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Saturday, September 23rd, 2023
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 17

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Verse 2

1 Samuel 17:2. Valley of Elah Valley of oaks, (Hiller. Heroph. p. 358.)

Verse 4

1 Samuel 17:4. Goliath, of Gath When Joshua rooted the Anakims out of the land of Canaan, several of them fled to this city of Gath: See Joshua 11:22-23. We have undoubted evidence from the best writers, that there have been men of a gigantic size and make, in ancient times. See Genesis 6:4. M. Le Cat's Memoir on the History of Giants, and a curious dissertation on the combat of David with Goliath in the 8th Volume of the Critici Sacri.

Verse 5

1 Samuel 17:5. Five thousand shekels Seventy-eight pounds and two ounces. 1 Samuel 17:7. The staff of his spear] The shaft, &c. (leg. חע Hiller. 103.) Six hundred shekels] Nine pounds and six ounces.

Verse 8

1 Samuel 17:8. And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel Antiquity furnishes us with many examples of single combats like this proposed by Goliath. Thus Paris and Menelaus in Homer, and the Horatii and Curiatii in Livy, are said to fight at the head of the army, upon condition that the party of the vanquished should receive laws from the conqueror. And would to God that on many occasions princes would singly determine those quarrels, which, without interesting the public good, give room for such horrible effusions of innocent blood! But it does not seem very likely to have been with a view to spare human blood, that Goliath proposed this duel with such an Israelite as should be chosen. It was entirely bravado and insolence in the Philistine: who, because he was monstrous, thought himself invincible. See Buddaeus Jurisprud. Hist. Specim. sect. 21.

Verse 12

1 Samuel 17:12. Now David was the son, &c.— From this 12th verse to the end of the 31st, the Roman edition of the LXX has omitted the whole. But the observations which we have taken from Bishop Warburton in the notes on the preceding chapter, seem sufficient to remove any difficulties which may arise from this passage.

Verse 15

1 Samuel 17:15. David went, and returned from Saul, &c.— This being when the Israelites were encamped in Elah, and after the relation of his going to court to soothe Saul's troubled spirit with his music, seems to fix the date of his standing before Saul in quality of musician, in the order of time in which it is related. But the words, David went, and returned from Saul, seem not to be rightly understood. They do not mean that David left Saul's court where he had resided, but that he left Saul's camp to which he had been summoned. The case was this. A sudden invasion of the Philistines had penetrated to Shochoh. Now, upon such occasions, there always went out a general summons for all, able to bear arms, to meet at an appointed rendezvous; where, a choice being made of those most fit for service, the rest were sent back again to their several homes. At such a rendezvous all the tribes at this time assembled. Among the men of Beth-lehem came Jesse and his eight sons: the three eldest were enrolled in the troops, and the rest sent home again. But of these David is particularly named, as the history related particularly to him. Now David was the son of that Ephrathite—and he had three sons—and David was the youngest: and the three eldest followed Saul. But David went and returned from Saul, to feed his father's sheep at Beth-lehem: that is, he was dismissed by the captains of the host as too young for service. And in these sentiments we find they continued, when he returned with a message from his father to the camp. Div. Leg. vol. 3: p. 358.

Verse 18

1 Samuel 17:18. Carry these ten cheeses In the Hebrew החלב חריצי charitsei hechalab, ten cheeses of milk; upon which the author of the Observations remarks, that the word can hardly be imagined to signify cheeses directly, since milk is added in the original, and cheeses of milk is so odd an expression, all cheese being made of milk of some kind or other. Our translators were so struck with this, that they have suppressed the word milk, as perfectly superfluous. But as the word signifies a rolling instrument used for threshing, may we not suppose that what Jesse bade his son David carry to the officer of the army were ten baskets, somewhat of the shape of their threshing-instruments, in which there was coagulated milk? Baskets made of rushes, or the dwarf palm, are the cheese-vats of Barbary: into these they put the curds, and binding them up close press them. But the eastern cheeses are of so very soft a consistence after their being pressed, and even when they are brought to be eaten, that Sandys imagined they were not pressed at all; "a beastly kind of unpressed cheese, that lies in a lump," being his description of this part of the eastern diet. Now, if the cheeses sent by Jesse were as soft and tender as those of which Sandys speaks, can we imagine any way more commodious for carrying them to the army, than in the rush-baskets in which they were formed? Nor would such baskets of coagulated milk have been an improper present for an officer in the army of Saul, notwithstanding. Sandys's opinion of it: for, by comparing some passages of Dr. Pococke together, it appears, that such sort of cheese is used in the east at this time at the more elegant tables of persons of distinction. Thus, describing the hospitality of the Arabs in Egypt, he says, "the middling people amongst them and the Coptis live much poorer. I have often sat down with them only to bread, raw onions, and a seed pounded and put in oil, which they call serich, produced from an herb called simsim, into which they dip their bread:" Yet, poor as these repasts are, the chief difference betwixt them and the collation prepared for the governor of Faiume, with whom he travelled, and of whose way of living he speaks with honour, consisted chiefly, according to his own description, in the addition of new cheese; for he says, it was of bread, raw onions, and a sort of salt pickled cheese. Ten cheeses then of this sort, were by no means an improper present for Jesse to make on this occasion. See Observations, p. 155.

