Tag Archives: David and Goliath

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Sometimes the "looks can be deceiving" trap can have deadly consequences.
Sometimes the “looks can be deceiving” trap can have deadly consequences.

We’re all aware that “what you see is not always what you get.” In spite of the fact that we know we shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover,” we still do. Although this is a very human problem, modern advertising, along with the entertainment industry, has trained us to trust what we see. Appearance is often everything! Sometimes falling prey to the “looks can be deceiving,” trap is relatively harmless. There are times when appearances suggest that we shouldn’t expect too much. So we are pleasantly surprised when we actually get more than we bargained for. Of course, the opposite can be just as true, and we find ourselves disappointed that things are not what they were “cracked up to be.” While getting caught up in the trap of “looks can be deceiving” is not always a life or death situation, there are times when it does have serious, and even deadly, consequences as the picture on the right illustrates. Apparently the Lord sees this as such an important human problem that he included examples of it over and over again in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. This article looks at three examples from 1 and 2 Samuel (although there are many more!). Each example illustrates an important aspect of the “looks can be deceiving” trap that we all should seek to avoid.

Looks Can Be Deceiving: Hannah and the Problem of Judging Too Quickly

Desperate Hannah appeared to be drunk to Eli, demonstrating that looks can be deceiving!
Desperate Hannah appeared to be drunk to Eli, demonstrating that looks can be deceiving!

Hannah is introduced in 1 Samuel 1 as part of the dysfunctional family of Elkanah. She is one of two wives (1 Sam. 1:2), and is unable to have children. The other wife, Peninnah, is described as her “rival” (1 Sam. 1:6), and has a number of children (1 Sam. 1:2, 4). We are informed that Peninnah constantly provokes her, probably due to the fact that Elkanah “loved Hannah” (1 Sam. 1:5). This difficult situation goes on year after year (1 Sam. 1:7), until on one occasion Hannah rushes to the tabernacle to poor out her grief before the Lord. She is described as being “in bitterness of soul,” and weeping “in anguish” (1 Sam. 1:10). Although the reader is privy to all of this information about Hannah, Eli the priest knows only what he observes. He sees a desperate woman who’s mouth is moving but saying no words. The author tells us that Hannah was praying, but it was unusual in the ancient world to pray silently. Based on appearance, Eli jumps to the conclusion that Hannah is drunk and issues a strong rebuke saying, “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!” (1 Sam. 13-14). The reader is immediately aware of how wrong Eli is, and Hannah seeks to set the record straight immediately: “No my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:16). To Eli’s credit, he recognizes his mistake and seeks to reverse his harsh rebuke with words of blessing (1 Sam. 1:17).

It is true that a quick harsh judgment without the facts, often says more about us than the other person.
It is true that a quick harsh judgment without the facts, often says more about us than the other person.

Thus, in the very first story of 1 Samuel we are introduced to the theme of “looks can be deceiving.” Here the purpose is clearly to warn readers against jumping too quickly to the wrong conclusion and thus misjudging someone. Harsh and unfounded judgments often result in the disruption of a relationship. Of course leaders of God’s people need to make judgments. Leaders are to be concerned for God’s flock and to protect them from harm. This involves discerning a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Acts 20:28-31), or exercising discipline when necessary (1 Cor. 5:1-13). When Jesus warns, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1), he is not talking about the wise exercise of leadership that seeks to protect the people of God. Rather, he is speaking of the same sort of error made by Eli, who, not knowing the real facts, simply jumped to the wrong conclusions and then acted on them. This story affirms how important it is that people not judge others merely based on appearances. Fortunately, Eli admitted his mistake and was able to form a warm, lasting bond with Hannah and her family (1 Sam. 2:19-20).

