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Tuesday, June 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 17

Hawker's Poor Man's CommentaryPoor Man's Commentary

Verse 1


The Chapter we are now about entering upon, relates to us the insolence of the Philistines towards Israel, and the challenge made by their champion Goliath of Gath, daring any man in Israel's army to single combat. The consequence of which, we are told, was, that Saul and all his army were dismayed. David coming from his father, on a message to his brethren into the camp of Israel, hears the challenge of Goliath, and accepts it. Going forth, not armed with the common weapons of slaughter, but in the confidence of God, he prevails over the Philistine, and kills him. In consequence thereof the Philistines are put to the rout, and Israel pursues them with a great slaughter. These are the principal matters contained in this chapter.

1 Samuel 17:1

(1) ¶ Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and were gathered together at Shochoh, which belongeth to Judah, and pitched between Shochoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim.

The last accounts we had of the Philistines, their history left them perfectly subdued and overcome; and Israel, under Saul, was victorious everywhere. See 1 Samuel 14:47 . Perhaps the miserable state of Saul, gave occasion to the Philistines to renew their former insolence. When a man's ways please the Lord (we are told) he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. But when men slight the Lord, he can raise up enemies from every quarter. Proverbs 16:0 .

Verse 2

(2) And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and pitched by the valley of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines.

It should seem, that this commotion in the army of the Philistines roused Saul, for the present, from his distressed state of mind. 1 Samuel 16:14 .

Verses 3-7

(3) And the Philistines stood on a mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on a mountain on the other side: and there was a valley between them. (4) And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. (5) And he had an helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass. (6) And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders. (7) And the staff of his spear was like a weaver's beam; and his spear's head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him.

There is somewhat very striking in the account given, both of this giant and his armour. We were told in the book of Joshua, of the great size of the children of Anak; and as in Gaza of Gath, which belonged to the Philistines, there were the remains of this race of men, it is probable that Goliath was of this stock. See Joshua 11:22 . His height must have been wonderful indeed, if the scripture cubit be, as is thought to be, 21 inches; and a span half a cubit: both added together and brought into our English measure, makes him to have been somewhat more than 11 feet high. And his whole armory seems to correspond to this account. The weight of his coat 5000 shekels, everyone of which was at least half an ounce. And the spear 600 shekels; both added together, made the weight (besides all that is spoken of concerning his greaves and target of brass) 350 pounds. Such was the monster and his armory, which came forth to the defiance of Israel. Reader! Was he not, think you, a formidable enemy? And can the imagination figure to itself anything more striking, to resemble the great enemy, who stands to defy the Lord's Israel; in all ages.

Verses 8-11

(8) And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. (9) If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us. (10) And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together. (11) When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.

See how guilt breeds fear: else wherefore did Saul and all Israel tremble? There was a time, when at the threats of the Ammonites, Saul hastened to the deliverance of the people, though only then coming from the herd of the field, and obtained a glorious victory. And now, though a king at the head of an army, he trembles. What made the difference? It is easily answered. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, in the former instance, and inspired him with courage. But now, the Spirit of the Lord is departed from him, and all his confidence is fled. Oh! how sweet is it, Reader, to be under his blessed influence, whose strength is made perfect in the weakness of his people. What cannot a soul accomplish, when God leads that soul on? See 1 Samuel 11:6 , compared with 1 Samuel 16:14 ; Zechariah 4:6-7 .

Verses 12-15

(12) ¶ Now David was the son of that Ephrathite of Bethlehemjudah, whose name was Jesse; and he had eight sons: and the man went among men for an old man in the days of Saul. (13) And the three eldest sons of Jesse went and followed Saul to the battle: and the names of his three sons that went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next unto him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. (14) And David was the youngest: and the three eldest followed Saul. (15) But David went and returned from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem.

The sacred historian here revives again the history of David and his family. Jesse the father, is honorably spoken of: and the three eldest sons, who are in Saul s army, are mentioned by name. But the whole of this, is with a view to introduce the great hero of the family, David. If Saul and all his army trembled at the approach of Goliath, Jesse's eldest sons were among the number that feared. But do we not see here, somewhat leading to David's Lord. Jesus feeds his sheep at Bethlehem, amidst all the wars and hostilities of camps. Oh! for grace to seek after him like the church, and to find him beside the shepherds' tents. Song of Solomon 1:7-8 .

Verse 16

(16) And the Philistine drew near morning and evening, and presented himself forty days.

