The impressive might of a Philistine “giant” is no match for a shepherd boy armed only with a sling, five stones, and an unshakable faith in God.
This famous story is the best-known adventure of David. The version in our Bibles (following the Hebrew) is significantly longer than that contained in the Greek version. Many discrepancies between this story and other parts of 1 Samuel 17 are contained in the “extra” verses (vv. 12-31). Probably we have an original, shorter story that has been augmented with verses 12-31. The following literary analysis indicates that the story both makes sense without their presence and that they are not intrusive to the story’s original design:
A The Philistine and Israelite Armies Face Each Other (vv. 1-3)
B Second king of Israel, David united the northern and southern kingdoms. More Accepts Goliath’s Challenge (vv. 4-39)
a Goliath’s armor (vv. 4-7)
b Goliath’s challenge (vv. 8-10)
c Israel’s response: fear (v. 11)
(d Introduction to David [vv. 12-31a])
c′ Saul’s response: send for David (v. 31b)
b′ David accepts Goliath’s challenge (vv. 32-37)
a′ David’s armor (vv. 38-39)
B′ David Defeats Goliath (vv. 40-51a)
a David selects sling and stones to kill The Philistine giant from Gath, slain by a stone from David's sling. More (v. 40a)
b David draws near to Goliath (v. 40b)
c Goliath draws near to David (v. 41)
d Goliath taunts David (vv. 42-44)
d′ David taunts Goliath (vv. 45-47)
c′ Goliath draws near to David (v. 48a)
b′ David draws near to Goliath (v. 48b)
a′ David kills Goliath with sling and stones (vv. 49-51a)
A′ The Philistine Army Flees from Israel (vv. 51b-54)
The story begins and ends with the relative positioning of the Philistine and Israelite armies (A; A′). At first, they are arrayed on opposite hills with a valley between them. Goliath will enter this valley as “the man between” (ish habbenayim, vv. 4, 23, “champion” in NRSV); by the close of the story the Philistines are fleeing the Israelite forces.
Between the frame provided by the disposition of the opposing forces are two intricately structured scenes in which David accepts Goliath’s challenge (B, vv. 4-39) and then defeats him (B′, vv. 40-51a).
In the first of these central scenes, attention is drawn to the impressive armor with which Goliath is fitted (vv. 4-7), as contrasted with David’s refusal to wear Saul’s armor (vv. 38-39); David’s acceptance of the Philistine’s challenge (vv. 8-10, 32b-37); and the responses of Israel and Saul (vv. 11, 32a).
The disputed verses 12-31, which provide yet another introduction of David and his family to The first king of Israel More (see chapter 16), break the natural flow of the narrative despite their central position in this section.
In the second of these central scenes, attention is drawn to David’s selection of a sling and five smooth stones with which to kill the Philistine and his actual dispatching of Goliath with these same weapons (vv. 40a, 49-50a); the approach of David to Goliath and Goliath to David as they prepare for mortal combat (vv. 40b-41, 48); and the exchange of verbal taunts in which David’s unshakable faith in his God is on display (vv. 42-44, 45-47).
Several points arise from this understanding:
• David’s qualifications as king–courage in the face of overwhelming force, military skill, and, above all, faith in the Lord
• the theological truth that the victory comes from God, and God alone
• the purpose clauses in David’s taunt indicate the lasting significance of the confrontation: “so that all the earth [better: land] may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear” (vv.46c-47b).