Anyone who attended Sunday school as a child most likely encountered the story about David and Goliath.
According to the Bible (1 Samuel 17), David, a young Israelite teenager, defeated the giant Philistine warrior with a sling shot and a smooth stone. After David aimed true at Goliath’s forehead, he beheaded the enemy of Israel when the rest of the Israelite army cowered in fear.
We like to use Goliath in metaphors. We often say whenever we play an underdog in a scenario against something that seems impossible that we are David facing a giant Goliath.
But where did Goliath come from? Where does he fit in the historical narrative of Israel and of the earth? And was he really as tall as our Sunday school teachers made him out to be?
Who were the Philistines? And who was Goliath?
Israel encounter a number of enemies throughout the Old and New Testament, but the Philistines seem to dot the narrative far more than once.
These descendants of Noah (Genesis 10:14), have some possible links to the Sea Peoples who wreaked havoc and war at the end of the Bronze Age, leading into a Dark Age for several nations in the Middle East and Mediterranean. Although a number of natural disasters may have lent a hand in causing such a Dark Age, due to a lack of archeological records (writing disappeared for a brief time after the Bronze Age), the Philistines may as way have played a major role in causing the Dark Age.
Known for their use of iron during a post-Bronze age, they had advanced far more than their counterparts in terms of advance weaponry, and they dominated in their battles against the Israelites until David stepped onto the scene.
Was Goliath an anomaly, or were the Philistines naturally tall people?
One article from Telling Ministries suggests the Philistines might have hired Goliath as a mercenary for their army, due to his giant size.
1 Samuel 1:4 describes Goliath as “a champion…from Gath” whose “height was six cubits and a span.” Depending on how one interprets the “cubits,” Goliath’s height could’ve ranged from 6’0” to 9’6”. Whether Goliath came from Philistia or not, this still brings up the question about whether a person could grow taller than nine feet. The tallest man in medical history stood at 8’11”.
Scholars have debated about the possibility of Goliath belonging to a race of people known as the Nephilim (Genesis 6:1-4). According to the Genesis narrative, the sons of God had sexual relationships with the daughters of men and produced the Nephilim. Some have suggested the sons of God are demons, meaning they produced an offspring of half-demon, half-human, which grew to enormous heights and had extraordinary abilities.
Of course, we have to exercise caution around this interpretation. Some have found this interpretation from an extra-biblical text known as the Book of Enoch. Because the Book of Enoch did not make it into the Old Testament canon, we take it as the word of man, and not of God, and therefore, read it with extreme discernment.
Another race of giants mention in the Bible were the Anakim(who may or may not have connections with the Nephilim). These giants (Deuteronomy 2:10) met Israel at Jericho. And some scholars speculate if the Philistines came from the Anakim.
We can also keep in mind the Old Testament is filled with people who lived significantly longer than those of us in the modern age. Methuselah, for instance, lived to 969 (Genesis 5:27). If they surpassed us in age during that time frame, people may have also surpassed us in height as well.
Meaning of the David and Goliath Story
Whether Goliath received his giant height via supernatural or simply hereditary genes, he still seems to tower over all of Israel.
But why does it matter if we know about Goliath’s identity?
From a historical standpoint, if we know whether Goliath and the Philistines originated, we can see why the Israelites were so intimidated by them – except David.
Goliath openly and repeatedly defied God and challenged ones of God’s chosen people to fight him. When young David heard this, he asked the king of Israel if he could fight the giant himself. In 1 Samuel 17:36-37, we see David remembering when God protected him before against a lion and a bear, and he trusted God to protect him now against Goliath.
He approached Goliath and said:
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:46-47).
A young man put his confidence in God and defeated the giant. This biblical story attests to God’s power and strength over one’s enemies, even in the face of insurmountable odds.
A Prayer for When You Face Goliath
Heavenly Father, when faced with a Goliath in my life I remember the story of David and Goliath. Against surmountable odds, because David trusted in you, he emerged from the battle victorious. Jesus, I am not sure how I will face nor endure this trial. It seems as though, even if I mustered all of my strength, that I could not engage with this giant and win the battle. But I am so grateful that I can rely on you. That I can trust in your power to help me face against this Goliath in my life. Remind me of your goodness and strength and how you have not abandoned me in the past. Help me to recall that you often use the weakest vessels to show others your power. Use me, God, a weak vessel as I go against this Goliath. Amen.
There were likely giants walking around during the time of the Old Testament. Although it intimidated the people of God, God never left their side. Through the example of David, we can see God using a weaker vessel to display his enormous strength.
Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 350 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 3,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, “Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) just released. Find out more about her here.
Photo Credit: GettyImages/rudall30
This article is part of our People of Christianity catalog that features the stories, meaning, and significance of well-known people from the Bible and history. Here are some of the most popular articles for knowing important figures in Christianity: