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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

1 Samuel 17

Verses 1-11


1 Samuel 17:1. “The Philistines gathered together their armies.” Jamieson considers that this was twenty-seven years after their overthrow at Michmash. “Shochoh,” now Shuweikek, a village in the hilly region between the mountains of Judah and the plain of Philistia, about eleven miles south-west of Jerusalem and of Bethlehem. “Azekah.” Not certainly identified, but probably the same as Zakariyeh, another site of ancient ruins, about two miles distant, on the same side of the valley. “Ephes-dammim,” now Damúm, four miles north-east of Shuweikek.

1 Samuel 17:2. “Valley of Elah,” or the Terebiuth Valley. “A long, broad, depressed plain, lying between two parallel ranges of hills. The terebiuth, the shittimwood (the butin of the Arabs): probably some remarkable tree of this species which grew there. It is now Wady-es-Sumt, valley of the acacia tree, with which at present it abounds. This valley, formed by the junction of three lateral ones—viz., Wady-el-Musùrr from the east, Wady-es-Sûr from the south, and another, name unknown, from the north—opens into the great Wady-Sŭrâr, anciently the Valley of Sorek. It is a fertile plain flanked on the north and south by lowly hills, and abounding with grain produce, except in the spots covered by acacia thickets and olive plantations. Robinson states that the largest terebiuth he saw in all the country was in Wady-es-Súr, a little above the spot where it emerges into Wady-es-Sûmt.” (Jamieson.)

1 Samuel 17:4. “Champion.” Literally, the man in the midst, the middleman—one who advances between two armies to decide the battle by single combat. Wordsworth renders it “the mediator.” “Six cubits and a span.” The cubit is variously computed at eighteen or twenty-one inches. The height of Goliath cannot therefore be certainly estimated, but must have been from nine to ten-and-a-half feet. “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. According to Pliny, the giant Pusia and the giant Secundilla, who lived in the time of Augustus, were ten feet three inches (Roman) in height; and a Jew is mentioned by Josephus who was seven cubits in height, i.e., ten Parisian feet, or if the cubits are Roman, nine-and-a-half.” (Kiel.)

1 Samuel 17:5. “Coat of mail.” Literally, a scale-corslet. A corslet made of metal plates overlapping each other like the scale of a fish. “Five thousand shekels.” The copper shekel is estimated to have weighed about an ounce. “According to Thenius, the cuirass of Augustus the Strong, which has been preserved in the historical museum at Dresden, weighed fifty-five pounds.” (Kiel.)

1 Samuel 17:6. “Greaves.” “Boots for the defence of the leg, rising to nearly the knee, and without feet, terminating at the ankle; made of bull’s hide, leather, wood, or in one plate of metal, but rounded to the shape of the leg, and often lined with felt or sponge. Some of the ancient greaves, however, did not come so far up as the knee.” (Jamieson.) “Target.” Rather a lance or short spear. “Thenius proposes to alter the expression ‘between his shoulders,’ because it 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 … But the difficulty founded upon the expression has been fully met by Bochart, in the examples which he cites from Homer, Virgil, etc., to prove that the ancients carried their own swords slung over their shoulders. And Josephus understood the expression in this way. Goliath had no need of any shield to cover his back, as this was sufficiently protected by his coat of mail. Moreover, the allusion to the same piece of armour in 1 Samuel 17:45 evidently points to an offensive weapon, and not to a shield.” (Kiel.)

1 Samuel 17:7. “Weaver’s beam.” “Rather under five feet long.” (Jamieson.) “One bearing a shield.” Rather, the shield. “In consequence of their great size and weight, the Oriental warrior had a trusty and skilful friend, whose office it was to bear the large shield.” (Jamieson.)

1 Samuel 17:8. “Am I not a Philistine?” Rather, the Philistine. “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.” (Keil.)

