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Commentary on SAMUEL (or 1 & 2 Samuel) 5

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

The Anointing Of David: His Rise, His Successes And His Preservation By YHWH Until The Death Of Saul (16-31).

Commencing with his anointing this second half of the book traces David’s introduction to the court, his rise to be a powerful general and subsequent victories against the Philistines, his coming under the suspicion of Saul, his flight from Saul and struggles for survival, (along with a band of men whom he builds up who will be the foundation of his future success), his magnanimity towards Saul as YHWH’s ‘anointed’ when he has him at his mercy, all finally leading up to Saul’s death fighting against the Philistines.

SECTION 3. 16.1-20.42. The Rise And Preservation of David.

There is a certain irony in what follows. The people had chosen a king in order that they might find security in him, but their security is now to be revealed as resting in a war leader by the name of David, on whom YHWH has poured out His Spirit as He did on the judges of old. So it turns out that they are after all still dependent on YHWH to provide them with a war leader, and this is because of the failure of their king who cannot, for example, cope even with Goliath, as a result of the fact that the Spirit of YHWH is no longer on him. How much wiser they would have been to continue to trust in YHWH and look only to Him. When we think that we know better than God it can only result in disillusionment.

A). The Rise Of David (16.1-18.4).

Summary.

  • a Samuel Anoints David As The Prospective King And The Spirit Of YHWH Comes Mightily On Him (16.1-13).
  • b Saul’s Psychiatric Problems Result In The Introduction Of David To Saul’s Court As The Son Of Jesse.
  • c Goliath And The Philistines Challenge Israel (17.1-19).
  • d David Is Appalled That An Uncircumcised Philistine Dares To Defy The Armies Of The Living God (17.20-30).
  • e David Offers To Fight Goliath And Is Accepted As Saul’s Champion ( 17.31-39).
  • d David Challenges Goliath For Daring To Defy The Armies Of The Living God (17.40-50).
  • c The Philistines Are Routed (17.51-54).
  • b Saul Enquires Into David’s Antecedents (17.53-58).
  • a Jonathan, The Heir Apparent, Gives To David His Own Armour Out Of His Love For Him (18.1-4).

Note that in ‘a’ David is anointed by Samuel thus coming under covenant to YHWH and the Spirit of YHWH comes on him, and in the parallel David is accepted by Jonathan, the heir apparent, and comes under covenant to Jonathan the king’s son. In ‘b’ Saul’s court is introduced to David’s antecedents, and in the parallel Saul seeks to know his antecedents. In ‘c’ Goliath and the Philistines challenge Israel, and in the parallel Goliath is routed. In ‘d’ David is appalled that Goliath dare defy the living God, and in the parallel David challenges Goliath for daring to defy the living God. Centrally in ‘’e’ David is accepted as Saul’s champion.

The Anointing of David As Prospective King Over Israel. The Spirit Of YHWH Comes Mightily On Him (16.1-13).

It is a sad reflection on what Saul’s reign had become that the elders of Bethlehem were apprehensive at the thought of the arrival of Samuel. This suggests that there were murmurings among the people at this time against Saul’s behaviour, with a good deal of political support being thrown behind Samuel, so much so that the elders did not know quite what Samuel’s intentions were in coming to Bethlehem. Samuel was still a power in the land religiously speaking and it is quite probable that Saul, while still fearing Samuel as a prophet, had made known what would happen to anyone who sought to use his name to cause an uprising.

Saul would undoubtedly have been feeling very bitter against Samuel, and we are shortly to learn that things had got worse than that, and that his rejection by Samuel and YHWH had so affected him that it had caused deep clinical depression to develop, and probably even schizophrenia. The dopamine content of his brain became unstable, and he began to manifest symptoms such as violent mood swings, paranoia and delusion.

It will be noted that verses 1 and 13 act as an inclusio for this passage. In verse 1 Samuel is to fill a horn with oil in order to approve one of Jesse’s sons as king, and in verse 13 Samuel takes the horn of oil and anoints David in the midst of his brothers.

Analysis.

  • a And YHWH said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons” (16.1).
  • b And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hear it, he will kill me.” And YHWH said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, I am come to sacrifice to YHWH. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you will do, and you will anoint unto me him whom I name to you” (16.2-3).
  • c And Samuel did what YHWH said, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the city came to meet him apprehensively (trembling), and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably. I am come to sacrifice to YHWH. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice (16.4-5).
  • d And it came about, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, “Surely YHWH’s anointed is before him.” But YHWH said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance (countenance), or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him, for YHWH does not see as man sees, for man looks on the outward appearance, but YHWH looks on the heart” (16.6-7).
  • d Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has YHWH chosen this one” (16.8).
  • d Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has YHWH chosen this one” (16.9).
  • d And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “YHWH has not chosen these” ’(16.10).
  • c And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your children here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and, see, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and fetch him, for we will not sit down until he come here” (16.11).
  • b And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and with it all of a beautiful appearance, and handsome (goodly) to look on.” And YHWH said, “Arise, anoint him. For this is he” (16.12).
  • a Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers, and the Spirit of YHWH came mightily on David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah (16.13).

Note that in ‘a’ Samuel is to take with him his horn anointing oil, and in the parallel he uses it to anoint David. In ‘b’ YHWH will show him whom to anoint, and in the parallel He shows him David. In ‘c’ he calls Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice, and in the parallel they may not partake of the sacrifice until David comes, who should also have been invited. Centrally in ‘d’ we have the selection process, with each being rejected because they are not YHWH’s chosen.

16.1 ‘And YHWH said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” ’

It would seem that Samuel mourned Saul’s fall from grace for some considerable time. He had nothing further to do politically, and had plenty of time to think over and watch the consequences of Saul’s failure. And to him it seemed a tragedy. Moreover the fact that Saul had become suspicious of possible rivals for his throne is suggested by Samuel’s fear that if he was even suspected of anointing someone to replace Saul it was quite likely that Saul would act rapidly and have him put to death. Thus he had much to mourn and to grieve over.

So when YHWH called him to task because of his mourning, asking him how long he was going to carry on with it in view of the fact that He, YHWH Himself, had rejected Saul from being king over Israel, he found himself at a standstill. Then YHWH told him what he had to do which was positive. He must fill his horn with oil and go and see Jesse in Bethlehem (‘house of bread’), where YHWH had provided for Himself a replacement for Saul.

‘Jesse, the Bethlehemite.’ He was the grandson of Ruth the Moabitess, and of the house of Judah (Ruth 4.18-22).

16.2 ‘And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hear it, he will kill me.” And YHWH said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, I am come to sacrifice to YHWH.” ’

Samuel, who was aware of Saul’s present moods and disposition, was not enamoured with the suggestion. He knew that if even a hint of his doing such a thing reached Saul’s ears he himself would become the victim. It was better not to get involved with possible rivals to Saul’s throne. It is a significant indication of Saul’s downward slide that even Samuel feels that he is not safe.

YHWH, however, assured him that there would be no problem. All he had to do was arrange for a sacrifice in Bethlehem to YHWH. This kind of thing was expected of him from time to time and would cause no suspicion, especially as he could genuinely say that he had received a word from YHWH to do it. The suggestion was not one which involved deceit. The sacrifice was to be a genuine one. It was to be an offering of praise and thanksgiving. But only Samuel knew the depths of the praise and thanksgiving that was due because the anointed of YHWH was to be revealed.

The fact that YHWH had revealed Himself to him and had told him to do it puts this sacrifice into the class of Exodus 20.24 sacrifices. It does not therefore indicate that Samuel felt able to offer sacrifices anywhere, although of course YHWH did record His Name before Samuel in many places..

16.3 “And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you will do, and you will anoint unto me him whom I name to you.”

Then he was to call Jesse to participate in the sacrifice, at which point He Himself would tell him what he had to do. It was at this point that he would then be required to anoint the person whom YHWH named to him.

16.4 ‘And Samuel did what YHWH said, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the city came to meet him apprehensively (trembling), and said, “Do you come peaceably?” ’

However, when Samuel did arrive in Bethlehem, no doubt having made his purpose of sacrificing there widely known, the elders of the city met him rather apprehensively. This may have been because they were aware that when Samuel offered special sacrifices it usually indicated that there was trouble expected from the Philistines, or it may have been that they were expecting a prophetic rebuke for some failing in Bethlehem that Samuel knew of. But in view of the link with Samuel’s own fear in verse 2 it may well suggest that Saul’s reign had become somewhat more tyrannous as he grew more and more suspicious. Thus they may have feared that the sacrifice was to be a signal by Samuel to arouse men to civil war, something which could only bring Saul’s wrath down on Bethlehem. Possibly Saul’s actions taken against any town about which there were rumours had become well known. (We only have to think of what he was later willing to do to the innocent priests at Nob to recognise what he was capable of doing - 22.11-19).

16.5 ‘And he said, “Peaceably. I am come to sacrifice to YHWH. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons, and called them to the sacrifice.’

But Samuel assured them that he had come with peaceful intentions that should not give them any concern. All they had to do was prepare themselves for participation in the sacrificial feast by sanctifying themselves. They would do this by washing their clothes and possibly themselves (Genesis 35.2; Exodus 19.10, 14), and presumably also by abstaining from sexual relations which could render them unclean (21.4; Leviticus 15.16-18). At the same time he sanctified Jesse and his sons and called them to join them at the sacrifice. This participation in the sanctification of this particular family provided him with a good reason for being in Jesse’s house, and later returning to eat with them. What follows could have taken place at this time of ‘sanctifying’, or alternatively at the sacrificial meal following the offering of the sacrifices.

