1 Samuel 17:4 – The Name and Size of the Philistine Champion
SummaryThe height of the Philistine champion has been described, interpreted, and argued about for centuries. Even his name, Goliath, is a matter of dispute.
AnalysisThis seemingly innocuous verse has generated immense discussion among those who enjoy this marvelous story. The discussion centers around two questions concerning the Philistine champion: "What was his name?" and "How tall was he?"
The question of the champion's name arises because the story refers to him as "the Philistine" twenty-seven times, and as "Goliath" only twice (vv. 4, 23). Elsewhere in Samuel we read that Elhanan, not David, slew "Goliath" (2 Samuel 21:19). Since Elhanan, like David, was from Bethlehem, it is possible that his slaying of Goliath was attributed to David, the more famous Bethlehemite. Later, in Chronicles, we read that Elhanan killed "Lahmi the brother of Goliath" (1 Chronicles 20:5, emphasis added). All of this is "gigantically" confusing!
As to Goliath's height, the Hebrew text says he was "six cubits and a span" or roughly 9'9" tall; but important Greek texts say "four cubits and a span" or about 6'9" tall. Both are very tall by any standard. The unsolvable question remains, however, did an original text claiming Goliath was seven feet tall become exaggerated to ten feet tall? Or did an original ten foot Goliath become seven feet tall in an effort to make the story more believable? The point, of course, is that this monstrous man, equipped with armaments that made him essentially a Philistine "tank," is placed in single combat with little David, whose faith and courage are rewarded by his God with victory.