David and Goliath. Christ and the Devil. This ancient battle takes on new meaning in light of the salvation that Jesus accomplished during this most holy of weeks. I offer here a translation of 1 Samuel 17, some notes on the text, and a proclamation of the battle.
An initial note on the translation: I try to preserve the idioms of the original language as much as possible. Sometimes this results in a different way of speaking than we’re generally used to in English. Nevertheless, I like the character of the original languages. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with smoothing idioms into common English; most translations do this, and I have no problem reading them in the Divine Service and saying, “This is the Word of the Lord” afterwards. Note also that italics in the translation represent an emphasis that is present in the Hebrew.
1 And the Philistines gathered and encamped for war, and they assembled at Socoh, which belongs to Judah; and they encamped between Socoh and Azekah in Ephes-dammim. 2 Meanwhile Saul and the men of Israel assembled and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and they drew up the war-line to come against the Philistines. 3 And the Philistines were standing on the mountain over here, and Israel was standing on the mountain over here, and the valley was between them.
4 And a Man of the War-zone came forth from the camp of the Philistines: Goliath was his name, from Gath. His height was six cubits and a span. 5 And there was a helmet of bronze upon his head, and he was clothed with an armor of scales, and the weight of his scale-armor was five-thousand shekels of bronze. 6 And there were bronze greaves upon his legs, and a javelin of bronze between his shoulders. 7 And the wood of his spear was like the beam of weavers, and the head of his spear was six-hundred shekels of iron. And he who bore the standing-shield went before him.
8 And he stood and called out to the ranks of Israel, and he said to them, “Why have you come out to draw up the war-line? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Bind a man for yourselves by covenant, and let him come down to me. 9 If he is able to war with me and strike me down, then we will become your slaves. But if I prevail against him and strike him down, then you shall become our slaves, and you shall serve us.” 10 And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day! Give me a man, and let us war together!” 11 And Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, and they fell to pieces and were greatly afraid.
12 Now David was the son of an Ephrathite who was from Bethlehem of Judah, whose name was Jesse, who had eight sons. And in the days of Saul the man was old as he went among men. 13 And the three eldest sons of Jesse went: they went after Saul to the war. And the names of his three sons who went into the war were Eliab the firstborn, and second to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah; 14 and David was himself the smallest. So the three eldest went after Saul, 15 but David went and returned from Saul to shepherd his father’s sheep in Bethlehem. 16 Meanwhile the Philistine came forward in the morning and in the evening, and he took his stand for forty days.
17 And Jesse said to David his son, “Take for your brothers this roasted grain and these ten loaves, and bear them quickly to the camp, to your brothers. 18 And these ten cheeses you shall bring to the commander of their thousand. And you shall visit your brothers to see if they are well, and you shall bring a token from them.”
19 Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the Valley of Elah warring with the Philistines. 20 And David set out early in the morning and entrusted the flock to a keeper, and he took up and went, just as Jesse had commanded him. And he came to the wagon-ring while the host was going out to the line, and they raised the war-cry. 21 And Israel and the Philistines drew up – rank coming against rank. 22 And David entrusted the things he had on him to the hand of the keeper of the things, and he ran to the line. And he came and asked his brothers if they were well. 23 As he was speaking with them, behold! a Man of the War-zone coming up: the Philistine named Goliath from Gath, out of the ranks of the Philistines. And he spoke according to these same words, and David heard. 24 But all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from his face and they were greatly afraid.
25 And the men of Israel said, “Have you seen this man who has come up? For he comes up to defy Israel! As for the man who strikes him down, the king will enrich him with great riches, and his daughter he will give to him, and his father’s house he will make free in Israel.” 26 And David spoke to the men who stood with him, saying, “What will be done for the man who strikes down that Philistine and turns back the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he defies the ranks of the living God?” 27 And the people spoke to him according to this same word, saying, “Thus it will be done for the man who strikes him down.”
28 Eliab his eldest brother heard his word to the men, and the anger of Eliab was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down, and to whom did you entrust those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down in order to see the war!” 29 And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not a word?” 30 And he turned aside from him to another opposite and spoke according to this same word. And the people returned to him a word like the first word.
31 And they heard the words that David spoke, and they declared them before Saul, who then summoned him. 32 And David said to Saul, “Let not the heart of man fall on account of him: your servant shall go and shall war with this Philistine.” 33 But Saul said to David, “You are not able to go to this Philistine to war with him, for you are a youth, while he has been a man of war from his youth.” 34 And David said to Saul, “Your servant has been a shepherd for his father among the sheep. And when the lion came, or the bear, and took up a sheep from the flock, 35 then I went out after him and struck him down and I delivered it from his mouth. And when he arose against me, then I seized him by his beard and struck him down and killed him. 36 Both the lion and the bear your servant has struck down, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the ranks of the living God.” 37 And David said, “Yahweh, who has delivered me from the hand of the lion and from the hand of the bear, he shall deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and Yahweh be with you.”
