1 Samuel 17 Study Notes
17:1-2 The heartland of Benjamin and Judah was approachable from the coast through six valleys. The Philistines already had come up the Aijalon Valley (13:23). During the days of Samson (Jdg 13-16), they had come up the Sorek Valley. Now they were coming up the Valley of Elah and already controlled Socoh and Azekah. If they got much farther up the valley, they could come up the ridge route into the hill country and threaten Bethlehem, Hebron, and Saul’s capital, Gibeah. The situation was desperate for Saul and his army.
17:3 The word translated “valley” in v. 2 designates a broad, flat valley. The word translated ravine denotes a narrower, more sharply defined valley or wadi. Today, the valley narrows just east of Socoh, perhaps marking the site of the ancient conflict.
17:4 Recent archaeological finds at Tel es-Safi, the site of ancient Gath, confirm that the name Goliath was used among the Philistines around this period. Two other early manuscripts (LXX, DSS) state that Goliath was “six feet, nine inches tall.” However, the description of Goliath’s combat gear appears to support the larger height of nine feet, nine inches tall. At either height, Goliath would have towered over the much smaller Israelites.
17:5-7 The sheer spectacle of Goliath’s armor and weapons frightened the Israelite army. At the same time, their weight would have restricted Goliath’s agility. He probably assumed he would not have a prolonged fight with anyone.
17:8-9 Goliath challenged and taunted the Israelites. With his words Choose one of your men, Goliath suggested representative combat—the army of the losing combatant would become servants of the army of the victorious one.
17:10 The Hebrew word translated defy first came from Goliath’s mouth, but it occurs four other times in the account (vv. 25,26,36,45), with the last three emphasizing Goliath’s mocking of God’s honor.
17:11 The Israelites needed their leader to articulate a plan of response, but King Saul had none.
17:12 The feminine name Ephrath(ah) occurs in Judah’s genealogical lists, and her son Hur is called Bethlehem’s father (1Ch 2:19; 4:4). First Ch 2:13 says seven rather than eight sons, but perhaps one died at an early age and therefore was not noted by the Chronicler.
17:13 Eliab . . . Abinadab, and Shammah were the three sons of Jesse other than David mentioned by name in the account of Samuel’s anointing of David. If the Philistines made their way up the Valley of Elah, Bethlehem would soon face attack, so these men were defending their own homeland.
17:15 David’s primary role was tending his father’s flock in Bethlehem about fifteen miles east of the battle site, but he kept going back and forth to take his brothers food and to update his father on the battle.
17:16 Such a long standoff period as forty days would cause problems if it came at a time when fighting men needed to be home working their land.
17:17 Families of soldiers normally provided their sustenance on the battlefields.
17:18 Field commander is literally “commander of the thousand.” Confirmation probably refers to a report from David’s brothers.
17:19 Jesse’s words to David suggest either that this was David’s first trip to look after his brothers (unlikely in view of v. 15) or that David had been keeping the sheep outside Bethlehem and had just returned when Jesse sent him to Saul’s camp.
17:20 David must have left very early in order to have made the fifteen mile journey in time to see the army . . . marching out.
17:21 It appeared perhaps another day of standoff with the giant Goliath was forthcoming.
17:22-23 Came forward is literally “was going up.” The expression may suggest Goliath approached a bit closer than before, actually coming part way up the ravine (v. 3). David heard Goliath’s taunts—a subtle turning point in the account.
17:26-27 David’s words indicate he had not heard the announcement from Saul’s assistant (v. 25). The word disgrace is related to defy (vv. 10,25-26,36). Uncircumcised denotes someone outside God’s covenant. David saw the threat as not merely political (cp. v. 8) but theological. The armies of the living God, ironically, were terrified, but to David, God’s honor was at stake.
17:28 Eliab, along with his brothers Abina-dab and Shammah, was serving in Saul’s army (vv. 13-14). Eliab misread the intentions of his brother David and became angry—thus confirming for the reader God’s rejection of him as a possible successor of Saul (16:6-7).
17:29-30 It was just a question is literally “Is that not a word?” Robert Bergen paraphrases, “What have I done to offend you now? I happen to have been asking about a very important matter.”
17:31 King Saul apparently heard of David’s question and interest in the reward for fighting Goliath and summoned the young man.
17:33 Saul rejected David’s bold offer because David was just a youth and because Goliath had been in training as a warrior from his youth.
17:34-35 Wild animals such as a lion or a bear were always threats to a lamb from the flock in Israel at this time, and the shepherd’s fighting ability was the lamb’s only defense.
