David Fights Goliath: A Lesson of Courage and Faith — 1 Samuel 17

If you have ever attended a church Sunday school (or synagogue Hebrew school) as a child, you probably already know the story of David and Goliath. This tale is the chronicle of a young Hebrew shepherd boy, who killed a Philistine giant on the battlefield, some three thousand years ago.

This Bible story is told in the First Book of Samuel, chapter 17 and well worth a read of the 58 verses. It is definitely a great teaching event for a youngster of either sex, as it reveals a lesson in courage and faith, as well as demonstrating the possibility of overcoming what appears to be a hopeless situation. We will revisit the circumstances surrounding that encounter and investigate several details that were probably overlooked in your church or synagogue class.

The location of the battle was the Elah Valley (West Bank in modern Israel). The Philistine camp was in the hills on one side of the valley and the Israelite camp in the hills on the other side. Among the soldiers of the Philistines was a giant of a man named Goliath. How big was he?

Ancient measurements were usually described in ‘cubits’, which was the length based on the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. It was not a universally standard length, but varied between cultures and times, plus there were regular cubits and longer royal cubits. In the Bible, Goliath is described at being six cubits and one span in height. A ‘span’ was measured across the four fingers (a ‘palm’ was measured across the four fingers and open thumb).

Anyway, it is complicated, so the data relevant to Goliath’s height varies greatly among various bible commentaries and dictionaries and it appears academics have their own favorite theories of cubit length. So, depending where you obtain your information, you will find that Goliath stood somewhere between just short of seven feet to eleven feet tall (2.14 – 3.35 meters). Most accounts suggest 9½ feet (2.9 m). That size, however, probably included the full length in sandals, armor, and helmet.1

Where did these giants come from?

The Bible states that Goliath lived in Gath.2 Although he was a member of the Philistine army, Goliath was almost certainly not of the Philistine bloodline, but probably belonged to a separate and distinct race of giants.3

One encyclopedia article on Goliath states, “One of four huge sons of a man named Rapha, he is traditionally thought to be a descendant of a legendary race of giants called the Nephilim.” These creatures from the time of Noah were cross-breeds; they were human-angel hybrids. Some survived the great flood, as they are also mentioned when the Israelites sent spies to assess the feasibility of conquering Canaan (see Numbers 13:33).4 Yes, all human life was wiped out in the flood (except for Noah’s family), but the Nephilim were neither creations of God, nor even human.

While a slight increase in height could come about from inbreeding or a medical condition, some researchers believe the giants came about through the methods introduced by fallen angels back in the days of Noah, as told in Genesis, chapter six.

“When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. . . The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown,” (Genesis 6:1-2, 4, ESV).5

It was those ‘mighty men’ called the Nephilim, who many researchers believe were of giant statue. One modern Bible version states it this way: “This was back in the days (and also later) when there were giants in the land. The giants came from the union of the sons of God and the daughters of men. These were the mighty men of ancient lore, the famous ones,” (Genesis 6:4, TM).6

Until fairly recently, preaching the idea of fallen angels mating with earthly women was a mind-bending thought that the great majority of religious leaders didn’t want to tell their congregations about, least they might be considered insane, but some recent evangelical preachers are beginning to consider this topic for discussion. It is by no means a new idea for it was discussed and supported over the millennia by such people as Josephus, Philo, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, and others. Even so, over time preachers and educators retreated from addressing or teaching truths that were difficult to understand or embarrassing to explain. So these ‘fringe’ concepts were hidden away or forbidden by church organizations.7

Some preachers teach that the ‘sons of God’ are not angels, but humans of a certain clan or tribe, but this is not supported by scripture. Theologian Ethelbert Bullinger (1837-1913), had this to say: “It is only by the Divine specific act of creation that any created being can be called ‘a son of God’ . . . This is why angels are called ‘sons of God’ in every other place where the expression is used in the Old Testament (Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Psalm 29:1, 89:6; Daniel 3:25) . . . We have no authority or right to take the expression in Genesis 6:4 in any other sense. Moreover in Genesis 6:2 the Sept[uagint] renders it ‘angels’.”8

“The evidence that ‘the sons of God’ mentioned in Genesis 6 are fallen angels is substantial. By their sexual immorality, these angels produced offspring which were strong and violent. The concept of a race of giants which resulted from the union of gods and humans is virtually universal in the world’s early civilizations.”9