1 Samuel 17:10. “I defy;” or, “I have mocked.” (Keil.) “Goliath’s scorn and contempt of Israel lay not merely in the reproach that they were Saul’s slaves, and in the tone of his words, but in the challenge itself, because it was not answered.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 17:34. “A lion and a bear.” “At present lions do not exist in Palestine, although they must in ancient times have been numerous. The lion of Palestine was in all probability the Asiatic variety described by Aristotle and Pliny, as distinguished by its short, curly mane. It was less daring than the longer-maned species, but when driven by hunger it not only ventured to attack the flocks in the desert in the presence of the shepherd (Isaiah 31:4), but laid waste towns and villages (2 Kings 17:25-12.17.26). The shepherds sometimes ventured to encounter the lion single-handed, and the vivid figure employed by Amos (1 Samuel 3:12), the herdsman of Tekoa, was but the transcript of a scene which he must have often witnessed. The variety of the Asiatic bear which inhabits the Himalayas is especially ferocious, and it is probable that the same species among the mountains of Armenia is the animal of Scripture.” (Biblical Dictionary.)

1 Samuel 17:36. “Thy servant slew,” etc. “These useful feats of David seem to have been performed with no weapon more effective than the rude staves usually carried in the hand of an Eastern shepherd, particularly the iron-headed club (Psalms 23:4). ‘I have known,’ says Dr. Wilson (Lands of the Bible) ‘a shepherd in India encounter with it a tiger which he found mangling one of his goats. It is much in use among the Fellahin of Wady Mûsa, and the Arabs in general.’ ” (Jamieson.)

1 Samuel 17:38. “Saul armed David,” etc. David must therefore have been near the stature of Saul, or he could not have worn his armour; it might, however, have been a loose corslet, or capable of a change by tightening.

1 Samuel 17:40. “His sling.” “The sling consisted of a double rope, with a thong, probably of leather, to receive the stone. The slinger held a second stone in his left hand. Shepherds in the East carry a sling and stones still for the purpose both of driving away and killing the enemies of the flock. It was and is a favourite weapon in Syria and Arabia.” (Jamieson.) Some of the Fathers of the Church, and a few modern commentators, see in this encounter of David and Goliath a type of our Lord’s encounter with Satan. Wordsworth says, “So our David, the Good Shepherd, went forth to meet the enemy, not with sword or spear but with a pastoral staff, nor did He put forth His Divine power by any miraculous exercise of it against the tempter.… He chose five stones out of the brook; He took the five books of Moses out of the flowing streams of Judaism,” etc., etc.

1 Samuel 17:43. “Am I a dog,” etc. “The staff was ordinarily employed not against men but beasts.… Similar are the scornful defiances which warriors of antiquity mutually gave at the beginning of a combat.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 17:45. “The Lord of Hosts,” etc. Jehovah Sabaoth (see on 1 Samuel 1:3). “The name of the Lord is for David the totality of all the revelations by which the living God has made Himself known and named among His people. Of these elements, which form the conception of the name of God, he here—suitably to the situation—adduces those which characterise Him in respect to His warlike and ruling power as captain and conqueror of His people.” (Psalms 24:10.) (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 17:49. “The stone sunk.” Wordsworth thinks that here a supernatural power was put forth.

1 Samuel 17:52. “The valley,” etc. As no name is given to this valley, and as the Hebrew word for Gath is very similar, both Keil and Erdmann think that Gath ought to stand here, as in the following verse. “This direction of the flight resulted from the nature of the country. The Wady Sumt, where the conflict took place, passes northward from Socoh, turns after two or three miles westward by the villiage Sakarieh, emptying into the Wady Simchim. About a mile from this is the village of Aijur, which is held to he ancient Gath, and so the Philistines fled through that valley that Robinson also traversed when he journeyed from Jerusalem to Gath. Another portion of the Philistines remained in Wady Sumt and fled northward, where the Wady Sumt takes the name of Wady Surar, in which lies the present city Akir.” (Stähelin). (Travellers are not quite agreed as to the site of Gath).

1 Samuel 17:54. “And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem,” etc. “The word translated tent is an antiquated term for dwelling place. The reference is to David’s house at Bethlehem, to which he returned with his booty after the defeat 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 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 kept 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.… 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 as signifying that from that time forward Saul did not allow David to return to his father’s house as he had done before.” (Keil).