16.6 ‘And it came about, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, “Surely YHWH’s anointed is before him.” ’

‘When they were come’ may mean, when they had come to Samuel to be sanctified, or it may mean when they had come for the sacrificial meal after sacrificing, for the anointing would certainly seem to have taken place in private. Eliab (‘God is father’), the eldest, was the first to meet Samuel and one look at him suggested to Samuel that this was the one who was to be YHWH’s anointed (he was probably the Elihu of 1 Chronicles 27.18). He was a strapping fellow and appeared a suitable choice.

16.7 ‘But YHWH said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance (countenance), or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him, for YHWH does not see as man sees, for man looks on the outward appearance, but YHWH looks on the heart.”

Samuel was to learn a lesson that day, and that was that while men looked at the outside and the general appearance, YHWH looked at the heart. If the heart was right YHWH could do the rest. Thus while Eliab was both tall and handsome, he was not the one. We can in fact compare this description of Eliab with the previous description of Saul (9.2). Here we have described man’s choice for a king. But the difference was that this time YHWH was determined to give to the people someone whose heart is right. This time they were not to have ‘a king like the nations’.

16.8 ‘Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has YHWH chosen this one.” ’

The second son to come up for inspection was Abinadab (‘my father is willing’). But Samuel recognised that YHWH had not chosen him.

16.9 ‘Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has YHWH chosen this one.” ’

The third son to pass before him was Shammah. The individual mention of three sons indicates the completeness of the search. We should also note that these were the three sons of fighting age in the family (17.13). But still this was not YHWH’s choice.

16.10 ‘And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “YHWH has not chosen these.” ’

In the end seven sons passed before him, the seven indicating divine completeness. But still YHWH’s chosen had not been found. We can now imagine Jesse getting a little disheartened as each son was rejected and even Samuel must have been getting puzzled.

16.11 ‘And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your children here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and, see, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and fetch him, for we will not sit down until he come here.” ’

Once he had had to reject all Jesse’s sons who were present he knew instinctively that there must be another son. For he knew that YHWH would not have misled him. So he turned to Jesse and asked him whether all his sons were there. The reply came that the only one that was left was the youngest who was looking after the sheep. So Samuel declared that he must be fetched, and that they would not sit down for their meal until he had arrived.

16.12 ‘And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and with it all of a beautiful appearance, and handsome (goodly) to look on.” And YHWH said, “Arise, anoint him. For this is he.” ’

So Jesse sent for his youngest son and brought him in. He was ‘ruddy’ probably means that he had reddish hair which was unusual for Israelites, for they usually had black hair. He was also radiant and handsome. But what was most important was that YHWH said, ‘Arise and anoint him, for this is he.’ Here was the chosen one of YHWH.

16.13 ‘Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers, and the Spirit of YHWH came mightily on David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.’

So Samuel took his horn of oil and anointed David in the midst of his brothers. We are not told whether they knew what the significance was of what he was doing. Perhaps only Jesse knew, for it was not after all something that could be allowed to get out. But all that really mattered was that YHWH knew. David himself may simply have seen it as a sign of God’s promised blessing. Samuel could tell him later of its full significance.

But the most important thing was that as a result ‘the Spirit of YHWH came mightily on David from that day forward’. In this lies the explanation for all his future exploits about to be outlined. From this day on he was totally God’s man, and God accompanied him in all that he did, and arranged for him to receive the training necessary for him to be a good and effective king. David may well have felt nothing, and not even have known that it had happened. It was the future that would bring it out.

Then, his responsibility fulfilled, Samuel returned to Ramah. He had no real appreciation of quite what he had accomplished, but he knew that the future was now secure. It was all left in the hands of YHWH.

Saul’s Serious Medical Condition Results In David Being Introduced Into Court Circles (16.14-23).

Sadly for Saul the Spirit of YHWH had departed from him. YHWH had now rejected him as king, and the Spirit no longer came on him. Thus there was no special divine help for him as he fought the Philistines. Fortunately for Israel, however, YHWH would provide another who did have the Spirit of YHWH on him, and that was David.

Even more sadly for Saul ‘an evil spirit from YHWH troubled him’. In the light of the New Testament we can tend to read back to this what we learn about evil spirits from there. But in fact possession by evil spirits is rarely if ever depicted in the Old Testament among the Israelites because those Israelites about whom we have details did not on the whole indulge in idol worship. Certainly Saul did not. It is therefore quite probable that this ‘evil spirit from YHWH’ originally refers to a medical condition whereby his own ‘spirit’ was affected. We can compare the similar situation in Judges 9.23. There we read that ‘God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem’ with the result that they dealt treacherously. In context this does not appear to refer to spirit possession, and it must seriously be questioned whether it refers to more than a general ‘spirit’ of distrust that set the parties against each other. Thus it is probable that we are to see the same thing here.

That it was ‘from YHWH’ is, of course, true because in the end all disease and sensitivity of spirit comes from YHWH, but the idea of a satanic spirit coming from YHWH seems unlikely, even though we do discover later that even Satan acts under YHWH’s control, although not directly (2 Samuel 24.1 with 1 Chronicles 21.1). However, even then it is not something brought out by the author of Samuel. That is left to the Chronicler. In fact having spent a considerable period of my life with those who have suffered from clinical depression and schizophrenia what I read about in these narratives bears all the marks of those diseases.

Yet it may be that we cannot totally wholly dismiss the idea of evil spirits at work for in 18.10 we read that, ‘an evil spirit from God (the elohim) came mightily on Saul, and he prophesied’. That certainly at first sight suggests a malignant spiritual force at work, although not one that permanently possessed him. It is not like the evil spirits of the New Testament. On the other hand it may simply indicate that in his clinically depressed state he became so utterly distraught because of an evil disposition that YHWH put in him that for a while that he babbled to himself. The whole question is necessarily a difficult one in view of the sparsity of references to evil spirits in the Old Testament.

I must admit that there was a time when I was younger that I felt a little uncomfortable with the fact that Saul could really have behaved in the irrational way that is described in later chapters, for at first some of the incidents do appear to be a little far-fetched. For example we may ask, would Saul really have hurled a spear at his own firstborn son? Today, however, I have no difficulty whatsoever in believing them, for I have seen similar things with my own eyes, and in these cases it is often those nearest to the person, who are seen as plotting against them, who suffer the most. How Saul behaved was precisely how we could expect an untreated schizophrenic to behave. In such cases paranoia, delusion and rash actions, appearing outwardly to come from someone who at other times is in their right mind. These are all typical of certain types of schizophrenia, and the intensity of feeling and emotion can look very much like a person possessed by a spirit.

Note again the inclusio represented in verses 14 and 23, in verse 14 the Spirit of YHWH departs from Saul and in verse 23 when the Spirit-possessed David plays the evil spirit departs from him. In both the ‘evil spirit’ is troubling him.

Analysis.

  • a Now the Spirit of YHWH departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from YHWH troubled him (16.14).
  • b And Saul’s servants said to him, “See now, an evil spirit from God troubles you. Let our lord now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skilful player on the harp, so it will be, when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he will play with his hand, and you will be well” (16.15-16).
  • c And Saul said to his servants, “Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me” (16.17).
  • d Then one of the young men answered, and said, “Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skilful in playing, and a brave man (a mighty man of valour), and a warrior-like man, and prudent in speech, and a comely person and YHWH is with him.” Which was the reason that Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep” (16.18-19).
  • c And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them to Saul by David his son. And David came to Saul, and stood before him, and he loved him greatly, and he became a close servant of his (‘the bearer of his things’) (16.20-21).
  • b And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David, I pray you, stand before me, for he has found favour in my sight” (16.22).
  • a And so it was that, when the spirit from God was on Saul, David took the harp, and played with his hand, so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him (16.23).

16.14 ‘Now the Spirit of YHWH departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from YHWH troubled him.’

The fact of the Spirit of YHWH having departed from Saul, and of his having been rejected as king by both YHWH and Samuel, would have been quite sufficient to trigger off clinical depression and schizophrenia if he were prone to it. The experience must have been extremely traumatic for him. And thus Saul found himself with his spirit being affected in a way that was unfortunate (‘an evil’ for him) and not good. The movement of dopamine in his brain became unbalanced, and he began to behave in strange ways. Compare the way ‘evil’ is used in Amos 3.6, ‘Shall there be evil on a city, and YHWH has not done it?’ (Compare Jeremiah 19.15; 21.10; 25.29; 39.16).

16.15 ‘And Saul’s servants said to him, “See now, an evil spirit from God troubles you.” ’

Saul’s behaviour made his servants realise that he was ill in spirit and they described it in terms of ‘an evil spirit from God’ (compare Judges 9.23). In their eyes everything came from God. Thus this had to be true of whatever was disturbing Saul. It should, however, be noted that no attempt was made to seek an exorciser, or even to go to the sons of the prophets. They do not appear to have considered this a malignant spirit, but rather as something that affected his thoughts and behaviour at certain times.

16.16 “Let our lord now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skilful player on the harp, so it will be, when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he will play with his hand, and you will be well.”

His servants then suggested to Saul that he seek out a man skilled in music so that he could play for him when he was going through a bad patch, and assured him that if he did so it would make him well. The ancients had a great belief in the healing power of music, especially for those who were of unsound mind, and the fact that the music did seemingly help Saul serves to confirm that this was an illness and not spirit possession.

16.17 ‘And Saul said to his servants, “Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.” ’

Acknowledging the wisdom of their words Saul called on his servants to find such a musician, one who could ‘play well’, so that they could bring him to the court in order that that he might play for him.

