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1 Samuel 17:1-49 – David and Goliath


The impressive might of a Philistine "giant" is no match for a shepherd boy armed only with a sling, five stones, and an unshakable faith in God.


This famous story is the best-known adventure of David. The version in our Bibles (following the Hebrew) is significantly longer than that contained in the Greek version. Many discrepancies between this story and other parts of 1 Samuel 17 are contained in the "extra" verses (vv. 12-31). Probably we have an original, shorter story that has been augmented with verses 12-31. The following literary analysis indicates that the story both makes sense without their presence and that they are not intrusive to the story's original design:

A The Philistine and Israelite Armies Face Each Other (vv. 1-3)
B David Accepts Goliath's Challenge (vv. 4-39)
a Goliath's armor (vv. 4-7)
b Goliath's challenge (vv. 8-10)
c Israel's response: fear (v. 11)
(d Introduction to David [vv. 12-31a])
c′ Saul's response: send for David (v. 31b)
b′ David accepts Goliath's challenge (vv. 32-37)
a′ David's armor (vv. 38-39)
B′ David Defeats Goliath (vv. 40-51a)
a David selects sling and stones to kill Goliath (v. 40a)
b David draws near to Goliath (v. 40b)
c Goliath draws near to David (v. 41)
d Goliath taunts David (vv. 42-44)
d′ David taunts Goliath (vv. 45-47)
c′ Goliath draws near to David (v. 48a)
b′ David draws near to Goliath (v. 48b)
a′ David kills Goliath with sling and stones (vv. 49-51a)
A′ The Philistine Army Flees from Israel (vv. 51b-54)

The story begins and ends with the relative positioning of the Philistine and Israelite armies (A; A′). At first, they are arrayed on opposite hills with a valley between them. Goliath will enter this valley as "the man between" (ish habbenayim, vv. 4, 23, "champion" in NRSV); by the close of the story the Philistines are fleeing the Israelite forces.

Between the frame provided by the disposition of the opposing forces are two intricately structured scenes in which David accepts Goliath's challenge (B, vv. 4-39) and then defeats him (B′, vv. 40-51a).

In the first of these central scenes, attention is drawn to the impressive armor with which Goliath is fitted (vv. 4-7), as contrasted with David's refusal to wear Saul's armor (vv. 38-39); David's acceptance of the Philistine's challenge (vv. 8-10, 32b-37); and the responses of Israel and Saul (vv. 11, 32a).

The disputed verses 12-31, which provide yet another introduction of David and his family to Saul (see chapter 16), break the natural flow of the narrative despite their central position in this section.

In the second of these central scenes, attention is drawn to David's selection of a sling and five smooth stones with which to kill the Philistine and his actual dispatching of Goliath with these same weapons (vv. 40a, 49-50a); the approach of David to Goliath and Goliath to David as they prepare for mortal combat (vv. 40b-41, 48); and the exchange of verbal taunts in which David's unshakable faith in his God is on display (vv. 42-44, 45-47).

Several points arise from this understanding:
• David's qualifications as king--courage in the face of overwhelming force, military skill, and, above all, faith in the Lord
• the theological truth that the victory comes from God, and God alone
• the purpose clauses in David's taunt indicate the lasting significance of the confrontation: "so that all the earth [better: land] may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear" (vv.46c-47b).

1 Samuel 17:1-49

David and Goliath

17Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. 2Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. 3The Philistines stood on the mountain on one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. 4And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six* cubits and a span. 5He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armoured with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 7The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. 8He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, ‘Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 9If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.’ 10And the Philistine said, ‘Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.’ 11When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

12 Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years.* 13The three eldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle; the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. 14David was the youngest; the three eldest followed Saul, 15but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. 16For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.

17 Jesse said to his son David, ‘Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers; 18also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See how your brothers fare, and bring some token from them.’

19 Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. 20David rose early in the morning, left someone in charge of the sheep, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. 21Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. 23As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

24 All the Israelites, when they saw the man, fled from him and were very much afraid. 25The Israelites said, ‘Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel. The king will greatly enrich the man who kills him, and will give him his daughter and make his family free in Israel.’ 26David said to the men who stood by him, ‘What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?’ 27The people answered him in the same way, ‘So shall it be done for the man who kills him.’

28 His eldest brother Eliab heard him talking to the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David. He said, ‘Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart; for you have come down just to see the battle.’ 29David said, ‘What have I done now? It was only a question.’ 30He turned away from him towards another and spoke in the same way; and the people answered him again as before.

31 When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul; and he sent for him. 32David said to Saul, ‘Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’ 33Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.’ 34But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.’ 37David said, ‘The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.’ So Saul said to David, ‘Go, and may the Lord be with you!’

38 Saul clothed David with his armour; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39David strapped Saul’s sword over the armour, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.’ So David removed them. 40Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.’ 45But David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.’

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

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