1 Samuel 17:55. “Whose son is this youth?” etc. Some critics regard these last four verses as an interpolation, as well as the paragraph between 1 Samuel 17:12-9.17.31. Their opinion is founded upon apparent in discrepancies in the narrative, most of which have been met in the comments. Keil and other commentators see no reason for doubting their genuineness. The following are their solutions of the apparent contradiction in this question of Saul, to the statement in 1 Samuel 16:21-9.16.23. “It is only necessary to admit that David’s absence at home had been long (and there is no exact chronological datum); that Saul had rarely seen him except in moments of madness; that Abner had been absent from court when David was there; and that the personal appearance of the latter had changed (suppositions which, taken singly or together, are not improbable), and Saul’s ignorance becomes natural.” (Translator of Lange’s Commentary.) Wordsworth likewise suggests that David now appeared, not as before in the costume of a courtier or warrior, but in the homely dress of a shepherd, and that Saul’s question does not necessarily imply ignorance of David, as he asks not his name, but the name of his father. “He had promised that whosoever killed the Philistine should have his own daughter in marriage, and he naturally wished to know the parentage of his future son-in-law.” Dr. Jamieson adds to these the suggestion that “the rumour of Samuel’s commission to anoint another king, and his journey to Bethlehem for that object, together with the fact that David had come from that village, and the suspicion, after the conquest of Goliath, which procured him so much glory throughout the nation, that David was destined for the throne, might have so excited his jealousy that he dissembled, and, pretending not to know him, kept his vigilant eye upon him with a view to accomplish the destruction of this young and formidable rival.”

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 17:1-9.17.11; 1 Samuel 17:30-9.17.58


This narrative furnishes us—

I. With examples of faith in the seen and temporal. Such was the faith—

1. Of Goliath. The tendency of all men is to put confidence in that which they can apprehend with their senses—that which appeals to their outward man. Physical strength—material greatness of any kind—anything that belongs to the seen and temporal—are the objects of their trust. In their opinion the race is always to the physically swift and the battle to the strong; they believe with the first Napoleon that “Providence is always on the side of great battalions,” and in their estimate of things the unseen God goes for nothing because He is unseen. The faith of the Philistine was not in any unseen power—not even in the false gods of his own nation—but in his own arm of flesh—in his own extraordinary size and bodily strength. In this he is but a type of the great majority of men in all ages and in all nations—not only those who possess no written revelation of the unseen God, but of the far greater proportion of those who profess to believe in His existence.

2. Of Saul. Even Saul was dismayed when he heard the words of the Philistine (1 Samuel 17:11), even he sought to restrain the shepherd youth from going forth to meet the man of war, although he knew that the latter was an “uncircumcised Philistine,” and that David’s confidence was in the living God. One of the first duties of a man in Saul’s position is to acquaint himself with the history of the nation whom he rules, and lay to heart the lessons to be gained from it. And it could not be that he was ignorant of the great heroes of Israel who had gone before him—of Abraham, who with God for his shield had been able with three hundred men to put to flight the armies of the aliens—of Moses, who forsook Egypt and led Israel through the Red Sea because “he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible”—of Gideon, of Barak, of Samson, and of Jephthah, who “through faith subdued kingdoms and obtained promises” (Hebrews 11:32-58.11.33). How much was there in God’s dealings with his forefathers to inspire him with hope and confidence in the unseen Jehovah, and to remind him that two are enough for any conflict if one is the Living God. If Saul had been in any degree worthy of his title and his position he would have been the first to accept the challenge of the heathen, and would have rejoiced in the opportunity of adding his own name to the long roll of Hebrew heroes who had proved over and over again how much more there is on the side of him who trusts in the Unseen and Eternal than on the side of those whose confidence is in the seen and temporal. But instead of this he furnishes an example of cowardice which had its root in the unbelief which had been the curse of almost all his kingly life, and which had brought upon him his present misery. There had been a short bright spot in his career when he, too, had been conscious that it was the “Lord who wrought salvation in Israel,” and when he had fought and conquered in that assurance (1 Samuel 11:11-9.11.13). But the clouds of unbelief had long since obscured his vision of the unseen and the real, and made him a slave to the seen and the seeming. We cannot wonder that the armies of Israel manifested the same disposition. When the head is diseased the body will be affected also, when the well is poisoned the streams will be impure, and when the head of a community has no faith in God the moral disease is likely to run through all ranks and conditions of men beneath him. Seeing that unbelief in the unseen made Saul a coward, it is not surprising to find his army manifesting the same craven fear of the giant of Gath. We have—