And there is more evidence, too, in other scripture. From the ancient Jewish work, the Book of Jubilees, sometimes called Lesser Genesis, it says, “And it came to pass when the children of men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born unto them, that the angels of God saw them on a certain year of this jubilee, that they were beautiful to look upon; and they took themselves wives of all whom they chose, and they bare unto them sons and they were giants,” (Jubilees 5:1).10

Fallen angels and the Nephilim are important characters even in our current modern evil world. They will prove to be a very interesting study for those who wish to learn the deeper secrets withheld by most modern churches. Whether the evil angels performed their deeds through sexual contact or genetic engineering, it makes no difference, for the results are the same. Listed in References & Notes, you will find other articles related directly to these malicious angels and the hybrid humans they created in Genesis 6.11

Now, Back to the Battle in the Valley of Elah

While the military forces of the two nations faced each other from across the valley of Elah, every day this Philistinian champion, Goliath, would appear and taunt the Israelites. His name, some say, is probably from Guzali, a pagan proto-semitic Mesopotamian (Assyro-Babylonian) religion, meaning running, ravaging, destroying spirits.12

Goliath wore heavy armor and carried a large weapon, implying a much larger sized creature than the common human at that time. For instance, it is estimated that his armor weighted about 125 pounds (56.9 kg) and the spear was approximately 15 pounds (6.8 kg).13 He would face the opposing Israelite army and shout, “Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If 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,” (1 Samuel 17:8b-9).

It was not uncommon in those days for opposing armies to select a champion, or a team of champions, from each side and let only them fight — the victor determined the outcome of the entire battle. This concept was revived, to some extent, during the Middle Ages in Europe, and many battles were won with little loss of live. For the faithful of a particular religion, it was believed the God (or gods) would insure the victory of the one who was divinely favored.14

Israel’s leader and military champion, King Saul, was afraid of this enormous man, so it was reasonable that all his troops were also much too frightened to confront him. Saul was becoming wimpy, indecisive, and exposing his selfish nature, a few of the traits that would eventually bring his demise.

During this stand-off, the young David was delivering some provisions to his soldier brothers and their leader in Israel’s army, when he hears the Philistine giant’s challenge. David inquires about what reward is being offered for the man accepting the challenge and the men said, “the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father’s house free in Israel,” (1 Samuel 17:25b).

Soon, the king hears of the young man’s interest and sends for him. Upon seeing David, the king was not impressed. “And Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth’,” (1 Samuel 17:33). Explaining that he was not afraid, David proceeds to relate his experiences with lions and bears, while being a shepherd; he declares that the Philistine would meet a similar fate at his hands.

“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine[15] shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.’ And David said, ‘The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine,” (1 Samuel 17:34-37a).

Saul agrees to allow this boy to face Goliath and gives him his own personal armor, but David finds it impedes his movement and stride, whereupon he discards it all. He takes his staff, then chooses five smooth stones out of a stream of water for use in his sling (not to be confused with a ‘sling shot’ weapon of today). And he approached the giant.

“When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground,” (1 Samuel 17:48-49).

In ancient warfare, an experienced ‘slinger’ was a valued military warrior. “A slinger was someone who had a leather pouch with two long cords attached to it, and they put a projectile . . . [such as a stone] inside the pouch, and they whirl it around . . . and they let one of the cords go, and the effect is to send the projectile forward towards its target. That’s what David has, and it’s an incredibly devastating weapon.”16 It can shoot a small stone with almost the force of a bullet.17 And he did it with amazing accuracy, for he hit the giant’s forehead under the helmet18 and probably directly between the eyes.

But wait a minute! If you read the account in the Bible, it appears that David kills Goliath twice. Scripture states, “So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.” Then immediately after this, the Bible states: “Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his [Golaith’s] sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it,” (1 Samuel 17:50-51). There seems to be a contradiction of exactly what killed Goliath, the stone or the sword. How can this be?

It appears that when David struck Goliath with the stone, he must have been knocked unconscious (appearing to be lifeless) and he fell to the ground. At that point, David removes the giants’ sword and beheads him, assuring death.19 A modern Bible translation states it thus.