16.18 ‘Then one of the young men answered, and said, “Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skilful in playing, and a brave man (a mighty man of valour), and a warrior-like man, and prudent in speech, and a comely person and YHWH is with him.” ’

David’s reputation as a musician and a composer of songs had clearly got around, (he is later called ‘the sweet Psalmist of Israel’ - 23.1) so that one of the young men who served Saul was able to tell him of David. His words of recommendation need not be interpreted literally but may be seen as being deliberately exaggerated, with the aim of making David acceptable to Saul, for he would know that Saul liked to have men such as the one described around him, while he might despise a David who was only a mere shepherd. David had certainly proved his valour in watching over his sheep, and he feared no one, and that reputation would clearly have spread around as such things always do. Here we learn also that he spoke wisely, was socially acceptable and had a genuine love for YHWH so that all recognised him as someone who truly knew YHWH.

16.19 ‘ Which was the reason that Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” ’

And this was the reason why Saul decided to send for a shepherd boy to be his personal musician. Little did he realise the status of the one for whom he was sending. But the readers and hearers who were in the know would see in this the hand of YHWH. He had already begun to prepare David for what lay ahead. So all unconscious of this fact Saul sent to Jesse and asked that his son might come to court to play for him.

16.20 ‘And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them to Saul by David his son.’

Honoured by the request Jesse sent a handsome present along with David so as to make him acceptable to the king. It was normal in those days to honour a king in this way. The content of the gift reflected the nature of Saul’s kingship, rustic and practical (like his palace/fortress as revealed by archaeology) rather than ostentatious and vainglorious.

16.21 ‘And David came to Saul, and stood before him, and he loved him greatly, and he became a close servant of his (‘the bearer of his things’).’

The result was that David came to Saul, and he ‘stood in his presence’ as befitted a subject to a king. (You did not sit in a king’s presence). And he was so pleasing to Saul that he made him one of his close servants. The words for ‘armour-bearer’ or ‘bearer of stuff’ is used elsewhere of close servants, even those who did not carry armour. They were the ‘bearers of his stuff’ (compare the use of the word in 17.22; Genesis 31.37; 43.11; 45.20; etc). Saul would have a number of ‘bearers of his stuff’, as did Joab later (2 Samuel 18.15). Nor must we take too literally that ‘he loved him greatly’. What this is indicating is that he was pleased enough with him to make him one of a number of close servants.

16.22 ‘And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David, I pray you, stand before me, for he has found favour in my sight.” ’

That is why Saul sent to Jesse and requested that David might stay at the court permanently and stand before him as one of his young men, because David had won his favour.

16.23 ‘And so it was that, when the spirit from God was on Saul, David took the harp, and played with his hand, so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.’

And the result was that whenever the ‘spirit from God’ (compare Judges 9.23) came on Saul, David would take his harp and play for him. And the result was that Saul’s spirit would be refreshed and become well and his evil mood would pass away. This all points to a psychiatric illness rather than to the world of evil spirits.

Chapter 17.

YHWH’s Anointed Is Revealed As Being YHWH’s Chosen Champion By His Defeat Of The Philistine Champion (17.1-54).

It is interesting to note how the revelation of David’s kingship to the reader follows the pattern of that of Saul’s. Both were anointed secretly by Samuel (16.13 compare 10.1), the Spirit of YHWH came mightily on both (16.13, compare 10.10) and both established their popularity in Israel by an outward manifestation of the power of the Spirit of YHWH that was on them (17.12-54, compare 11.1-13). Other parallels include the descriptions of their suitability physically (16.12, compare 9.2), and their dedication to looking after animals who were their responsibility (17.34-36, compare 9.3-4). This latter would count for much among an agricultural people.

The incident described here which brings out that the Spirit of YHWH is now on David begins with an indication of Israel’s parlous situation. The Philistines were once again seeking to exert their authority over Israel, and had advanced up the Valley of Elah to the lowlands of Judah where the opposing forces were facing each other. But while the Philistines had their ‘champion’ (‘the man who stands between two armies’), we are to see that Israel had no champion who could act on their behalf, because there was now no one who was filled with the Spirit of YHWH who could act for them. The man who was head and shoulders above all the others, and who had once been endowed by the Spirit of YHWH, was now a broken man because of his disobedience. He was thus powerless to do anything. And there was no one else to act in his place. Even the mighty Jonathan and the great Abner paled before the challenge of Goliath, and no doubt Saul would not allow them to go out against him. He did not want to lose his eldest son or his commander-in-chief.

This method of pitting champions against each other before a battle was a common one in the ancient world (compare 2 Samuel 2.14-15). It was believed that by this means the gods would reveal, without the necessity for the spilling of unnecessary blood, who were destined to be the victors. The idea was that once one’s champion had been defeated in battle there was no point in fighting on, for it indicated that the gods were clearly against you. Thus the issue would be seen as already been determined. (It also did not help, of course, if your opponents’ champion was a great deal larger than anyone else).

In the end, however, this story is about a man who was mightily endued with the Spirit of YHWH. The result was that he revealed his true faith in YHWH. There were many slingers among the Israelite ranks, some of whom could probably sling within a hair’s breadth (Judges 20.26), but not one of them thought of challenging Goliath. Had they even considered it they would have recognised immediately that their slinging arm might well fail them under such pressure, and that should that happen in a circumstance like this it would in the end result, not only in their own deaths, but also in the humiliation of Israel. It was only David who was so confident in YHWH that he knew that his hand would not fail, and who was so angered at the thought of the Philistine defying the armies of YHWH of hosts that he could think of nothing else but to bring him down. In the light of that he did not even consider the possibility of losing for he was totally confident that YHWH could not fail him. And we are in the secret and know why. It was because he was filled with the Spirit of YHWH.

Goliath Challenges Israel With No Takers. David Is Sent To Take His Brothers Food (17.1-19).

This passage brings us face to face with two figures, the first the formidable Philistine warrior, Goliath, who challenges Israel to send a man to fight him, with no takers, and the second a shepherd boy who is sent to take food to his brothers who are in the Israelite army and to gather news of them.

Analysis.

  • a Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and they were gathered together at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim (17.1).
  • b And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and encamped in the vale of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines (17.2).
  • c And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, and there was a valley between them. And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span (17.3-4).
  • d And he had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was clad with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze, and he had greaves of bronze on his legs, and a javelin of bronze between his shoulders. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron, and his shield-bearer went before him (17.5-7).
  • e And he stood and cried to the armies of Israel, and said to them, “Why have you come out to set your battle in array? Am not I a Philistine, and you servants to Saul? Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and kill me, then will we be your servants, but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall you be our servants, and serve us” (17.8-9).
  • f And the Philistine said, “I defy the armies of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together” (17.10).
  • e And when Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid (17.11).
  • d Now David was the son of that Ephrathite of Beth-lehem-judah, whose name was Jesse, and he had eight sons: and the man was an old man in the days of Saul, stricken in years among men. And the three eldest sons of Jesse had gone after Saul to the battle, and the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the first-born, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. And David was the youngest, and the three eldest followed Saul. And David went to and fro from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Beth-lehem (17.12-16).
  • c And the Philistine drew near morning and evening, and presented himself forty days (17.17).
  • b And Jesse said to David his son, “Take now for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers, and bring these ten cheeses to the captain of their thousand, and see how your brothers fare, and take their pledge” (17.18).
  • a Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the vale of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. (17.19).

Note that in ‘a’ the Philistines were gathered to battle against Israel, and in the parallel Israel were in the Vale of Elah fighting with the Philistines. In ‘b’ Saul and the men of Israel were gathered in the Vale of Elah, and in the parallel we learn how they are being fed. In ‘c’ the Philistine champion came out to challenge Israel, and in the parallel he comes regularly to challenge Israel. In ‘d’ we have the details concerning Goliath as a mighty man of war, and in the parallel we have the details stressing that David is a mere feeder of sheep whose elder brothers are men of war. In ‘e’ the Philistine issues his challenge, and in the parallel the Israelites are greatly afraid. Central in ‘f’ is the fact that the Philistine is defying the armies of Israel, and is seeking a man whom he can fight. These are two central themes in the whole passage, Goliath’s defiance of Israel and their God, and the man whom God has chosen to put him in his place.

17.1 ‘Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and they were gathered together at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim.’

Once again the Philistines had gathered their fighting forces to seek to bring Israel into subjugation. This time they had approached the lowland territory of northern Judah near Azekah but had immediately found themselves faced with a large Israelite army under Saul. The place where this took place was at Ephes-dammim, (the boundary of blood), a place where no doubt much blood had been spilled in past border battles.

17.2 ‘And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and encamped in the vale of Elah, and set the battle in array against the Philistines.’

Saul and the men of Israel had ‘gathered together’ as a result of the call to arms going out to the tribes and they were encamped on a slope in the Vale of Elah in which there was a ravine separating the two armies. Their forces were all set in their battle lines with weapons at the ready.

17.3 ‘And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side: and there was a valley between them.’

The scene is set. On the mountain on one side of the valley were the Philistines with their chariots, and horsemen, and weapons of iron, and on the mountain on the other side were the Israelites, mainly fighting on foot and only having bronze weapons, while between them was the valley itself through which went a ravine which helped to keep the two armies apart.

17.4-7 ‘And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span, and he had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was clad with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze, and he had greaves of bronze on his legs, and a javelin of bronze between his shoulders. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron, and his shield-bearer went before him.’

