Every good hero deserves a worthy villain. Villains of any merit raise the stakes for the heroes they oppose. When those stakes are raised, we often see genuine real-life heroes rising to the occasion to save the day. The story of David and Goliath is one of heroes and villains. It’s so iconic that even to this day (thousands of years later) heroes and villains are still compared to the ones found in this story.
Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.
Malcolm Gladwell | David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
When we think about the Philistine champion we see someone described in a frightening way. He was large, heavily armored, and eager to fight. He’s described in the text as the “champion” (see 17:4) from Gath which is a Hebrew word that literally means “the man between.” Ironically, this is not the first time we see the Israelites afraid of giants (see Numbers 13:25-33) and unwilling to march into battle.
In professional boxing or wrestling fights, you’ll often see or hear talk about the tale-of-the-tape. If you look at Goliath, his measurables were off-the-chart. Scripture tells us he was 6 cubits and a span. A cubit is equivalent to the measurement of the king’s arm from the end of his middle finger to his elbow (e.g. roughly 18-21 inches). A span would be about half that length, giving Goliath a height of 9 feet 9 inches if the measurement of 18 inches per cubit was true that day. While most modern translations use this description of his height, the NET Bible puts Goliath at “close to seven feet tall.” The reason for the discrepancy is that the Masoretic Text (the authoritative Hebrew text) differs from some ancient texts, including the Septuagint and an ancient manuscript found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, labeled 4QSama, which list Goliath’s height as four cubits and a span (approximately 6’9”).¹ I’m personally inclined to believe the common text because I find it hard to believe (as do others) that every Hebrew, including Saul, would be utterly terrified of a man the height of an NBA forward. It’s not impossible, just implausible to believe he was anything other than a phenomenal exception, a giant.
Presumably, his weight would have been equally oversized and an average man scaled to his height weighing 200 pounds would easily equip 300-400 pounds. What if Goliath wasn’t average-sized, instead overly muscular or stout? If his weight topped 500 pounds (the weight of Andre the Giant, a famous wrestler from the 1980s) would we be all that surprised? It’s worth noting that Scripture dwells on this description of Goliath (i.e. 17:4-7). It sure seems that God wants to make sure we have no doubt in our mind that Goliath was formidable. In the same way, God’s description of Saul from 1 Samuel 10:23 as “taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward” should also imply he was physically imposing and then rightfully expected to respond to Goliath’s challenge.²
Notice that great attention is also paid to Goliath’s armor.³ His armor weighed roughly 120 pounds (5,000 shekels) and he carried both a sword and a spear (with a head weighing about 15 pounds).4 At that weight, the armor was surely bulky and would have made his movements slow and deliberate. The armor was more-than-likely scaly (i.e. hundreds of metal scales attached with thread to cloth or leather)5 and the shield large since it was for protection. Goliath’s entire body was well shielded except his face. Therefore, no ordinary sword-wielding warrior could threaten him.6 When you consider the enormity of his size and the quality of his armor and equipment its believable to say he was a “killing machine.” In fact, if we’re honest, his armor and size made an attack on him a nearly-impossible proposition. I love this description of Goliath that pulls everything together, “the picture we are given is a man about 9½ feet tall, who wore armor that weighed more than most fifth graders, and who carried a spear that had a tip which weighed as much as a trophy-sized large-mouth bass.”7
When you also consider Goliath’s arrogance alongside his stature, you can easily see a situation that was untenable to the average Hebrew on the battlefield that day. His speech to the gathered army of Israel shows just how arrogant, prideful, self-assured and frightening he was:
Then Goliath stood and cried out to the armies of Israel, and said to them, “Why have you come out to line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.”
1 Samuel 17:8-10
Because of his physical stature and his unrivaled success on the battlefield, he was arrogant beyond restraint. In fact, he is so certain of winning the fight that he committed his fellow countrymen to slavery if he fails.8 However, his daily speech to them was actually a taunt, meant to insult them, but in no way a binding agreement between two sides that respected each other equally.9 His challenge to the Israelites was boastful and to him, the eventual outcome of their fight, certain. Even today, when people take their physical process and place it above reason, they produce outsized egos that often ruin their actual abilities. The purpose of his taught was to “terrorize” the Israelites each morning and evening when he came to fight at the times of their daily sacrifices (see 17:16).10 When he used the word “defy” he was challenging them. That phrase itself not only implied defiance and provocation, but also contempt for those standing across the valley from him.11 He essentially said, as many bullies have since then, “Fight me, I dare you!”
We learn even more about his over-reliance upon his strength and his high esteem of himself as he sees David running into battle. Notice his disdain for the young man in the text:
“Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!”
1 Samuel 17:43-44
When Goliath saw the ruddy-faced youth, he was insulted.12 This insult tells us more about the man than any description. He was arrogant, full-of-himself, and about to meet his maker. Scripture so clearly tells us “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (see Proverbs 16:18), but Goliath (like far too many before and since) was unwilling to listen to anyone else on that day.
What then, is the great lesson we learn from Goliath? Are we to compare him to our great adversary, the Devil? Are we to use his arrogance and comeuppance as motivation to live humble? Or are we to believe that God wants His heroes to face mighty foes? Are we to believe that God wants to prove His might by tackling the best the world has to offer and winning? In the end, while these ideas have merit, I truly believe the lasting implication of Goliath is something else because God is not arrogant, boastful, or reliant upon His conquests. He is not some champion standing on the battlefield shouting, “who’s next?” He is so much more than that. He is patient, enduring the sin of man and our disdain of His commands.
In the end, the lesson we learn from Goliath is simple – it’s a fatal mistake to defy the living God. When Goliath challenged Israel, he challenged God and by doing so brought about divine retribution.13 Today, when we sin we offend God’s holiness and when we sin against His people or His Church, we offend His plan, His Will, and His election. May we ever be vigilant to stand on God’s side and not in His way. On that day, Goliath proved for all of eternity how strong we are compared to the Almighty.
We are unholy ants and He is the Righteous boot when we defy His good name over and over without provocation and without repentance.
And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death.
As we conclude may I remind you that those who challenge God and reject the divinity of His Son will learn as Goliath did that there is only one God in Heaven and His name is Yahweh, Elohim, Jehovah and He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all their children both physical (in times past) and spiritual (today). It’s a sobering thought to realize that God will have devotion from those who chose to follow Him and from those who (one day) realize they were wrong as they enter into eternity.
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
2 Peter 2:9-11
¹ Tim Chaffey, “Giants in the Old Testament.” An online article from Answers in Genesis. Found at this link.
² Joyce G. Baldwin. 1st and 2nd Samuel, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 134.
³ Baldwin, 134.
4 David Toshio Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 444.
5 Baldwin, 134.
6 Baldwin, 134.
7 Kyle Butt, “How Big is a Giant?” An online article from Apologetics Press. Found at this link.
8 Baldwin, 135.
9 Tsumura, 445.
10 Peter J. Leithart, A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003), 106.
11 Tsumura, 445.
12 Wayne Jackson, “Is there Not a Cause?” An online article published at Christian Courier. Found at this link.
13 Jackson, “Is there Not a Cause?”
Scripture taken from New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Originally published on March 20, 2017. Written by Neal Mathis.