1 Samuel 17: David vs. Goliath

How tall was Goliath? How can we replicate David's faith?

Introduction

One of the most famous moments in Bible history is the slaying of the giant Goliath by David. This story is told in 1 Samuel 17. Goliath challenged the Israelites that if a man could slay him, the Philistines would leave, but if Goliath slayed the Israelite, the Philistines would automatically win the battle.

Without any details, it seems like a convenient way to avoid massive bloodshed. Imagine, if instead of the world's armies fighting on 3 fronts in WWII, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Churchill, Kai-shek, Roosevelt, and Hirohito just fought each other. Instead of millions of people dying, bombs dropping on innocent civilians, and destroying the land, only the majority of the opposing side's leaders would have died. That sounds like a good deal, right? In the Israel-Philistine case, only one person had to die. However, the fact that Goliath was a giant and a warrior put fear in Israel's heart that none of their men could defeat him. They thought it might be better to fight an all out battle which they had better odds of winning. Only David, who wasn't even supposed to be on the battle field, was brave enough to take on Goliath.
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Goliath

Goliath's height is given as 6 cubits and a span. A cubit is generally considered to be 1.5 feet,[1] and a span is given as 9 inches.[2] This means Goliath was a whopping 9'9" tall. For comparison, the tallest man in secular record is Robert Waldow, who was 8'11",[3] and the tallest NBA players were Manute Bol and Gheorghe Muresan, who were only 7'7".[4] The current tallest man alive is Sultan Kosen, who is 8'3".[5] Basically, Goliath was astronomically tall, and that's not just my short-statured, 5'3"-self talking.

Considering the fact that Mr. Kosen's extreme height was caused by health problems and Mr. Waldow had to wear an ankle brace, I'm sure that both men would be in no condition to take on someone who was healthy at 9'9".[3][5] Mr. Bol and Mr. Muresan, who were fit and athletic, are still more than 2 feet shorter than Goliath. Can you imagine being asked to fight to the death with a man 2 feet taller than you? Now take in to account that the average height for a man today is about 5'10".[6] Most of Saul's army was probably about 4 feet shorter than Goliath.

Goliath's enormous height is probably one of the biggest (pun-intended) details of the story. The story is etched in our memory as this huge, warrior of a man being defeat by the young and small David. However, Goliath's height is actually debated. The Hebrew Text (also called the Masoretic Text) that records Goliath's height as 9 cubits, however, a copy of the Book of Samuel from the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as, the Septuagint list Goliath's height as 4 cubits and a span. Using these measurements, Goliath would only be 6'9", though this still pretty tall to the average person.[7] Even at 6'9", Goliath would be in the 99.997th percentile for height in America and the 99.995th percentile in Israel today.[8] This means 99.9% of the people he came into contact with would be shorter than him.

In addition to the conflict in texts, we have to remember that "cubit" and "span" were measurements controlled by distances on the body; they varied from person to person. Using the average height of the Israelites during David's era, one Bible scholar estimates that a cubit was probably around 16 inches and a span around 7 inches. Using these measurements he estimates that Goliath would have been either 8'10" (just shy of the tallest man ever recorded) or 6'1", depending on which measurement is correct. In both cases, Goliath still would have towered over the Israelites, whose average height of the time was 5'3".[7]

The wonderful thing is that the text reads the same way regardless of which height you choose. The point was that Goliath was exceedingly tall compared to the Israelites, and whether he was over 9' tall or just over 6' tall, he still towered over them.
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David

David is described as being but a youth when he goes up against Goliath. I would guess he was in his teens, since Israel's age for military service was 20 years old (Numbers 1:45) and David was not in the army with his older brothers. In fact only 3 of his brothers were involved in the battle. One could try to assume that this means 4 of his brothers were also under 20 years of age. If they were a year apart in age, this would place David's age at approximately 14. While this definitely makes his victory all the more compelling, and explains Saul's declaration that he was but a child, we have to remember that brothers were likely forbidden from fighting in the same battles. The fear was that a family would lose it's name if all the sons died in the battle. It was likely that brothers were split up during wars to increase the likelihood of at least one survivor to carry on the family name.[9] It is possible that the other 4 brothers were in battles elsewhere across the nation. After all, if the other sons were present, why was David the one sent to take food to his eldest brothers in battle?

Nonetheless, the narrative tells us David was quite young and quite confident in God to deliver the Israelites once again. While the Israelite soldiers cowered before Goliath, David boasted that God would not fail Israel. He had faith that whoever volunteered would be protect by God, and thus come out victorious. David's faith and confidence in God to take care of the people clearly illustrates why God described David as a man after his own heart.

Sometimes we let the details of life intimidate us. We think our problems are too great and the people against us too powerful for us to win the battle. At these times we are stagnant, unable to move forward. However, we should be like David, and remember that God can handle anything. Just as David was able to face the taller and more experienced Goliath by the grace of God, we are able to do the same with problems in our lives.
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The Battle

No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.Isaiah 54:17 KJV
Initially, Saul gives David his own armor, which was not only a statement of their friendship, but a statement of Saul's blessing as the king. With Saul's armor, you can bet David had quality, top-of-the-line armor. Saul even lent David his sword to fight with. However, the armor didn't sit well with David. In 1 Samuel 17:39, David says he had not proven the armor, so he gave it back. It isn't exactly clear what David meant here, but there are a few possibilities. It could have been that David was not used to the weight of the armor and thought it would hinder him battle. Another possibility is that as a youth who was not even trained as an entry level soldier, David felt it above his station to wear the kings armor.

Photocredit: FreeImages.com/Asif Akbar
After casting off Saul's generous offer, David is left to find his own weapon for battle and prepares to fight Goliath unprotected. David chooses 5 smooth stones to be his weapons. Goliath is insulted that the Israelites send this small boy, not even baring a sword, to fight him. As is the pattern with God winning battles for the Israelites, the odds were stacked against David so if he won, it could only be attributed to God. David wastes no time using a slingshot to fire off one of the stones at Goliath. The stone lands in Goliath's forehead so hard it sinks in a bit. This knocks Goliath to the ground where David severs Goliath head from his body with his own sword—remember, David didn't bring a sword to the battle. How humiliating is that?

Once David has won the battle, the Israelites drive the rest of the Philistines back and Saul inquires of David's father. It is not clear why he wants information on David's father, but studies have suggested he wanted to reward the man for producing and raising the son who became a hero for Israel.

References

  1. Sergey Gershtein and Anna Gershtein. "Cubit Conversion Chart". Convert-Me.Com. 2016
  2. "Span to Inches". ConvertUnits. 2016
  3. "Tallest Man Ever". Guinness World Records. 2016
  4. "The Tallest Players in NBA History". Sports Illustrated. March 3, 2015
  5. "Tallest Man Living". Guinness World Record. 2016
  6. "List of average human height worldwide". Wikipedia. 2016
  7. Randy McCraken. "Goliath’s Height: How Tall Was He?". Bible Study With Randy. May 23, 2016
  8. "Height Percentile Calculator, by Age or Country". Tall.Life. 2016
  9. "Sullivan Brothers". United States Senate. 2016

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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