But there was another snag. The Philistines had issued a challenge through their ‘champion’ (more literally ‘the man in the space between’). He had come down into the valley and laid down his challenge for someone to meet him in single combat. This was a regular custom in those days, and such a combat would be seen as having a significant impact on what followed, because it would be seen as demonstrating whose side the gods were on. No army liked to fight if its champion had been defeated, for it was seen as a mirror image of what would follow. Thus it was a challenge that could not be ignored.

And the further problem was that this champion was huge. He was nine foot six tall, covered in huge and impressive armour reinforced with copper or bronze, and bristling with offensive weapons, such as spear, sword and javelin. There is no good reason for doubting the statistics. Skeletons of men of that size coming from that era have been dug up in Palestine, and they crop up throughout the ages. The coat of mail would have been made of overlapping plates of metal and have reached down to the knees. The greaves protected the shins.

He was named ‘Goliath’ and came from Gath. He may have been descended from the Rephaim (Deuteronomy 2.20-21; 2 Samuel 21.22) or the Anakim (Joshua 11.21-22). It is quite probable that ‘Goliath’ was the name given to whoever was the recognised Philistine champion at the time, so that when this Goliath died another Goliath would replace him. This would explain how he could later seem to be slain again (2 Samuel 21.19). We can compare how the early Philistine commander-in-chiefs were all called Phicol, and their kings Abimelech (Genesis 20; 21.22-34; 26; Psalm 34 heading). For a similar phenomenon compare also the Pharaohs in Egypt and the Tartans who were commanders-in-chief over the Assyrian army (2 Kings 18.17).

17.8-9 ‘And he stood and cried to the armies of Israel, and said to them, “Why are you come out to set your battle in array? Am not I the Philistine, and you servants to Saul? Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and kill me, then will we be your servants, but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall you be our servants, and serve us.” ’

Each day this giant of a man would stride out into the valley with his shield bearer in front of him, and hurl his challenge at the Israelite army. And every day the Israelites looked at him, cowered back, and grew more and more afraid, for they knew that if no one dared to face Goliath it proved that YHWH was not with them. And they were aware only too well of what that would mean.

Then Goliath would laugh at their battle array and ask them why they went to all the trouble to arm themselves when all that they had to do was send out a champion to meet him. Once they were ready to do that they could come to an agreement that whichever champion won, their army would be seen as the victors and the other army would submit. It was all so easy (if you had such a man as your champion).

‘The Philistine.’ That is, the one who represented the whole of the Philistine army. Whoever fought him would, as it were, be fighting the whole of the Philistine army. Note how the title is repeated. All saw him in this way.

17.10 ‘And the Philistine said, “I defy the armies of Israel this day, give me a man, that we may fight together.” ’

As the days went by his challenge grew more and more fierce. He defied the armies of Israel and called for a man to fight him. He was getting impatient. In this verse we note two of the themes of the whole passage, the Philistine’s defiance of Israel, and therefore of YHWH, and the fact of a man who will arise to deal with him once and for all. His ‘prayer’ will be answered.

17.11 ‘And when Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.’

But all that these words did was sow terror among the ranks of Israel, which was of course their purpose. It is very probable that the Philistines did not expect an Israelite response. Who would want to fight Goliath alone? But they knew that the longer it went on, the more dismayed the Israelites would become for they would know that it presaged disaster not to meet him, and they would be little short of terrified.

17.12 ‘Now David was the son of that Ephrathite of Beth-lehem-judah, whose name was Jesse, and he had eight sons, and the man was an old man in the days of Saul, stricken in years among men.’

And suddenly into the picture in the mind of the writer comes a new development. Although they did not yet realise it the Israelites had an answer in the man on whom was the Spirit of YHWH. The writer knows this and that is why he gives David’s full details here, even though he has given them to us before. For this is Israel’s champion, David, the youngest son of Jesse the Ephrathite of Bethlehem-judah, the Jesse who had eight sons as described in the last chapter. And this Jesse was himself very old, which was why he was not with the army, while this David was one of his sons, his youngest. Of course we know of him already from the previous chapter, but the details are mentioned again in detail in order to bring out his importance in this situation. It is clear that he was not yet twenty as he had not been of an age to join up with the army.

17.13 ‘And the three eldest sons of Jesse had gone after Saul to the battle, and the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the first-born, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah.’

His youth is emphasised by the fact that his three oldest brothers were with the army and were named Eliab, Abinadab and Shammah. So he comes from a war-like family, but is not a warrior himself. But the other four brothers, like David, were also not in the army. That would be because they also were under twenty, or because they had recently married (Deuteronomy 24.5).

17.14 ‘And David was the youngest; and the three eldest followed Saul.’

And David was the youngest and could not enlist in the army, even though the three eldest had. Even granted that the other four included twins, with one or two also recently married, he could in fact not have been more than seventeen. Thus we recognise that David was from a soldierly family and of an age too young to fight. In contrast his three elder brothers followed Saul and were with him on the battlefield (Of course, like many young men of his age, David would not have seen it that way. He probably felt that he was quite old enough to fight).

17.15 ‘Now David went to and fro from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Beth-lehem.’

As we know from earlier on David spent some time as a musician to Saul when Saul was going through his bad periods, but we learn here that he combined that with his duties as a shepherd, especially when Saul was on the front line and thus fully occupied, which would be quite often. Part of the reason for David’s visits would be in order to keep his brothers supplied with food. Many Israelite family members would be doing the same for their relatives.

This fact that David is a mere feeder of the sheep, and not even qualified to be a warrior, is deliberately contrasted in the chiasmus with the picture drawn of the mighty Goliath.

17.16 ‘And the Philistine drew near morning and evening, and presented himself for forty days.’

Meanwhile ‘the Philistine’ who was the cause of their problems still came out each morning and evening and presented his challenge. This had by now continued for ‘forty days’. ‘Forty days’ is a recognised length of time indicating a portentous period in which YHWH is involved (Genesis 7.17; 8.6; Exodus 24.18; 35.28; 1 Kings 19.8). But the Philistine was unaware of that. He scoffed at YHWH. Thus he was not aware that the ‘forty days’ hung like a dark shadow over his head.

17.17-18 ‘And Jesse said to David his son, “Take now for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers, and bring these ten cheeses to the captain of their unit, and see how your brethren fare, and take their pledge.” ’

And while the Philistine was presenting himself for forty days YHWH was preparing His champion. Jesse called David and told him to take food to his soldier brothers and to the captain of their unit, and to obtain news of how they fared and to bring back some evidence that they were still alive. We often do not stop to ask ourselves how armies were provisioned, especially when on their own territory where looting could not, of course, be allowed. Here we are given a solution. The families of the soldiers would send them provisions, and even extra provisions for others. Parched corn consisting of grains of wheat roasted in a pan were a common form of food in Palestine. It will be noted that while the brothers are expected to make do with basic food, their captain receives something somewhat more luxurious. He would be a man of high rank and important in Israel. ‘Ten’ may here indicate ‘a number of’ (compare Genesis 31.41; 1 Samuel 1.8).

‘Their pledge.’ The pledge required would be something, such as a note of hand, which demonstrated that the brothers were still alive.

17.19 ‘Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the vale of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.’

Meanwhile, the writer reminds us, Saul and all the men of Israel, were in the vale of Elah fighting with the Philistines. He recognises that this account would be read out at the festivals and wants to keep the audience up to date. There may also be an intentional indication here that not one of ‘all of the men of Israel’ could solve Israel’s problems. It would require a teenager who was not yet a man, but who was filled with the Spirit of YHWH. The emphasis is on the fact that when YHWH delivers it will not be as a result of Israel’s capabilities.

David Arrives At The Battlefield And Is Appalled That ‘This Uncircumcised Philistine’ Dares To Defy the Armies Of The Living God (17.20-30).

Central to the last passage was that Goliath defied ‘the armies of Israel’. Central to this passage is that David sees him as defying ‘the armies of the living God’. It should be noted that the people see Goliath merely as ‘defying Israel’ (verse 25). They do not have the deep faith that brings God fully into the equation. But it is precisely because to David YHWH is the living God, in whom he has absolute confidence, that he is stirred into action. His concern is not for his own glory, but for the honour of YHWH, the living God, who by Israel’s failure to take up the challenge is being presented as unable to deal with Goliath. And it is because he is so aware that He is the living God that David cannot understand why this is so. He is genuinely puzzled why no one responds, for surely all must know that the living God will be their strength and enabling. And with the living God with them how could they fail? He was not yet old enough to realise that all Israelites did not have the same strong faith that he had.

Analysis.

  • a And David rose up early in the morning, and left the sheep with a keeper, and took, and went, as Jesse had commanded him; and he came to the place of the wagons, as the host which was going forth to the fight shouted for the battle (17.20).
  • b And Israel and the Philistines put the battle in array, army against army (17.21).
  • c And David left his baggage in the hand of the keeper of the baggage, and ran to the army, and came and saluted his brothers, and as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke in accordance with the same words, and David heard them. And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid (17.22-24).
  • d And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who is come up? Surely to defy Israel is he come up, and it shall be, that the man who kills him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father’s house free in Israel (17.25).
  • e And David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, “What will be done to the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (17.26).
  • d And the people answered him in this way, saying, “So will it be done to the man who kills him (17.27).
  • c And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men, and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness?” (17.28a)
  • b “I know your pride, and the mischief in your heart, for you have come down so that you might see the battle (17.28b).
  • a And David said, “What have I done now? Is there not good reason?” And he turned away from him towards another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again in the same way (17.29-30).

