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1 Samuel 17:4-11 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • 1 Samuel 17:4
  • 1 Samuel 17:5
  • 1 Samuel 17:6
  • 1 Samuel 17:7
  • 1 Samuel 17:8
  • 1 Samuel 17:9
  • 1 Samuel 17:10
  • 1 Samuel 17:11

We are introduced to Goliath, the champion of the Philistines.

 

The Philistines have a secret weapon, so to speak. A champion named Goliath who came out from the armies of the Philistines. Goliath is from the city-state of Gath in Philistia. Gath is mentioned in Joshua 13:3 as being one of five principal city-states of Philistia. The city-state of Gath is also confirmed by the Amarna Letters which are clay tablets discovered in Egypt and are believed to have been written between 1360–1332 BC.

Goliath was a massive individual whose height was six cubits and a span. A cubit was roughly 18 inches, which means that Goliath’s height amounted to 9 feet 9 inches. Other ancient texts record different heights for Goliath. The Dead Sea Scrolls (200 BC), the Septuagint (300 BC), and Josephus, a 1st century Jewish historian differ here from the Masoretic Text (700 AD) stating Goliath’s height to be “4 cubits and a span” or 6 feet 9 inches. Attempts to explain the differing heights include the possible embellishment of the story during transmission, or that a scribe may have been drawn to the number 6.

In verse 7, it says the shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and the head of his spear weighed six hundred shekels of iron (9.4 pounds). A weaver’s beam was a huge plank of wood used as the main support for a weaving loom. The mass and weight of the spear would indicate that Goliath possessed immense physical strength. Together with the stout shaft, which was like a weaver’s beam, Goliath’s spear might have had a weight similar to that of the shot in modern shot put competitions, which weighs 16 pounds. To be able to wield a weapon this heavy shows great physical strength.

Goliath wore a bronze helmet, and he was clothed with scale-armor which weighed five

thousand shekels of bronze (approx. 78 pounds). Scale-armor is a metal robe-like armor made of single plates of metal or scales sewn to overlap one another like roofing shingles. Goliath lived at the very beginning of the Iron Age, so bronze would have been the more prevalent metal at the time. The point being made is to show how massive and awesome this warrior was. By way of comparison, the body armor of a US soldier weighs around thirty pounds, which means Goliath’s body armor was about two and a half times heavier.

Goliath also wore bronze greaves on his legs and a bronze javelin slung between his shoulders. Greaves were important pieces of armor that protected each shin. The bronze javelin (“kîḏôn”) is a different weapon than the spear (“ḥănîṯ”) which had a spear head that weighed over nine pounds. Beyond all this, Goliath’s shield was carried by a shield-carrier who walked in front of Goliath when he went out to taunt the ranks of Israel. Having an assigned shield-carrier shows a position of importance and strength. Though not mentioned here, Goliath also carried a sword (“ḥereḇ”) which David will use to cut off Goliath’s head (1 Samuel 17:51).

 

Goliath now challenges the servants of Saul to single combat with a man of their choosing. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel from across the Valley of Elah, which would have carried his voice quite well, saying, Why do you come out to draw up in battle array? The Philistines wished to avoid all-out war through a single combat of chosen champions. Portraying himself as equal with the ranks of soldiers, Goliath says, Am I not the Philistine and you servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me. In saying this, Goliath is proposing a champion-on-champion, winner-take-all competition.

Goliath proposes that if he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will become your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall become our servants and serve us. This champion-on-champion approach was common in the era.

Goliath continues, I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together. The Hebrew word for defy is “ḥārap̄” and can be translated “reproach,” “taunt,” or “blaspheme.” Goliath is taunting, ridiculing, and demoralizing the ranks of the Hebrews.

At the sight of this massive Philistine and the sound of his disheartening words, Saul and Israel were dismayed and greatly afraid. Fear is a byproduct of concentrating on circumstances rather than trusting God in them. If Saul and Israel were trusting God in this moment, they would understand He loves them and led them to this moment for a reason. Perfect love, God’s love, casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Many times in the Bible when Israel needed deliverance, most of the people were afraid. Often, in these times God performed the deliverance largely through one person, a deliverer. The deliverance in this story is no different. God’s deliverance will come through an unlikely champion, David.

 Biblical Text:

4 Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was clothed with scale-armor which weighed five thousand shekels of bronze. 6 He also had bronze greaves on his legs and a bronze javelin slung between his shoulders. 7 The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and the head of his spear weighed six hundred shekels of iron; his shield-carrier also walked before him. 8 He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel and said to them, “Why do you come out to draw up in battle array? Am I not the Philistine and you servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will become your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall become our servants and serve us.” 10 Again the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.




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