38 Then Saul clothed David with his armor and put a helmet of bronze upon his head, and clothed him with scale-armor, 39 and David girded on his sword over his armor. And he labored vainly to go, for he had not tested them; and David said to Saul, “I am not able to go in these, for I have not tested them.” So David took them off from himself. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, and he chose for himself five smooth stones from the stream; and he put them in the vessel of shepherds which he had, that is, in the pouch. And his sling was in his hand.
And he came forward to the Philistine.
41 And the Philistine came, walking and drawing near to David, and the man who carried the body-shield was before him. 42 And the Philistine looked at David, and saw David – and he despised him, for he was a youth and ruddy, with a handsome appearance. 43 And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog that you come to me with staffs?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 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!”
45 But David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and with spear and with javelin; but I come against you in the name of Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of the ranks of Israel, whom you have defied! 46 On this day Yahweh shall deliver you into my hand, and I shall strike you down and take off your head from upon you! And I shall give the corpses of the camp of the Philistines this day to the birds of the heavens and to the animals of the earth, and all the earth will know that Israel has a God! 47 And let all this assembly know that not with sword nor with spear does Yahweh save, for the war belongs to the Lord, and he shall give you into our hand!”
48 And it happened that the Philistine arose and went and drew near to come against David. Meanwhile David made haste and ran to the line to come against the Philistine. 49 And David sent forth his hand to his pouch and took thence a stone, and he slung it and it struck the Philistine in his brow; and the stone penetrated into his brow, and he fell upon his face to the earth. 50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and he struck down the Philistine and killed him; there was no sword in the hand of David.
51 And David ran and stood by the Philistine, and took his sword and drew it from its sheath. Then he dealt him the death-blow, and he chopped off his head with it. And the Philistines became afraid because their strong man was dead, and they fled. 52 Then the men of Israel and of Judah arose and raised the war-cry. And they pursued the Philistines until you come to Gath, and unto the gates of Ekron. And the slain Philistines fell on the way of Shaarim, and unto Gath and unto Ekron. 53 And the sons of Israel returned from chasing after the Philistines, and they plundered their camp.
54 Meanwhile David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but his weapons he put in his tent. 55 And as Saul looked on David going out to meet the Philistine he said to Abner, the captain of the host, “Whose son is this youth, Abner?” And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.” 56 And the king said, “Ask: whose son is this young man?” 57 And as David returned from striking down the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul while the head of the Philistine was in his hand. 58 And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David said, “The son of your servant Jesse, the Bethlehemite.”
v. 3 “over here… over here.” Literally “from this… from this” in Hebrew. The ESV has “on the one side… on the other side.” The Hebrew gives the impression that someone is talking with his hands, placing the camps in space before the eyes of the hearers. This account is meant to be told. The crucifixion of Jesus in John’s Gospel uses this same device: “… they crucified him, and with him two others, from here and from here, and Jesus in the middle” (Jn. 19:18).
v. 4 “Man of the War-zone.” Literally “man of the two betweens” in Hebrew. When expressing the idea of “between” in Hebrew, the word “between” is used twice. For example, rather than saying, “Between a rock and a hard place,” in Hebrew it would be, “Between and rock and between a hard place.” The “two betweens” is a military term – between this army and between this army – referring to the space in the middle where the two armies come together and clash: what we would call the war-zone. The English translation of “champion” captures the idea well enough, but “Man of the War-zone” is closer to the character of the Hebrew.
v. 5 “armor of scales.” A very literal rendering of the Hebrew. This was not “chain mail,” not links of metal woven together. This scale armor was a series of overlapping platelets, like the scales of a fish or a snake.
v. 8 “Bind a man for yourselves by covenant.” Literally “covenant for yourselves a man” in Hebrew. The verb is BARAH, whence comes the Hebrew noun BERITH, “covenant.” The verb means that the people of Israel must choose a representative and formally agree that this man will stand in place of them all. Without the covenant, the Israelites could say, “Sure Goliath, you beat a guy from our army, but we didn’t send him.” The covenant ensured that everyone knew: this man fights on behalf of the whole people.
v. 18 “ten cheeses.” Literally “ten slices of milk” in Hebrew. Some idioms can’t be kept in English.
v. 18 “And you shall visit your brothers to see if they are well.” Literally “And your brothers you shall visit for peace” in Hebrew. SHALOM in Hebrew can mean “peace.” More broadly speaking it refers to everything being as it should be: healthy, sound, complete, well. Jesse wants to know if his sons are well; there’s not more to the word SHALOM here than that. However, there is some great significance to the father sending his son for the sake of visitation, e.g. Lk. 1:78, “because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high.” See also Ex. 4:31 where the same Hebrew verb is used.
