I Samuel 17

The Word Made Fresh

1The Philistines were preparing for war and gathered their army at Socoh in Judah’s territory. Their camp was at Ephes-Dammim between Socoh and Azekah. 2Saul gathered the Israelites in the valley of Elah and lined up against the Philistines. 3The Philistines and the Israelites were on hilltops with a valley between them. 4The Philistines sent their champion, Goliath of Gath, from their camp. He was over nine feet tall 5and wore a bronze helmet and a suit of armor that weighed a hundred twenty-five pounds. 6He had shin guards made of bronze on his legs and a bronze spear was slung between his shoulders.

8He came out between the two armies, and called out to the Israelites, “Why have you lined up for battle? I am a Philistine, aren’t I? And you are Saul’s flunkies. So, choose someone to represent you and send him down here to me. 9We will fight, and if he kills me, then we will be your slaves, but if I kill him, then you will be our slaves and work for us.” 10He said, “I am challenging Israel today. Send a man to challenge me.”

As they listened to him, Saul and the Israelites were worried and afraid.

12Now David was one of Jesse’s eight sons, of the clan of Ephrath in Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse was an old man in those days. 13His three oldest sons had gone with Saul to the battle; they were Eliab, his eldest, Abinadab, and Shammah. 14David was the youngest of his sons. While his three older brothers stayed with Saul, 15David went back and forth between the camp and Bethlehem to feed his father’s sheep 16while the Philistine was coming out and taking his stand over against Saul’s troops morning and evening.

17Jesse told his son David, “Take a bushel of parched grain and ten loaves of bread to your brothers in their camp. 18And carry ten cheeses to the commander of their brigade. See how they’re doing and bring me a report.”

19David’s brothers and the other men of Israel were with Saul in the valley of Elah facing the Philistines. 20David went to them early in the morning. He left the sheep with someone else and took the food his father Jesse had given him. He reached the camp as the men were forming a battle line and shouting out against the enemy. 21The Israelite and Philistine soldiers were lined up against each other. 22David left the provisions he had brought with his helper and ran to the ranks to greet his brothers. 23While they were talking, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, came out of the Philistine line and taunted Israel as he had been doing every day. David heard him.

24All the Israelites shrunk back when they saw the man, obviously afraid of him. 25They said, “Have you seen this man who keeps coming out to challenge Israel? The king will richly reward the man who kills him. He will give him his own daughter and will exalt his whole family.”

26David said to the men around him, “What reward will be given the man who kills this Philistine who dares to belittle Israel? Who does this uncircumcised Philistine think he is, to defy the army of the living God?”        

27They repeated what had been said, telling him, “This is how he will be rewarded.”

28David’s older brother Eliab heard David talking to the soldiers and was angry with his little brother. He said, “Why did you come here? Who is keeping the sheep? I know what you’re thinking. You just came here to see the battle.”

29David said, “What have I done wrong? I was just asking.” 30He turned away from Eliab toward one of the other soldiers and asked the same questions, and they answered as before.

31Saul was informed of David’s comments and sent for him. 32David said to him, “No one should be afraid of the Philistine. I’ll go and fight him.”

33Saul said to him, “You can’t challenge him. You’re just a boy. He has been fighting since his youth.”

34David answered, “Your servant keeps the sheep for his father, and whenever a lion or bear has tried to take a lamb from the flock, 35I’ve gone after it and killed it and taken the lamb right out of its mouth. If it turned against me, I would grab it by the jaw and strike it dead. 36Your servant has killed lions and bears. This uncircumcised Philistine is no better than them, and he has taunted the army of the living God!” 37Then he said, “The LORD, who saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear, will save me from this Philistine.”

Saul said, “Very well, then. Go, and the LORD be with you.”

38Saul gave his own armor to David: a bronze helmet and a mail coat. 39David strapped on Saul’s sword over the armor and struggled to walk because he wasn’t accustomed to them. He said to Saul, “I can hardly move with all this,” and took the armor off. 40Then he grabbed his staff, picked out five smooth stones from the creek and put them in his shepherd’s bag, carried his sling in his hand and walked out to challenge the Philistine.

41The Philistine came with a man carrying his shield ahead of him. 42When he saw David he was filled with scorn to see only a boy, tanned and hale. 43“Am I a dog you think you can beat with sticks?” And he cursed David by his gods. 44He said “Come closer! I’ll give your carcass to the birds and wild animals.”

