1 Samuel 17
Mortal combat: David vs Goliath
Philistines invade Judah1Philistines assembled an army at Socoh,  a town in Israel’s tribe of Judah. They made camp between the towns of Socoh and Azekah,  at a place called Bloody Border.  2Saul gathered his army by the Valley of Elah,  and ordered his men to form a battle line facing the Philistines.
3The invading Philistines took a position on a hill above the Valley of Elah. Israelites took a position on a hill across the valley. The two armies faced each other with the shallow valley between them.
Goliath’s invitation to mortal combat4One day a Philistine soldier started walking toward the Israelites. He was the Philistine champion warrior, Goliath. He came from the Philistine city of Gath.  Goliath stood six feet, nine inches (2 meters) tall. 
5He protected his head with a bronze helmet. And he wore a coat of small bronze plates linked like fish scales. It weighed 125 pounds (57 kg). 6He wore bronze leg guards, and he carried a bronze javelin slung over his back. 7He also carried a spear with a shaft that looked as thick as a weaver’s beam.  The iron spearhead alone weighed at least 15 pounds (6.8 kg).  A soldier walked ahead of him, protecting him by carrying a tall shield. 
8Goliath shouted across the narrow valley at Israel’s army, “Let’s be reasonable. We don’t need our armies to fight each other. I’m one Philistine. Why don’t you pick one of Saul’s men to fight me? 9If he kills me, we lose. Philistines will serve your people. If I kill him, you lose. Israel serves us. 10I challenge your army to mortal combat. Send me a man willing to fight.”
11Goliath’s words shocked and terrified Saul and his men.
Introducing David again12David was a son of Jesse, from the clan of a man named Ephrath. Jesse was an old man with eight sons.  13Jesse’s three oldest sons had joined Saul’s army for this battle. Eliab was the oldest, followed by Abinadab and Shammah. 14David was the youngest. His three oldest brothers followed Saul into battle. 15Meanwhile, David led his father’s sheep to one Bethlehem grazing pasture after another. But he also traveled back and forth from grazing field to battlefield.
16The Philistine warrior barked his challenge to Israel every morning and night, for 40 days. 
David brings food to brothers17Jesse told his boy David, “Quickly, take some food to your brothers at their camp. Bring them a 35-pound  (15 kg) sack of toasted grain and 10 loaves of bread. 18Also take these 10 cuts of cheese to their commander, the officer leading their battalion of a thousand men. And bring back any news or anything else your brothers have for me.  19You’ll find them camped in the Valley of Elah, where they’re fighting in Saul’s army against the Philistines.”
20David got up early the next morning, put another shepherd in charge of the sheep, and set out for the Valley of Elah.  He arrived as Israel’s soldiers were taking their positions on the battle line, and screaming their battle cries. 21The two opposing armies lined up for battle, each army facing the other.
22David left everything he brought with the quartermaster in charge of supplies, and he ran to greet his brothers. 23While David talked with them, the Philistine champion Goliath of Gath repeated his challenge. David heard it. 24Israelites backed off, terrified. No Israelite wanted anything to do with that man.
25David heard the Israelites talking among themselves, “Did you hear what he just said? This guy is insulting all our people. The king wants someone to shut him up so badly that he’s offering wealth, a tax-free life, and marriage to his daughter.”
26David asked if it was true. “Is that what a man gets for killing this Philistine who is badmouthing Israel? Isn’t that guy just another pagan who thinks he can defeat the army of the living God?” 27The men confirmed, “The reward you heard is exactly what a soldier would get for killing the man.”
David’s big brother gets mad at him28David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard him talking with the other men and he got furious. “What do you think you’re doing here, squirt? Who’s watching the sheep you left out in the wild? I know why you’re here, you rotten kid. You came to Bloody Border to see some blood, didn’t you?”
29David said, “There you go again. What did I do this time? I asked a simple question.” 30David walked off and asked others to confirm what he heard about the king’s offer. The men confirmed the king’s offer.
31Someone told Saul what David had said, and Saul sent for him. 32David told Saul, “Sir, there’s no reason to be afraid of this Philistine. I’ll shut him up for you.”
