Updated: Oct 31, 2019
“Move out!” the commander shouted, and Eliab's stomach swooped as he glanced to his brother.
“Here we go again,” Abinadab said grimly, his brows low over his eyes with concern as he picked up his leather shield.
Shammah tossed the other two their simple spears. Eliab caught his easily and held the point upright as the army began to move up the steep hill. The grass had been worn down by the trampling of thousands of sandals passing back and forth every day for a month. The once clear air of the heights was now tainted with the scent of cookfires, sweat, and fear.
Eliab leaned closer to Abinadab. “How long will we do this?”
Abinadab glanced upwards at his taller, elder brother. “Until someone rises to the challenge.”
Eliab turned his gaze forward with a painful swallow, feeling heat creeping down his neck. He was tall and broad-shouldered. As a firstborn son, he was used to taking responsibility and bearing the mantle of leadership. His father was old, and someday the weight of their large family would be laid on his shoulders—if they weren't all slaughtered here on this battlefield. He had seen the other men looking his way, waiting for him to rise to the challenge that awaited them every morning. Yet, like all the others, Eliab was silent. He was terrified at dying and losing not only his life, but his people's freedom. Eliab felt a flash of shame and clutched the spear a little tighter.
They arrived at the summit of the low mountain and saw the enemy already spread out on the opposite mountain range that bordered the triangular valley. The dirt road that wove through this valley was a chief trade route, and the Philistines wanted the valuable land for their own. This valley was dangerously close to several Israelite cities, Eliab's hometown of Bethlehem included. Eliab pressed his lips together and thought of his wife and children at home, pushing down a rising panic. He was here to protect them. He needed to keep them safe from this godless horde.
The sun broke through the cloud cover and Eliab squinted against the reflection of thousands of bronze spear tips and various bits of armor on the commanders. He licked his lips, shifting his comparably rustic weapons uncomfortably. The Philistines had skilled smiths, while Israel did not. Not long ago, the Philistines had seen to it that any blacksmith in the land of Israel had been murdered. Eliab gritted his teeth—it might take generations to regain all the knowledge that had been lost!
He reached down by his side to reassure himself that his sling and stone pouch were in place. This was where he and his kinsmen excelled. There were bowmen among them, but his shepherd tribe had been born with a sling in their hand and could shoot a stone some 750 paces, and in shorter range, they struck with deadly accuracy.
“Brothers!” a familiar voice broke through his thoughts, and he turned with surprise. The youngest of his seven brothers was pushing his way to the front of the line, a grin on his face. “I'm pleased to see you are all well!”
Eliab nodded at David. David was a young man, unmarried still, but despite his youth, he was already favored by Saul for his musical talents. David had been promoted to Saul's armor-bearer not that long ago, and he was often staying with Saul in Gibeah.
“How is our father?” Eliab asked.
“He is well. He has sent bread and grain for you,” David's gaze encompassed all three brothers. “And cheeses for your commander.”
Eliab leaned on his spear and asked after his wife and children. David was still filling the brothers in with all the news from his visit home when a shout rang up the mountain slope.
“Well?” the voice roared. “Have you sheep-lovers found a man worthy of my challenge? Send him down here to me to fight.”
Eliab's heart tightened. Reluctantly he turned and David shifted to stand beside him, peering down the slope. Eliab pressed his lips together. The giant Goliath had moved down from his troops to stand in the valley with only his shield-bearer at his side. The man was massive, at least nine feet tall, Eliab reckoned. The sun glinted off bronze scale armor and helmet, and he wore bronze greaves on his legs. His massive spear was like a weaver's beam, with a deadly iron head. He wore an expensive sword on his hip. He dwarfed the shield-bearer. Even King Saul, who stood head and shoulders above the average man, would have to look up to glare this heathen giant in the eye.
Goliath continued, “Send down your man! If he defeats me, we shall become your servants.” He held out bulging arms to encompass the Philistine army in his promise. “But if I win . . .” he paused for emphasis. “You shall become our servants and serve us.”
The Israelite army shifted their feet, several retreating several steps, but no one answered.
“Ha!” Goliath gloated and spat towards them.
David turned and looked at the soldiers around him. “Tell me, what reward is promised for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel?” His eyes narrowed as he said, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should dare to taunt the armies of the living God?'
One of the men answered, “Saul has promised great riches.”
“And the hand of the princess in marriage!” another chimed in.
A third man added, “And his father's house will be exempt from taxes.”
David nodded and Eliab bristled. Surely as Saul's musician, David already knew what Saul had promised. Who was David to come among them and tease them? Yet here he was, weaving his way through the crowds, dangling princely rewards before the eyes of shepherds and farmers. Eliab curled his lip, and despite Abinadab's protests to leave it be, he shouldered his way forward to grab his brother's shoulder, spinning him around.
