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Tuesday, June 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 17

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



Of this Philistine war, in which Goliath was slain, the time and causes are unknown; but as there was bitter war against the Philistines all the days of Saul, (1 Samuel 14:52,) we need not suppose that there was any special provocation on the part of the Israelites. Those obstinate enemies on the seacoast, who had held Israel in subjection forty years, (Judges 13:1,) were loath to lose them from among their tributaries; and their sufferings from the ark, (chap. 5,) and by the hand of Samuel, (1 Samuel 7:10,) and still more recently by the heroism of Jonathan, (chap. 14,) were sufficient provocation for them to attempt war at any time. Possibly, also, they had heard of the madness of Saul, and therefore deemed the present a favourable opportunity to wreak their fill of vengeance. As to the time of this war, Josephus tells us that it was shortly after the events narrated in the last chapter. But as we learn from 1 Samuel 17:15 that David had returned from Saul to his father, and from 1 Samuel 17:55 that Saul had forgotten Jesse, we incline to the belief that this war occurred some years after David’s introduction to Saul’s court.

Verse 1

1. Socoh One of the cities of Judah. It has been identified with the modern Suweikeh, fourteen miles southwest of Jerusalem.

Azekah… Ephes-dammim These places have not been satisfactorily identified, but we incline to locate Ephes-dammim at the ruins of the modern Damum, a little to the east of Suweikeh; in which case Azekah may be, as Van de Velde has conjectured, at Ahbek, a little to the northeast of Damum.

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Verse 2

2. The valley of Elah The Wady es-Sumt, which has been often visited by travellers, and is represented by all as corresponding fully to the statements of this narrative. This valley is a mile in width, and through its centre runs a watercourse whose banks and bed abound with pebbles. The mountains on either side have a steep, uniform slope, and are about five hundred feet high. “It took its name Elah of old from the terebinth, (butm,) of which the largest specimen we saw in Palestine still stands in the vicinity; just as now it takes its name es-Sumt (Sunt) from the acacias which are scattered in it.” Robinson.

Verse 4

4. A champion The Septuagint has, a mighty man; Vulgate, bastard; Syriac and Arabic, a giant. But the Hebrew, אישׁ הבנים , literally signifies a man between the two; that is, an arbitrator between the two armies, or one who was lord of the space between the two camps. Goliath, the pride of the Philistine hosts, stepped forth between the two armies and proposed by a personal contest with a chosen warrior from the Israelites, and according to the conditions stated in 1 Samuel 17:9, to decide the fortunes of the war. Such single combats at the head of armies were not unusual in ancient times, as is witnessed by the combats of Paris and Menelaus. (Homer, Iliad, book 3.)

Of Gath And therefore probably a remnant of the Anakim that escaped the sword of Joshua. Joshua 11:22.

Whose height… six cubits and a span That is, if we reckon the cubit at twenty-one inches, about ten and one half feet. Josephus (“Antiquities,” 1 Samuel 18:4-5) mentions one Eleazar, a Jew by birth, whose height was seven cubits; and Pliny speaks of a giant Pusio, whose height exceeded ten Roman feet.

Verse 5

5. A helmet of brass A defensive armour for the head.

A coat of mail Literally, a coat of scales. A defensive armour for the body, consisting of plates of brass overlapping each other like the scales on a fish, or shingles on a roof. The Hebrew word is rendered habergeon in 2 Chronicles 26:14, and Nehemiah 4:16.

Weight… five thousand shekels Reckoning the shekel at half an ounce avoirdupois, the weight of the scale armour would be about one hundred and fifty pounds.

Verse 6

6. Greaves of brass upon his legs Rather, upon his feet. These were shin covers bound by thongs around and above the ankles. Among the ancient Greeks they were elastic behind, and extended upward above the knees.

Target Margin, gorget. This word is elsewhere variously translated shield, (1 Samuel 17:45, and Job 39:23;) spear, (Joshua 8:18; Joshua 8:26; Job 41:29; Jeremiah 6:23;) lance, (Jeremiah 50:42.)

The word is best translated spear, and this Goliath carried between his shoulders, that is, slung upon his back, as the ancients often carried their heavy swords. (Homer, Iliad, book 2:45.) So Josephus understood it: “His spear was such as was not carried like a light thing in his right hand, but he carried it as lying on his shoulders.”

Verse 7

7. The staff of his spear So the Keri, and the parallel passages in 2 Samuel 21:19; 1 Chronicles 20:5. But the Kethib here reads, חצ חניתו , arrow of his spear, that is, the arrow-head, or iron point, of his javelin. The Keri is to be preferred.

Like a weaver’s beam Like the large cylinder of wood on which the weaver winds his warp before weaving, or that on which the cloth is rolled as it is woven. Perhaps the reference is to the upright standards of the loom. See cut of ancient loom at Judges 16:13. Six hundred shekels About eighteen pounds.

