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Introduction

The story of David and Goliath is very exciting and it illustrates what God wants in His leaders. It gives the characteristics that God saw in inside David that made Him choose David as the king of Israel as well as the characteristics that made David gain a lot of attention and recognition in Israel. David always walked with God and fought God’s battles just as Samuel did.This paper examines the context of this story and its relevance to its audience. It seeks to establish the meaning of the text to both the intended audience when it was written as well as its relevance today. An analysis of its history and interpretation of the phrases and terms used in the text helps understand these.

Background

The book of 1st Samuel is one of the Old Testament books containing rich ancient and original materials of the theological history of the Israelites as early as the tenth century BCE. The book gives details of God’s law to the Israelites as presented to them by prophets. It is difficult to date the authorship of this book since the writer does not identify himself in the book. “our guess is that the author was a high state official in frequent attendance at the court, enjoying the full confidence of David and his household, who served David throughout his reign in Jerusalem and also Solomon during the early years of his reign, and whose duties may have been connected with literacy work”, (M. H. Segal, 1964-65). Most scholars argue that the book was written by Samuel the seer from chapter one to twenty-four and later complemented by Nathan the prophet together with the Gad the seer. Samuel was the prophet at the time of the transition from a time when the Israelites had judges as their leaders to a time of kings as leaders. Saul was the first king of Israel anointed by Samuel followed by David (Thompson 2009). The story of the duel of David and Goliath takes place at the Elah Valley during the Israelites battle with the philistines and revolves around this time.

Context

The book of 1st Samuel records how Samuel, the last of the judges in Israel, oversees the transition of Israel from an era of judges to that one of kings. The first part of the book documents the life of Samuel; his birth as God’s answer to a prayer from his mother, his life as a servant of God in the temple, his first prophecy since childhood and his later service to God as he consults God about Israel’s request for a king. The second part is a record of the life of Saul, Israel’s first king, as he succeeds in numerous military battles while he was king until his eventual downfall through a life of mistakes and disobedience to God. For instance, he makes displeasing sacrifices and swears foolishly at his son’s expense leading to his loss of favour and blessings from God that are bestowed on David as he is anointed as the new king of Israel. David becomes even more successful than Saul as king in Israel as well as a warrior since he always walked with God and trusted in Him. The first of such battles is when the young shepherd David faces Goliath, a philistine who had threatened the Israelites for forty days when Saul was still a king.

Structure

David’s Visits His Brothers in Battle (2 Sam 17:17-25)

David is sent by his father, Jesse, to go and bring a report on the welfare of his three sons who are away on the battle with the philistines with their king Saul. David is supposed to arrive at the soldiers’ camp before the soldiers leave for battle so that he gives his brothers the supplies as well as find out from the m about their well-being. He however, arrives to find the soldiers leaving the camp singing war songs. He leaves the supplies with a custodian and catches up with his brothers at the battle-front.

While talking to his brothers, he hears the challenge from goliath for a fight with the Israelites. He develops an interest to take the challenge based on his trust on God and asks around about the reward for the person who defeats the philistine champion.

David’s Exchange with His Eldest Brother-Eliab (2 Sam 17:28-30)

Eliab is angry of David after hearing him enquiry about the offer reward for the one who defeats the philistine giant. Eliab accuses David of coming to the battle-front to watch the fight in order to amuse himself. He tells him to remember that he has responsibilities of taking care of his father’s flock of sheep back home(Hathaway 2010). This Eliab does because of his beliefs that since the Israelite army has not been able to produce a challenger to the giant,David could do nothing based on his body size and age. David assumes the scold and continues enquiring about the reward in place.

David and Saul (2 Sam 17:31-39)

Saul calls upon David when he is told of his enquiry and interest in taking the challenge. He tries to talk him out of it because he is only a youth with no fighting experience since he is only a shepherd who has experience in herding sheep, but David was determined to fight. After much reluctance, Saul allows David to go fight the philistine. Saul does not see the confidence David has in gaining victory through God’s intervention. He offers him his attire to use for protection.  After wearing it, David is unable to manoeuvre in the attire and so decides to abandon it and instead go with his familiar weapons to fight the philistine i.e. a sling and some stones, instead. He goes down the river Jordan and picks a few smooth round stones and puts them in his bag. Saul still feels uncomfortable for letting David face Goliath.

David and goliath (2 Sam 17:40-54)

As David approaches the philistine, the philistine taunts him and threatens to tear him into pieces and feed his body to the birds of the air. The two face each other on the war front and they exchange words where David assures his challenger how his God was going to deliver him victory. He sees only the stick that David is carrying and wonders if he is a dog that can be warded off with a stick. He might not have seen the sling. David believed in his God and trusted Him to give him victoryover the philistine who defied the God of the Israelites by cursing by his gods.Swinging into action, David uses just a sling and a stone in it to bring down the philistine giant and he cut off his head using his sword to show his victory.

The text design used here gives details of the whole story in clear descriptions that bring out a contrast between several aspects. Goliath is described in detail to show how insurmountable it was to face him for a fight while text is used to describe David as a contrast to Goliath.