17:36 Lions and bears (lit “the lion and the bear”) probably best gives the sense of the translation. David was probably describing his various encounters with wild animals rather than identifying two specific incidents. This uncircumcised Philistine would suffer the same fate as these animals for his defiance of the Lord (see note at vv. 26-27).
17:37 The word rescued is the same word that appeared in v. 35; David rescued the sheep, and God rescued him. Now, God would rescue his flock Israel. Encouraged by David’s faith, Saul found the courage to invoke God’s name in the blessing, may the Lord be with you.
17:38-39 Saul brought his own military clothes for David to wear, a fact that suggests that although he was the youngest, David may not have been smaller than the king. David tried on the bronze helmet and other armor, but he was not accustomed to wearing them, so he took them off. Ironically, it would not be the last time David wore a king’s clothes.
17:40 Rather than wearing royal armor, David took the weapons with which he was most familiar. The five smooth stones he chose would have been roughly the size of tennis balls and would fly straighter than jagged stones. As a shepherd, he had likely become proficient with his sling, which would also enable him to attack Goliath from a distance instead of in close combat, where the giant would have a big advantage.
17:41 According to D. T. Tsumura, the grammar suggests Goliath’s slow movement contrasted with David’s quickness.
17:42 Goliath saw David as an unfit challenge to his skill as a warrior. He was just a youth, and his features did not show that he had battle experience.
17:43 Goliath began his psychological warfare (“trash talk”) against David by suggesting the staff David carried was fit only to beat a dog. The statement he cursed David by his gods further slants the account toward describing a battle between the gods of the Philistines and the God of Israel rather than just a battle between two men.
17:44 A duel typically began with boasting (D. T. Tsumura).
17:45 David’s response to Goliath highlights the contrast in battle strategy. The Philistine relied on his sword, spear, and javelin, but David fought in the name of (as the representative of and with the authority of) the Lord of Armies, who was the God of Israel’s military. Goliath had defied him, but now the Lord would triumph over him through his servant.
17:46 Hand you over to me is literally “shut you into my hand,” that is, leave no way of escape. David’s reference to the Philistine camp meant the outcome of their personal battle would have implications for the Philistine army. Birds of the sky and the wild creatures of the earth mimicked Goliath’s mocking taunt (v. 44). David insisted that when victory was his, all the world would know that Israel had a God mighty enough to rescue in seemingly impossible situations. David’s concern was that the nations would also know the power of the Lord.
17:47 This whole assembly probably designates Israel’s army, but it may include all who were present that day. David testified that the Lord saves, but not by sword or by spear. Since the battle was his, he would fight and win his way.
17:48-49 After a lengthy anticipation of the battle in the narrative, the battle was over almost as soon as it began. The words fell facedown describe Goliath falling face-forward. The force of the stone’s impact likely rocked him backward initially, but then he either lurched forward again to complete his fall or spun around face first as he continued to fall back (away from David) to the ground. Ironically, the same words, “fell facedown,” are used to describe showing respect to superiors (20:41; 2Sm 9:6) and worshiping the Lord (Nm 20:6; Jos 7:6), which Goliath had refused to do during his life.
17:50 This emphasizes the unlikelihood of David’s victory, which gives glory to God. And killed him is a summary statement of the whole event. David landed the actual death blow not with a stone but with Goliath’s own sword (v. 51).
17:51 Goliath was badly wounded but was yet living when David reached him. Unwilling to stop short of finishing his task, David used Goliath’s own sword to kill him and cut off his head. Seeing that their official representative in this death match was dead, the Philistines turned and fled back down the valley toward Gath.
17:52 On the men of Israel and Judah, see note at 11:8. Inspired by the Lord’s victory through David, Israel’s army pursued the Philistines all the way to the gates of Ekron, a leading Philistine city (5:1,10) more than ten miles away. The Shaaraim road runs north to south right next to Azekah (v. 1); as panic set in, the Philistines tried every avenue possible to escape the Israelites.
17:53-54 Why David took Goliath’s head to Jerusalem is unclear, since Jerusalem was controlled by the Jebusites at the time. One possibility is that David intended it to frighten the Jebusites and other enemies of Israel. Another is that Jerusalem was a central place where even non-Jebusites could come to divide, barter, and display the spoils of war. A third possibility is that the text was recording what David ultimately did with Goliath’s head years later when David conquered Jerusalem (2Sm 5:7), though 17:57 may weigh against this suggestion. See R. D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel for further commentary on options. The giant’s sword ended up at the city of Nob, from which David retrieved it years later (1Sm 21:8-9).
17:55-56 Either Saul’s busy schedule, coupled with his torment from the evil spirit (16:14), resulted in his not recognizing David as his personal lyre player (16:15-23), or Saul knew David but did not know who his father was (see note at 17:58).