Looks Can Be Deceiving: Playing the Hypocrite

eliInterestingly, 1 Samuel 1 gives us not one, but two examples of the theme, “looks can be deceiving.” A closer look at Eli reveals another aspect to this theme. Eli is introduced to us in 1 Samuel 1:9. In our English Bibles the introduction seems normal enough and is probably passed over without much thought by most readers. However, a number of the words in the original language have more than one meaning. When the other meaning of these words are applied, Eli’s introduction is totally transformed. For starters, Eli’s name means “exalted.” We’re not used to meeting many people who introduce themselves as “Mr. Exalted.” The meaning of Eli’s name provokes certain expectations. Are you really “exalted?” Next, we are told that Eli was “sitting on the seat.” The word translated “seat” is the normal Hebrew word for “throne,” used, of course, when speaking of kings. We are then told that Eli sits “by the doorpost.” The use of “doorpost,” particularly in a cultic situation (Eli is at the tabernacle), associates Eli with the greatest commandment in the Law. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Moses exhorts Israel to love the Lord and to teach his law “diligently to your children.” This includes writing the words “on the doorposts of your house.” Thus the “doorpost” associates Eli, Israel’s leader, with the task of seeing that others observe the Law. Perhaps now we have a better understanding of why he comes off so forceful to Hannah when he misinterprets her actions. The doorpost is still significant in modern Judaism. This word in Hebrew is mezuzah and it is used to refer to a small rectangular receptacle which many Jewish people place on their doorposts. The receptacle includes a rolled up scroll with a copy of the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) and is a reminder to keep God’s Law. The last significant word in Eli’s introduction is the word translated as “house” (NIV) or “tabernacle” (NKJV). This is another unusual selection of terms. Normally this word is translated “temple,” or in the context of kingship as “palace.” If we step back now and reread Eli’s introduction with these other words in mind, it reads something like this: “Now Exalted was sitting on a throne by the doorpost (being a loyal follower and enforcer of God’s Law) of the palace of the Lord.” This is a lofty introduction for Eli and leads the reader to wonder exactly who it is that is being introduced here? Is this the savior Israel has been waiting for? Will he lead Israel back on the path of righteousness? Our appetites are certainly whet by this impressive introduction.

hypocritSadly, our initial impression of Eli proves to be a mirage. Over the next few chapters (1 Sam. 2-4), the biblical author begins to reveal another image of Eli which proves to be more accurate. 1 Samuel 2-4 reveals three physical flaws regarding Eli. The reader is told 3 times that Eli is old (1 Sam. 2:22; 4:15, 18), twice that he is blind (1 Sam. 3:2; 4:15), and twice that he has a weight problem (1 Sam. 2:29; 4:18). If we wonder why the inspired author chooses to dwell on these unflattering physical flaws of Eli, the answer lies in the fact that these physical imperfections suggest spiritual imperfections. One example will have to suffice for the sake of brevity. In 1 Samuel 2:12-17 the reader learns that Eli’s sons are wicked and steal the sacrificial meat that belongs to the people and to God. In 1 Samuel 2:29, we also learn that Eli partakes in these stolen sacrifices. The result is that he and his sons are “fat.” In other words, the spiritual wickedness of Eli and his sons (stealing and eating sacrificial meat that does not belong to them), manifests itself in a real physical way. The consumption of stolen meat makes Eli fat. Thus Eli’s weight problem becomes a symptom of a much more serious spiritual failing. What we learn from this revelation is that Eli comes off very impressively when first meeting him, but upon closer inspection, we learn that he is not like anything he appears to be. Eli, Mr. Exalted, may project an image of royalty and law-keeping, but upon closer inspection, he is nothing but a blind and fat old man. Eli’s example contrasts strongly with Hannah’s. Hannah is not concerned with image or putting up a false front. She is real and authentic. It may not be a pretty picture, but she is honest before God. As a result, God is able to do a great work in her life. Unfortunately, Eli keeps the pretense up until the very end, and as a result, he meets a tragic end. God literally knocks Eli off of his throne (the same word as in 1 Sam. 1:9) when he dies (1 Sam. 4:18). The lesson is simple, but harder to live out. God’s people are not to put up false fronts and pretend to be someone that they are not. God desires honesty. He’s not worried about how messy we might look. When we are real and truthful, God can and will do a great work in our lives.

Looks Can Be Deceiving: David vs. Goliath and Walking By Faith

David did not fall into the "looks can be deceiving" trap when he faced Goliath.
David did not fall into the “looks can be deceiving” trap when he faced Goliath.

