26). If the Chethibh were the proper reading, it would suggest an Arabic word signifying a crowd of men (Dietrich on Ges. Lex.).
1 Samuel 17:24-25
All the Israelites fled from Goliath, and were so afraid. They said ( ישׂראל אישׁ is a collective noun), “ Have ye seen this man who is coming? ( הרּאיתם , with Dagesh dirim as in 1 Samuel 10:24. Surely to defy Israel is he coming; and whoever shall slay him, the king will enrich him with great wealth, and give him his daughter, and make his father's house (i.e., his family) free in Israel,” viz., from taxes and public burdens. There is nothing said afterwards about the fulfilment of these promises. But it by no means follows from this, that the statement is to be regarded as nothing more than an exaggeration, that had grown up among the people, of what Saul had really said. There is al| the less probability in this, from the fact that, according to 1 Samuel 17:27, the people assured him again of the same thing. In all probability Saul had actually made some such promises as these, but did not feel himself bound to fulfil them afterwards, because he had not made them expressly to David himself.
1 Samuel 17:26-27
When David heard these words, he made more minute inquiries from the bystanders about the whole matter, and dropped some words which gave rise to the supposition that he wanted to go and fight with this Philistine himself. This is implied in the words, “ For who is the Philistine, this uncircumcised one (i.e., standing as he does outside the covenant with Jehovah), that he insults the ranks of the living God! ” whom he has defied in His army. “He must know,” says the Berleburger Bible, “that he has not to do with men, but with God. With a living God he will have to do, and not with an idol.”
1 Samuel 17:28
David's eldest brother was greatly enraged at his talking thus with the men, and reproved David: “ Why hast thou come down (from Bethlehem, which stood upon high ground, to the scene of the war), and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the desert? ” “ Those few sheep,” the loss of only one of which would be a very great loss to our family. “ I know thy presumption, and the wickedness of thy heart; for thou hast come down to look at the war;” i.e., thou art not contented with thy lowly calling, but aspirest to lofty things; it gives thee pleasure to look upon bloodshed. Eliab sought for the splinter in his brother's eye, and was not aware of the beam in his own. The very things with which he charged his brother - presumption and wickedness of heart - were most apparent in his scornful reproof.
1 Samuel 17:29-30
David answered very modestly, and so as to put the scorn of his reprover to shame: “ What have I done, then? It was only a word ” - a very allowable inquiry certainly. He then turned from him (Eliab) to another who was standing by; and having repeated his previous words, he received the same answer from the people.
1 Samuel 17:31
David's words were told to Saul, who had him sent for immediately.
1 Samuel 17:32-40
David's resolution to fight with Goliath; and his equipment for the conflict. - 1 Samuel 17:32. When in the presence of Saul, David said, “ Let no man's heart (i.e., courage) fail on his account (on account of the Philistine, about whom they had been speaking): thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”
1 Samuel 17:33-35
To Saul's objection that he, a mere youth, could not fight with this Philistine, a man of war from his youth up, David replied, that as a shepherd he had taken a sheep out of the jaws of a lion and a bear, and had also slain them both. The article before ארי and דּוב points out these animals as the well-known beasts of prey. By the expression ואת־הדּוב the bear is subordinated to the lion, or rather placed afterwards, as something which came in addition to it; so that את is to be taken as a nota accus. (vid., Ewald, §277, a), though it is not to be understood as implying that the lion and the bear went together in search of prey. The subordination or addition is merely a logical one: not only the lion, but also the bear, which seized the sheep, did David slay. זה , which we find in most of the editions since the time of Jac. Chayim, 1525, is an error in writing, or more correctly in hearing, for שׂה , a sheep. “ And I went out after it; and when it rose up against me, I seized it by its beard, and smote it, and killed it.” זקן , beard and chin, signifies the bearded chin. Thenius proposes, though without any necessity, to alter בּזקנו into בּגרונו , for the simple but weak reason, that neither lions nor bears have any actual beard. We have only to think, for example, of the λῖς ἠυγένειος in Homer ( Il. xv. 275, xvii. 109), or the barbam vellere mortuo leoni of Martial (x. 9). Even in modern times we read of lions having been killed by Arabs with a stick (see Rosenmüller, Bibl. Althk. iv. 2, pp. 132-3). The constant use of the singular suffix is sufficient to show, that when David speaks of the lion and the bear, he connects together two different events, which took place at different times, and then proceeds to state how he smote both the one and the other of the two beasts of prey.
1 Samuel 17:36-38
“ Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear; and the Philistine, this uncircumcised one, shall become like one of them (i.e., the same thing shall happen to him as to the lion and the bear), because he has defied the ranks of the living God.” “And,” he continued (1 Samuel 17:37), “the Lord who delivered me out of the hand (the power) of the lion and the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” David's courage rested, therefore, upon his confident belief that the living God would not let His people be defied by the heathen with impunity. Saul then desired for him the help of the Lord in carrying out his resolution, and bade him put on his own armour-clothes, and bird on his armour. מדּיו (his clothes) signifies probably a peculiar kind of clothes which were worn under the armour, a kind of armour-coat to which the sword was fastened.
1 Samuel 17:39-40
When he was thus equipped with brazen helmet, coat of mail, and sword, David began to walk, but soon found that he could do nothing with these. He therefore said to Saul, “ I cannot go in these things, for I have not tried them;” and having taken them off, he took his shepherd's staff in his hand, sought out five smooth stones from the brook-valley, and put them in the shepherd's thing that he had, namely his shepherd's bag. He then took the sling in his hand, and went up to the Philistine. In the exercise of his shepherd's calling he may have become so skilled in the use of the sling, that, like the Benjaminites mentioned in Judges 20:16, he could sling at a hair's-breadth, and not miss.
1 Samuel 17:41-54
David and Goliath: fall of Goliath, and flight of the Philistines. - 1 Samuel 17:41. The Philistine came closer and closer to David.
1 Samuel 17:42-44
When he saw David, “ he looked at him, and despised him,” i.e., he looked at him contemptuously, because he was a youth (as in 1 Samuel 16:12); “ and then said to him, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with sticks? ” (the plural מקלות is used in contemptuous exaggeration of the armour of David, which appeared so thoroughly unfit for the occasion); “ and cursed David by his God (i.e., making use of the name of Jehovah in his cursing, and thus defying not David only, but the God of Israel also), and finished with the challenge, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh to the birds of heaven and the beasts of the field ” (to eat). It was with such threats as these that Homer's heroes used to defy one another (vid., Hector's threat, for example, in Il. xiii. 831-2).
1 Samuel 17:45-47
David answered this defiance with bold, believing courage: “ Thou comest to me with sword, and javelin, and lance; but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Saboath, the God of the ranks of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will Jehovah deliver thee into my hand; and I shall smite thee, and cut off thine head, and give the corpse of the army of the Philistines to the birds this day ... And all the world shall learn that Israel hath a God; and this whole assembly shall discover that Jehovah bringeth deliverance (victory) not by sword and spear: for war belongeth to Jehovah, and He will give you into our hand.” Whilst Goliath boasted of his strength, David founded his own assurance of victory upon the Almighty God of Israel, whom the Philistine had defied. פּגר is to be taken collectively. לישׂראל אלהים ישׁ does not mean “God is for Israel,” but “Israel hath a God,” so that Elohim is of course used here in a pregnant sense. This God is Jehovah; war is his, i.e., He is the Lord of war, who has both war and its results in His power.
1 Samuel 17:48-49
When the Philistines rose up, drawing near towards David ( קם and ילך simply serve to set forth the occurrence in a more pictorial manner), David hastened and ran to the battle array to meet him, took a stone out of his pocket, hurled it, and hit the Philistine on his temples, so that the stone entered them, and Goliath fell upon his face to the ground.
1 Samuel 17:50-51
1 Samuel 17:50 contains a remark by the historian with reference to the result of the conflict: “ Thus was David stronger than the Philistine, with a sling and stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him without a sword in his hand.” And then in 1 Samuel 17:51 the details are given, namely, that David cut off the head of the fallen giant with his own sword. Upon the downfall of their hero the Philistines were terrified and fled; whereupon the Israelites rose up with a cry to pursue the flying foe, and pursued them “ to a valley, and to the gates of Ekron.” The first place mentioned is a very striking one. The “ valley ” cannot mean the one which divided the two armies, according to 1 Samuel 17:3, not only because the article is wanting, but still more from the facts themselves. For it is neither stated, nor really probable, that the Philistines had crossed that valley, so as to make it possible to pursue them into it again. But if the word refers to some other valley, it seems very strange that nothing further should be said about it. Both these circumstances render the reading itself, ניא , suspicious, and give great probability to the conjecture that ניא is only a copyist's error for Gath, which is the rendering given by the lxx, especially when taken in connection with the following clause, “ to Gath and to Ekron ” (1 Samuel 17:52).
