The Life of David Part III: The Giant

What do you do when a giant shows up in your life? Do you cower in line with others, fearful to face the challenge? Or do you charge forward in faith, ready to join the battle?

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Part III of the series on David continues to explore the life of the ‘man after God’s own heart.’ David’s rags-to-riches, overcoming-obstacles, everyman-character’s ascent to the throne of Israel has captured the imaginations of readers for millennia. In the narrative of David’s life, no part is as well-known as the fight with Goliath.

At the beginning of the story, the Israelites under King Saul had drawn up battle lines on one side of a mountain with the valley of Elah separating them from the Philistines on another mountain. Each army held their respective ridge, not giving any ground to the other. In the midst of this stalemate, Goliath came out onto the field and issued his challenge for forty consecutive days.

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? 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 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 ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words, they were dismayed and greatly afraid (1 Sam. 17:4-11, ESV).

Goliath was big. The Bible tells us his measurements exactly. A cubit is the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, so—depending on the person’s arm—the distances measured anywhere from 16 to 20 inches for the average adult male. Most cubits in the ancient world were approximately 18 inches. A span is the distance from the tip of the smallest finger to the thumb with the fingers spread apart. So a span varied between 7 to 11 inches, with most people having approximately a 9-inch span. Using the standard measurements, Goliath stood 9 feet, 9 inches tall, but—considering the variances in the cubit and span—Goliath could have been anywhere between 8 feet, 7 inches and 10 feet, 11 inches tall. He was a monster of a man.

Note on the Masoretic Text vs. the Septuagint Text. Some of you will have a note in your Bible (most English Bibles are translated from the Masoretic text) beside the verse which says the oldest known copies of the Scripture (the Septuagint) list Goliath’s height at 4 cubits and a span (so between 5 feet, 11 inches and 7 feet, 7 inches). This is an indication of the difference in the Hebrew Masoretic text and the Greek Septuagint translation, and various groups have different reasons for favoring each. In fact, if you want to go deep down the rabbit hole of biblical translation, you can spend an afternoon reading highly technical articles or watching documentaries on the differences between the two translations, and, unless you are a Bible codex nerd like me, you will cure any insomnia as a result of trying to find variances between the Masoretic and Septuagint texts. As an aside, all the translations and witnesses of the Bible show amazing continuity, especially considering the age and size of the text, and no theological points are in doubt between them. Most of the differences honestly come down to word order and not actual differences of meaning. However, they do differ on the height of Goliath.

Although I generally favor the Greek Septuagint for word order, I find other reasons from the Scripture to believe that Goliath was 6 cubits and a span instead of the shorter version:

  1. The first is that Goliath’s height was so astounding that they measured him. As discussed in David Part II, Saul had to be somewhere in the neighborhood of seven feet because he was taller than every other Israelite (I Samuel 9). The average Israelite male was around 5 feet, 3 inches from that time period (according to archeological research), so accounting for normal adult height varying 6 inches in either direction plus adding outliers (very tall Israelites) and a foot for Saul’s head, neck, and shoulders, you get a man at least 6 feet, 9 inches tall. If we are using the shorter measurement for Goliath, then he was in the same range (and possibly shorter) than Saul. If Goliath and Saul were similar in height, why would the Israelites meticulously measure him?
  2. Everything about Goliath’s armor and weaponry is big and heavy. Goliath’s scale armor coat weighed 125 pounds (5000 shekels) by itself. Now 125 pounds is not impossible to lift, but that was far from the only weight he carried. He had bronze armor on his legs and a bronze helmet as well as a heavy assortment of weapons—spear, javelin, and sword. For a man in the six-feet range, Goliath’s armor would have made maneuverability during a battle difficult—not something a professional soldier would want.
  3. Goliath’s brother (and hence Goliath) was a descendant of Rapha, a giant. Goliath’s brother Lahmi is listed among the dead at the hands of David’s men in a separate battle (1 Chron. 20:5), and he is called a descendant of Rapha (1 Chron. 20:8), which is a reference the Hebrews would have understood. Og, King of Bashan and vanquished foe of the Israelites from the invasion of Canaan, was a Rephaite or descendant of Rapha who was nearly 13 feet tall and 6 feet wide (according to his bed/coffin measurements). Lastly, one of the descendants of Rapha is called “a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot” (2 Sam. 21:20, ESV). The textual evidence clearly favors Goliath having abnormal height, size, and strength.
  4. Many of the arguments I read in favor of a shorter Goliath were simply anti-supernatural arguments. This is not universally true (as there are some good textual arguments from those who read the Septuagint). However, most advocates for a shorter Goliath had a problem with supernatural events in general or the idea that a 9-feet, 9-inch tall man could even exist. For these folks, the question is one of faith itself and belief in the authority and truthfulness of the Scriptures. People who try to make the Bible fit their narrow human experience will not be able to understand the things of God until they step out in faith and believe He exists (Heb. 11:6). I consider anti-supernatural arguments invalid since the entirety of the Bible and faith in our Lord Jesus is a supernatural belief.