II. An example of faith in the unseen and eternal.

1. This faith was founded upon an experience of Divine help in past dangers. If a man has been in great peril of mind, body, or estate, and has in the day of his extremity been delivered by a friendly and powerful arm, he carries about with him ever after a consciousness of that deliverance and a faith in the person who saved him which nothing can destroy. If he is ever brought again into like circumstances or even into a more perilous position he will naturally turn again for help where he found it before. When a nation has been delivered from the hand of her enemies mainly by the courage of one heart and the skill of one ruling mind, she will instinctively confide in the same leader in her next time of danger. The eye of faith looks back upon past deliverances and sees in them the hand of God—this being so, in the next day of peril and need she appeals for help to the same Almighty source and confidently expects to receive it. This is a most logical resolution—“Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I make my refuge.” (Psalms 63:7). If we have present confidence in an arm of flesh because of help afforded in the past, how much more should we have faith in an unchangeable God in a present time of need when we can recall instances of His gracious interposition in past necessities. This is the argument of David, and such has ever been and ever will be the argument of faith, “The Lord that 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 the Philistine.” But only a man accustomed to discern an unseen hand in all the events of his life would have seen God in the deliverance from the lion and the bear, and only such an one therefore could have drawn hope and confidence from it for the present greater peril. David’s life had been a life of faith in the unseen, and such a man is ready for any emergency. All the deliverances of his past life had been referred to the living God, and therefore he was not now afraid to trust Him for a greater and more important victory.

2. This faith adopted the means most likely to lead to a victorious issue. The faith of David was not the faith of a fanatic nor of one who interprets all God’s promises without reference to conditions to be observed by man. He took a common-sense view of the matter, and used the best weapons within his reach to bring God into co-operation with his faith and his effort. The sling was the only weapon which was at all adapted to David’s use under the circumstances. It would have been madness and presumption for the shepherd youth to have attempted a close encounter with Saul’s weapons or with any weapons of that kind. But he had been accustomed from his childhood to use the sling which was especially adapted for use at a long range, and with which an expert could take a most certain aim (Judges 20:16). He had no need to come within reach of the Philistine’s sword or measure himself with him in a hand-to-hand combat. The very distance at which he stood would compensate for his inferior weight and add to the force of the blow, and the stone could be aimed at the only part of the giant’s body which was unprotected by armour, viz., his forehead. Although we may see a supernatural hand in the issue of the event, we must remember that the effort of David was in harmony with natural laws and not against them, and that his confidence in God did not lead him to neglect the use of means, and those the very best at his disposal. The men of the strongest faith are the least given to presumption, but always put forth well-directed effort.

III. Faith in the unseen and Eternal justified by results. The expectations and desires of faith rest upon a solid foundation. The faith of David rested upon the Divine promises looked at in the light of the Divine faithfulness, and it was so strengthened by his own experience that he ventured confidently to predict the result before it came to pass (1 Samuel 17:26). At this period of his history his desires were in entire sympathy with God, and he had therefore full ground for his confident prophecy that the Lord would deliver Israel’s enemy into his hand. And the result fully justified his strong confidence, and showed that God regards such a bold reliance upon Himself with especial favour. The faith of God’s children in all ages rests upon the same foundation, and whenever the Church of God is threatened by some apparently mighty foe they have the same warrant as David had for predicting beforehand that victory shall be on their side because they are on the side of God.