45David said, “You come with sword and spear, but I come in the name of the LORD of all, the God of Israel’s army whom you have cursed. 46Today the LORD will hand you over to me and I will strike you down and cut off your head, and the dead bodies of the Philistines will be food for the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know there is a God in Israel, 47and everyone will know that the LORD does not need sword and spear. The victory is the LORD’s who will give you into our hand.”

48The Philistine advanced toward David, and David ran to meet him. 49He reached into his sack to take out a stone, then slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead and as the stone struck, he fell face down on the ground. 50David won the victory with sling and stone and without carrying a sword. 51Then he ran forward, drew out the Philistine’s sword from its sheath and decapitated him.

The Philistines turned and ran when they saw their champion was dead. 52The army of Judah and Israel chased them as far as Gath and to the gates of Ekron, and the Philistines fell from Shaaraim to Gath and Ekron.

53When the Israelites returned from pursuing them, they plundered the Philistine camp. 54David took the Philistine’s head to Jerusalem and took the Philistine’s armor for himself.

55When Saul saw David fight the Philistine he asked Abner, the commander of his army, “Whose son is that young man?” Abner didn’t know. 56The king said, “Find out.”

57When David returned from his victory, Abner brought him, carrying the Philistine’s head in his hand, to Saul. 58Saul asked him, “Whose son are you, young man?”

David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”

Commentary

1-11: Israel and Philistia have by this time been at odds for centuries. Sometimes the Philistines have the upper hand, sometimes they live in an uneasy stability alongside each other. Occasionally the Israelites get the best of the Philistines. The situation during the reign of Saul seems to have varied between all those states. We are looking at a time now when the Philistines are again flexing their muscles and encroaching on Israelite territory in the tribe of Judah. We note that Judah is gradually being distinguished from the other tribes. The two armies line up across a valley against each other. The Philistines send out their champion, a huge warrior named Goliath, and challenge the Israelites to do the same. Saul and his generals are anxious about the situation, to say the least.

12-18: Now we step back from the battle scene for a moment to introduce David, son of Jesse in Bethlehem. The account reads as though we have never heard of David before, and is obviously a separate tradition that eventually was simply added alongside the anointing story in the last chapter. In this account Jesse is a very old man. The three oldest sons named in the last chapter – Eliab, Aminadab, and Shammah, are off at war with Saul. David is a shepherd keeping his father’s sheep as in the last chapter. Meanwhile at the battle site, the Philistine has harangued the Israelites for forty days. The number 40 represents a period of testing. Jesse sends David to the front to take supplies to his other sons. We leave this paragraph with the clear impression that the time of testing is coming to an end.

19-23: David arrives at the camp as the armies are taking up their positions for the day’s posturing. Goliath comes forth to issue his challenge, and David hears it. (There are only two places in the text where the name Goliath is used – here and in verse 4. Elsewhere he is referred to simply as “the Philistine.”)

24-27: The soldiers are afraid of Goliath, but David hears them talking about the reward Saul has promised to the one who kills him. David is curious. One of the rewards is freedom: perhaps an indication that Saul has forcefully drafted his infantry; some commentators think it is a reference to freedom from taxes, although taxes have not been mentioned.

28-30: David is accosted by his brother Eliab, but goes on circulating through the ranks talking his big talk.

31-37: David’s brave words are reported to Saul, who summons him. Saul, apparently having never met David before (?) refuses his offer to fight the Philistine, but David convinces Saul that he just might be able to do something.

38-40: David can’t wear Saul’s armor, it’s too heavy. (In the last chapter he was Saul’s armor-bearer!) He goes out to engage the Philistine with his staff, five stones and a sling.

41-51: The Philistine approaches David with disdain and curses him and his God. David answers the challenge. He slings a rock and hits the Philistine in the forehead, stunning him so that he falls on his face. David takes the Philistine’s own sword and kills him with it, then cuts off his head.

48-53: The Philistine army turns and runs when their champion falls. Now the account becomes somewhat garbled. The Israelites give chase and pursue the Philistines all the way to their major cities of Gath and Ekron, then return and take all the booty from the Philistines’ abandoned camp.

54: A curious verse: There is as yet no Jerusalem, David did not wear any armor in the fight, and the head of Goliath is given to Saul in the next verses.

55-58: Saul inquires about David’s identity. There is no indication of any knowledge of David playing the lyre in Saul’s presence or ever serving as Saul’s armor-bearer. General Abner brings David to him and David tells Saul that he is Jesse’s son from Bethlehem.

Takeaway

Victory is not always to the strong. God’s people have an invisible advantage in this world as we will see again and again throughout Israel’s early history.