Note that in ‘a’ we are given the reason why David has come to the camp, while in the parallel he declares that he has good reason for doing so. In ‘b’ the battle is put in array and in the parallel David is accused of having come in order to see the battle. In ‘c’ David comes to talk with his brothers, and in the parallel he gets an earful from them. There may well be an intended comparison between the cowering armies of Israel and the few sheep in the wilderness. In ‘d’ the people declare what the king will do for the one who defeats Goliath, and in the parallel it is repeated. Centrally in ‘e’ comes the vital point that Goliath by his challenge is defying the armies of the living God.

17.20 ‘And David rose up early in the morning, and left the sheep with a keeper, and took, and went, as Jesse had commanded him, and he came to the place of the wagons, as the host which was going forth to the fight shouted for the battle.’

Obedient to his father’s wishes David arose early next morning and, leaving the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions and went on his way ‘as Jesse had commanded him’. As with Saul previously (9.3-4) he was revealing himself to be a filial son. (None realised but God that he was going to another flock of sheep who needed a keeper).

He arrived at ‘the place of the wagons’ just as the host were yelling their war cries in readiness for battle. This nerving of themselves was necessary in case the Philistines decided to attack, for the purpose of the war cries was in order to strengthen their resolve, and (hopefully) to frighten the enemy. It was with the hope of keeping their spirits up. But in their hearts all knew what would follow, and after the first few days it must have been difficult shouting the war cries with any degree of assurance. The wagons, which contained provisions for the soldiers, would be behind the army out of harms way, and we can imagine how the young man’s blood was stirred as he stood among the wagons and heard the war cries of his heroes, the host of YHWH. To him they were magnificent.

17.21 ‘And Israel and the Philistines put the battle in array, army against army.’

Then, as David watched avidly, the two sets of forces set themselves in battle array, as they had done every day for forty days, ready to face each other.

17.22 ‘And David left his baggage in the hand of the keeper of the baggage, and ran to the army, and came and saluted his brothers.’

Excited at being a small part of it David immediately ran to find his brothers, leaving what he had brought in the hands of the quartermaster. He knew that he had to get there before battle commenced in order to obtain their pledges. And he found them and greeted them, and spoke with them.

17.23 ‘And as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke according to the same words, and David heard them.’

And as he talked with his brothers the champion, Goliath ‘the Philistine of Gath’, came out from the ranks of the Philistines and issued his usual challenge. When David heard his words he must have been awed and amazed. It was the first time that he had seen such a thing and the question that must have immediately arisen in his mind was as to which of his heroes would go forward to meet this insolent challenge. We can imagine his expectation growing. Which of them would stride forward? The host of YHWH would soon make this insolent Philistine bite the dust.

17.24 ‘And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid.’

But to his amazement the men of Israel did not all volunteer as one man. Instead they cowered back and retreated. Not one of them dared to face up to Goliath. And this applied equally to Saul and all his chief captains.

17.25 ‘And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who is come up? Surely to defy Israel is he come up, and it shall be, that the man who kills him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father’s house free in Israel.” ’

Then as David listened aghast, the men of Israel began to mutter among themselves about what could be done about the situation. They had been doing it every day as the size of the rewards for the man who would dare to face Goliath, and would defeat him, grew greater and greater. And now it had reached the point where anyone who accomplished the feat would be given great riches and married to the king’s daughter (compare Joshua 15.16), while their close family would be freed of the burden of all taxes and other exactions in perpetuity.

17.26 ‘And David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, “What will be done to the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” ’

David just could not believe his ears. To him as a young man and a fervent believer in the power of YHWH, Who would surely be with whoever went to meet the Philistine, he could not believe that any reward was necessary. Surely what was being offered (to fight for the living God) was a privilege? It did not require reward. Here was this man who was bringing reproach on Israel, and therefore on Israel’s God, a man who was simply ‘an uncircumcised Philistine’ and who therefore had no part in God, and he was defying the armies of the living God. Surely all of them would want to fight him. What were they saying would be done for such a man? It sounded incredible.

17.27 ‘And the people answered him after this manner, saying, “So will it be done to the man who kills him.” ’

The people around him assured him of exactly what would be done for the man who killed Goliath, reiterating what had already been said. How they all must wished it could be them. But not if it meant facing Goliath.

17.28 ‘And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men, and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride, and the mischievousness of your heart, for you have come down so that you might see the battle.” ’

But Eliab his brother had overheard what he had said when he spoke to the man and he was very angry. He did not like his little brother getting caught up in the battle talk. Perhaps also he was a little afraid of what David might do (never dreaming of course what he would do). He more than any other had cause to know the hair-raising activities that David sometimes got involved with. He knew that his little brother was a young man without fear. And he did not want David involved in any battle.

So he seeks to put him in his place like a typical elder brother. Why has he really come to the battlefield? Let him remember that all that he knows anything about is looking after ‘a few sheep’ (a deliberate under-play) in the pasture-land. That does not qualify him to be a soldier on the battlefield. And he assures him that he, his elder brother, can read his mischievous thoughts and knows exactly what is in his mind. He simply wants to get involved in battle.

We must be fair to Eliab (and we must remember that he was proved right). He was probably concerned for his little brother and did not want him to come to any harm. It is a further and deliberate reminder to us from the writer that David is nothing but a shepherd boy. If deliverance was to come it would be through YHWH.

But there is more to it than that. The writer is bringing out three more things. Firstly that David is ‘only a keeper of a few sheep’ (this is emphasised twice in the passage) and that secondly he is simply ‘our kid’, the little brother who should not really be there. But thirdly, underlying this fact is that now David is among a flock of sheep who are afraid of the great enemy who faces them, wanting one of the sheep from the flock to come and challenge him. And, as we will soon learn, it is the experienced keeper of the few sheep who is required in this situation.

17.29 ‘And David said, “What have I now done? Is there not a cause?” ’

David was indignant and asked what harm he had done. All he had done was ask a few questions.

‘Is there not a cause?’ He may have meant ‘did I not have good reason for coming?’ This view is supported by parallel in the chiasmus. Or he may simply have meant, ‘was there not good reason for me to ask the question in view of the circumstances?’ All that was happening was after all quite exciting for a young man. But underlying both possibilities is a third which combines with them, which may well have been in the mind of the writer, and that is that YHWH had a cause for him being there.

17.30 ‘And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke after the same manner, and the people answered him again after the former manner.’

So he turned back to the men around him and continued to ask similar questions. And he received the same reply from all. David was incredulous. It all seemed so cut and dried to him. Here was this barbarous Philistine, and he was opposing the army of the living God. It was no contest. He just could not accept the idea that not one of his heroes was willing to go forward and do what was necessary when they must have known that YHWH was on their side. Why he himself had often fought a lion or a bear knowing that YHWH was with him. And that was hardly as important as this.

David Offers To Take Up Goliath’s Challenge And Is Accepted By Saul As The Champion of Israel (17.31-39).

Once again we should note that central to this passage also is the fact that the Philistine was defying the armies of the living God (verse 36). As we have seen it is the theme of the whole chapter. And it was something that David in his great faith in YHWH felt that he could not allow. He was alive with concern for the honour of YHWH, and the honour of YHWH’s Name. And so because of such defiance the Philistine must be defeated. He must not be allowed to trample on the people of God. That was why David had no doubt of what would be the consequence of his accepting the challenge. It was because of his confidence that YHWH would be with him so as to defend His Name. There was nothing egotistical about it. It was rather that experience had demonstrated to him that in such challenges YHWH never failed.

Having been offered Saul’s own armour David finally rejects it and goes out in the clothing that he has always worn when acting under YHWH’s power and inspiration. The writer wants us to see that David is not Saul’s man, but YHWH’s man. What he accomplishes he does because the Spirit of YHWH is on him. He seeks no glory from man, only glory for YHWH. For he is YHWH’s replacement for Saul, YHWH’s chosen king.

Analysis.

  • a And when the words were heard which David spoke, they rehearsed them before Saul, and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (17.31-32)
  • b 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 a man of war from his youth” (17.33).
  • c And David said to Saul, “Your servant was keeping his father’s sheep, and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth, and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him (17.34-35).
  • d “Your servant smote both the lion and the bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God” (17.36).
  • c And David said, “YHWH Who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (17.37a).
  • b And Saul said to David, “Go, and YHWH will be with you”. And Saul clad David with his own clothing, and he put a helmet of bronze on his head, and he clad him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword on his clothing, and he tried vainly to go, for he had not tested it (17.37b-38).
  • a And David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not proved them.” And David put them off him (17.39).

Note that in ‘a’ David offers to go and fight the Philistine as Saul’s servant, but in the parallel it is made clear that he does so not as Saul’s servant but as YHWH’s. He will act under YHWH’s protection, not Saul’s. In ‘b’ Saul declares that David is not ‘a man of war’, and in the parallel he vainly tries to make him one. In ‘c’ David describes his experiences with ‘the lion and the bear’, and in the parallel stresses that the same YHWH Who delivered him from ‘the lion and the bear’ will deliver him from this Philistine. Centrally in ‘d’ he guarantees that the Philistine will be dealt with in the same way as the lion and the bear because he has defied the armies of the living God. In other words, because he has challenged God Himself.

17.31 ‘And when the words were heard which David spoke, they rehearsed them before Saul, and he sent for him.’

David’s words began to spread among the men. Possibly they provided some amusement in the midst of their fears. Possibly some were even offended. And his words the result was that they eventually reached Saul. When he heard that, ‘There is a young man who seems ready to take on the Philistine’, his ears pricked up. And in consequence Saul, who did not, of course, know the circumstances, immediately sent for this bold man. He must be a mighty warrior indeed. Perhaps here was the answer to his prayers.

