(1 Samuel 17:1-58) The First Feat of Arms of David—the Encounter with the Philistine Giant.
Pitched between Shochoh and Azekah.—The locality was some twelve or fifteen miles southwest of Jerusalem, and nine or ten from Bethlehem, the home of the family of Jesse. The name Ephes-dammim, the “boundary of blood,” is suggestive, and tells of the constant border warfare which took place in this neighbourhood.
Goliath, of Gath.—The Philistine champion belonged to a race or family of giants, the remnant of the sons of Anak (see Joshua 11:22), who still dwelt in Gath and Gaza and Ashdod. The height mentioned was about nine feet two inches. We have in history a few instances of similar giants. This doughty champion was “full of savage insolence, unable to understand how any one could contend against his brute strength and impregnable panoply; the very type of the stupid ‘Philistine,’ such as has, in the language of modern Germany, not unfitly identified the name with the opponents of light and freedom and growth.”—Stanley.
And ye servants to Saul.—Thus taunting the soldiers of Israel with the memory of the former glory of their king. Will none of the famous servants of the warrior king dare to meet me?
Must we not deem it probable that the fact of the separation of the prophet from the king had been made public in Philistia, and that the present daring challenge was owing to their knowledge that the Spirit of the Lord—whom we know these enemies of the Hebrews dreaded with so awful a dread—had departed from Saul and his armies?
It is, however, better (with the Syriac Version) to place all the words after “Beth-lehem-judah” down to the end of 1 Samuel 17:14 in a parenthesis. 1 Samuel 17:15, after the parenthesis descriptive of Jesse and his three elder sons, takes up the account of David again, thus: “But David went,” &c.
Went among men for an old man.—This rendering follows the translation of Jerome’s Vulgate, “Senex et grandævus inter viros,” rather than the Hebrew. The literal translation of ba-baănashim would be went among men. It is best to assume that the verb ba- here is used elliptically for ba-bayamin, “was advanced in days,” that is, “was an old man.” Keil renders baanashim “among the weak,” that is, “Jesse had come to be reckoned among the weak” (or the aged). Maurer and others believe the present Hebrew reading corrupt; the sense, however, is clear.
Jesse is represented in this parenthesis, descriptive of the father of David, for some reason known only to the compiler, as already an old man. Possibly this notice is inserted to explain the reason why the father of the future hero-king of Israel was not among the warriors of Saul.
The apparent ignorance of Saul and Abner respecting the young shepherd’s family will be discussed in the note on 1 Samuel 17:55-58.
Ewald goes still further, and considers that the royal. promise included the elevation of the house of the victorious warrior to noble rank, as henceforth they would be “free”—“freeholders,” a family released from the ordinary service of subjects; and this high distinction, the great German scholar considers, would easily come to be looked upon as hereditary, and thus such favoured houses would form an intermediate stage between the king and the simple subject. Although it is clear that a wonderful advance in the internal development of the kingdom of the children of Israel had taken place in Saul’s reign, yet it is doubtful if the government of the first king was as yet sufficiently organised to justify us in accepting, in its fulness, the conclusion of the ingenious comment of Ewald here. It does not appear from the narrative that these promises were ever fulfilled by Saul in the case of the house of Jesse.
If we render as the Authorised Version, then the sense is quite clear. “You seem bitterly displeased with my zeal in this matter, but surely, is there not a good cause for my passionate emotion here—such an insult to our God?”
Shall be as one of them.—“He, the idolator, must know that he has not to do with mere men, but with God: with a living God will he have to do, and not with a lifeless idol.”—Berleburger Bible.
Wordsworth, again, on the words “chose him five smooth stones out of the brook,” refers to Augustine’s Commentary, who finds here a deep mystical signification. It is an admirable specimen of the Patristic School of Exposition, which, although quaint, and not unfrequently “far-fetched,” will always, and with good reason, possess great power over the minds of the earnest and devout student. “So our Divine David, the Good Shepherd of Bethlehem, when He went forth at the temptation to meet Satan—our ghostly Goliath—chose five stones out of the brook. He took the five books of Moses out of the flowing stream of Judaism. He took what was solid out of what was fluid. He took what was permanent out of what was transitory. He took what was moral and perpetual out of what was ceremonial and temporary. He took stones out of a brook, and with one of these He overthrew Satan. All Christ’s answers to the tempter are moral precepts, taken from one Book of the Law (Deuteronomy), and He prefaced His replies with the same words, ‘It is written;’ and with this sling and stone of Scripture He laid our Goliath low, and He has taught us by His example how we may also vanquish the tempter.” (See St. Augustine, Sermon 32)
By his gods.—This should be rendered by his God. No doubt the idolator here made use of the sacred Name, so dear to every believing Israelite, thus defying the Eternal of Hosts.
“And thou imperious! if thy madness wait
The lance of Hector, thou shalt meet thy fate.
That giant corse, extended on the shore.