King Saul, as the leader of Israel, had seen many military victories from the Lord. However, the crippling fear (instead of faith) mentioned in the preceding article, The Life of David Part II, showed up to master him and prevent his victory over Goliath. Saul, nearly seven feet, is estimated to have been somewhere between 55 and 57 years old when Goliath issued his challenge, but he continued to fight and join battles all the way to his death at the age of 72 (even then, he took an arrow in his last battle and was still on his feet). Saul was physically fit and able to fight, or at least he would have been without the fear that plagued him.

Notice the leadership lesson hidden in the passage (the Bible is full of such nuggets). King Saul was afraid, so all that followed him were afraid as well. Key beliefs and attitudes of leaders will be reflected in their followers. This principle is true for businesses, churches, armies, etc. It is the spiritual law of authority in action; the leader’s strengths and shortcomings flow into an organization. Many modern leadership studies are just beginning to discover the correlations between the personality of the leader and the mirroring effect on their organization. The idea may be recently discovered in sociology, but the principle is a spiritual one and taught in the Scriptures.

There are many lessons to learn from this account; one of the most overlooked is David’s reasoning for going out into the battlefield. Although wealth and glory were sure to follow and promised by King Saul, David stepped onto the battlefield for two reasons: 1. Goliath’s blasphemy against God (1 Sam. 17:26) and 2. Saul, nor anyone else in the army, was going to fight the giant (1 Sam. 17:32).

Some people wait for a sign from God for everything and try to pray for permission for things God clearly wills for them. David was not “called” to kill Goliath for the first 39 days of the challenge. Saul was. The army of Israel was. Every man there could have walked on that field in faith and in the right spirit and taken the giant’s head. You don’t believe that statement? Read 1 Chronicles, chapter 20; David did not kill another giant for the rest of his life, but his men did. In fact, they wiped out the descendants of Rapha from Gath in single hand-to-hand combat. They were normal soldiers in the course of normal battles. The same army of Israel, who cowered from one giant under Saul, hunted the rest of them down under the leadership of David.

David saw the fear of the people when he arrived:

And David said to the men who stood by him, What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26, ESV).

David spoke truth about the situation and about his faith that the mountain of a man was nothing beside his all-powerful God. What did the soldiers do? They told on him. “When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him” (1 Sam. 17:31). When fear or any wrong spirit rules a group, those who speak truth and power are often ridiculed or even punished for not sharing in the group’s lack of faith. Saul and everyone else had heard the same Scriptures and stories of the God of Israel delivering their ancestors with a mighty hand. But when faced with the choice of believing for God’s victory or hiding from a man in trepidation, they cowered in fear. In other words, they knew David was right. Shamefully, they treated him as if he was wrong.

When David finally walked out on the battlefield with a sling, five stones, and a staff, the young shepherd was so unimpressive that Goliath considered his presence an insult (1 Sam. 17:43). Of course, God granted David victory in one shot with a direct hit in the forehead. The fight lasted for the few seconds it took to whirl the sling up to speed and send the stone through the air. However, notice David’s faith; he took five stones and a staff. If he missed all his shots, then David was prepared to go after Goliath with a staff! Oh, that each one of us would have that kind of faith when facing our giants.

Much has been made of the symbolism of the giant and people entering the next level of their lives, but I want to point out two truths in closing this article:

  1. Goliath was not David’s personal giant; he was challenging the nation and all of God’s people. Sometimes when you move up to a higher level in the Kingdom, it is because you are exercising faith where many others refuse. Where no faith is required, there will be no reward.
  2. Goliath’s presence signaled a move of God. God used Goliath’s defeat to raise up Israel’s next king and bring about the defeat of the Philistines both in that battle as well as in the future. When a giant shows up in your life, it is a sign God is calling you to a higher level and great victory! Do not be afraid. Rejoice for the opportunity and grab your sling!


Other posts in this series: The Life of David Part I: His Father’s House and The Life of David Part II: The Substitute



Featured Image Painted by Guillaume Courtois
In-Text Image by Iva Rajovic

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About the Author

Shannon Gibson was an average believer in Jesus living an average life . . . until he received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Since then, nothing has been the same.