“As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him. Reaching into his shepherd’s bag and taking out a stone, he hurled it with his sling and hit the Philistine in the forehead. The stone sank in, and Goliath stumbled and fell face down on the ground. So David triumphed over the Philistine with only a sling and a stone, for he had no sword. Then David ran over and pulled Goliath’s sword from its sheath. David used it to kill him and cut off his head,” (1 Samuel 17:48-51, NLT).20

The Philistines are chased away and their military camps plundered. And David retrieves and stores Goliath’s armor (as trophies?) and then parades around with the severed giant’s head, even bringing it to Jerusalem. After David becomes a member of Saul’s household, the King became increasingly jealous of the public’s admiration of David as a savior of the nation. We don’t have time to explore further into the storyline, but a tale about King Saul at his lowest point, is titled “Saul Visits the Witch of Endor: 1 Samuel 28″, and it is listed in References & Notes.21

Interesting Side Notes

It is a given that David was a type of Jesus. We see the almighty David saving his people from fear, pain, and death when he defeated Goliath, who came forth to defy the army of the living God.22 But is that the only connection with Jesus?

One strange theory, on the fringe of belief, is that Goliath’s skull may actually be buried beneath where Jesus was crucified. Jesus was crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem called Golgotha23 (or Calvary), which means ‘Place of the Skull’ or ‘Hill of the Skull’. The proponents of this theory suggest David took the head of Goliath and buried it, or displayed it, at that location.

A Christian minister, Bonnie Nelson, believes burial there would fulfil prophecies from Genesis. According to her, Goliath represents the ‘seed of the serpent’ spoken of in the Bible’s first book. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed,” (Genesis 3:15a, NKJV).24

Golgotha – Hill of the Skull

Jewish-Christian author Ken Ammi supports this theory. He wrote, “Goliath was from Gath so it may be that Golgotha is a compound word which combines Goliath and Gath. It may be that Golgotha was referred to as such due to the skull-like rocks or due to Goliath’s skull being buried there or a combination of the two; perhaps his skull was buried where the rocks look like a skull.” Rick Shenk, from the Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis MN, USA, speculates that Goliath’s head may have been impaled at Golgotha.25

There are also several other unusual theories associated with this whole event. One of them is about Goliath’s physical state. Author of the book David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell, lecturing at a 2013 ‘TED Talk’, gave insight as to how David had the advantage in his confrontation with Goliath. He said that anyone with unusual height has an excess growth hormone disorder in the pituitary gland called acromegaly. This is usually caused by a tumor, which “has a very distinct set of side effects associated with it, principally having to do with vision.”26

“The pituitary tumor, as it grows, often starts to compress the visual nerves in your brain, with the result that people with acromegaly have either double vision or they are profoundly nearsighted,” Gladwell said. In other words, Goliath had trouble seeing David properly and was slow to act, thereby giving David an advantage.27 The story does mention that when Goliath came down to the valley, he was led by his shield-bearer (1 Samuel 17:41). If severely nearsighted, the giant would have needed a guide to walk in front of him.

Here is yet another theory. Some people believe there is an alternative version of this story of the giant, one in which someone else killed Goliath. This story is mentioned in the Second Book of Samuel. “And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam,” (2 Samuel 21:19).

This Goliath was, most likely, another person, possibly a brother; there were four such giants in the area, all of them large in statue and having six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. Eventually, all were killed by David and/or his servants (see 2 Samuel 22:18-22; and 1 Chronicles 20:5-8).

Some academics, for a while, thought that the whole event was just a myth, for there was no physical evidence found of the giant, the city, the battlefield, nothing. But this has changed as new discoveries are supporting the accuracy of the historical narrative as stated.