That the world hostile to God’s kingdom can long unpunished visit its scorn on the truth of the eternal and living God, is commonly a result of the inner weakness, disorder, and timidity of the members of the kingdom of God. When, therefore, there arises a man from their midst who, with mighty word and deed, encounters and conquers the foe, this is a direct interposition of God’s hand in the development of His kingdom, and such a man is His chosen instrument for the casting down of the haughty worldly powers, and for a new gathering together and elevation of His people.—Lange’s Commentary.

When we think of the tribal inheritance of Judah, still in a large degree retained by the Philistines, who ever and anon arose to reclaim it all, and sometimes nearly succeeded, we have a striking analogy to the heart of the believer, wherein divers sins and lusts do still contend for the mastery; and sometimes one of them, attaining Goliath-like proportions, threatens to enslave him altogether. Each of us has his own giant to fight, and here, too, it must be single combat, with no one to help us but He who went forth with the stripling David.… Or, yet again, in contending with external evils, we may sometimes feel that they have assumed such magnitude as to appal us. Thus, which of us is not brought almost to a standstill when he surveys the ignorance, infidelity, etc., by which we are surrounded? It seems to us sometimes, in moments of depression, as if these evils were stalking forth defiantly before the armies of the Living God, and laughing them, Goliath-like, to scorn; and our courage is apt to cool as we contemplate this show of force. But the God of David liveth, and He will still give us success. The great danger that besets the Christian at such times is that of attempting to fight with the world’s weapons. The worldling will always overcome him when he does so, because the Christian in such armour is not at home.… Let him go forth with the cross of Christ in his hand, and by that he will conquer; but if he seek a lower weapon, and try to fight with force of law, or with earthly philosophy, or with mere social expedients, he will inevitably fail. What David’s sling and stone were in the valley of Elah, that is the cross of Christ in the theological controversies, and social wranglings, and moral antagonisms of our age.—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

1 Samuel 17:10. Degenerate professors of religion often receive just rebukes from most decided enemies.… In human accomplishments the opposers of the truth of God have frequently possessed an undisputed superiority; confiding in this they have defied, and still do defy, the advocates of spiritual truth to engage with them.—Scott.

1 Samuel 17:11. The time was when Saul slew forty thousand Philistines in one day, and perhaps Goliath was in that discomfiture; and now one Philistine is suffered by him to brave all Israel for forty days. Whence is this difference? The Spirit of God, the spirit of fortitude, was now departed from him. Saul was not more above himself when God was with him, than he is below others now that he is left of God. Valour is not merely of nature; nature is ever like itself; he that is once valiant should never turn coward. But now we see the greatest spirits inconstant … He that is the God of Hosts gives and takes away man’s hearts at His pleasure. Neither is it otherwise in our spiritual combats … We have no strength but what is given us; and if the Author of all good gifts remit His hand for our humiliation, either we fight not, or are foiled.—Bp. Hall.

1 Samuel 17:32. While base hearts are moved by example, the want of example is encouragement enough to an heroical mind; therefore is David ready to undertake the quarrel, because no man else dare to do it.… Even so, O Saviour, when all the generations of men run away affrighted from the powers of death and darkness, Thou alone hast undertaken and confounded then.—Bp. Hall.

1 Samuel 17:37. In this recognition of God and confidence in Him, with which David entered upon public life, we have the root of the difference between him and Saul.… The tendency of Saul’s life was towards himself; anything inconsistent with that in him, or about him, was but fitful and spasmodic. But it was just the reverse with David. The leaning of his soul was toward God, and though at times self and sin sadly and terribly asserted their power, yet these things were only occasional, and out of keeping with the usual course and current of his character. His sins, like Saul’s impulses towards good things, were but occasional eruptions of that which it was the habit of his soul to repress; his piety, like Saul’s impiety, was the principle of his life.—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

To God he ascribes, not only his success in life, but his physical prowess.… And we must pause, ere we call such utterances mere Eastern metaphor. It is far more probable they were meant as, and were literal truths. David was not likely to have been a man of brute gigantic strength. So delicate a brain was probably coupled to a delicate body. Such a nature, at the same time, would be the very one most capable under the influence—call it boldly inspiration—of a great and patriotic cause, of great dangers and great purposes; capable, I say, at moments, of accesses of almost superhuman energy, which he ascribed, and most rightly, to the inspiration of God.—Kingsley.