Our final example takes us to 1 Samuel 17, the famous story of David’s defeat of Goliath. Although we did see a short physical description of Eli in our last example, it is very rare that the Bible gives a detailed description of anyone. Think about it. Wouldn’t you love to have a chapter, or even 5-10 verses dedicated to a physical description of David, Paul, or Jesus? That’s why the lengthy description of Goliath found in 1 Samuel 17:4-7 is so unusual. Why such a lengthy and detailed description of one of Israel’s enemies? Part of the answer lies in the fact that the author wants us to experience the same fear and intimidation factor that Saul and the Israelites experienced. With our gaze fully focused on this gigantic, intimidating bully, we are left to wonder who could possibly defeat such a well-equipped physical specimen? While everyone in Israel, including Saul, cowers on their side of the battlefield, we are reintroduced to the shepherd boy David (1 Sam. 17:12-22), who upon hearing the taunts of this giant Philistine, completely overlooks his intimidating looks and only sees an enemy to be killed because he has defied “the armies of the living God” (1 Sam. 17:23-26). As he confronts Goliath, David not only believes that God will overcome his foe, but that there will be a lesson in this victory for all. In his speech before killing Goliath, David says, “Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword or spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands” (1 Sam. 17:47–emphasis mine). This statement makes clear that David is not looking at the physical, but rather at spiritual realities. As Paul would later encourage believers to do, David “walks by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Once again we are confronted with the theme “looks can be deceiving.” This time, however, the theme exhorts God’s people not to fear intimidating circumstances, but to trust the outcome to the Lord.

Walking by faith will keep us from falling into the "looks can be deceiving" trap.
Walking by faith will keep us from falling into the “looks can be deceiving” trap.

Fear easily overcomes us when the physical obstacle in front of us looms large. It could be a lost job, a divorce, or a diagnosis of cancer. The natural response is one of fear, anxiety, and depression, but the message of God’s Word is to trust in him and not allow whatever enemy we are facing to intimidate us into losing our faith. Looks can be deceiving! This was an important enough message that God wrote it across the pages of 1 and 2 Samuel. We have only looked at 3 examples, but there are many more. So important was this theme, in fact, that God spoke it out clearly to Samuel when he began to fall prey to the trap of “looks can be deceiving.” When God called Samuel to go anoint a new king among the sons of Jesse (1 Sam. 16:1), Samuel quickly concluded upon seeing Eliab, Jesse’s firstborn, that he was “surely the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 16:6). God quickly rebuked Samuel with the familiar words, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). In other words Samuel, “looks can be deceiving!”

Family Portraits photoThis article was inspired by my book Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel.

If you have not bought a copy of Family Portraits it is available in hardback, paperback or ebook at Amazon USA / UK, WestBow Press, and other internet outlets. For Logos users it is also available on prepub at Logos.com

Goliath’s Death Part 2

A Closer Look at Goliath’s Death

The defiance of Goliath by James Tissot. The story demonstrates that Goliath's death is the result of his defiance of both God and David, God's representative.
The defiance of Goliath by James Tissot. The story demonstrates that Goliath’s death is the result of his defiance of both God and David, God’s representative.

In a previous post I looked at a possible way in which David may have slain Goliath (How David Killed Goliath: Are You Sure?). In this post I would like to explore more carefully some of the theology behind Goliath’s death, especially as it is related in 1 Samuel 17:41-51. Although the entire chapter of 1 Samuel 17 builds toward the contest between David and Goliath, these verses focus on the confrontation between the two of them.

