David and Goliath: Three Awesome Details You May Have Missed
Virtually anyone reared in a church environment will be familiar with the basic features of what the Bible says concerning David and Goliath. Anyone who has read through the Bible a few times will be aware that certain features (most notably, David's beheading of Goliath) are omitted from children's storybook versions of the tale. But the depths of Scripture are truly marvelous, and re-studying the same passage consistently yields new treasures along with the old (cf. Matt 13:52). Each week, I have noticed additional features in this well-known text: features that help me better appreciate the Spirit-inspired account.
Since I'm currently trying to write an adventure novel, I have been interested in how certain details-details I hadn't necessarily noted before-serve to build tension in relating what occurred at the valley of Elah. In addition to every other way in which 1 Samuel 17 may be properly viewed for edification, the passage is also an amazing example of plot development.
And so, dear reader, let me draw your attention to three awesome details in the story of David and Goliath that you may have missed:
1. David grabbed a bear by its beard and beat it to death with a rod! (v. 35)
Part of the reason that I overlooked this feature of the account was confusion due to the way that verses 34-36 have been translated. The King James Version (in v. 34) has David saying, "there came a lion and a bear and took a lamb out of the flock." So I (wrongly) got the idea that perhaps the lion and bear attacked simultaneously. The New King James Version reads, "when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock" (Hebrew usually does not differentiate between the conjunctions "and" and "or:" the reader must determine which is appropriate from the context). So I (wrongly) got the idea that somehow David was being ambiguous about whether a lion or a bear had attacked the flock. Recently, as I was reading commentaries and sermons on the text, I came to realize-as you may have realized on your own-that David was indicating that a lion then a bear took a lamb from the flock. These were two separate occasions. (This is one of the myriad of scriptural passages in which the principle, "Every fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses," is incidentally at play, 1 Cor 13:1.) When David switches to the singular pronoun in v. 35, "I went out after him and attacked him," the antecedent to the pronoun is the last noun in the combined subject of v. 34, i.e., he is only talking about the bear in v. 35.
The picture may have been clear to you, dear reader, without all this detailed thought, but I had to work through the language to bring it into focus due to some wrong images that I formed in my head when I read this passage as a youth.
According to v. 35, a bear had taken a lamb from David's flock. David hunted down the bear and rescued the lamb from its mouth. The bear, obviously angry from having his prey taken away, reared up to attack David. Did David do what I probably would have done? Did David drop the lamb and run? Did he freeze in fright? No, instead he took his shepherd's rod, jumped up, grabbed the bear by the hair of its chin, and beat the raging beast to death. This was quite an impressive line on David's resumé for the position of giant-fighter!
2. David walked onto the battlefield basically unarmed! (v. 40)
Aided, I think, by an over-imaginative preacher's presentation of the David and Goliath account that I had heard at some point in my youth, I had always imagined that after David spoke to King Saul and refused the king's armor he left Saul, went off by himself to a creek in the woods, then-in deep contemplation, drawing upon his experience-carefully chose five perfect stones for his sling. But notice that v. 40 does not say that David went to a creek; it says he chose five smooth stones from the creek [or "the brook"]. The Hebrew has the definite article. In other words, readers are to understand that a particular creek is in view. But where is the creek to which the text refers? Can we answer this question with any degree of certainty? I believe that we can. As my Sunday school teacher, Mike Ross, pointed out, there is a creek flowing through the valley of Elah itself. The original audience would have known that, so when they read "the brook," they would have naturally thought of the brook already implied in the text through the mention of the valley of Elah.
Notice, then, the movement indicated in v. 40. David left Saul, he went directly to "the brook" (that is, the creek in the middle of the valley of Elah), he chose five smooth stones (his movement would have necessarily been visible to both the Israelite and Philistine armies), then he approached the Philistine.
The author of 1 Samuel had spent three verses of Chapter 17 describing Goliath's mighty armor (vv. 5-7). By contrast, when David first arrived at the valley of Elah he had only a stick in his hand and a sling (and, if you think about what a "sling" is, we're basically talking about a leather strap here). When he arrives at the battlefield, he does not even have stones for his sling. This is, by any usual standard of reckoning, a terrible battle strategy on David's part. But David trusted God, and-after the Philistine "cursed David by his gods" and David declared his trust in the LORD-David ran up toward Goliath, grabbed a stone from his pouch, slung it, and struck the Philistine on the forehead (vv. 48-49).
3. David was still carrying Goliath's head when he returned to Saul! (v. 57)
The blow from David's sling was apparently mortal, but David actually dispatched the giant with Goliath's own sword (compare vv. 50-51, which use different Hebrew words for "kill"). David cut off the villain's head and took Goliath's weapons. What I didn't realize, however (until I was re-reading this story for Sunday school), was that David kept the giant's head with him. In v. 57 I was confused by the pronouns (for example, the NKJV reads, "Abner took him and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand"), and so I thought that the text may have been indicating that Abner carried the giant's head to Saul. But, no, the NIV and NET capture the sense of the Hebrew: both indicate that David was still holding the head of the Philistine in his hand. In other words, David had apparently been walking around with this gory thing, showing it off to people.
These details from 1 Samuel 17 highlight the fact that David was an intense warrior. They also point to ways in which David is a type of Christ. David's amazing bravery in defending his flock points to the zeal with which our Good Shepherd will defend His elect. David's victory over Goliath, when David was so physically unimpressive (and relatively unarmed) next to the giant, points to our Substitute, who had "no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him" (Isa 53:2) and who conquered on our behalf, not through mighty physical weapons but through faithfulness to God the Father. David's display of the giant's head points to our victorious Lord, who-through His work on the Cross-has crushed the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15), "rendering powerless him who has the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb 2:14), and whose work guarantees that Satan will be publicly and finally judged (Rev 20:10).
Labels: Bible study