Surely the Lord overruled the desire of this giant, and somehow or other overawed his mind, to restrain him from attacking Israel: otherwise he, and his army at his heels, would not have rested satisfied with this parade of mere threats, for forty days together. Reader! remark this, as you go on in your spiritual warfare. Have you never found the enemy advancing, threatening, and as the Psalmist saith, being ready to swallow you up: and yet deliverance hath come, unexpected, and unthought of? Psalms 56:1-2 .

Verses 17-18

(17) And Jesse said unto David his son, Take now for thy brethren an ephah of this parched corn, and these ten loaves, and run to the camp to thy brethren; (18) And carry these ten cheeses unto the captain of their thousand, and look how thy brethren fare, and take their pledge.

There is somewhat very sweet, to the gracious parent, in his view of this. How unconscious was the mind of the father, of the great events which the Lord in his providence had foreordained, to arise from this errand of his son to the camp. While he only wanted to know how his elder children were, the Lord had it in commission for his younger child to become the deliverer of his country. Ye watchful parents, of a gracious God, learn from hence, to be continually looking out for the merciful superintendance of a covenant God in Christ, over your children. Commit them with all their concerns to him, and watch the gracious manifestations of his love in all their arrangements. But Reader! do not overlook the sweet spiritual lesson held forth to the brethren of Jesus. Let our Almighty David take our poor pledge how we far e, and bear it to our Father. And may he bring to us, from our Father, all spiritual food and sustenance we need in our camp, where we are engaged with the enemies of our salvation in warfare, as the pledge of his everlasting, unchanging love in Jesus.

Verse 19

(19) Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.

The fighting here spoken of means, I should suppose, the preparation only, for battle: for had the battle been opened, the single combat Goliath proposed, would have been unnecessary.

Verses 20-22

(20) And David rose up early in the morning, and left the sheep with a keeper, and took, and went, as Jesse had commanded him; and he came to the trench, as the host was going forth to the fight, and shouted for the battle. (21) For Israel and the Philistines had put the battle in array, army against army. (22) And David left his carriage in the hand of the keeper of the carriage, and ran into the army, and came and saluted his brethren.

There is somewhat very interesting in this account of David's affection to his brethren. Though he had risen early and come a long journey, yet it is said, he ran to salute his brethren. Precious Jesus! methinks I see thee here. Didst not thou come from thy Father, and our Father, and leave thy sheep above, when thou camest at his command, to see how thy brethren fared below. Thou didst run indeed, blessed Jesus, when thou camest among us for the purpose of salvation, for thy zeal even consumed thee, and thou was straitened, until the baptism of thy sufferings was accomplished. Luke 12:50 . The Reader will not overlook I hope, nor forget to connect the history of Joseph, sent on a similar errand by Jacob, with this of David. Surely we do not strain the subject in the idea of somewhat typical in both. See Genesis 37:13-14 .

Verses 23-27

(23) And as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the armies of the Philistines, and spake according to the same words: and David heard them. (24) And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid. (25) And the men of Israel said, Have ye seen this man that is come up? surely to defy Israel is he come up: and it shall be, that the man who killeth him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father's house free in Israel. (26) And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? (27) And the people answered him after this manner, saying, So shall it be done to the man that killeth him.

The subject is beautifully introduced to the knowledge of David, as well by Goliath drawing nigh and trumpeting forth his own challenge, as by the answers given by those that stood by to David's enquiries. But what I would wish the Reader particularly to notice is, the observation of David on the conduct and character of Goliath. A Philistine braving the armies of Israel, and one thus daring, who was uncircumcised. Observe, Reader, in this, what stress David laid upon the blessedness of being within the Covenant. Is it not, as if he had said, where can be the blessedness of Israel, or the high privilege of God's covenant; if his people, even in the lowest circumstances, are thus to be insulted by their uncircumcised enemies? Oh! what a lift would it give to the faith of God's people, if at the worst of times they took shelter under God's covenant engagements. Shall I despond, shall I despair, when I know that my God in Christ is absolutely under covenant obligations to be my God, and to acknowledge me as one of his people? See that one promise to this effect, which is in itself a volume: Jeremiah 32:38 .

Verses 28-29

(28) And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men; and Eliab's anger was kindled against David, and he said, Why camest thou down hither? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle. (29) And David said, What have I now done? Is there not a cause?

The character of Eliab is here shown to the full, in this short relation of him. He is a portrait of every natural man, in his envy of what is gracious. It is very galling to flesh and blood, that the elder should serve the younger. Our dear Lord felt no small opposition in his blessed work, from the envy and unbelief of his brethren. See John 7:3-5 .