As Goliath approaches David we are told, “And when the Philistine gazed and saw David, he despised him because he was a youth, ruddy, and beautiful in appearance” (1 Sam. 17:42, my translation). Several of the words used in this verse are found previously in key contexts in 1 Samuel, and I have italicized and underlined them in order to highlight their importance. Notice that three of the words concern “seeing” (gaze, saw, appearance). Each of these words occur in 1 Samuel 16:7, a key verse in the story of David’s anointing. The Lord tells Samuel not to gaze at Eliab’s appearance because he  has rejected him. The Lord continues by stating that he does not see as a man sees but he sees the heart. The repetition of these words in the current story demonstrates that Goliath is making the same mistake that Samuel made in the previous chapter, but with deadlier consequences. Goliath is judging by appearance. Goliath is not the only one to make this mistake, however. Israel and Saul have also judged by appearance, and thus they have feared Goliath, and Saul has thought David incapable of killing him. Saul’s doubt, along these lines, is recalled in Goliath’s observation that David was a youth. This is the same word Saul had used when trying to discourage David from fighting Goliath: “For you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth” (1 Sam. 17:33). David is the only one in this story who truly “sees” correctly, and this is because he “walks by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

How Despising, Cursing, and Reproaching Lead to Goliath’s Death

God's judgment on Eli's house. Drawing from http://mimaryvee.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/gods-judgement-on-elis-house.html
God’s judgment on Eli’s house. Drawing from http://mimaryvee.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/gods-judgement-on-elis-house.html

As Goliath makes the mistake of judging David by his appearance, we are informed that he despised him (v. 42), and “cursed David by his gods” (1 Sam. 17:43). In the bigger picture of 1&2 Samuel, for someone to despise and curse (also translated “lightly esteem”) either God, or his representative, is to invite judgment. A key passage in the story of judgment on Eli’s house also includes these key words. God says to Eli, “Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Sam. 2:30). This statement, found at the beginning of 1 Samuel, provides a key for understanding why certain people in 1&2 Samuel are honored (raised up), while others are brought low (destroyed or dishonored–For a more indepth look at this theme see my book Family Portraits). However, not only does Goliath despise and curse David, we are told 6 times that he reproaches (defies) God and his army (1 Sam. 17:10, 25, 26 [2x], 36, 45). “Reproach” is a word depicitng the heaping of shame on another. Once again, 1 Samuel 2:30 reminds us what happens to those who do not honor God. Anyone attuned to this theme is aware that Goliath is toast!

Goliath’s Death Brings Honor to God

Carravagio's famouse portrait of Goliath's death.
Carravagio’s famous portrait of Goliath’s death.

It is clear that David’s speech in 1 Samuel 17:45-47 is at the heart of the theology of this chapter. Victory isn’t about who is the biggest, strongest, or best armed, it is about whose god is the true God. The story that began with an intimidating look at Goliath, his weapons, and his armor (1 Sam. 17:4-7), comes full-circle with David’s declaration that “Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword or spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands” (v. 45). As Davis states, “The focus of the chapter is not on David’s courage but on Yahweh’s adequacy in David’s weakness. David himself has told us this (vv. 37, 45, 47). An interpretation that refuses to see this steals the glory from God which in this Scripture he has designed to receive for himself” (Davis, D. R., 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, 2000, p. 189).

As noted in my previous post, each item of Goliath’s armor is mentioned throughout the story and shown to be inadequate (see link above). David’s victory with “a sling and a stone” substantiates his words in 1 Samuel 17:45-47. The significance of this truth is further emphasized by Goliath falling “on his face to the earth” (1 Sam. 17:49), which is an ironic way of speaking of his submission. People fall on their face when they approach a king (e.g., 2 Sam. 9:6), or when they are worshipping a deity. After reproaching, despising, and cursing, Goliath now shows the proper respect for the true king of Israel (David), and the true God! This verse also echoes a similar incident found in 1 Samuel 5:3-4. After judgment was brought on Eli’s house, and Israel (1 Sam. 4), the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it to Ashdod. Once there they put it in the temple of Dagon their god, in order to show their god’s superiority over the God of Israel. The next day, however, Dagon was bowing face down before the ark! The following day, after having been put back in his place (a little Hebrew humor about a god who can’t help himself!), the priests not only find Dagon face down before the ark, but with his hands and head cut off. Goliath, who lays prone before David, and the God of Israel, suffers the same fate as his god when David removes his head (1 Sam. 17:51).