1 Samuel 17:39. Let Saul’s coat be never so rich, and his armour never so strong, what is David the better if they fit him not? It is not to be inquired how excellent anything is, but how proper. Those things which are helps to some may be encumbrances to others. An unmeet good may be as inconvenient as an accustomed evil. If we could wish another man’s honour, when we feel the weight of his cares we should be glad to be in our own coat.—Bp. Hall.

History has presented many and diverse examples in the sphere of the spiritual life similar to this heroic march of David. Luther, in opposition to timid learned men, threw aside the heavy armour of scholastic wisdom, and stepping forward in freedom vanquished the giant of Rome with the five heads of his catechism. And other witnesses and combatants of the Church have with holy courage broken through the restraints of homiletic or liturgic forms, and in the free effusions and creations of their divinely anointed spirits, have given the tone to a new and more animating style of preaching, and thereby have opened the way to a new quickening and elevating of the life of the Church into greater fruitfulness.—Krummacher.

1 Samuel 17:44. Was ever such a proof given of the sin and folly of boasting, as in the case of Goliath? And yet, as we would say, how natural it was in him! We can almost sympathise with his disappointment when he found that the champion who was to meet him was so little “worthy of his steel.” We can almost admire the chivalrous spirit that scattered defiance among a host of enemies. But just as it is so natural, and because it is so natural, is this spirit of boasting dangerous. In the spiritual conflict it is the surest presage of defeat. It was the Goliath spirit that puffed up the apostle Peter, when he said to his Master, “Lord, I will go with Thee to prison and to death.” It is the same spirit against which the apostle Paul gives his remarkable warning, “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”—Blaikie.

1 Samuel 17:48-9.17.54. The defeats which are prepared for the world by the kingdom of God:

1. Through what sort of combatants? Through such as (a), like David, heroically lead the van of God’s host and decide the conflict (1 Samuel 17:48), and (b) such as bravely bring up the rear, perseveringly pursuing the already smitten foe.

2. With what sort of weapons? (a) With weapons which they themselves have according to their calling through God’s grace, and wield in reliance on God’s help (1 Samuel 17:49), and (b) with weapons which they take from the foe, in order to give him the finishing stroke with his own weapon (1 Samuel 17:50-9.17.51).

3. With what result? Annihilation of his power on his own ground (1 Samuel 17:52), and in respect to the booty, rich gains (1 Samuel 17:53-9.17.54).—Lange’s Commentary.

1 Samuel 17:51. What needed David load himself with an unnecessary weapon? one sword can serve both Goliath and him. If Goliath had a man to bear his shield, David hath Goliath to bear his sword, wherewith that proud, blasphemous head is severed from his shoulders. Nothing more honours God than the turning of wicked men’s forces against themselves. There are none of His enemies but carry with them their own destruction. Thus didst Thou, O Son of David, foil Satan with his own weapon: that whereby he meant destruction to Thee and us, vanquished him through Thy mighty power, and raised Thee to that glorious triumph and super-exaltation wherein Thou art, wherein we shall be with Thee.—Bishop Hall.

1 Samuel 17:54. David brings the head of the Philistine champion in triumph to Jerusalem. Our David, Jesus Christ, ascended in triumph to the heavenly Jerusalem, bearing His trophies with Him, “leading captivity captive” (Psalms 68:18; Ephesians 4:8.)—Wordsworth.