He must thus have been very disappointed when the man who appeared before him was merely a teenager and one of his part time servants, and only a musician at that. And his dismay probably showed on his face.

17.32 ‘And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him, your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” ’

Then David said to Saul, ‘Don’t worry. I will go and fight the Philistine.’ We must recognise what was behind this. It was not that David was arrogant. It was because he had such total confidence in YHWH that to him the situation was no-contest. For how could a barbarous Philistine ever expect to oppose YHWH? And we, of course, know the secret of why he thought like this. It was because the Spirit of YHWH was upon him.

17.33 ‘And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” ’

Saul was simply incredulous. How could this teenager, brave and well built as he might be, hope to cope with the Philistine champion? It was impossible. Why he was only a youth with a shepherd’s staff, while Goliath had been a warrior from his youth. The whole situation was ludicrous.

17.34-36 ‘And David said to Saul, “Your servant was keeping his father’s sheep, and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth, and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Your servant smote both the lion and the bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing that he has defied the armies of the living God.” ’

David’s reply was trusting but simple. When he had been keeping his father’s sheep there had often come a lion or a bear which had taken one of the lambs from the flock. And without any thought for his own safety (as a teenager he had no doubt thought himself invulnerable) he had gone after them, killed them, and rescued the lamb from their mouths. And if they had turned to rend him he had taken them by the beard and had smitten them and slain them. It had seemed the natural thing to do, for he believed with all his heart that YHWH was with him. So he had not given the matter a second thought (although no doubt his family had. But what could you do with someone like David?).

Then David applies the lesson. He had defeated the lion and the bear. So what to him was this uncircumcised, barbarous Philistine who had dared to defy the armies of the living God, in other words, had defied YHWH Himself? Could anyone be in any doubt what YHWH would do to him as well? To David it was incomprehensible that anyone could see it in any other way.

There were many lions and bears in Palestine in those days, roving on the mountains and in the forests, and especially found, in the case of lions, in the thickets of the Jordan rift valley. And when they were hungry and left their lairs in order to prowl for food they would be a terror to most of the inhabitants. And shepherds were always on the lookout for them.

There is for us here, in the thought of the lion and the bear, one of the most important lessons of our spiritual lives, and it is that if God is one day expecting us to face up to a Goliath in the future, He will make sure that we are prepared beforehand. That is why when we face trials we should recognise that they may well simply be preparations for the future. For He will never call on us to face tests to which we do not have an answer and for which He has not prepared us (1 Corinthians 10.13).

17.37 ‘And David said, “YHWH who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and YHWH will be with you.” ’

Then David made his declaration of faith, and revealed his ultimate justification. YHWH Who had delivered him from ‘the hand’ of the lion and ‘the hand’ of the bear would deliver him from the hand of ‘this Philistine’ (his contempt for his opponent is made clear). Here was the reason for his courage. He had absolute faith in YHWH.

Saul was clearly impressed, certainly impressed enough, in the midst of his desperation, to consider it a possibility. And as he looked at this young man with his vibrant faith it almost seemed possible to him that this young man could achieve the impossible. For all knew that YHWH often did the impossible. Perhaps He would do it here. So he gave his permission. ‘Go,’ he said, ‘and YHWH will be with you.’ It was a pious hope and a policy of desperation, but What else was there? His hope, and the hope of all Israel, could only be that YHWH would somehow be with David and give him victory. That was what he was pinning his hopes on. The difference between Saul and David was that David did not just see it as a ‘hope’. He was confident that He would.

17.38-39 ‘And Saul clad David with his own clothing, and he put a helmet of brass on his head, and he clad him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword on his clothing, and he made an effort to go, for he had not proved it. And David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not proved them.” And David put them off him.’

If David was to venture his life in this way the very least that Saul felt that he could do was to ensure that he had the best possible equipment. So he provided David with the ultimate in privilege. He clad him in the king’s clothing and armour. To give one’s own clothes to someone was to pay them the highest honour. It demonstrated they were under the giver’s protection and seen almost as his other self (compare 18.4). And indeed that was what David would now be, the king’s champion. ‘His own clothing’ probably referred to a special military dress designed to be worn with armour with the sword scabbard fastened to it.

David complied, for he had never worn armour before, although he had possibly tried on his brothers’ armour which would have been far less substantial. He was probably quite excited at the thought. ‘The king’s own armour!’ But once he had put the armour on he knew immediately that it just would not do. For when he tried to walk around in it he found it impossible. He realised that it would simply be a hindrance to him. It was far too much of an encumbrance for him for it to be suitable. He was just not used to it. He had not ‘proved it’. So he said to Saul, ‘I can’t go in these, I’m not used to them.’

The significance behind this incident must be carefully noted. The writer wants us to recognise the fact that Saul was trying to make David act as his representative, fighting in his way, but that what was important for David was that he fought in YHWH’s way, allowing the Spirit of YHWH to act through him. If he went forward merely as Saul’s representative he would fail.

We should note that this does not teach us that we do not need to make the best preparation that we can when we serve God. But what it does teach us is that we must not seek to rise above what God has prepared us for. David did not disdain Saul’s armour because he was careless about his own safety, or because he was foolish, but simply because it was not what he was used to dealing with. He did not want to handicap himself by pretending to be what he was not. He wanted to be dressed in the way that he had been when YHWH had delivered him in the past.

David Meets Goliath (17.40-50).

As has been the pattern throughout the chapter the emphasis in this passage is again on the fact that the Philistine has defied YHWH, but here in a more personalised way. Note in fact the build up to this point (and note that each of these verses is central to a chiasmus):

  • “I defy the armies of Israel this day” (17.10).
  • “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (17.26).
  • “This uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of these, seeing as he has defied the armies of the living God” (17.36).
  • “I come to you in the name of YHWH of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel Whom you have defied” (17.45).

So here in this passage David is answering Goliath’s challenge of verse 10. He wants Goliath to know that he has come in the Name of YHWH, the God Whom he has defied, and he then goes on to stress that it is YHWH who will deliver ‘the Philistine’ into his hand. The inter-play of words before battle has been a regular feature of such battles throughout history as each sought to gain an advantage over the other by words before the action began. The aim was to unsettle the opponent. We see a similar situation reflected on our television screens today when two boxers face up to each other at the weigh-in, and then in the centre of the ring, each seeking to gain a psychological victory over the other before battle commences.

Analysis.

  • a And he took his staff in his hand, and chose for himself five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine (17.40).
  • b And the Philistine came on and drew near to David; and the man who bore the shield went before him. And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and with it all of a fair countenance (17.41-42).
  • c And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods (17.43).
  • d And the Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the heavens, and to the beasts of the field” (17.44).
  • e Then said David to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of YHWH of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, Whom you have defied” (17.45).
  • d “This day will YHWH deliver you into my hand, and I will smite you, and take your head from off you, and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the heavens, and to the wild beasts of the earth” (17.46a).
  • c “That all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that YHWH saves not with sword and spear: for the battle is Jehovah’s, and he will give you into our hand” (17.46b-47).
  • b And it came about that when the Philistine arose, and came and drew near to meet David, that David hastened, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took from there a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead; and the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth (17.48-49).
  • a So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him, but there was no sword in the hand of David (17.50).

Note that in ‘a’ David selects his stones and goes out with his staff and his sling in his hand, and in the parallel it is stressed that David defeated Goliath with a sling and a stone, and without a sword. In ‘b’ the Philistine approaches David in order to do battle, and in the parallel David does battle with him and defeats him. In ‘c’ the Philistine disdains David, and in the parallel David runs to meet him. In ‘d’ the Philistine expresses his anger that David comes against him ‘with staves’, and in the parallel David retaliates that YHWH does not save by sword and spear because the battle is His. In ‘e’ the Philistine says that he will give David’s body to the scavengers, both bird and beast, and in the parallel David retorts that he will similarly give the bodies of the whole Philistine army to the scavengers. Centrally in ‘e’ David points out that the Philistine has a sword, a spear and a javelin, but that he has the Name of YHWH on his side, the YHWH Whom the Philistine has defied.

17.40 ‘And he took his staff in his hand, and chose himself five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his wallet, and his sling was in his hand. And he drew near to the Philistine.’

David already knew in his mind how he was going to fight this battle so he provided himself with the weapons that he was used to. He took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the brook that ran through the valley, and putting them in the shepherd’s wallet which he had, he went forward with his sling in his hand. To him it was almost as though he was going forward to meet the next bear, even if it was a large one. He felt completely at home, for this was how he had been dressed when YHWH had delivered him before. So he felt fully armed. And it was dressed in that way that David went forward to meet the Philistine who was clothed in full armour and bristling with weapons and waiting impatiently in the valley for an opponent to come forward.

17.41 ‘And the Philistine came on and drew near to David, and the man who bore the shield went before him.’

Seeing someone advancing from the ranks of Israel the Philistine also advanced and approached David, and before him went his shield bearer. We are intended to catch the contrast. The teenage shepherd boy with his staff and shepherd’s attire, and the mighty warrior in full armour accompanied by his shield bearer. And both were bristling with confidence.

17.42 ‘And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he was full of disdain for him, for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and with it all of a fair countenance.’

