Bible Commentary

1 Samuel 17

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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(Read all of 1 Samuel 17)

Verse 1

[1] Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and were gathered together at Shochoh, which belongeth to Judah, and pitched between Shochoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim.

Gathered, … — Probably they had heard, that Samuel had forsaken Saul, and that Saul himself was unfit for business. The enemies of the church are watchful to take all advantages, and they never have greater advantage, than when her protectors have provoked God's Spirit and prophets to leave them.

Verse 4

[4] And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.

Six cubits — At least, nine feet, nine inches high. And this is not strange; for besides the giants mentioned in Scripture, Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Pliny, make mention of persons seven cubits high.

Verse 5

[5] And he had an helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass.

Coat of mail — Made of brass plates laid over one another, like the scales of a fish.

The weight, … — The common shekel contained a fourth part of an ounce; and so five thousand shekels made one thousand two hundred and fifty ounces, or seventy-eight pounds: which weight is not unsuitable to a man of such vast strength as his height speaks him to be.

Verse 6

[6] And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders.

Greaves — Boots.

Verse 7

[7] And the staff of his spear was like a weaver's beam; and his spear's head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him.

Beam — On which the weavers fasten their web. It was like this for thickness. And though the whole weight of Goliath's armour may seem prodigious; yet it is not so much by far as one Athanatus did manage: of whom Pliny relates, That he saw him come into the theatre with arms weighing twelve thousand ounces.

A shield — Probably for state: for he that was clad in brass, little needed a shield.

Verse 8

[8] And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me.

Come down — That the battle may be decided by us two alone.

Verse 11

[11] When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.

Afraid — This may seem strange, considering the glorious promises, and their late experience of divine assistance. And where was Jonathan, who in the last war had so bravely engaged an whole army of the Philistines? Doubtless he did not feel himself so stirred up of God as he did at that time. As the best, so the bravest of men, are no more than what God makes them. Jonathan must sit still now, because this honour is reserved for David.

Verse 12

[12] Now David was the son of that Ephrathite of Bethlehemjudah, whose name was Jesse; and he had eight sons: and the man went among men for an old man in the days of Saul.

Old man — Therefore he went not himself to the camp.

Verse 15

[15] But David went and returned from Saul to feed his father's sheep at Bethlehem.

Went — From Saul's court: where having relieved Saul, he was permitted to go to his father's house, to be sent for again upon occasion.

Verse 18

[18] And carry these ten cheeses unto the captain of their thousand, and look how thy brethren fare, and take their pledge.

Pledge — That is, bring me some token of their welfare.

Verse 19

[19] Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.

Fighting — That is, in a posture and readiness to fight with them; as it is explained, verse 20,21.

Verse 20

[20] And David rose up early in the morning, and left the sheep with a keeper, and took, and went, as Jesse had commanded him; and he came to the trench, as the host was going forth to the fight, and shouted for the battle.

Went, … — Jesse little thought of sending his son to the camp, just at that critical juncture. But the wise God orders the time and all the circumstances of affairs, so as to serve the designs of his own glory.

Verse 24

[24] And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid.

Fled — One Philistine could never have thus put ten thousand Israelites to flight, unless their rock, being forsaken by them, had justly sold them and shut them up.

Verse 25

[25] And the men of Israel said, Have ye seen this man that is come up? surely to defy Israel is he come up: and it shall be, that the man who killeth him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father's house free in Israel.

Free — Free from all those tributes and charges which either the court or the camp required.

Verse 28

[28] And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men; and Eliab's anger was kindled against David, and he said, Why camest thou down hither? and with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle.

Naughtiness — Thy false-confidence, and vain gloried curiosity. See the folly and wickedness of envy! How groundless its jealousies are, how unjust its censures, how unfair it representations? God preserve us from such a spirit!

Verse 29

[29] And David said, What have I now done? Is there not a cause?

A cause — Of my thus speaking? Is this giant invincible? Is our God unable to oppose him, and subdue him? However David is not deterred from his undertaking, by the hard words of Eliab. They that undertake public services must not think it strange, if they be opposed by those from whom they had reason to expect assistance, but must humbly go on with their work, in the face, not only of their enemies threats, but of their friends slights, suspicions, and censures.

Verse 30

[30] And he turned from him toward another, and spake after the same manner: and the people answered him again after the former manner.

He tarried — For being secretly moved by God's spirit to undertake the combat. He speaks with divers persons about it, that it might come to the king's ear.

Verse 32

[32] And David said to Saul, Let no man's heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.

Let no man's heart, … — It would have reflected upon his prince to say, Let not thy heart fail: therefore he speaks in general terms, Let no man's heart fail. A little shepherd, come but this morning from keeping sheep, has more courage than all the mighty men of Israel! Thus doth God often do great things for his people by the weak things of the world.

Verse 33

[33] And Saul said to David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.

A youth — Not above 20 years old; and a novice, a raw and unexperienced soldier.

Verse 37

[37] David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee.

The Lord, … — The lion and the bear were only enemies to me and my sheep, and it was in defence of them I attacked them. But this Philistine is an enemy to my God and his people, and it is for their honour that I attack him.

Verse 38

[38] And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail.

Armour — With armour taken out of his armoury. He seems to speak of some military vestments which were then used in war, and were contrived for defence; such as buff-coats are now.

Verse 39

[39] And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him.

Proved them — I have no skill or experience in the managements of this kind of arms.

Verse 40

[40] And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.

Staff — His shepherd's staff. These arms in themselves were contemptible, yet chosen by David; because he had no skill to use other arms; because he had inward assurance of the victory, even by these weapons; and because such a conquest would be more honourable to God, and most shameful, and discouraging to the Philistines.

Verse 41

[41] And the Philistine came on and drew near unto David; and the man that bare the shield went before him.

Drew near — Probably a signal was made, that his challenge was accepted.

Verse 42

[42] And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.

Fair — Not having so much as the countenance of a martial person.

Verse 43

[43] And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.

Dog — Dost thou think to beat me as easily as thou wouldst thy dog?

Verse 46

[46] This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.

A God — Heb. that God, the only true God, is for Israel; or on Israel's side, and against you. Or, that Israel hath a God, a God indeed, one who is able to help them; and not such an impotent idol as you serve.

Verse 47

[47] And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give you into our hands.

Saveth — That is, that he can save without these arms, and with the most contemptible weapons.

The battle — That is, the events of war are wholly in his power.

He will — David speaks thus confidently, because he was assured of it by a particular inspiration.

Verse 48

[48] And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.

Drew nigh — Like a stalking mountain.

Ran — So far was he from fear!

Verse 49

[49] And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.

Forehead — Probably the proud giant had lift up that part of his helmet which covered his fore-head; in contempt of David and his weapons, and by the singular direction of providence.

Verse 51

[51] Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled.

David took — Hence it appears, that David was not a little man, as many fancy; but a man of considerable bulk and strength, because he was able to manage a giant's sword. The stone threw him down to the earth, and bereaved him of sense and motion; but there remained some life in him, which the sword took away, and so compleated the work. God is greatly glorified, when his proud enemies are cut off with their own sword.

Verse 55

[55] And when Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said unto Abner, the captain of the host, Abner, whose son is this youth? And Abner said, As thy soul liveth, O king, I cannot tell.

Whose son — David had been some considerable time dismissed from Saul's court, and was returned home. And therefore it is not strange, if Saul for the present had forgot David. Besides the distemper of Saul's mind might make him forgetful; and that David might be now much changed, both in his countenance and in his habit.

I cannot tell — Abner's employment was generally in the camp, when David was at the court; and when Abner was there, he took little notice of a person so much inferior to him as David was.

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