Verses 12-29


1 Samuel 17:12. “The full account of the person and family of David tells what we already know from chap. 16, and yet reads as if nothing had been said of his origin. This suggests that the redactor of the book here appends and works in a narrative concerning David, which began with the family history, and then related the combat with Goliath, and its occasion. This view is evidently supported by the ‘that’ or ‘this,’ which is evidently added to connect the words with 1 Samuel 16:1. The last words of the verse relating to Jesse the Ephrathite (that is, of Ephrath, the old name for Bethlehem, Genesis 48:7) are difficult.… It seems best with Grotius, Thenius, after Sept., Vulg., Syr., Arab., to substitute ‘in years,’ instead of the text, and render ‘he was advanced in years.’ ” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 17:15. “But David went and returned.” Rather he “was going and returning,” 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.” (Keil.) “This he could do, since Saul was not always in the gloomy state which required David’s harp.… As totally unpractised in war (so chap. 16 supposes him to be) David, notwithstanding his enrolment among the court-esquires (armour-bearers), could not be needed by Saul in war, and he needed not to be taken along for his music, because in the midst of military affairs Saul’s mind was concentrated on one point, held by one thought.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 17:17. “Take now for thy brethren.” “In those days campaigns rarely lasted above a few days. The soldiers were volunteers or militia, who were supplied with provisions from time to time by their friends at home. The Arab women still carry provisions to their husbands when out on fighting expeditions.” (Jamieson.)

1 Samuel 17:18. “Ten Cheeses,” or “slices of curdled milk.” “Oriental cheeses are very small, resembling in shape and size our penny loaves, as the cheeses of the ancient Hebrews seem also to have been (cf. Job 10:10; Psalms 86:15), and although they are frequently made of so soft a consistence as to resemble curds, those which David carried seem to have been fully formed, pressed, and sufficiently dried to admit of their being carried.” (Jamieson.) “Take their pledge.” “This was a token which, though David had seen them, would be of especial value to the father’s heart as an immediate sign from their own hands that they were alive and well (in place of a letter).” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 17:19. This should be read as part of Jesse’s address to David substituting are for the “were” of the English version.

1 Samuel 17:20. “Keeper.” “The only instance in which the hired shepherd is distinguished from the master or one of the family.” (Jamieson.) “Trench.” Or “waggon-rampart,” doubtless a kind of rude fortification formed by a line of waggons and chariots.

1 Samuel 17:22. “His carriage,” i.e., his baggage.

1 Samuel 17:25. “We must conclude that Saul actually made these promises although nothing is afterwards said of their fulfilment, especially as the same thing is repeated in 1 Samuel 17:27. From Saul’s tendency to rash and exaggerated action, and from his changeableness, we can easily understand both the promise and his unwillingness to perform it.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 17:26. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine?” “These words contain the ground of the preceding thought that the insult offered to Israel must be wiped out. This ground lies in the contrast between the stand-point of the Philistine as an uncircumcised who has no community with the living God and the stand-point of this covenant people.… The living God is emphasized over against the dead idols of the Philistines.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 17:28. “Eliab’s questions express the thought

(1) Thou hast nothing to do here, indicating a haughty, quick judging nature, and
(2) reproach David with neglect of duty.” (Erdmann.) “Thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle.” “Such an idea could not have occurred to him had not the warlike tastes of David already been well known to his family. It is more than probable, from this and other circumstances, that he had already wished to join in the first instance with his brothers, but had not been allowed by his friends to do so. But this is hardly sufficient to account for the expressions of Eliab, which must have been founded on a wider experience; and to those who have studied the character of David it will appear almost certain that he had often been led to speak of his desire to see Israel rid of the oppressors who had laid her honour in the dust, and of his hope to take some part in the great work of rending the Philistine yoke from her fair neck.” (Kitto.)

1 Samuel 17:29. “Is there not a cause?” Rather, “Is there not a word?” “Is not this word permitted me? Can I not seek information by such a word?” (Erdmann.)



I. The truly great will not allow social advancement and natural gifts to interfere with the obedience which is due to parents. If a man is lifted to a higher condition of social life because he is mentally or morally greater than the rest of his family, that very greatness will lead him to render due honour to his parents, and this will be best shown by his obedience to their lawful commands. If a man deems that because he has risen in social life, or because he is intellectually superior to his father, he is absolved from a son’s duty, he gives a convincing proof that he is not a truly great man, for he lacks that first element of greatness, viz., goodness. In this point Saul and David stand on a level, for both manifested a spirit of filial obedience (see 1 Samuel 9:3-9.9.4). David must have been conscious that he was destined for some great and honourable position in the kingdom, but he was not unduly elated by it, nor did he consider himself thereby freed from his duty to his father. In this he showed himself worthy to be a type of a far greater man—of that Divine Son of David who for many years of His life was subject to His human parents (Luke 2:51), and in so doing has left an example to all sons and daughters, especially to those who are consciously mentally or morally greater than their parents.