1 Samuel 17:52
“ And wounded of the Philistines fell on the way to Shaaraim, and to Gath and to Ekron.” Shaaraim is the town of Saarayim, in the lowland of Judah, and has probably been preserved in the Tell Kefr Zakariya (see at Joshua 15:36). On Gath and Ekron, see at Joshua 13:3.
1 Samuel 17:53
After returning from the pursuit of the flying foe, the Israelites plundered the camp of the Philistines. אהרי דּלק , to pursue hotly, as in Genesis 31:36.
1 Samuel 17:54
But David took the head of Goliath and brought it to Jerusalem, and put his armour in his tent. אהל is an antiquated term for a dwelling-place, as in 1 Samuel 4:10; 1 Samuel 13:2, etc. The reference is to David's house at Bethlehem, to which he returned with the booty after the defeat of Goliath, and that by the road which ran past Jerusalem, where he left the head of Goliath. There is no anachronism in these statements; for the assertion made by some, that Jerusalem was not yet in the possession of the Israelites, rests upon a confusion between the citadel of Jebus upon Zion, which was still in the hands of the Jebusites, and the city of Jerusalem, in which Israelites had dwelt for a long time (see at Joshua 15:63, and Judges 1:8). Nor is there any contradiction between this statement and 1 Samuel 21:9, where Goliath's sword is said to have been preserved in the tabernacle at Nob: for it is not affirmed that David kept Goliath's armour in his own home, but only that he took it thither; and the supposition that Goliath's sword was afterwards deposited by him in the sanctuary in honour of the Lord, is easily reconcilable with this. Again, the statement in 1 Samuel 18:2, to the effect that, after David's victory over Goliath, Saul did not allow him to return to his father's house any more, is by no means at variance with this explanation of the verse before us. For the statement in question must be understood in accordance with 1 Samuel 17:15, viz., as signifying that from that time forward Saul did not allow David to return to his father's house to keep the sheep as he had done before, and by no means precludes his paying brief visits to Bethlehem.
Jonathan's friendship. - 1 Samuel 17:55-58. The account of the relation into which David was brought to Saul through the defeat of Goliath is introduced by a supplementary remark, in 1 Samuel 17:55, 1 Samuel 17:56, as to a conversation which took place between Saul and his commander-in-chief Abner concerning David, whilst he was fighting with the giant. So far, therefore, as the actual meaning is concerned, the verbs in 1 Samuel 17:55 and 1 Samuel 17:56 should be rendered as pluperfects. When Saul saw the youth walk boldly up to meet the Philistine, he asked Abner whose son he was; whereupon Abner assured him with an oath that he did not know. In our remarks concerning the integrity of this section we have already observed, with regard to the meaning of the question put by Saul, that it does not presuppose an actual want of acquaintance with the person of David and the name of his father, but only ignorance of the social condition of David's family, with which both Abner and Saul may hitherto have failed to make themselves more fully acquainted.
(Note: The common solutions of this apparent discrepancy, such as that Saul pretended not to know David, or that his question is to be explained on the supposition that his disease affected his memory, have but little probability in them, although Karkar still adheres to them.)
When David returned “ from the slaughter of the Philistine,” i.e., after the defeat of Goliath, and when Abner, who probably went as commander to meet the brave hero and congratulate him upon his victory, had brought him to Saul, the king addressed the same question to David, who immediately gave him the information he desired. For it is evident that David said more than is here communicated, viz., “ the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite,” as we have already observed, from the words of 1 Samuel 18:1, which presuppose a protracted conversation between Saul and David. The only reason, in all probability, why this conversation has not been recorded, is that it was not followed by any lasting results either for Jesse or David.
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany