David and Goliath (1 Sam 17)
Some of the most popular and enduring stories involve an underdog who overcomes great obstacles and secures victory against the odds. Arguably the most famous of such stories is the unlikely triumph of David—the young Israelite shepherd—against the battle-hardened Philistine war machine, the nine-foot-nine Goliath of Gath. Even though many people have heard about “David versus Goliath” in the media, the actual details of the story in
Did you know…?
- The Philistine takes his stand for 40 days in
1Sam 17:16, reminding the reader that at the end of 40 days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made ( Gen 8:6) and that Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai ( Exod 24:18)—David is in elite biblical company when he faces the giant.
- The Greek Septuagint lists Goliath’s height approximately three feet shorter.
- When Goliath curses David “by his gods” in
1Sam 17:43, it is conceivable that one of these gods is the Philistine deity Dagon. Goliath and Dagon have something in common: in 1Sam 5:4, Dagon loses his head (before the ark of the covenant), and Goliath loses his head in the confrontation with David.
- There is some debate as to why David chooses five stones. Some argue that he picks one stone for each of the five books of the Torah, others suggest that Goliath has four brothers, and still other interpreters suggest a more practical reason: in case he misses the mark.
- Scholars note a tension between this story (
1Sam 17) and the one in 2Sam 21:19-22, which reports that a certain Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim killed Goliath.
- The sword of Goliath shows up again in
1Sam 21:9, when David retrieves it as he is fleeing from Saul and takes it with him while he hides in the city of Gath, the very hometown of Goliath himself.
How is Goliath characterized in this episode?
Most English translations call Goliath a “champion” in
But Goliath is also from the city of Gath, and according to
What happens to the head of Goliath?
Goliath challenges the Israelites to choose a fighter to face him one on one, with the losing nation to become slaves of the other. Even for an experienced fighter this represents a daunting task, and David has to first convince Saul that he is equal to the task. Testifying about his prowess against lions and bears, David’s speech is impressive, and Saul agrees to allow him to enter the ring. Even more impressive are David’s words to Goliath, asserting that the battle belongs to God and that he intends to use the giant’s own sword to decapitate him (
Like an athlete who guarantees victory before the game, true to his word, David cuts off the head of the Philistine with the giant’s own sword. But Goliath’s head is subject to an interesting postmortem journey, for according to