And take their pledge By this, says Houbigant, I understand that which they gave for the purchase of this food. Therefore Jesse commands David to run, 1Sa 17:17 that he might the sooner receive the pledge or price. Thus Kimchi, whom Cappel follows, understands it; and much better than Symmachus; thou shalt receive their hire, or thou shalt bring their wages to me; for it does not appear that the soldiers of Israel at that time received wages from the king. Some understand it only to express, thou shalt bring me word how they do. The original word ערב oreb, signifies a sponsion or security, and agrees best with Houbigant's interpretation.

Verse 19

1 Samuel 17:19. Now Saul, and they—were in the valley of Elah, fighting Or, Now Saul, and they—were still by the valley of oaks, ready to fight.

Verse 25

1 Samuel 17:25. And make his father's house free in Israel This might be rendered, will enoble his father's house. The Chaldee paraphrase has it, and will make his father's house free princes in Israel, enfranchising them from all charges and imposts, which was a royal privilege. See Selden de Jure Nat. et Gent. lib. 6: cap. 14. Thus Caleb heretofore, and David afterwards, encouraged their people to great exploits; and we have many instances of this kind in prophane history.

Verse 29

1 Samuel 17:29. What have I now done? Is there not a cause What have I done, I have only just spoken a word. Houbigant.

Verses 34-37

1 Samuel 17:34-37. Thy servant kept his father's sheep The young hero builds his confidence upon four arguments: 1. Upon the courage and success with which he heretofore combated a lion at one time, and a bear at another; enemies full as terrible as Goliath. 2. Upon Goliath's being uncircumcised, an enemy of the people and covenant of God. 3. Upon the full assurance that God will support any one who shall undertake to punish this monster for his insolent treatment of the Israelites as slaves. 4. Upon the experience he had already had of the succour and protection of Providence; an experience which firmly persuades him, that the same God who delivered him from the fury of lions and bears, will not fail to give him victory over Goliath, however formidable and invincible he may appear. One knows not which to admire most in these reflections, and the manner of expressing them; whether the courage of David, or his piety and modesty.

Verse 38

1 Samuel 17:38. Saul armed David with his armour i.e. Not with his own armour, for Saul was of too great a size; but he ordered a helmet and coat of mail to be brought out of his armoury for him.

Verse 39

1 Samuel 17:39. And he assayed to go But David marched with difficulty, as not accustomed to these; therefore he said to Saul, I cannot go with these arms, for I am not accustomed to them: and David put them off. Houb.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, When David had succeeded as Saul's musician, and no relapse for some time made his stay no longer necessary, he returned to his father's house at Bethlehem; probably not relishing the dissolute manners of a court, and infinitely happier in retirement and communion with God, whilst he kept his father's flock. Here he seems to have been almost, if not altogether, forgotten, till a new incident calls him once more into the presence and family of the king.

1. The Philistines recover from their late defeat, and, encouraged, no doubt, by the accounts they had received of Saul's quarrel with Samuel, and his distracted state of mind, again invade Israel. But Saul, now restored to health, is enabled to make head against them, and with his army encamps on the hill opposite his enemies. Note; The enemies of God's people are always watching to take advantage, and especially to profit by their disputes and divisions.

2. A mighty champion went out of their camp, their boast and glory, and proudly defied the armies of Israel. Forth he marches, proud in his strength and stature, and, with a voice as loud as thunder, challenges the armies of the Israelites to send a man to fight with him, offers in bravado to have the fate of either kingdom decided by the issue of the combat, and vaunts his own condescension in thus submitting to accept a man out of their army who were no better than servants to Saul. Note; Pride will sooner or later have a fall.

3. The effect which this produced on Saul and the Israelites. They were quite dispirited, and ready to fly before a single Philistine. Note; When we have provoked God to depart from us, fear will terrify us on every approach of danger.