We get the impression that as he advanced Goliath did not really at first appreciate what kind of opponent he was facing, and that it was only when he focused his attention that he became aware of the truth and discovered that his opponent was but a lad, reddish-haired and somewhat good looking, but not the warrior type at all, and that he had come out to meet him with a staff! He may, of course, have been short sighted, or it may simply be that he had been too arrogant to try to measure his opponent up. And it could well be that the bushes in the valley had prevented him from getting a full sight of him.

But we do not have to use much imagination to appreciate what he thought when he saw that his opponent had come out to meet him without armour, and was simply carrying a wooden staff, with something hanging from his other hand. And that he was a mere youth. He really must have thought that it was some kind of deliberate insult being practised by the Israelites. He probably recognised that it was hardly going to be a serious fight, and that even when he had ‘won’, as he could hardly fail to do, the Israelites would have been able to claim that it was all a joke. He presumably felt that he was being deliberately humiliated, a situation that he was not used to.

In fact in the event David’s clothing probably did him a great service, for had he been dressed in armour Goliath might well have been more wary, and even have taken into account the sling. But when all he saw was a shepherd boy with a staff, he was totally disarmed, and thus he and his shield bearer were careless. In his view the whole situation was clearly intended to make him look ridiculous. It was obvious to all that it was simply intended to be an insult to the Philistines.

17.43 ‘And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.’

His words reveal his fury. The describing of people whom you despised as ‘dogs’ (predatory wild scavengers who roamed around cities looking for scraps) was a well known insult. It indicated the total contempt that you had for someone. Thus he saw himself as being treated with the utmost contempt. And to have come against him with only a staff simply added to the insult. (The words are revealing. The most dangerous weapon was discounted. For who had ever heard of anyone engaging in close combat with a sling? Goliath was not used to fancy weapons). He was so angry that he cursed David by his gods.

17.44 ‘And the Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the heavens, and to the beasts of the field.” ’

Then he snarled, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the heavens, and to the beasts of the field.’ In other words he is saying, ‘you have treated me like a scavenger. So I will cut you up and feed you bit by bit to the scavengers.’ He had no sympathy for David. The insult he had suffered was too great for there to be any sympathy left in his heart.

17.45 ‘Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of YHWH of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” ’

But David was not perturbed, for he knew that he had YHWH on his side, and he called on Goliath to recognise the odds that he was up against. The Philistine may have a sword, and a spear, and a javelin. But what were they against the Name of YHWH of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom Goliath had defied? ‘The name’ to an Israelite represented all that YHWH was. To come in His Name was to come in all His authority and power. To defy the Name was thus to defy YHWH and to David there was nothing that was worse than defying YHWH. And he knew that history was full of stories of how YHWH had bested Israel’s enemies who had defied YHWH.

17.46-47 “This day will YHWH deliver you into my hand, and I will smite you, and take your head from off you, and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the heavens, and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that YHWH does not save with sword and spear, for the battle is YHWH’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

Then he responded to the Philistine in the way that the Philistine had spoken to him. He informed the Philistine that that very day YHWH would deliver him into his hand, and that as a result he would smite him and take off his head. It was the custom at that time for the victor to cut off the head of a defeated foe (compare 31.9). And after he had done that, he informed him, not just Goliath’s body, but the bodies of the whole Philistine army would be fed to the vultures and the scavengers among the wild beasts so that all the earth might know that there was a God in Israel worthy of the name, and that all the Israelites who were gathered there (the assembly of Israel) would know that YHWH did not save with sword and spear (compare 13.22). He did not need them. And as the battle was His and His alone He would give the enemy into their hand without them.

We have only to think to recognise the insult that such words must have conveyed, coming as they did from a precocious youth and being addressed to the Philistine champion. His eyes must have been starting out of his head with fury.

17.48 ‘And it came about that, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, David accelerated, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.’

Filled with great anger the Philistine advanced on David, and as he got closer David hurried to meet him, thereby advancing to meet the army of the Philistines who would be watching eagerly to see the defeat by Goliath of this arrogant foe. He was taking on the whole Philistine army and was unafraid.

17.49 ‘And David put his hand in his bag, and took from there a stone, and slung it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, and the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth.’

Then David put his hand in his shepherd’s bag and did what he had done a thousand times before, did indeed what he had constantly practised as he watched the sheep. He took out a large stone and fitted it into his sling, and then slung it and hit the Philistine right in the forehead. And the Philistine fell on his face to the earth.

The sling was in fact a formidable weapon, for it could despatch a three inch diameter stone at a speed of 100-150 miles per hour. The only problem lay in ensuring that it hit its target where it could be effective, which was not easy when a man was covered in armour. It required pin point accuracy. Nor would it have pierced a shield. But Goliath had probably been lulled into a false sense of security by the ridiculous appearance of a boy with a staff as his main weapon. He felt in no danger at all.

17.50 ‘So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him, but there was no sword in the hand of David.’

And that was how David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, smiting him and slaying him. But there was no sword in the hand of David, and so in order to fulfil his promise to cut off Goliath’s head he had to use a borrowed one. This fact that ‘there was no sword in the hand of David’ reminds us of 13.22. It emphasises that YHWH did not need swords.

The Routing Of The Philistines (17.51-54).

Having brought the Philistine down David ran over to him and cut off his head with his own sword, and on seeing their champion humbled the Philistines had no further stomach for a fight. Terror appears to have taken hold of them, for they could no doubt see the Israelite army suddenly emboldened and ready to attack. And when they did so, what greater evidence of what the God of Israel could do to them did they need than this? They turned and fled leaving their baggage behind (wagons would only have delayed them). All defiance was over.

The exuberant Israelites meanwhile gave out a loud war-cry and chased after them, following them all the way to their own cities, slaughtering those who were too slow, after which they plundered the camp which the Philistines had left behind. And David, having cut off the head of his opponent took it up to Jerusalem of Judah, where the men of Judah regularly celebrated their triumphs (Judges 1.7), while his armour he put in his own tent.

Analysis.

  • a Then David ran, and stood over the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of its sheath, and slew him, and cut off his head with it (17.51a).
  • And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until you come to Gai, and to the gates of Ekron (17.51b-52a).
  • c And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath, and to Ekron (17.52b).
  • b And the children of Israel returned from chasing after the Philistines, and they plundered their camp (17.53).
  • a And David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armour in his tent (17.54).

Note that in ‘a’ David cuts off Goliath’s head, and in the parallel he brings it to Jerusalem. In ‘b’ the victorious Israelites chase the fleeing Philistines, and in the parallel they return from doing so and plunder their camp. Centrally in ‘c’ the Philistines, far from defying Israel and YHWH, are humiliated all the way home.

17.51 ‘Then David ran, and stood over the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of its sheath, and slew him, and cut off his head with it. And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.’

So he ran over to where the Philistine had fallen, stood over him, took out the Philistine’s own sword from its sheath, and slew him and cut off his head. The Philistines were meanwhile struck with awe and terror. They could hardly conceive how it had happened. And recognising that the gods must be against them, and that the Israelite army, whom they could see mobilising, would soon arrive in strength, they turned and fled. Of what use fighting when even the gods seemed against them? They would simply be cut to pieces.

17.52 ‘And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until you come to Gai, and to the gates of Ekron. And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath, and to Ekron.’

Having watched in silence the unexpected turn of events the men of Israel in their turn became exultant. Most of them probably could not believe their eyes. The huge warrior who had defied them day after day now lay dead, slain by an Israelite shepherd boy. It was clear that YHWH was fighting with them and was on their side. And they arose and yelled their war cries, and then pursued the Philistines all the way to Gai, to the very gates of Ekron. And as they pursued they put the stragglers to the sword, and wounded men fell down by the road to Shaaraim, all the way to Gath and Ekron. And what a story they would have to tell.

Gai means ‘valley’. It was possibly the name given to a town situated in a well known valley, or to a prominent valley which had become known as ‘The Valley’. ‘The road to Shaaraim’ would be a recognised highway. The picture of wounded men falling by the wayside all along the route is in contrast with their previous defiance. They are defiant no longer. (The whole makes an interesting comparison with how the statue of Dagon also lost its head and fell before the Ark in 5.4).

17.53 ‘And the children of Israel returned from chasing after the Philistines, and they plundered their camp.’

Once the chase was over the children of Israel then returned from chasing the Philistines, and plundered their camp and all their wagons, filled with praise to YHWH.

17.54 ‘And David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem, and he put his armour in his tent.’

And David meanwhile took the head of the Philistine back to his shepherd’s tent which was by Jerusalem where he had been pasturing his sheep (Bethlehem was only five miles from Jerusalem), and he put the Philistine’s armour in his tent. He would certainly get a nice feeling every time he looked at it, and it would remind him of YHWH’s goodness in giving him victory.

‘Brought it to Jerusalem.’ If David’s shepherd encampment was near Jerusalem it make perfect sense for him to bring Goliath’s head back to his tent along with his armour. However, there are grounds elsewhere for seeing Jerusalem of Judah as the place to which men of Judah regularly brought the trophies of victory. See, for example, Judges 1.7, where after they had defeated Adoni-bezek the men of Judah ‘brought him to Jerusalem’ (the part of Jerusalem occupied by Judah). Thus it may be that that was why David of Judah saw this as the place to which to bring his trophy.

There appears to have been a threefold Jerusalem, for it was on the border of Judah and Benjamin and covered a wise area. There was the unconquered Jebusite citadel on the highest hill of Jerusalem, which would later fall to David, and then there was a Benjaminite Jerusalem (Judges 1.21) and a Jerusalem belonging to Judah (Judges 1.7-8), both of which were necessarily on other hilltops outside the citadel.