There are plenty of references to giants in the Bible and according to the author of The Ancient History of the Near East,28 recent excavations have shown that Palestine was originally inhabited by a stone-age population that lived in caves, and was probably related to the pre-Canaanite Horites or Avvim of Biblical tradition. “They developed into, or were succeeded by, the Anakim or Rephaim, the ‘Giants’ of tradition, who built the megalithic monuments . . . of Moab and eastern Palestine.”29

And now there is confirmation concerning Bronze Age societies, too. Because of archaeological finds from digs in ancient Philistine, the city of Gath has been located. This birthplace of Goliath, along with pottery evidence indicating inscriptions similar to the name of Goliath, adds to other evidence leading to the truth of this storyline. And the biblical description of Goliath’s armor is accurate for his time: bronze helmet, a coat of bronze mail, bronze greaves, scimitar (curved sword with convex cutting edge) and a bronze spear.30 And, evidence of Gath’s destruction about 2500 years ago by an invading army has also been discovered.31

There is even a rumor of a more modern discovery. Although thought by most experts as pure fiction, the rumor concerns a 2002 incident, when a United States military patrol came upon a cave in Afghanistan and encountered and killed a red haired 12 foot giant with six fingers and six toes. Supposedly, the body of this unique male creature, now known as the Kandahar Giant, was quickly evacuated to the United States and those witnessing the event have been forbidden to speak about it. As would be expected, the Department of Defense denies any such incident.32

Theories don’t provide proof of much, if anything, but they are entertaining to speculate upon. In the Bible is where we find true, of course, but sometimes we must investigate further to understand the logic, science, and details behind these ancient stories. As we find more pieces to the puzzle, we can get a clearer understanding of the events described.

What can we learn from this story?

We all face giants of some kind or another — they are the evil situations and problems and people that seem overwhelming at certain points in our lives. When they do come your way, ask God for his help, but don’t underestimate your own abilities. Like many things in life, size really doesn’t matter. Fear is the greatest obstacle, but it is your courage, and your commitment, and what is in your heart that matters most.

David didn’t need physical armor, because he had God as his armor. When you must face evil, he can provide you with his armor, too. Paul the apostle says, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm,” (Ephesians 6:13). You may enjoy another article titled “Ephesians 6: Evil Cosmic Powers & the Armor of God”. That discourse describes what God’s armor is and how to use it. See the link in References & Notes.33

The song pick related to this article is “Goliath” by Southern Gospel artist Joseph Habedank. He relates the story of Goliath to “all the giants we face in our lives.”34 Selected lyrics are below and a link to his official lyric video is listed in References & Notes.35

They say I’m crazy for going out to this battle
They say I’m defenseless against the enemy
This hand-me-down armor doesn’t suit me
I’ve got the only weapon I need
‘Cause the giant here before me
Doesn’t see the God behind me
If he did, he’d be on his knees