33Saul told David, “Not a chance. You’re just a boy. That guy has been a warrior since he was your age.”
34David answered Saul, “Well, I’ve been a shepherd for my father. When a lion or a bear stole one of his sheep, I didn’t let them get by with it. 35I went after them and killed them. I have rescued sheep that way. When those animals turned on me, I grabbed them by the jaw fur and beat them to death.  36I’ve killed lions and bears. This pagan Philistine is no different, except that he’s insulting the army of the living God. 37The LORD saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear. Surely, he can save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So, Saul told David, “Okay. Go ahead. May the LORD go with you.”
Dressing David for combat38Saul started to dress David in his own armor: bronze helmet and a coat of armored scales. 39David strapped on Saul’s sword and then tried to walk with all that hardware. No go. He wasn’t used to the weight. David told Saul, “I can’t walk with all this metal on me. I’m not used to it.” So David took it off.
40He picked up his walking staff and started walking toward the Philistine front line. He stopped at the dry riverbed known as a wadi, and picked up five smooth stones, which he dropped into a pouch. He took his sling into his hand as he walked toward the Philistine.
41The Philistine warrior started walking toward him, behind the soldier carrying his shield.
Trading insults42When the Philistine got close enough to see that David was a handsome little red-cheeked kid, he took it as a high insult. 43The Philistine warrior said, “What do you think I am, a weak little dog you can chase away with a stick?” Then he threatened David with curses  about what he intended to do with him—in the name of Philistine gods.
44The Philistine told David, “Step on over here so I can feed you to the birds and the wild animals.”
45David told the Philistine, “Look at yourself. All you have to fight me with is a sword, a spear, and a javelin. I’m coming to you on behalf of the LORD of everyone—in the name of the God of Israel’s army, which you insulted. 46Today the LORD is giving me a gift. You belong to me. I’m about to kill you and cut your head off. As for the Philistine army watching us, I’ll give their corpses to the birds and the wild animals. That way, everyone will get to see that the God in Israel is alive. 47They’ll discover that the LORD doesn’t need swords or spears to win a battle. This battle is between you and the LORD. He’s giving you to us now.”
A tiny stone drops the giant Goliath48The Philistine started to make his move, attacking. So did David—rushing forward.
49David reached into his pouch, pulled out a stone, and loaded it into the pocket of his sling.  He launched the stone and buried it deep into the Philistine’s forehead. Goliath collapsed face down into the dirt. 50David won the battle with just a slingshot and a stone.
Israel chases the Philistines away51David ran to the fallen Philistine, and pulled the sword from the warrior’s sheath, finished him off, and cut off his head. When Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they instantly broke their promise to serve Israel. They ran away, instead.
52Soldiers of Israel including warriors from the local tribe, Judah, took that as a cue to attack. They killed and chased runaway Philistines back to the Philistine town of Gath and all the way to the city gates of the walled town of Ekron. Philistine bodies littered the trails from Shaaraim  to Gath and Ekron.
53Israel’s army returned to the abandoned Philistine camp and took whatever they wanted—the spoils of war. 54David took Goliath’s armor and stored it in his tent. He later took the head to Jerusalem. 
Saul gets to know David55Before the battle, when Saul watched David walk off to fight the Philistine, he asked his military commander, Abner, “Who’s the father of that young man?” Abner said, “I swear, my king, I have no idea.”
56Saul said, “Well, find out. Ask around. See if anyone knows who the young man is.”
57When David came back, carrying the Philistine’s head, Abner took him to meet Saul. 58Saul asked David, “Who’s your father, young man?” David said, “I’m the son of Jesse, your loyal servant. We live in Bethlehem.”
There were two towns in Judah’s tribal land called Socoh, also spelled Sokho. One is southwest of Hebron about 10 miles (16 km). But the one in this story is linked to the ancient ruin Tel Socho, on a hill above the Valley of Elah. That was about 14 miles (22 km) west of David’s home in Bethlehem. And it was about 17 miles southwest of Jerusalem (27 km), and roughly the same distance from Saul’s home in Gibeah. Today, the hilltop is a tourist attraction called Givat Haurmusim—“Hill of Lupines.” Lupines are wild blue mountain flowers that cover the hillside in the spring.