Thus the story of Goliath’s death at the hands of a shepherd boy serves several functions within the narrative. In the immediate context it begins to confirm that God has chosen David (1 Sam. 16:1-14). Unlike Saul, David trusts God. Like God, David “sees” differently (1 Sam. 16:7). Within the larger narrative context it operates as another example of the importance of honoring the true God. Why is David raised up and Saul rejected? Because Saul reacts in fear (1 Sam. 17:11) and trusts in the physical realm (1 Sam. 17:38-39), whereas David defends God’s honor and trusts him for the victory over his foes (1 Sam. 17:26, 37, 45-47).

How David Killed Goliath: Are You Sure?

How David Killed Goliath: Are You Sure?

In this picture by James Tissot, Goliath is pictured as falling backward when he is hit by David's stone.
In this picture by James Tissot, Goliath is pictured as falling backward when he is hit by David’s stone.

One of the most popular biblical subjects for artists is the story of David and Goliath. In fact, many paintings (or drawings) focus in on the moment of how David killed Goliath. These renderings of this popular event either zoom in on the moment that David slings the stone in Goliath’s direction, or the moment when David stands over Goliath to remove his head. While we have to allow art to be art and recognize that not every artist is going for a literal representation of the actual story, I am often struck by how many artistic renderings get the basic facts wrong. Based on your recollection of the David and Goliath story, can you tell what is wrong with the paintings on the right?

What's wrong with this picture?
What’s wrong with this picture?

I would argue that these paintings get at least 3 things wrong. First, they either portray Goliath carrying his own shield and omit his armor-bearer (picture 1) who is said to be carrying his shield (1 Sam. 17:41) or they show no shield and armor-bearer at all (picture 2). Second, they show Goliath falling backwards, when the biblical narrator tells us that Goliath fell face down (1 Sam. 17:49). It’s actually surprising how many pictures show Goliath falling backwards when the story clearly says he fell face down! (Check it out on google.) I’ll talk more about this in a moment. Third, and here is where I expect to lose you…the pictures show Goliath being hit in the forehead instead of where David’s stone probably hit him. At this point you’re probably doing one of three things: You are either rereading my last statement to make sure you read it correctly; scrambling for your Bible to look up the verse that says Goliath was struck in the forehead (I’ll save you the trouble, it’s 1 Sam. 17:49–in fact, it says it twice!); or simply thinking that I’m crazy because you KNOW that the Bible says he was struck in the FOREHEAD. My real interest here is not simply to be controversial or to pose as an art critic, for which I am ill qualified, but to use these artistic renderings as a way of raising the important question of how David killed Goliath. Everyone who’s heard this story thinks they know. It’s quite simple right? David’s stone hit Goliath in the forehead which knocked him unconscious. David proceeded to hurry over and finish the task by cutting off Goliath’s head with his own sword (we know the stone didn’t kill him because 1 Sam. 17:51 says David killed Goliath by cutting off his head).

Although this most popular of Bible stories is always told this way, and even reads this way in our English translations, I want to introduce you to a position advocated by several biblical scholars that diverts from the norm. My interest in doing this is not simply to put forward some wild theory by a few “eccentric” scholars, but because I think this version of how David killed Goliath more accurately reflects the original text, and has a very significant theological point to make. So, if I haven’t lost you yet, please read the following arguments and then judge for yourself how you think David killed Goliath.

A Description of Goliath and His Armor ( 1 Sam. 17:4-7)

Me and friends at the Ashdod museum mixing it up with some Philistines. The figurines give an idea of Philistine armor, however, Goliath's armor was more extensive.
Me and friends at the Ashdod museum mixing it up with some Philistines. The figurines give an idea of Philistine armor, however, Goliath’s armor was more extensive.

The story of David and Goliath begins in a somewhat unusual way. The biblical narrator spends a great deal of time describing Goliath’s appearance. This is rare in biblical narrative. Just think about it. How many indepth descriptions do we have of Abraham, David, Hannah, Mary, Jesus, or Paul (to name only a few)? In spite of the fact that Goliath only appears in one chapter in 1&2 Samuel, 4 verses are dedicated to describing his appearance. One reason for this is to impress the reader with how intimidating Goliath looked. This description helps us to understand why Saul and the rest of the Israelite army responded in fear (1 Sam. 17:11). Besides Goliath’s height (9’9″ according to the Hebrew text; 6’9″ according to the Septuagint), the writer describes 3 pieces of his armor. Goliath wore a helmet of bronze, a coat of mail weighing 126 pounds (57.15 kg.), and bronze greaves on his legs. Two of the weapons he carried are also mentioned. These weapons included a bronze javelin (some would say that “scimitar” is a better translation), and a large spear with a shaft the size of a “weaver’s beam,” that included an iron tipped head weighing 15.1 pounds (6.85 kg.)!