Copyright © 2021, Dr. Ray Hermann

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Reference & Notes

  1. Reeve, J. J. in The International Standard Bible Encyclopædia, 5 Volumes, (Ed.) James Orr, (Chicago: the Howard-Severance Company,1915), p. 1276.
  2. Gath: the site most favored as the location of this ancient city is the archaeological mound known as Tel Zafit in Hebrew, and Tell es-Safi in Arabic.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “Goliath”, (New World Encyclopedia, 23 January 2019), https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Goliath
  5. Unless otherwise noted, scripture is from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway, (Good News Publishers, 2001). Used with permission.
  6. Peterson, Eugene H., The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005).
  7. Hermann, Ray, “When the sons of God were having sexual relations with the daughters of humankind — the story of the Nephilim”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 9 December 2018), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/when-the-sons-of-god-were-having-sexual-relations-with-the-daughters-of-humankind-the-story-of-the-nephilim/
  8. Huie, Bryan T., “The Sons of God,” (Scribd, 26 December 1996), p. 4-5. https://www.scribd.com/document/183280155/Sons-of-God
  9. Ibid., p. 8.
  10. Charles, R. H., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), Book of Jubilees.
  11. (1) “What are Demons and the Nephilim? — and that Mayhem before the Flood of Noah?”, https://outlawbiblestudent.org/what-are-demons-and-the-nephilim-and-that-mayhem-before-the-flood-of-noah/
    (2) “Ephesians 6:12: Satan, Fallen Angels, & Demons — the Real Enemies of Our Faith”, https://outlawbiblestudent.org/ephesians-612-satan-fallen-angels-demons-the-real-enemies-of-our-faith/
    (3) “Angels from Heaven or Aliens from Outer Space?”, https://outlawbiblestudent.org/angels-from-heaven-or-aliens-from-outer-space/
  12. Singer, Isidore, (Ed.), The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People, 12 Volumes, (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1901–1906 [now reprinted by KTAV Publishing House]), vol. 6, p. 37.
  13. Elwell, Walter A., (Ed.), Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), vol. 1, p. 891.
  14. Losch, Richard R., All the People in the Bible: An A–Z Guide to the Saints, Scoundrels, and Other Characters in Scripture, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008), pp. 131–132.
  15. uncircumcised Philistine: a derogative phrase implying that he is a nitwit and no better than the beasts of the field.
    Barry, John D., et al., (Eds.), Faithlife Study Bible, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), 1 Samuel 17:36.
  16. Hoare, Callum, “David and Goliath: Shock theory exposed after ‘fundamentally wrong’ Bible interpretation”, (Express Newspaper UK, 1 April 2020), https://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/1260821/bible-news-david-goliath-israel-palestine-jesus-christ-god-proof-spt
  17. Losch, Richard R., All the People in the Bible, (see above).
  18. Barry, John D., et al., (Eds.), Faithlife Study Bible, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), 1 Samuel 17:49.
  19. Lyons, Eric, “How Did Goliath Die?” (Apologetics Press, retrieved 8 July 2021), https://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=5039
  20. Holy Bible: New Living Translation, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), 1 Sauel 17:48–51.
  21. Hermann, Ray, “Saul Visits the Witch of Endor: 1 Samuel 28″, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 30 June 2021), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/saul-visits-the-witch-of-endor-1-samuel-28/
  22. Hawker, Robert, et al., Poor Man’s Concordance and Dictionary to the Sacred Scriptures, (London: Ebenezer Palmer, 1828).
  23. Golgotha: (Aramaic “Skull”) also called Calvary, (from Latin calva: “bald head” or “skull”).
    “Golgotha: hill, Jerusalem”, (Britannica, Encyclopædia, Britannica Inc, 20 July 1998), https://www.britannica.com/place/Golgotha/additional-info#history
  24. Holloway, Henry, “Bible bombshell as ‘David vs Goliath skull found where Jesus was crucified’”, (Daily Star Newspaper UK, 20 October 2019), https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/weird-news/bible-bombshell-david-vs-goliath-20649333
  25. Ibid.
  26. Gladwell, Malcolm, “The Unheard Story of David and Goliath”, (TEDSalon, a TED conference, New York, September 2013), – VIDEO: https://www.ted.com/talks/malcolm_gladwell_the_unheard_story_of_david_and_goliath
  27. Ibid.
  28. Hall, H. R., The Ancient History of the Near East, (London: Methuen & Co., 1963, pp. 183-184.
  29. Quayle, Stephen, Genesis 6 Giants Master Builders of Prehistoric and Ancient Civilizations, (Bozeman, MT: End Time Thunder Publishers, 2002), pp. 409-410.
  30. Bohstrom, Philippe, “Huge if True: The Archaeological Case for Goliath”, (Haaretz Newspaper, Israel, 17 October 2018), https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium-huge-if-true-the-archaeological-case-for-goliath-1.6568421
  31. Bower, Bruce, “The biblical warrior Goliath may not have been so giant after all”, (Science News, 23 November 2020), https://www.sciencenews.org/article/bible-warrior-goliath-david-not-giant-height-gath
  32. Enos, Richard, “U.S. Soldier Claims to Have Shot & Killed a 12-Foot Giant in Afghanistan”, (ExoNews, Exopolitics Institute News Service, 5 July 2018), https://exonews.org/u-s-soldier-claims-to-have-shot-killed-a-12-foot-giant-in-afghanistan/
  33. Hermann, Ray, “Ephesians 6: Evil Cosmic Powers & the Armor of God”, (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 17 February 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/ephesians-6-evil-cosmic-powers-the-armor-of-god/
  34. “Joseph Habedank Drops the Lyric Video of ‘Goliath’”, (Jubileecast News, 4 February 2021), https://www.jubileecast.com/articles/25797/20210204/joseph-habedank-drops-the-lyric-video-of-goliath.htm
  35. “Goliath”, Artist: Joseph Habedank; Album: Deeper Oceans; Songwriters: Joseph Habedank, Daniel Doss, Sue C. Smith, (Joseph Habedank Ministies, uploaded 8 February 2021; used under ‘fair use’ copyright for teaching under Section 107 of Copyright Act of 1976) – LYRIC VIDEO: https://youtu.be/ur8XkCXH-sE
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