Shall largely feed the fowls with fat and gore.”—
Iliad, xiii. 1053.
“I will not trust in my bow,
Neither shall my sword save me.
In God we boast all the day long,
And praise thy Name for ever.”
And in Psalm 33:16-20,
“There is no king saved by the multitude of an host,
A mighty man is not delivered by much strength.”
* * * * *
“Our soul waiteth for the Lord,
He is our help and our shield.”
Slinging stones had been brought among the Israelites to an extraordinary perfection. Many years before this time we read that in the tribe of Benjamin were “700 chosen men left-handed; every one could sling stones at an hair’s breadth, and not miss” (Judges 20:16).
A work by W. Vischer, on “Ancient Slings” (Basel, 1866), quoted by Lange, speaks of slingers who could hit the part of the enemy’s face at which they aimed.
Keil remarks that it is strange that no further mention is made of this “valley of the pursuit. The LXX. render, instead of “to a valley,” “to Gath.” These Greek translators probably then had before them the true text: Gath, instead of gai, a valley. Gath is mentioned in the next sentence.
The way to Shaaraim.—This was a town in the lowlands of Judah (see Joshua 15:36); the name has probably been preserved in the modern Kefr Zakariya. The LXX., however,” do not understand Shaaraim as a city at all, but render, instead of “by the way to Shaaraim,” “in the way of the gates.” The “gates” of Ekron are mentioned as one of the notable places of the flight in the preceding sentence.
If the LXX. interpretation be adopted, we must understand by this expression the space between the outer and the inner gates of Ekron.
But he put his armour in his tent.—Ohel, the Hebrew word rendered here “tent,” is the ancient word for “dwelling.” If we understand that David kept for the present the armour of his mighty adversary, we must suppose he took it to his dwelling at Bethlehem, and after a time presented it to the sanctuary at Nob. In 1 Samuel 21:9 we read of the “sword of Goliath wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod.” Abarbanel, however, with great probability, believes that by the expression “in his tent” the “tabernacle of Jehovah” is meant—“His tabernacle,” so termed pointedly by the compiler of the history, because David, in later days, with great ceremony, “pitched it” in his own city (2 Samuel 6:17). In Acts 15:16 the writer of this New Testament Book expressly calls the sacred tent “the Tabernacle of David.”
Various ingenious explanations have been suggested by scholars.
(a) The mental state of Saul when David played before him was such that the king failed to recognise him on the present occasion, and Abner probably had never seen him before.
(b) Some length of time had elapsed since his last visit to the court, and as he was then in very early manhood, he had, so to speak, grown, in a comparatively speaking short space of time, out of Saul’s memory.
(c) The purpose of Saul’s inquiry was not to find out who David was—that he knew well already—but to ascertain the position and general circumstances of the young hero’s father, as, according to the promise (in 1 Samuel 17:25), in the event of his success (which evidently the king confidently looked for), the father of the champion and his family would receive extraordinary honours.
The real solution of the difficulty probably lies in the fact that, as has been before stated, this and the other historical books of the Old Testament were made up by the inspired compiler from well-authenticated traditions current in Israel, and most probably preserved in the archives of the great prophetic schools. (See Notes on 1 Samuel 17:1; 1 Samuel 17:15.) There were, no doubt, many of these traditions connected with the principal events of David’s early career. Two here were selected which, to a certain extent, covered the same ground. The first—preserved, no doubt, in some prophetic school where music and poetry were especially cultivated—narrates the influence which David acquired over Saul through his great gift of music. The power of music and poetry in Saul’s mental disease was evidently the great point of interest to the original writer of 1 Samuel 16:14-23. Now, in the narrative contained in these ten verses no note of time occurs. The events related evidently were spread over a considerable, possibly over a very long, period. The afflicted king might have seen the young musician perhaps in a darkened tent once or twice before the Goliath combat, but the great intimacy described in 1 Samuel 16:21-23, we may well assume, belonged to a period subsequent to the memorable combat with the giant.
Following out this hypothesis, we may with some confidence assume that King Saul failed entirely to recognise the young player whom he had only seen (possibly only heard in his darkened tent) on one or two sad occasions; and Abner probably had never seen him.
As for the great love on the part of the king, and position of royal armour-bearer these things we have little doubt came to David after the victory over the giant Philistine, and very likely indeed in consequence of it.
In the later of the two sections of the Goliath history, the compiler cared little for the musical detail; his work was to show that the foundation stone of David’s brilliant and successful life was intense faith in the Jehovah of Israel, a perfect child-like trust in the power of the Invisible King.
In the former of the two sections the relater—no doubt in his day a famous teacher in some school of prophetic music—was, only concerned to show the mighty influence of his Divine art upon the souls and the lives of men, as exemplified in the story of the early days of the sweet Psalmist-King of Israel.
The musical details connected with the early life of David, the composer of so many of the famous hymns sung in the Tempie Service and also in the public gatherings of the people, would be—in the eyes of this writer—of the deepest interest to coming generations.