Verse 8

8. Am not I a Philistine In the Hebrew, Philistine is made emphatic by the article, but the word servants is without it. Thus: Am not I THE Philistine, etc. Am not I the great warrior of the Philistine army? Why then trouble the army with battle? I am empowered to decide alone the fortunes of the day.

Verse 10

10. I defy the armies of Israel this day Hebrew, I have reproached the armies of Israel this day. He heaps upon them scorn and contempt for their supposed inability to cope with a single warrior.

Verses 12-31

12-31. By many critics this passage has been regarded as an interpolation, chiefly for the following reasons:

(1.) It is wanting in the Vatican Codex of the Septuagint. But if it were wanting in every copy of the Septuagint, this alone would be no sufficient reason for its rejection; for it can be shown that the translators of that version sometimes made omissions and additions at pleasure.

(2.) After what had been written in 1 Samuel 16:1-12, the statements here made (1 Samuel 17:12-14) respecting David’s father and brothers are superfluous, and indicate a different authorship. But such repetition and fulness of detail, especially in matters of genealogy, is characteristic of Hebrew historical composition; and as this victory over Goliath was David’s first bold, though unintentional, step towards the throne, and instrumental in securing for him the affections of the people, it would be unfair criticism to make this minuteness of detail an argument against the genuineness of the passage.

(3.) Eliab’s behaviour towards David, 1 Samuel 17:28, is unaccountable and unlikely after he had seen his brother anointed by the hand of Samuel. But this objection assumes that Eliab clearly understood that by Samuel’s anointing of David he designated him as the future king of Israel an assumption that has no foundation in the sacred record. See note on 1 Samuel 16:13. The honour conferred by Samuel on Jesse’s youngest son made him, like Joseph, the object of his brothers’ jealousy, and Eliab’s angry words were but a single outburst of that jealousy.

(4.) According to 1 Samuel 16:21, David was Saul’s armourbearer, and we would naturally expect to find him acting as such in this battle with the Philistines; but, according to 1 Samuel 17:15 of this section, he had retired from Saul’s court and resumed the care of his father’s sheep at Beth-lehem. But surely this is no contradiction. There is no necessity for regarding his appointment as armourbearer as any thing more than an honorary title and office which he never exercised. Joab had ten armourbearers, (2 Samuel 18:15,) and Saul perhaps had many more.

Other minor objections based upon particular expressions will be duly noticed in notes on the passages to which they pertain.

Verse 15

15. David went and returned from Saul “By this it would seem that the king’s affection towards his healer cooled as soon as the cure had been effected. The probability of this most physicians can vouch from their own experience. Besides, it is likely that, from the peculiar nature of his complaint, Saul cared not to be continually reminded, by the presence of his healer, of the sufferings he had gone through, and of paroxysms which it humbled his proud mind to think had made him an object of compassion in the eyes of his subjects. He therefore made no opposition to the application for his son’s return home, which Jesse probably made when he found that David’s services were no longer necessary.” Kitto.

Verse 17

17. Parched corn See note on Ruth 2:14.

Verse 18

18. Cheeses Literally, cuttings of the milk. That is, say some, slices of curdled milk. Cheese is not common at the present day among the Bedouin Arabs, but there is in use among them a substance, consisting of coagulated buttermilk, which is dried until it becomes quite hard, and is then ground.

Their pledge A token from them that they are alive and well.

Verse 19

19. Saul, and they… were in the valley of Elah Better to supply are, instead of were, and understand this verse as a part of Jesse’s words to David. To the instructions which Jesse gives his son in the preceding verses, he here adds, for his further information, that he will find Saul, and his brothers, and all Israel, in the valley of Elah, engaged in war with the Philistines. This obviates the objection urged against the genuineness of this passage, that there was no fighting with the Philistines until after Goliath’s fall. The statement was but a casual remark of Jesse, who was not fully acquainted with the facts, and is not to be taken as literally correct.

Verse 20

20. The trench המעגלה , the wagon rampart. The barrier formed around the encampment by the baggage wagons and other vehicles of the army.

The host was going forth to the fight That is, they were marching out of the camp to put themselves in battle array.

Shouted for the battle Raised the war cry. Neither of these expressions implies that the armies engaged in actual conflict, as some objectors have absurdly assumed. This appears still more clearly in the following verse.

Verse 21

21. Army against army Render: And Israel and the Philistines set battle array against battle array That is, they formed their respective armies in battle array on the mountains on either side of the valley, as stated in 1 Samuel 17:3, the two armies facing each other.

Verse 22

22. His carriage That which he carried. Margin, the vessels from upon him. The parched ears, the ten loaves, and the cheeses which Jesse had sent by him to the camp.

The keeper of the carriage The overseer of the supplies; the quartermaster.