Verses 30-32

(30) And he turned from him toward another, and spake after the same manner: and the people answered him again after the former manner. (31) ¶ And when the words were heard which David spake, they rehearsed them before Saul: and he sent for him. (32) And David said to Saul, Let no man's heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.

We may read this passage sweetly indeed, if we behold in it some faint outlines of Jesus, who in his gracious undertaking for our deliverance is represented by the prophet, who, when he saw that there was none to help in all the armies of Israel, and when all hearts gathered blackness, his own arm brought salvation, and of the people, there was none with him. Isaiah 63:3-5 .

Verses 33-37

(33) And Saul said to David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth. (34) And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: (35) And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. (36) Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. (37) David said moreover, 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 this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee.

The offer of David, no doubt, gave courage to the whole army of Israel. For it should be observed, that Israel had been long accustomed, when at any time the Lord was about to deliver his people, to expect that deliverance in some unthought of way. And frequently the deliverer was altogether such as no human foresight could have provided. See in the case of Deborah, in the Book of Judges, Judges 4:1-9 . And Samuel had taught the people to recollect other cases. See 1 Samuel 12:6-11 . But in the fears and apprehensions of Saul concerning David's youth, opposed to Goliath's strength and experience in war, we see how much his carnal heart was looking to an arm of flesh. The argument upon which David laid the greatest stress, in assuring him of victory, was not so much his former conquests over the lion and the bear, but because this Philistine had no interest in the covenant of God with his people, but had openly defied God himself. It is very encouraging in all our conflicts, when we see that we are not only on the Lord's side; but that in reality the battle is the Lord's and not ours. David told the Philistine so, before he engaged him. (See 1 Samuel 17:47 .) We have a beautiful example of the same kind; 2 Chronicles 20:5-15 . But how much sweeter still, is it to eye Jesus in all these things, as going forth in the deliverance of his tried ones, from the mountains of leopards, and from the lions dens. Song of Solomon 4:8 .

Verses 38-41

(38) And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail. (39) And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him. (40) ¶ And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine. (41) And the Philistine came on and drew near unto David; and the man that bare the shield went before him.

There is somewhat very interesting in this equipping David for the battle; in the putting on, and putting off the unsuited armour, and at length, choosing only a few stones from the brook. Surely without much enquiry, we may see the gracious lesson it teaches us, under this similitude. In going forth against the cursed enemy of our souls, no human armour, though burnished, and sharpened with the keenest edge, will answer our purpose. The enemy, as is said of the Leviathan, laugheth at the shaking of a spear. The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold. Job 41:28-29 . David went forth, as he saith himself in another place, in the strength of the Lord God: Psalms 71:16 . He that prompted him to undertake the battle, armed him with strength suitable to it. The smooth stone of the brook, which was of God's own creating, and which no human heart had polished or worked upon, was a sweet type, that both the Lord's armour and the Lord's strength should nerve his arm to give it the full commission intended. And how didst thou come, blessed Jesus, and of what was thy armour composed, when, in thy victory for us, and for our deliverance, thou didst enter the lists alone, to vanquish Satan, and sin, and death, and hell, and the grave. Surely thine own arm brought salvation unto thee; and thy fury it upheld thee. Isaiah 63:5 .

Verses 42-47

(42) And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance. (43) And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. (44) And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field. (45) Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. (46) This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. (47) And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD'S, and he will give you into our hands.

The address of the Philistine to David, and David's answer to the Philistine, previous to the battle, is exactly suited to their different characters. How confident are all carnal men, like this Philistine. And what a contemptuous view do they take of the Lord's people. On the other hand, how humble and unassuming is the language of grace, like that of David. Here is not a word of himself, or of his own merit, or strength, or might, for the war. It is the Lord's cause in which I am engaged, saith the gracious soul, and the Lord shall have all the glory. Reader! do not overlook this, as among the sweetest improvements of the history. And recollect, that even our dear Redeemer did not make application of his victories to himself, but to his Father. Therefore (saith Jesus) doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again., No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down if myself: I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. John 10:17-18 .

Verses 48-51

(48) ¶ And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. (49) And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth. (50) So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David. (51) Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled.