Others see ‘and brought it to Jerusalem’ as referring to what David did later in the future after he had captured the Jerusalem fortress. But Jerusalem of Judah had been held by them for a long time and was clearly seen by them as important (Judges 1.8) so that there is no reason why David should not be seen as visiting Jerusalem in Saul’s day, especially if the people of Judah saw it as their main city.

The Aftermath. Having Promised His Daughter To David Saul Enquires About His Antecedents (17.55-58).

Analysis.

  • a And when Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the captain of the host, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” (17.55a).
  • b And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I cannot tell you” (17.55b).
  • c And the king said, Enquire you whose son the stripling is” (17.56).
  • b And as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand (17.57).
  • a And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Beth-lehemite” (17.58).

Note that in ‘a’ Saul asks after David’s ancestry, and in the parallel asks David himself about it. In ‘b’ he asks Abner to follow the question up and in the parallel Abner does so by bringing David to Saul. Centrally in ‘c’ Saul wants to know whose son the stripling is. From what ‘tree’ is he stripped?

17.55 ‘And when Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the captain of the host, “Abner, whose son is this youth?” And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I cannot tell.” ’

Meanwhile Saul, as he watched David go out to fight the Philistine, was mindful of the fact that he had promised his daughter to whoever defeated the Philistine, and he was thus now concerned about David’s antecedents, so he turned to Abner his general and asked, ‘Whose son is this?’ It had not been important who Jesse was when all Saul had been doing was employ him as a musician. And he had probably forgotten the details of David’s background, if he had ever known them. He could hardly have been expected to remember the details of the families of all his servants. It was, however, a totally different matter if he was to receive him into the family. Abner’s reply was that he simply did not know (emphasising that David was a nobody).

17.56 ‘And the king said, “You enquire whose son the stripling is.” ’

So the king asked him to enquire into David’s antecedents. The reference to a ‘stripling’ has in mind the source from which David came. He was like a small strip from the parent stem.

17.57 ‘And as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand.’

And when David returned from his defeat of Goliath, Abner took him and brought him before Saul. David was carrying the head of Goliath in his hand as an indication of YHWH’s victory. In the writer’s eyes this told Saul whose son he was. He was the ‘son’ of YHWH Who had given him this great deliverance. He was the new anointed of YHWH.

17.58 ‘And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Beth-lehemite.” ’

As a result of Abner’s action Saul was able to question him himself, and he asked him whose son he was. David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Beth-lehemite,” after which there was further conversation (18.1) in which he would have given more details about himself and his family. What he did not tell him was that he was also the anointed of YHWH. That is for the reader (and listener) to know as he stands there with the head of Goliath in his hand.

Chapter 18. The Rise Of David.

In this chapter we will learn of the developments that followed David’s victory over Goliath, a victory which had naturally thrown him into prominence. It opens by telling us of the love that grew in Saul’s firstborn son for David (18.1, 3), continues by telling us that all Israel and Judah grew to love David (18.16) and ends by telling us of the love that grew in the heart of Saul’s second daughter for David (18.28). Only one person is mentioned as being against him and as afraid of him, and that is Saul, the one from whom YHWH has departed (18.12).

It explains how he was appointed a military commander and how he prospered more and more in that role because of his sagacity. It describes Saul’s growing suspicions concerning David and awareness that he was probably the man of whom Samuel had spoken in 13.14, and of the wild attempts to do him harm that resulted, attempts that were typical of his illness. And it portrays how in the end he fulfils his promise to give David one of his daughters as his wife, while at the same time David’s military career continually prospers.

It should be noted that at the heart of the whole passage is the fact that David ‘behaved himself wisely’. He did not let anything go to his head. He walked circumspectly both in peace and at war. It reminds us that there is nothing more difficult than to be wise when all men praise you. But David was, and this is brought out three times throughout the chapter:

  • ‘And David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely’ (18.5).
  • ‘And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways, and YHWH was with him’ (18.14).
  • ‘As often as they (the Philistines) went forth, David behaved himself more wisely that all the servants of Saul, so that his name was much set by’ (18.30).

There is nothing more important for a servant of God than to behave wisely. So much has been lost so often because chosen servants have become foolish. It had happened to Saul. But it did not happen to David.

And all this time there was clearly a state of continual to and fro between Israel and the Philistines, but as far as the writer was concerned that was only a background to the main events, for his main concern was to explain the rise and establishment of David, the anointed of YHWH, in contrast with the ambivalence of a God-forsaken Saul. He wants it to be recognised that it was the one on whom the Spirit of YHWH had now fallen who was saving Israel.

Jonathan’s Comradely Love For David (18.1-4).

Verse 1 follows directly on after chapter 17, taking up where that chapter left off, so that what follows is to be seen in its light. And the first important result of David’s triumph was that Jonathan, Saul’s firstborn son, took a great liking to David, so much so that they became comrades-in-arms..

It was in fact one of the ironies of life for Saul, and an evidence of YHWH’s love for David, that the more Saul hated David, the more some of Saul’s close family loved him and tried to protect him. For in this chapter we learn that first Jonathan and then Michal, Saul’s daughter, acted on David’s behalf to save him from Saul. Unfortunately this serves to bring out the insaneness of Saul’s jealousy and hatred for David, for it is portrayed as in direct contrast with their love for him. But that would come a little later and this first passage brings out Jonathan’s love for David, a love which resulted in a covenant between them

Analysis.

  • a And it came about when he had made an end of speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David (18.1a).
  • b And Jonathan loved him as his own soul (18.1b).
  • c And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house (18.2).
  • b Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul (18.3).
  • a And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him, and gave it to David, and his (military) clothing, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle (18.4).

Note that in ‘a’ Jonathan’s inner self is knit with that of David, and in the parallel this is made apparent by Jonathan giving to David all his own military dress including his armour. In ‘b’ Jonathan loved David ‘as his own soul’, and in the parallel he made a covenant with him because he loved him with his own soul. Centrally in ‘c’ Saul took David into his court as a permanent member of it.

18.1 ‘And it came about when he had made an end of speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.’

Impressed by David’s bravery and audacity, which blended well with his own, Jonathan, Saul’s firstborn son, was attracted to him from the start. And the result was that a great love and friendship developed between them, the friendship of fellow comrades-in-arms, a kind of friendship which is as strong as any friendship known to man. From then on these two would be closer than brothers. A similar phrase is used of Jacob’s special love for his youngest son Benjamin in Genesis 44.30. It was a pure, true and spiritual love.

18.2 ‘And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house.’

Saul was also impressed, at least for the time being, and took him on that day as a permanent member of his staff and would no longer allow him to return to his father’s house. This did not, of course, mean that he was never allowed to go and see his family. It simply indicated permanent employment in the king’s service which was different from his previous on and off employment. He was now an established member of the court.

18.3 ‘Then Jonathan and David made (cut) a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.’

The comradeship between Jonathan and David was such that they made a binding pact of friendship, because of the warmth of the undying friendship that lay between them. This was sealed in the form of a covenant, and witnessed in a way that demonstrated Jonathan’s regard for David. (‘Cut a covenant’ does not necessarily mean that blood was shed. The verb had become usable of the making of any covenant whether sealed with blood or not).

18.4 ‘And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him, and gave it to David, and his (military) clothing, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.’

The friendship and the covenant were then sealed by Jonathan giving to David his own armour and weapons, a token of his great esteem and affection, and an indication that he now saw him as his ‘other self’ (loved him as his own soul). It was a singular honour for David to receive such gifts from the king’s son. It bound the two together as true comrades, and was a reminder to all of their close bond. This comradeship was in distinct contrast with Saul’s forthcoming attitude towards David and emphasises the personal nature of the latter. It is being made clear that even Saul’s close family found no fault with David. Any enmity was therefore due solely to Saul’s own personal suspicions, and of course the paranoia and delusion that went with his illness.

Note on the use of clothes as a symbolic gesture in 1 Samuel.

A man’s outer garments were generally seen as indicating both his position and status and also something of himself. Thus at Ugarit when an heir apparent to the throne was given the choice of remaining with his father and thus continuing as crown prince, or going with his divorced mother and losing that privilege, he was to demonstrate his decision by either retaining his clothes denoting his status, or by leaving them on the throne when he departed. There are a number of references in 1 Samuel to a similar use of clothes as a symbolic gesture.

  • 1). Saul clothed David in his own armour in order to demonstrate that he went out to meet Goliath as Saul’s champion (17.38). This act was intended to confirm all that David was Saul’s representative.
  • 2). Here Jonathan stripped himself of his war apparel and gave it to David. This was seemingly his way of indicating that they were bound together in a covenant (18.3-4). From then on they would look out for each other as though they were closer than twins, and from then on they would share each other’s honour and each other’s problems.
  • 3). When Saul later approaches Samuel with a view to arresting David, Saul, unable to help himself, strips himself of his outer clothing and prophesies before Samuel and lays down, ‘undressed’ as he is, all day and all night (19.22-24). This would seem to be suggesting that in spite of himself he had no choice but to divest himself of his authority before YHWH’ prophet and His Spirit. YHWH was seen to be still his Overlord.

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Further free Bible articles and commentaries

Commentary on Samuel - Contents

1 Samuel 1.1-4.1a The Birth of Samuel And His Subsequent Career

1 Samuel 4.1b-8.22 The Movements of the Ark of God and the Judgeship of Samuel

1 Samuel 9.1-12.25 Saul Becomes King

1 Samuel 13-15 The Downfall Of Saul

1 Samuel 18.5-20.42 The Rise Of David And Jealousy Of Saul

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