Azekah was a hilltop city about 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Socoh. It guarded the main route through the Valley of Elah below.
Hebrew: Ephes Dammin. This location in the tribal highlands of Judah was near Philistine territory on the coastal plains.
The shallow Valley of Elah starts in the hills of Judah, between Bethlehem and Socho. It runs west, down through the foothills and on toward the Mediterranean coast by Socoh, Azekah, and the major Philistine town of Gath, home of the Philistine champion warrior, Goliath. “Elah” is a kind of oak or terebinth tree. The valley may have had many of those trees in Bible times. Not today, though. Just a few.
Gath was one of the five major Philistine cities along the Mediterranean coastal plain. It was roughly 10 miles or less (16 km) from the Philistine camp above the Valley of Elah.
Goliath’s height reported here is from the first Greek translation of the Jewish Bible, finished in the century before the birth of Jesus. The oldest surviving copies of this translation, known as the Septuagint, date to the AD 200s-400s.But the most popular Hebrew version of the story put Goliath at 9 feet 9 inches (3 meters) tall. Those astonishing numbers—some say exaggerated—come from the Masoretic Text, written in the original Hebrew language of the story. The oldest known copy is from about the AD 1000s. That’s several centuries after the Greek versions of the Jewish Bible, which Christians often call the Old Testament.
A weaver’s beam may have been about 2 inches thick (5 cm).
Goliath’s spearhead weighed almost as much as two large cast-iron skillets.
This shield may have been soldier-sized, big enough for a typical soldier to hide behind it. For Goliath, it may have been too short to protect his head unless he ducked and tucked, a maneuver that would make him look like the champion of Duck, Duck, Goose.
David’s role in this story can feel like an abrupt cut and paste from another story, rather than a continuation of what we’ve been reading. Or perhaps it’s a rocky flashback or it was supposed to go earlier in the story. Here, the writer introduces him as a new character. David is no longer staying with Saul and comforting him with music therapy, to treat Saul’s depression. Saul doesn’t seem to even know him or his father (verse 55).
“Forty days” may not have been exactly 40 days. The number was a common expression in the Bible, whether it was talking about 40 days or 40 years. It meant a long time. Perhaps “a month or more” for “40 days” and “a generation” for “40 years.”
Hebrew measurement was an ephah, which is about 20 quarts or 22 liters. Wheat kernels weight about 710 grams or 1.5 pounds per liter.
Jesse asks David to bring back their “token,” (rubba). The word can mean a report, assurance, or perhaps confirmation that they got what David delivered.
It would have taken David about seven hours, at the average walking pace of 3 miles per hour (5 km/hr), adjusting slightly for the 1,200-foot (365 m) descent from Bethlehem to Socoh, and half an hour to rest and eat lunch.
Respectfully, given the length and power of the teeth and claws on lions and bears, some might wonder if David is a teenager who could be stretching the truth somewhat, if not entirely. He certainly seemed motivated by the king’s offer of riches or a woman. If David was a typical teen male, the lady was the main draw—as David proved later by completing the extra tasks Saul gave him (1 Samuel 18).
Goliath may have threatened to do with David what the Philistines did later, when they killed Saul and his sons. They cut off their heads and hung their corpses for the birds and wild animals (verse 44; 1 Samuel 31:8-13).
Israelites used slings as an ancient form of artillery. An experienced slinger could send an aerodynamically smooth stone 100 yards/meters in a second. The tribe of Benjamin once had a corps of 700 slingers who reportedly could cut a hair in half (Judges 20:16).
Location of Shaaraim is uncertain but was likely near the Philistine camp somewhere between Socoh and Azekah (1 Samuel 17:1). One suggested location: ruins called Khirbet esh-Sharia about a mile northeast of Azekah. Gath and Ekron would have been roughly 10 and 15 miles (16 km and 24 km) away, respectively.
David hadn’t conquered Jerusalem yet. Most scholars seem to presume the writer meant that David took Goliath’s skull to Jerusalem after he conquered the city from Jebusites and declared it his capital of Israel.
- Sorry, there are currently no questions for this chapter.