Here we have the termination of the battle, in the fall of Goliath, and a tremendous one it was. So simple means as a stone, for the weapon of destruction, and slung by so youthful an hand, serve at once to show the arm of the God of Israel engaged in it. Blind indeed, must be that eye that doth not recognize such a visible display. One of the Jewish Rabbins hath observed upon it, but by what authority I know not, that Goliath in his rage and contempt of David, when he said Come, and I will give thy flesh to the fowls of the air, threw up the upper part of his helmet, and thereby left his forehead bare for the stone of David to have the easier entrance. Whether this were so or not, no doubt the Lord who presided over the battle and ordered all, so disposed of, everything in it, as to facilitate the event he had ordained. But is it not delightful to see, that the very weapons of the Philistine's own pride and ostentation, are made subservient to his own destruction. Reader! do not fail to connect with this view of Goliath, his total destruction whom Goliath represented, and by the conversion of his own weapons to his own overthrow. When the devil tempted Adam to transgress, little did he think, that this very transgression should lay the foundation for all the blessed things contained in our redemption by Jesus. And when in after ages, the Jews led on by his temptations, nailed Jesus to the cross, little did he then consider, that that very cross would become the glorious cause of his people's salvation, and their everlasting joy through all eternity. I would desire grace from the Holy Ghost, ever to keep such evidences of the Lord's overruling all the church's enemies, to his own glory and his people's good, in view. It would serve to prove in many lesser instances, where perhaps things are not so plainly manifested, the truth of that precious scripture, that the very wrath of man (and may we not add devils) shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath the Lord will restrain. Psalms 76:10 .

Verses 52-54

(52) And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until thou come to the valley, and to the gates of Ekron. And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even unto Gath, and unto Ekron. (53) And the children of Israel returned from chasing after the Philistines, and they spoiled their tents. (54) And David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armour in his tent.

The event of this victory over Goliath, was, as might have been expected. The Philistines fled, and Israel pursued. But this was not fair as was agreed upon. Goliath had promised for his countrymen, that if any man could be found to conquer him, the Philistines would then be the servants of Israel. But now this is done, they flee. In the Lord Jesus's victory, however, which this typified, the conquest will be altogether final and complete. The Devil, that deceived the world, will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, and the torment will be forever and ever. See Revelation 20:10 , etc.

Verses 55-58

(55) And when Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said unto Abner, the captain of the host, Abner, whose son is this youth? And Abner said, As thy soul liveth, O king, I cannot tell. (56) And the king said, Enquire thou whose son the stripling is. (57) And as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. (58) And Saul said to him, Whose son art thou, thou young man? And David answered, I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.

It should seem that Saul had forgotten the person of David, so as not to know him again, which would appear rather strange if it were not considered that his disease at that time had left him but little recollection; and his anxiety for his kingdom and his life, also now preyed, no doubt, much upon him. But when David made himself known to him, the matter must have been brought to his recollection.

Verse 58


PAUSE, my soul, over the perusal of this chapter, and behold in the character of Goliath of Gath, and his bold and open defiance of Israel, a lively resemblance of that implacable, proud, and haughty foe, the accursed enemy of God and man, the Devil, who goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. How often hath he stood tremendous to thy view, defying God and his Redeemer, to save thee! How fierce and blasphemous have been his insinuations, in tempting thee to fear that his threatenings were but too well founded. And how often, like the whole army of Saul at his approach, again and again, not only for forty days together, but for years, in apprehension, hast thou fled from him, and been sore afraid! And indeed, had a deliverance from his power been left to the accomplishment of an arm of flesh, how sure would have been thy everlasting ruin!

Oh, precious Jesus! thou Almighty David of thy people! Blessed be our Father's mercy, that sent thee to see how thy brethren fared, and to take their pledge! And blessed be thy love, which prompted thy divine mind to come to our rescue, from all the powers of sin and hell! And thrice blessed be the hour when in thine own blood and righteousness thou didst conquer for us all the enemies of our salvation! And now, Almighty Lord, we behold thee as returning from the slaughter of the Philistines, having spoiled principalities, and powers, making a show of them openly, and triumphing over them in it. Now, Lord, we behold thee seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and all power thine in heaven and in earth. Go on, Almighty Conqueror, in thine holy war, until all hearts are subdued to the sovereignty of thy grace. And having wrought out such a glorious deliverance for us, work a still more powerful victory in us. And O lead us on, as the Israelites pursued the Philistines, to all the conquests which thy redemption hath procured, until at length, having under thy banners manfully opposed and subdued all the enemies of our salvation, we follow thee to the seat of the conqueror, where, in an unceasing security which thy complete victory hath purchased, of everlasting joy, we obtain that kingdom which cannot be moved, and where thou last made us kings and priests to God and the Father.

Bibliographical Information
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pmc/1-samuel-17.html. 1828.
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