Although Goliath’s height is impressive, as is the weight of his armor and spear tip, most people read over these verses and don’t think much more about them. However, the list of Goliath’s armor and weaponry plays a very significant part in the story that follows. In fact, 4 of the 5 items in 1 Samuel 17:5-7 are mentioned later and shown to be ineffective. For example, once Saul agreed to allow David to fight Goliath, we are told that he clothed him in his armor and gave him a bronze helmet (1 Sam. 17:38). These are the same items found in the description of Goliath’s armor (same Hebrew words). David rejected the armor and helmet because “he was not used to them” (NIV–1 Sam. 17:39). David’s rejection of Saul’s armor is significant for a number of reasons. First, it suggests that Saul, like Goliath, trusts in his weaponry and armor rather than in the Lord. Second, the brief glimpse of David in the king’s armor prefigures his royal destiny. Third, David’s rejection of Saul’s armor is evidence that his trust lies elsewhere. As far as the spear and javelin (scimitar) go, David also dismisses these items of Goliath’s arsenal as inconsequential (1 Sam. 17:45-47).

Goliath’s Greaves

A replica of greaves worn by Greek warriors.
A replica of greaves worn by Greek warriors.

In a very insightful study entitled: “A Farewell to Arms: Goliath’s Death as Rhetoric Against Faith in Arms (Bulletin for Biblical Research 23.1 (2013) 43-55), Gregory T. K. Wong points out that since 4 of the 5 items mentioned as part of Goliath’s arms are mentioned later in the story, one would expect that the fifth item might also be mentioned. The fifth item are the greaves (leg protectors). Can we find a passage in 1 Samuel 17 that also demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the greaves? Many years ago the daugther of an American Rabbi named Ariella Deem wrote an article entitled: “… And the Stone Sank into His Forehead”: A Note on 1 SAMUEL XVII 49 (Vetus testamentum, 28 no 3 Jl 1978, p 349-351). In this article Deem argues that the Hebrew word for “greaves” in 1 Samuel 17:6 is the same as the word for “forehead” in 1 Samuel 17:49. I can confirm that, except for a feminine ending in 1 Samuel 17:6, the words do look identical. This interpretation, then, suggests that David’s stone did not hit Goliath in the forehead, but in the greave, or knee area!

A carving from Medinet Habu in Egypt, showing a Philistine warrior in a helmut. Notice the helmet goes to the bridge of the nose.
It is doubtful that David killed Goliath by hitting him in the forehead. A carving from Medinet Habu in Egypt, shows a Philistine warrior in a helmet. Notice the helmet goes to the bridge of the nose.

While some would argue that the word (greave) in verse 6 comes from a different Hebrew root that doesn’t occur anywhere else in the Old Testament, there are a number of reasons why Deem’s argument is persuasive. First, as she points out, the story specifically states that Goliath wore a bronze helmet. We have pictures from antiquity of what Philistine helmets looked like and they cover the forehead (see the photo to the right). Some would argue that since the story says Goliath wore a bronze helmet that this would have been different from the typical Philistine headgear. Since the Philistines were a Greek people, it’s possible that Goliath’s helmet had a construction similar to that worn by ancient Greek peoples. If you google “greek helmets” as I have, you will be even more impressed with the protection offered to the wearer of one of these! Most of them, not only cover the forehead, but the nose as well. While a stone to this area might still knock a warrior unconscious, I don’t see anyway that the stone could become embedded in the forehead as v. 49 states. Second, recalling our pictures above, why is Goliath frequently shown falling backwards in artistic renditions of this story? It’s quite simple: if you got hit in the forehead with a stone travelling with great velocity, which direction would you fall? There are various estimates at the speed a stone will travel when released from a sling. Googling articles on using a sling suggested anywhere from 60 mph (97 km/h) to 100 mph (160 km.h) for the speed of a stone (click here for one example). If we take the low estimate one would still expect that being hit in the forehead by a stone at 60 mph would send a person reeling backwards. It’s difficult to believe they would fall “face down” as the biblical text states (v. 49). This observation has caused scholar J. P. Fokkelman to write, “We have all been brought up on the idea that Goliath was hit in the forehead. This, however, is unlikely. In the first place it is strange that he does not collapse, or fall backwards as a result of the impact of the projectile” (Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Narrative, p. 32). Fokkelman continues by citing his agreement with Deem’s article.