“Enough! Why are you here? And who is watching those few sheep in the wilderness?” he sneered, and David's eyes widened in surprise at Eliab's anger, but Eliab pushed on. “I know your insolence and your wicked heart; you're goading the men just so you can see the battle!”
Eliab hoped David would leave shamefaced, or at least snap back so that Eliab could vent some of his frustration on his little brother.
David held up his hands peaceably. “What have I done now? It was just a question.” And he shifted away to ask other men the same question.
Eliab shook his head and turned his back on David, but the view was even less pleasant in the valley.
David disappeared into the crowds, and Eliab had nothing to do but brood over the giant's taunts as the blazing sun tracked its way across the sky.
He felt the men begin shifting behind him as a messenger pushed his way to the commander.
“There is a warrior who will fight the Philistine!” he declared eagerly, and the men's exclamations filled the air until the commander roared at them to be quiet. The messenger finished his message. “King Saul commands that you ready your troops, in case the enemy does not keep their word.”
Eliab felt a mixture of relief and worry as he licked his lips and tasted dust. This warrior had better be good.
An hour later, a lone figure began to make his way into the valley. He was dressed in nothing but a simple tunic, and bearing a shepherd's staff.
“Who is that?” someone hissed.
Eliab squinted, recognized the figure and sighed. “It's my brother. He's armor-bearer for Saul. He'll be announcing the king's champion, no doubt.”
Goliath noticed David's approach and moved forward to face him, his shield-bearer walking in front.
“I have come to answer your challenge,” David shouted, his voice echoing up from the valley to the heights.
Goliath looked around, trying to find the man who dared to fight him, but David was all he could see.
“What, you mean you?” He roared with mocking laughter. “What, am I dog, that you come to me with sticks?”
The Philistine army laughed, and Eliab craned his neck to see the man that David was announcing. Surely David wasn't going to fight! His stomach dropped with horror when no man stepped forward.
“Has David gone mad?” Shammah hissed.
The Philistine giant rained down a litany of curses on David's head, invoking the names of his gods and describing in gory detail just how he would dismember the shepherd. “Come on then!” Goliath said. “I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the birds of the field.”
David stood still, and when Goliath had finished, he boldly replied, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. Today, the Lord will deliver you up to my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head.” David turned and looked up at the watching Philistine army. “I will give the bodies of your whole army to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth so that all may know there is a God in Israel! Everyone here will see that the Lord does not deliver by sword or spear, for the battle is the Lord's and He will give you into our hands!”
There was a moment of silence, when hope rippled through the Israelite camp, followed swiftly by jeers from the Philistine army. Goliath hefted his deadly javelin into position over his shoulder, and David dropped his stick and drew his sling from his belt. Eliab felt nausea wash over him as he looked at his youngest brother. How would he explain this to their father?
“We have to stop him!” Abinadab hissed, and Shammah even took a step forward, but Goliath let out a war cry and began to march deliberately towards the lone shepherd. The Philistines army roared with bloodlust. The shield-bearer, wary of the sling, held the shield out in front of himself and his master. Eliab leaned forward with bated breath as David did not flee before the pounding steps of the giant, but ran to meet him, his sling already spinning in his hand.
The army of Israel held their breath as David loosed the stone, and Eliab tried to see its trajectory. A strike against metal rang through the air, and Goliath's head snapped back, his helmet tumbling behind him. The shouts of the Philistines died in their throats as Goliath wavered on his feet for a moment, before crumpling to the ground.
David hadn't even broken stride, and before the shield-bearer could recover from his shock, David was standing over the giant. He slid Goliath's sword free of its scabbard and cut off Goliath's head, blood pooling into the dust of the ground and sprinkling over David's face and arms.
Eliab stared as David grabbed the giant's head and heaved it high. Releasing a victory cry, David turned in a circle, the sightless head swinging in his fist. It had all happened so fast, there was an intake of breath before the Israelite camp erupted.
Their champion dead, the Philistines began to hastily trickle away, which turned into a flood of Philistines fleeing like scattered sheep before a lion.
“After them!” the commander yelled, and Eliab raised his spear, a shout ripping through his throat as his blood danced in his veins. The ground thundered beneath his feet as the men of Israel and Judah charged forward, victory already assured by the Lord.
Read this story for yourself in 1 Samuel 17:1-52
This story is a favorite of my sons. They love the whole exciting life of David, and really, it reads like the best epic story ever. A young man, seemingly ordinary, is chosen by a strange prophet to fulfill a great destiny. Then the prophet disappears, and the chosen hero goes back his life wondering, "How on earth can I be king?"