Verse 24

24. Fled from him, and were sore afraid The Israelitish host shrunk backward and trembled before the insolent giant. The whole context shows that there was no actual flight of the whole army, but skirmishing parties may have gone down to the valley, and when Goliath came forth they made a rapid retreat to the camp.

Verse 25

25. The man who killeth him, the king will enrich It is every way probable that in his dismay and terror before the challenge of Goliath, Saul had made such offers as are here specified; but the fact that we have no record of their fulfilment has been construed into an argument against the genuineness of this section. This argument at best is only one from silence. But in reply we urge that Saul’s inquiry respecting David’s father, (vers. 55-58,) and his proposal to give him his daughter in marriage, (1 Samuel 18:17,) seem to have been made in direct reference to the promises here recorded, and all apparent failure to redeem his promise is sufficiently accounted for by Saul’s passionate jealousy at the honours David received from the people. 1 Samuel 18:6-9.

Make his father’s house free in Israel Free from taxation and public burdens; and elevated to the rank of royalty.

Verse 28

28. I know thy pride “Eliab sought for the splinter in his brother’s eye, and was not aware of the beam in his own.” Keil.

Verse 29

29. Is there not a cause Literally, Is not that word ? What wrong have I committed? Is not that word that simple inquiry allowable? He thought his brother very sensitive.

Verse 34

34. A lion, and a bear The prowess of the lion is well known. It is a testimony of Samson’s mighty power that he rent a lion as he would have rent a kid. Judges 14:6. No ordinary man would, therefore, dare to fight the king of beasts. “The Syrian bear still found on the higher mountains of this country is perhaps equally to be dreaded in a close personal encounter. The inhabitants of Hermon say that when he is chased up the mountain he will cast back large stones upon his pursuers with terrible force and unerring aim. The stoutest hunter will not venture to attack him alone, nor without being thoroughly armed for the deadly strife.” Thomson.

Verse 40

40. Smooth stones Such as would pass most easily and rapidly through the air. The torrent bed of the Wady es-Sumt is said to be lined with smooth pebbles.

A scrip A pouch; a knapsack.

Sling On the use of this instrument in ancient warfare, see note on Judges 20:16.

Verses 43-47

43-47. Such parleying and threats as these verses record were common in ancient times between contending heroes. Numerous examples may be found in Homer.

Verse 49

49. In his forehead The only unprotected portion of his body. According to the Septuagint, however, the stone passed through Goliath’s helmet.

Verse 52

52. The valley Where the Wady es-Sumt opens into the great western plain of Philistia.

Shaaraim The site of this place is unknown. It is probably to be looked for somewhere between Gath and Ekron. On the two last named cities, see notes on 1 Samuel 5:8; 1 Samuel 5:10.

Verse 54

54. David took the head… and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armour in his tent According to some critics this verse is utterly irreconcilable with the context, and is, therefore, to be regarded as the interpolation of a later hand. But what are the difficulties? (1.) Jerusalem was then in the hands of the Jebusites, and remained so until a much later day, when David himself conquered them. 2 Samuel 5:7. But this is no good reason why the head of the Philistine might not have been taken there; for, according to Judges 1:21, the Benjamites occupied Jerusalem in common with the Jebusites. But if this were not now the case, and the Jebusites were in possession of the whole city, David, passing by Jerusalem on his return from the battle, might have thought to awe the Jebusite stronghold by placing Goliath’s ghastly head in sight of them. (2.) Another difficulty is that David could have had no tent in the camp. The tent his brothers occupied, however, may not improperly have been spoken of as his tent. But his tent, in which he put the giant’s armour, more probably refers to David’s home in Beth-lehem, not to an army tent. That this is a common meaning of the word tent a reference to 1 Samuel 4:10; 1 Samuel 13:2; Joshua 22:7, and 1 Kings 12:16, will abundantly show. This verse simply informs the reader what became of Goliath’s head and armour; but we are not necessarily to suppose that the facts recorded took place immediately after the battle, or even that David did these things in his own person. Various displays may have been made of the head before it was brought to Jerusalem, and also of the armour before it was taken to David’s home. From chap. 1 Samuel 21:9, we learn that at a later day Goliath’s sword was kept at Nob in care of the priests.

Verse 55

55. Whose son is this youth But did not Saul remember David, whose services on the harp had been of so much advantage to him in his madness?

1 Samuel 16:20-23. Perhaps not, for probably some time had elapsed since the youth had left his court, and Saul’s memory may have suffered somewhat from his disease. A man of Saul’s varying moods would be quite likely to forget even a benefactor; or if he remembered David’s musical service, he may have forgotten his looks, so as not to have recognised him on this occasion. But now, having promised to reward not only him who slew Goliath, but his father also, (1 Samuel 17:25,) and seeing the youth go forth against the giant confident of victory, he begins to inquire after the tribe and position of his father’s house.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-samuel-17.html. 1874-1909.
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