There is a good chance that adults told you the story of David and Goliath at some point in your Sunday school education.
In 1 Samuel 17, the Bible recounts how Israelite youth David used a sling and a smooth stone to kill a gigantic Philistine warrior. When most of Israel’s army ran away in panic, David shot right at Goliath’s forehead and beheaded their enemy.
We love to use Goliath as a metaphor. We like to think of ourselves as David going up against Goliath whenever we take on the underdog role.
Where, then, did Goliath originate from? What role does he play in Israel’s and the world’s history? And did he tower over us as our Sunday school instructors described?
What Is The Story of David and Goliath?
We can find the full story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. Here’s a quick summary of the events that transpired:
How carefully David examines the stones that he is holding in his hand. His backpack is tucked neatly at his side, and he wears the sling across his arm. What exactly does he intend to do with those stones? Who exactly is that imposing-looking knight parading around with that extremely long spear in his hand?
Two armies prepared to do combat by drawing their lines. Both the Israelites and the Philistines had their armies at the time. There was a valley between the Israelites’ camp and the Philistines’ camp. The Israelites’ camp was on a hill, while the Philistines’ camp was on another. They had positioned these armies opposite one another for a period of forty days, but they had postponed the battle itself.
The Philistines had a very tall, strong giant covered in armor on their side. This giant would come out daily and challenge the Israelites to send a warrior from their camp to fight with him. But not a single one dared to challenge Goliath, the champion of the Philistines.
In the meantime, Jesse had dispatched David to the Israelite camp to check on the status of his comrades. After hearing what the giant had to say, he made a challenge to fight against him. Saul was told of David’s offer, and he immediately searched for him.
David responded bravely when Saul told him he could not battle the giant, saying, “The Lord which delivered me out the paw of the lion and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” David did not put his faith in his abilities but in God. After that, Saul said, “Go, and the Lord be with thee.”
After striking the Philistine in the forehead with one of the smooth stones he had selected from the creek, he caused him to fall to the ground, and then he hurried after him and severed his head from his body. This scarlet youth did triumph over the ginormous Philistine and killed him with a sling and a stone because God gave him the ability to do so.
The Philistines abandoned their stronghold after learning that their champion had been slain. The men of Israel and Judah then cried out and charged forward, pursuing the Philistines to the gates of Gath and Ekron. After chasing the Philistines, the Israelites looted their camp on the way back. David brought the Philistine’s severed head to Jerusalem while hiding the man’s weapons in his tent.
Abner, commander of the army, was asked by Saul, “Abner, whose son is that young man?” as Saul watched David leave to meet the Philistine. As assuredly as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know,” Abner retorted. The monarch ordered his servants to determine the identity of the young man.
Abner immediately summoned David, who was still holding the Philistine’s head, and presented him before Saul after David returned from slaying the enemy combatant. When Saul saw him, he inquired, “Whose son are you, young man?” Introducing himself, David said, “I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.”
The Meaning of the Word Goliath
In 1200 BC, the city of Gath served as a dividing line between Israel and Philistia. It was the westernmost of the Philistine city-states and the closest to Judah. The Philistines originally hail from Greece and settled in the lowlands near the Mediterranean. This clarifies the non-Jewish origin of the name Goliath. Herodotus gave a monarch of Lydia from 619 to 560 B.C. the Greek name Alyattes (ÉAlutthw).
An Inscription of Goliath from Ancient Canaan was unearthed in 2005 in Tell es-Safi (Gath). In addition, ancient inscriptions uncovered in Gath by archaeologists bear names that sound like Goliath. Since the Philistines originated in Greece, the name Goliath in the Bible is likely Indo-European.
Goliath is from the Hebrew verb gala, which means “to uncover, remove, or go into exile.” To this day, the name “Goliath” describes someone or anything that appears invincible on the surface but is quite weak and easily defeated.
Was Goliath as Big as Sunday School Made Us Think?
Goliath towered over the average man. Goliath was nine feet, six inches tall, or six cubits and a span, according to the Hebrew Scriptures and the Masoretic Text (1 Samuel 17:4).
Historically, the length measured in cubits differed from one civilization to the next. The Sumerians, Egyptians, and Israelites all employed this system based on the length of one arm from the end of the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. The usual range for these measurements was between 45 and 52.5 centimeters (17.71 and 20.67 inches).
Is Goliath a Nephilim?
Many scholars say Gath’s Goliath was a Nephilim (Genesis 6:1-4). The Nephilim are the progeny of God’s sons (fallen angels) and human daughters, according to Genesis 6. The Nephilim were renowned men who grew to gigantic heights and possessed exceptional talents.
The Book of Enoch, an ancient Hebrew apocalyptic religious literature, attributes the Nephilim to Enoch, Noah’s great-grandfather. Since it’s not in the Old Testament canon, we must read it cautiously.
Other researchers claim that since the Nephilim died in Noah’s time (only Noah’s family survived), Goliath was a Rephaite (or Rephaim), a race of giants following the Great Flood. Goliath may be the son of Rapha or Rapha-he, a Rephaite.
Scripture mentions Rephaites about 20 times (Deuteronomy 2:11 and 20-22, Deuteronomy 3:11-13; Joshua 12:4). Moses met King Og of Bashan, a Rephaite whose iron bedstead was 13 1/2 feet long and 6 feet wide (Deuteronomy 3:11). The Bible also mentions the Anakites or Anakim (Deuteronomy 2:10). Some scholars believe the Philistines are Anakim. Gath was an Anakim stronghold, making Goliath’s victory more impressive.
II Samuel 21:15-22 and 1 Chronicles 20:4-8 reference Goliath’s relatives. Ishbi-Benob (his bronze spearhead weighed 300 shekels or 3.42 kg or 7.5 lbs), Saph, Lahmi (brother of Goliath with a weaver’s rod spear), and an unknown warrior (a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot-twenty-four in all). Some scientists believe Goliath’s family tree suggests autosomal dominant inheritance producing familial gigantism.
Whether Goliath’s height was miraculous, inherited, or caused by genetic hyperthyroidism, he was a biblical giant.