v. 32 “Let not the heart of man fall on account of him.” The Hebrew noun ISH is used for “man” or “the men” in every other instance in 1 Samuel 17. In this verse the noun ADAM is used, which can mean an individual man, but can also mean mankind as a whole. I hold that the shift in terminology here from ISH to ADAM indicates a broader Gospel than David fighting Goliath. Ultimately Christ says the same words as the hope of all mankind: Your servant will go and fight.
v. 37 “Hand… hand… hand.” The same Hebrew word each time. The traditional English translation going all the way back to the KJV is “paw… paw… hand,” because obviously lions and bears don’t have hands. Since it is so obvious, I think it’s safe to keep the repeated word and maintain the fine rhetoric that David employs here. Note that this is also the first verse in 1 Samuel 17 in which the Divine Name appears.
v. 38 “helmet of bronze… scale-armor.” The same terms used in 17:5 to refer to Goliath’s armor. Saul has dressed David up like Goliath.
v. 43 “staffs.” The same Hebrew word as the staff that David takes in his hand in v. 40, but in this verse Goliath uses the plural.
v. 46 “take off your head.” From the Hebrew verb SUR, to take away. Certainly David will take away Goliath’s head by cutting it off, but Hebrew has a perfectly good word for “cut,” KARATH, which isn’t used here (but is used in v. 51).
v. 46 “that Israel has a God.” Usually translated “that there is a God in Israel.” In Hebrew, YESH ELOHIM LEYISRAEL. “In Israel” would be the preposition B, BEYISRAEL. Here it’s L, LEYISRAEL, which can mean “for Israel” or “belonging to Israel.” With YESH this formula usually indicates possession: “that there is a God for Israel” in Hebrew idiom means “that Israel has a God.”
v. 51 “dealt him the death-blow.” In reference to a person who has already been injured in battle, this verb means finishing him off. So when Jonathan goes against the Philistines in 1 Samuel 14:13, he goes first and his armor-bearer follows. It says, “And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer dealt the death-blow after him.”
v. 51 “strong man.” Hebrew, GIBBOR, has the sense of “a man’s man,” “a valiant man.” Different word here than “Man of the War-zone,” though often both get translated as “champion” in English.
Over a thousand years before the birth of Christ the Israelites were drawing up battle lines with the Philistines. The Philistines marched from the west, the Israelites from the east, and they encamped – one over here, one over here – on opposite sides of the Valley of Elah, about 14 miles west of Bethlehem.
The battle did not follow the usual course; the armies did not come together and clash in the war-zone. Instead, as it says in 1 Samuel 17, “there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span,” that is, about 9’ 9” tall. There was a helmet of bronze on his head and he was clothed with armor of bronze scales, with bronze coverings on his legs and a bronze javelin between his shoulders. He would have looked something like a great fiery dragon.
This strong man stood and called out to the ranks of Israel and said to them, “Why have you come out to draw up battle lines for war? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me. If he is able to war with me and strike me down, then we will become your slaves. But if I prevail against him and strike him down, then you shall become our slaves and you shall serve us.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day! Give me a man and let us war together!” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine they went to pieces and were greatly afraid. This scaly monstrosity was too much for them.
Fourteen miles east in Bethlehem was a shepherd, the son of an aged father. The shepherd’s name was David. His three eldest brothers had gone after Saul to the war. David, who had been a musician in service to the king, had returned home to shepherd his father’s flock. In Bethlehem the shepherd made the sheep lie down in green pastures and led them beside still waters. But on the front lines, for forty days, the Philistine approached and took his stand, morning and evening. A Lenten season passed, and the enemy defied God’s people.
Then the father sent his son to nourish and visit his brothers. Jesse sent David with grain and bread and said, “Carry them quickly to the camp, to your brothers.” And he said, “Visit your brothers to see if they are well, and bring some token from them.” The son bore what his father had commanded him and he went.
David came to the encampment, the ring of wagons, as the host was going out to the battle line shouting the war cry. David ran to the ranks, to his brothers, and asked them if they were well. “As he was talking with them, behold, the champion came up from the ranks of the Philistines: the Philistine named Goliath, from Gath.” He brazenly defied the ranks of Israel, and David heard him. All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from his face and were greatly afraid. They were no match for the proud giant.
But David began asking the men, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the ranks of the living God?” The people repeated David’s words to Saul, and the king summoned him. David said, “Let not the heart of man fall on account of him: your servant will go and war with this Philistine.” This would have been laughable is David hadn’t been so earnest. David was a boy in his teens, a musician, a shepherd, but not a warrior. Saul said, “You are not able to go to this Philistine to war with him, for you are a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.”