Commentary

The legendary story of David and Goliath is a very famous story. It is presented in two separate versions, each containing a different part of the same story. The Greek text (LXX), dating as far back as 2nd century BCE, presents the initial part of the story while the Hebrew text supplements for in its current composite nature.

Goliath, a common philistine name, is mentioned only twice in the Greek text. The character is mostly referred to as ‘the philistine’ in the version. The name has a resemblance to the description in 2 Samuel 21:19, where the Bible says that a Bethlehemite man named Ethanankilled goliath. He is described to be mine and one-half feet in the Hebrew text while in the Greek text, he is ‘four cubits and a span’. Both of these descriptions paint a picture of an invincible man. Goliath’s armor is also described in detail for the same motive, bring out his mighty.He wore a coat of scale armour of bronze weighing five thousand shekels. This is about than 126 pounds of weight!

 The description of his coat does not match descriptions of the armor that philistines’ soldiers in Egyptian culture used to possess. The description might have been borrowed from diverse cultures and in different times to for the purpose of present him as lethal. However, the fact that his helmet was made after Assyrian styles, and also without a nose guard, thus allowing David to strike the Philistine in the forehead (Hathaway2010). The champion’s ‘javelin’ that was slung in his back weighing 600 shekels was probably used for close rangebattle rather than hurling. The general picture illustrated is that goliath was a mighty warrior that was supposed to defeat David very easily without any challenge.

David, on the other hand, is portrayed as a small boy with no warrior skills. He is just a shepherd and errand boy. His story begins in chapter 16 of the bible where Prophet Samuel receives God’s instructions to prepare a horn of oil for the purpose of anointing a king. He is instructed to go to Jesse, David’s father, where he is to anoint one of his sons. The term ‘messiah’, that also means ‘anointed’ was a common term used to refer to kings at the time. David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons is favoured by God as the new king. The Bible says that he possesses some inner qualities which are the ones that God seeks in good leaders.  David’s life revolves around home and in the wilderness taking care of his father’s flock. What he encounters in the bush like killing a wolf and other dangerous animals is not known to the people around him. Thus he is seen as inexperienced warrior. Favouring the youngest is a theme that appears elsewhere in the Bible. For instance, God favoured Jacob, Rachel and Joseph all of whom where the youngest in their families. The inner qualities that David had are a contrast of what Saul is depicted to have. He also was the ‘youngest’, which also means ‘smallest’ unlike Saul who was the tallest in the whole of Israel. In ancient Near East, a king was likened to a shepherd because of the nature of responsibilities; taking care and leading subjects. It is therefore clear that as a shepherd, David prefigured his kingship that was later to come (Cargal, 2012). In verse 12, David is described as ‘handsome’ while in verse 13; the Bible says the spirit ‘came mightily upon David from that day forward’

The Hebrew text starts from verse 12 where it introduces David as though for the first time. David’s brothers are identified here again while David is depicted as a shepherd and errand boy. The philistine has been challenging the Israelites for the last forty days. Saul, the king on Israel, has promised to reward the man who succeeds to defeat Goliath with tax exemption for his family and letting it ‘free’.

The Greek text continues again in verse 32 where David takes the philistine’s challenge much to the reluctance of Saul on grounds that David is too young and has no experience in fighting in battles. Again, a contrast emerges here. Saul does not see the trust that David sees in God, as well as the fact that Saul gives David his own fighting attire that David can’t use as compared to David’s simple sling. In ancient Near Eastern, a sling was not only a deadly weapon but also greatly portable, easily hidden and had a high degree of accuracy from a distance.

It was a war tactic then to try and demoralize an enemy through threats and taunting, just as the philistine did to David by calling him as small boy with sticks and one who he will feed to the birds. The nature of David’s weapon and goliath’s reference to the stick David had shows that goliath might not have seen the sling (De 1965). The philistine defies God from whom David draws confidence and faith that he will win the battle. Goliath’s blindness of who the Israelites god was might have contributed towards his inability to see the sling that David had. (v.50). ”The opposite of the fear of the lord is the fear of man. No greater contract of these opposing fears could be presented than David confronted Goliath. Saul and his men feared Goliath the man, but David by virtue of his fear of Yahweh did not”, (Homer, p. 53).The Hebrew text shows that David kills goliath with his sling while the Greek text shows that the stone thrown by David only grounded goliath. It is beheading that killed the philistine champion.

Conclusion

Chapter 17 of the book 1st Samuel, which is one of the books that documents the theological history of the Israelites, helps shed light on the way the Israelites lived and the relationship they had with God. The book also shows the economic and social activities that the society practised like farming. The text carries a deep meaning to all those who believe in God. The chapter also depicts clearly how God uses the least expected to do the mighty things. Qualities of a good leader according to God are hidden in an individual. It is not all about posture but how pure one is in the heart. It shows The Israelites had a God who was capable of protecting them against their enemies. Even in today’s world, Christians draw alot of inspiration and trust from this story. It is an illustration that if one believes in God and puts his/her trust in Him just as David did, s/he can do things that look impossible with the little things they already have. It also encourages one not to despise Gods inspired people and what they do. The book also depicts what befalls those who abuse God and his people.

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