1 Samuel 17:1-3 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • 1 Samuel 17:1
  • 1 Samuel 17:2
  • 1 Samuel 17:3

Israel sets their army in array against the Philistine enemy.


The Philistines were one of Israel’s chief enemies. They dwelt in southern Israel along the seacoast in roughly the same area as the modern Gaza Strip. The Philistines are introduced in Genesis 10:14, where it indicates a connection between the Philistines and the “Caphtorim.” Some hypothesize that Caphtor refers to the island of Crete. Recent DNA studies show the Philistines to be of Aegean or Greek origin. They are believed to have been a seafaring people who came to Israel by way of Crete in the early to middle Bronze Age. Genesis 21:34 says Abraham sojourned among the Philistines many days. This sojourn would have been roughly a thousand years prior to the time of Saul and David.

During the battle of 1 Samuel 17 the Philistines gathered their armies for battle and crossed into the lands belonging to Judah and were gathered at Socoh. Socoh was a town in the hill country of Judah, meaning “bushy.” See map in the Additional Resources section. But their actual camp was located between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. Socoh, and Azekah are mentioned in Joshua 15:35 as belonging to the Tribe of Judah. Ephes-dammim is only mentioned once in the Bible, in this verse, and means “boundary of blood-drops.”

Led by the first King of Israel, Saul, the men of Israel camped on a mountain above the valley of Elah. Elah is Hebrew for “an oak.” The Philistines stood on the mountain on one side while Israel stood on the mountain on the other side of the valley. With each army camped on a hill opposite each other and the valley between them, one could imagine the noise being amplified because the valley of Elah would act as a natural amphitheater. If the armies were to charge each other from those positions the bottom of the valley would become the front of the battle line. It is likely that in the brook at the bottom of the valley of Elah is where David will later pick his five smooth stones for ammunition in his sling.


Biblical Text: 

1 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; and they were gathered at Socoh which belongs to Judah, and they camped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. 2 Saul and the men of Israel were gathered and camped in the valley of Elah, and drew up in battle array to encounter the Philistines. 3 The Philistines stood on the mountain on one side while Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with the valley between them.




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