But David answered, “Your servant was a shepherd for his father among the sheep. And when the lion came, or the bear, and took up a sheep from the flock, then I went out after him and struck him down and I delivered it from his mouth. And when he arose against me then I seized him by his beard and struck him down and killed him. Both the lion and the bear your servant has struck down, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the ranks of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord, who has delivered me from the hand of the lion and from the hand of the bear, he will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
Now whether it was because Saul wanted to protect David or whether he simply thought David should look the part of the warrior, we don’t know. Whatever the case, Saul insisted that David put on a helmet of bronze and scale armor, dressing him up like the enemy, fighting fire with fire.
But David wasn’t used to such things, and said, “I am not able to go in these.” So David took them off from himself, and laid aside the form of the mighty warrior. He would go to battle as a shepherd. “Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch; and his sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.”
The Philistine came near, and when he beheld David he despised him. “I call for a warrior and you send me this? This is a boy!” The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with staffs?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods, and said, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field!”
But David replied, “You are coming to me with sword and with spear and with javelin, but I am coming to you in the name of the Lord Sabaoth, the God of the ranks of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand and I will strike you down and take away your head from you, and I will give the corpses of the camp of the Philistines this day to the birds of the heavens and to the animals of the earth. And all the earth shall know that Israel has a God, and all this assembly shall know that neither with sword nor with spear does the Lord save, for the war belongs to the Lord, and he will give you into our hand!”
And there we stood, watching, praying Psalm 123, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.” How long the scaly dragon has boasted in his pride! How long we have suffered the corruption that came of his ancient attack in the Garden! How long we have been sinners cowering before the enemy! How long we have awaited a Savior!
And now he comes. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you!” The Son of David approaches in his humility. He has laid aside the form of God and taken the form of a slave. He has not sword nor spear nor javelin, but blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Jesus rides to the war zone as the representative of God’s people. And we hail our King and take up the cry: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
Goliath approaches Mount Golgotha from the west and watches as Jesus comes trudging up from the east, like the rising sun coming out of Eden. But Jesus doesn’t look the part. The devils beholds him and despises him, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with staffs? I’ll crucify you on them, and give your flesh over to death and decay!” The devil expected more, but we dare not make that mistake. Jesus came just as we needed him to come, and he did exactly what we needed him to do. His royal power disguised he bore; a servant’s form like ours he wore to lead the devil captive.
Then came the clash. “The Philistine arose and went and drew near to come against David. Meanwhile, David made haste and ran to the line to come against the Philistine. And David sent forth his hand to his pouch and took from there a stone, and he slung it and it struck the Philistine in his brow; and the stone penetrated into his brow, and he fell upon his face to the earth.”
So also the Son of David sent forth his hand to the cross, and the stone that the builders rejected smashed into Satan’s head. The strong man lies sprawled on the battle field, and our stronger man has secured our salvation. He has saved us from the devil’s clutches. He has saved us from the threatening perils of our sins. He has saved us from everlasting death.
But what of him? Has Goliath made good his taunt? Did the birds and the beasts devour the flesh of Christ? Certainly not! The Son of David says in Psalm 16, “My flesh also dwells secure, for you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your Holy One see corruption.” In the end, our champion stands alive and well upon the dying body of the enemy. And the day is coming when he will draw Goliath’s own sword out of its sheath and take his head away from him.
Now, what should we take to heart from all this? First, we ought to recognize, especially during this week of weeks, our helplessness before our enemies. We not only stood in need of a champion on a Palm Sunday long ago. We stand in need of a champion and Savior every day. The devil may be defeated, he may be mortally wounded, but he is still alive, our sinful flesh is still his ally, and the world still heeds his voice.
Second, we have confidence that Jesus has not merely come once to visit mankind and deliver us. His Father continues to send him, saying, “Take this bread to your brothers and visit them.” And so we sing the Palm Sunday hymn every Sunday, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And Jesus comes, bringing bread that is his very body. And he continues to deliver us from all things harmful: forgiving sins and rescuing from death and the devil, and giving us life and salvation.
And finally, we take to heart that Jesus deals with us in very plain and ordinary ways. He didn’t come in a bronze helmet and scale armor. Instead, he became obedient to death, yea, the death of a cross. The devil despised this mundane nature of Christ. Yet that was the devil’s downfall. We don’t let the plain appearance of things fool us. Rather we glory in the crucifixion of Jesus, knowing that is his mightiest work. We bow before what seems to be mere bread and wine, knowing that it is the body and blood of Christ.
In the same vein, the order of service may not seem particularly exciting, yet we know what great treasures Christ gives us here. Your life may seem quaint and plain, with simple routines and not much in the way of adventure or excitement. And yet we don’t go looking for more, but we delight in our everyday vocations, which we rightly regard as high callings from God.
The death of Jesus teaches us that if we want something extraordinary, then we should look to the ordinary things that he has bestowed on us. If we want something special we will find it in something apparently mundane: salvation from a dying man, eternal life from bread and wine, heavenly treasures in simple words. “So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone.”