II. Inferior spirits are always envious at the elevation of their superiors, and the envy is deep in proportion as the relationship is near. Eliab had seen Samuel anoint David, and although he might not have understood the full significance of the act, he had never recovered the shock he had then sustained at seeing his younger brother preferred before him. He now gives full proof how inferior he was to that despised and hated brother by revealing the envy that ruled his own spirit. It was this demon which prompted him so to misconstrue David’s words and actions. If we look at the most beautiful human face through a coloured and distorted medium we do not see it as it is, for that through which we look imparts to it its own hue and misrepresents the true outline. So it is impossible rightly to estimate a character if we look at it under the influence of envy. Seen through that distorted medium, actions performed from the purest motives, and words the most blameless, will be misjudged and misrepresented. Thus it was that Eliab so misjudged his brother. And the devil is not less malignant, but rather more so, when the objects of its hatred are a man’s own flesh and blood. A man shows himself thus blind to his own interests, for the elevation of one member of a family often leads to the elevation of the rest. Eliab might have considered that the honour thus conferred upon David would reflect some honour upon his brethren also—that he was himself raised in the elevation of his brother. But envy does not allow a man to reason, and the more nearly related the person who awakens envy is to the envious man the more does the latter seem to feel that he has been wronged. It is to David that Jesse’s family owe their place in the Scripture record and in the annals of their nation. If it had not been for him we should never have heard the name of Jesse or his sons. Through him the name of his father is for ever coupled with the name that is above every name (Isaiah 11:1-23.11.9), and yet envy and reproach was his portion among his brethren.

III. Envy and insolence will be silenced by meekness and truth. David here uses weapons against his brother which were as effectual to silence him as his sling was to slay the giant. He has but to appeal to the facts, first that he has come there in obedience to his father’s command, and secondly that the Philistine giant has been for many days asking for an Israelite to fight him and none has answered his challenge. “Is there not a cause?” says David, “Have I come without an errand?” and “Is there not a need that some one else should come into the camp besides those who are already in it?” To this question of David, asked without any upbrading, Eliab must have found it difficult to reply—there was nothing in it to provoke him to further wrath, but everything to awaken him to reason. David here displays his forbearance and his wisdom.


1 Samuel 17:28. 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.—Kiel.

While all David’s thought and feeling is on the great national disgrace and its removal, and his mind is concerned with plans for saving the honour of Israel and Israel’s God, Eliab in his low and blind zeal thinks only of the flock of sheep and the possible loss of them from lack of oversight; the type of a narrow soul, incapable of great thoughts and deeds.—Lange’s Commentary.

In times of general formality and lukewarmness, every degree of zeal which implies a readiness to go further or venture more in the cause of God than others do will be censured as pride and ambition, and by none more than near relations and negligent superiors; and such censures will seldom be unmingled with unjust insinuations, slanders, and attempts to blacken a man’s character.—Scott.

It is quarrel enough, amongst many, to a good action, that it is not their own; there is no enemy so ready, or so spiteful as the domestical. The malice of strangers is simple, but of a brother it is mixt with envy. The more unnatural any quality is, the more extreme it is; a cold wind from the south is intolerable. David’s first victory is of himself, next of his brother. He overcomes himself in a patient forbearance, he overcomes the malicious rage of his brother with the mildness of his answer. If David had wanted spirit, he had not been troubled with the insultation of a Philistine … That which would have stirred the choler of another, allayeth his. It was a brother that wronged him, and that his eldest. Neither was this time to quarrel with a brother, while the Philistines’ swords were drawn, and Goliath was challenging. O that these two motives could induce us to peace! If we have injury in our person, in our cause, it is from brethren, and the Philistines look on.—Bishop Hall.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.