A stpne slung from a sling travels at a velocity that can kill or incapacitate a victim.
A stone slung from a sling travels at a velocity that can kill or incapacitate a victim. David killed Goliath with the help of one of these.

But how can a “greave” be a “forehead”? Deem argues that the ancient Israelites had no word for “greave.” She reasons that since the curved shape of a greave had a similar shape to the helmet, that the Israelites simply adopted the word used for forehead. Fokkelman argues that “This Hebrew word means ‘front’ and thus is less specific than ‘forehead'” (p. 32). The point is that the biblical author carefully chose each word to describe Goliath’s armor and weapons, in order to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of each later in the story. What was perceived to be Goliath’s greatest strengths turned out to be his greatest weaknesses. The very armor that should have protected him, made him vulnerable! This contributes to the theological theme of the story so eloquently expressed by David when he states, “Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands” (NKJV–1 Sam. 17:47).

The Valley of Elah. Photo taken from http://nw-connection.com/blog1/2014/09/06/the-eternal-war-between-israel-and-the-palestinians-part-i-in-series/
The Valley of Elah where David killed Goliath. Photo taken from http://nw-connection.com/blog1/2014/09/06/the-eternal-war-between-israel-and-the-palestinians-part-i-in-series

How David Killed Goliath

So how exactly did David kill Goliath? As Goliath approached wearing his heavy armor, David recognized a vulnerable place in the big man’s attire. Greaves must leave a space for the knee to bend in order for the wearer to walk. David carefully aimed his stone at the knee of Goliath. Here is the rest of what happened in Deem’s own words: “Thus the stone would hit the upper shin or knee and fall into the space which must be left to allow the knee to bend and enable the warrior to walk. It is exactly at this vulnerable space that David deliberately aims, thereby causing the stone to ‘sink’ into the greave, that is between the greave and the knee, so that the Philistine—who at the moment is awkwardly making his way towards David—will stumble forward and fall, ‘on his face'” (p. 350). While some scholars do not think that hitting Goliath in the knee would incapacitate him, I must disagree for two reasons. First, consider the weight of Goliath’s armor. Once on the ground, it would be very difficult to get back up with 126 pounds of armor weighing you down. Second, and most important, imagine a stone flying at your knee at 60 mph and embedding itself in your knee. I don’t think anyone is going anywhere if that happens! Goliath would be totally helpless, as the biblical narrative depicts him to be. This allows David the time to come over, pick up Goliath’s sword and cut his head off.

There is one more piece of evidence that further backs this interpretation. Deem’s and Wong have both written about an incident recorded in the ancient Jewish writing “The Testament of Judah.” The Testament of Judah is part of a book called “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,” and is among what is known as the Pseudepigraphal writings (see link for definition). In this (fictional) story, Judah the son of Jacob kills a heavily armored Canaanite king by striking him in the greave (chopping off his feet is another translation). The point, as Wong shows (“Goliath’s Death and the Testament of Judah,” Biblica, 91 no 3 2010, p 425-432), is that this story has many similarities and clearly alludes to David’s killing of Goliath. Therefore, this suggests that there was an ancient Jewish tradition that David had struck Goliath in the greave. If this is so, it is further evidence that David killed Goliath by striking him in the knee with a stone and finished the job by cutting off his head. (click here for Goliath’s Death Part 2)

Note: Unfortunately, I was unable to find a copy of Deem’s or Wong’s articles available on the internet. Anyone who has access to professional journals through a library can look these articles up.