David's life takes another turn when he is summoned from the fields to play his lyre before King Saul. His music soothes the king's inner turmoil, and Saul is so pleased that he makes David his armor-bearer (1 Samuel 16:21). David, the man named to succeed Saul's throne, has now become invaluable to the man he will replace. David must have wondered what twist would happen next! Enter the warrior Goliath and his boastful challenge.
How old was David when he fought Goliath?
Some have placed him as young as ten. There is a verse though, that seems to say David was considered more than a child:
"Then one of the young men said, 'Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech, and a handsome man; and the Lord is with him." - 1 Samuel 16:18
This description does not sound like a child to me. Likely, "young man" or "youth" simply referred to a man who was not yet married, but approaching or arrived at a marriageable age. He might have been an athletically built teen, though clearly not a seasoned warrior like Goliath.
David likely didn't look as warrior-like as his king, who stood head and shoulders above the other men. (1 Samuel 9:2) When Samuel saw Eliab, David's eldest brother, he thought Eliab looked like a king. (1 Samuel 16:6) There is no such description when he sees David.
Yet, when I read the story as if for the first time, taking all children's Bible illustrations out of my mind, I don't see the focus of this story being a child facing a giant. I see the story showing a nation refusing to believe in God's power to save while David trusts in the Lord.
In the Bible story, Eliab comes across as quite the jerk.
Have you ever seen someone lash out because their pride was hurt? Eliab, like all the others, can’t bring himself to challenge Goliath. Maybe he thinks King Saul or Prince Jonathan will handle it. Or maybe he thinks the prophet Samuel will show up and work a sign or wonder to guarantee the victory. How often do we wait for others to take responsibility, thinking they are better suited than us to the tasks God has given us?
Who were the Philistines?
If someone calls you a Philistine today, they are insulting you. They are calling you uncultured and ignorant. However, in the world of David and Goliath, the Philistines were the ones with the culture and the technology. The Israelites, by comparison, were largely farmers and shepherds. The Philistines tipped the cultural superiority even more in their favor when they wiped out the Israelite blacksmiths. (1 Samuel 13:19-22) The Philistines lived the territory near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea of the land of Israel. Delilah was another famous Philistine.
The ancient sling was a deadly weapon.
Easy to manufacture, with a pretty much unlimited supply of ready ammunition, the sling was a formidable weapon, launching projectiles up to 100 miles per hour and with a record distance of 1,434 feet according to the Guinness Book of Records! That they were used by many ancient cultures across the world, right up to the modern day, shows their usefulness. In practiced hands, slings are incredibly accurate. Judges 20:16 speaks of 700 men who could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.
Gathering stones for the slings was part of preparing for battle. (2 Chronicles 27:14) The proof of their deadly force can be shown in the fact that David killed both a lion and a bear with his sling. Both the Philistines and the Israelite army knew that as David was spinning that stone in his sling, a well-placed shot to Goliath could prove fatal. When his stone hit Goliath, it sunk into his forehead, likely shattering his skull.
There have been Greek sling stones unearthed with taunting phrases on them like "catch", and Roman stones with a hole bored through so they would whistle through the air, adding a sense of terror and surely keeping the enemies' heads down. It's possible to load more than one stone a time to get a scatter effect.
So, as much as I love an underdog taking down a superior force, there are a couple of other things I can take away from this story.
Practice your skills!
David was young, but he was skilled. His accuracy with his sling was not chance or a miracle, but it came down to a dedicated young man who was determined to protect his flocks with his sling and then his own people. If you feel unqualified to do a task for God, it's time to knuckle down and practice!
We need to step out in faith.
Was David the best slinger in the army? Maybe, or maybe not. As he says, it's not his skill that won the day.
"This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head." - 1 Samuel 17:46
David knew he had the ability, but more than that, he believed in God's power when all the rest had lost faith.
Don't wait for someone more qualified!
Maybe, if Eliab had more faith, the story we know would be "Eliab and Goliath". Have you ever seen a new Christian, practically still dripping from the waters of baptism, eagerly sharing Jesus with strangers, even though they far less "qualified" than Bible school graduates who have believed all their lives? They are stepping out in child-like faith, and it is only later, when they realize how much they "don't know", that they begin to hesitate to share the gospel with others.
David wasn't worried about what he didn't know as he stepped up to face the seasoned warrior Goliath. The other men were thinking about what would happen if they failed, as do I when I'm afraid to speak up about my faith. Saul and Eliab, though both kingly in appearance, refuse to accept Goliath’s challenge. They look at themselves and see an impossible task. David looks at God and sees victory.
"The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." - 1 Samuel 17:37
What has the Lord delivered you from? Surely if He has done that for you, He will also be with you as you go about the tasks He has set before you.