2nd, Forty days the armies lay encamped, and, morning and evening, the champion of Philistia renewed his challenge, and reproached the cowardice of his foes; when lo! an adversary appears, little thought of, and, to human view, very unequal to the combat. David, in obedience to his father's commands, and in love to his brethren, (though, if we may judge of their past by their present conduct, they little deserved it at his hands,) having left his sheep with a keeper, hastes to the camp, and enters it just as the host was marching forth to engage. As he could not then carry the provisions which his father had sent by him to his brethren, he left them with those who guarded the baggage, and ran to salute his brethren, and discharge his commission to them from his father. And whilst he talked with them, just then Goliath marches forth from the ranks of the Philistines, and renews his proud challenge; where we may observe,
1. The cowardice of the people. They fled from him; not a man dared to face him.
2. The great reward that Saul promised, to encourage any man who would venture to engage this mighty warrior; wealth and honour for himself and for his family, and freedom from all taxes, for ever.
3. David, hearing the blasphemy of the Philistine, felt his spirit kindling in his bosom. He could not bear that an uncircumcised Philistine should thus triumph in his proud boasting, or that the armies of the living God should be thus defied, and a reflection thereby cast on his honour. He therefore inquires concerning the reward, as if he wondered that none dared accept the challenge; and, by the earnestness and repetition of his question, intimated his own readiness to do it. Note. A soul filled with holy zeal cannot bear to see God or his cause blasphemed, without rising up in its vindication.

4. Eliab's anger rises against him. He could not hear his inquiries, and the daring spirit that he shewed, without feeling the workings of jealousy and envy against him. To quench, therefore, this rising spark of zeal, he abuses him as a negligent youth, who had, through pride and curiosity, quitted his calling, and left the few sheep of his poor father, to come down to see the battle; insolently and censoriously pretending to know the pride and naughtiness of his heart, and seeking not only to discourage his own spirit, but to make him appear despicable, and cause his words to be disregarded by those to whom he addresses himself. Note; (1.) The enmity of an offended brother is most bitter and implacable. (2.) Envy can easily misrepresent the most upright and innocent intentions. (3.) Censoriousness will make men not only misinterpret our actions, but pretend to know those secrets of the heart which are open to God alone.

5. David, not provoked by such unjust and illiberal abuse, mildly confutes his misrepresentation. Was there not a cause for his coming? Was it not his father's order, and on a message of kindness to him? And was there not reason to express resentment at such an impious defiance? He therefore turns from him, and, undismayed, continues his inquiries, and intimates his readiness to undertake this boaster. Note; (1.) A soft answer turneth away wrath. (2.) We must not be discouraged in well doing, nor cease, because our good intentions are misrepresented or abused.

3rdly, Such repeated inquiries, and apparent resolution, are quickly carried to the ears of Saul, and David is sent for to his tent.
1. He offers to engage in single combat with the Philistine, and, with the intrepidity of a hero, dares encourage the timorous hosts that fled before him. Note; The righteous is as bold as a lion.

2. Saul discourages him from the undertaking, by pleading his youth and inexperience; great as his courage might be, the contest was utterly unequal. Note; We must not judge by appearances. They who have God for them, have more with them than can be against them.

3. David modestly answers the objection of the king; he was not so unused to hazardous enterprises as he seemed to apprehend. As he fed his flock, a lion, fierce with hunger, came and seized a lamb. He pursued, seized him by the beard, and slew him, though unarmed. A bear too, who made the same attempt, shared a like fate: and, if God strengthened him thus against the lion and the bear, how much more would he deliver him from the hand of a Philistine, who, by his defiance of the armies of the living God, had provoked the God of Israel's armies to destroy him. Note; (1.) We need never be ashamed of an honest calling, though mean. (2.) David is the type of him, who, from the mouth of the roaring lion, has delivered the lambs of his flock. (3.) Past experience should be present encouragement.

Verse 40

1 Samuel 17:40. Five smooth stones Bishop Patrick thinks that this should rather be rendered five cleft or rough stones; as he thinks such would have been most fit for his purpose. But smooth stones would have entered more easily into the forehead, would have less obstacles in passing through the air, and were much more proper to reach the mark, when thrown from a sling.

Verse 43

1 Samuel 17:43. Am I a dog See Exodus 22:31. As nothing can be more insolent and impious than the words of Goliath, so nothing can afford us a fairer idea of firm faith and heroic confidence in God, than David's reply to him. We see the arm of God in this whole event. He it was who guided the hand; He it was who gave force to the arm of David: and who can resist the force of a stroke inflicted by this divine hand, though the hand of a David were not the instrument?

With staves Or, with a staff.

Verse 54

1 Samuel 17:54. And David took the head of the Philistine After having shewn the head to Saul, 1Sa 17:57 and exhibited it to all the people, chap. 1Sa 18:6 he deposited it at Jerusalem, that it might be an object of terror, perhaps, to the Jebusites, who still possessed the strong fortress of Sion. 2 Samuel 5:7. Some suppose that David carried the head of Goliath to Jerusalem, as being the nearest and most convenient town to the place of the combat. A tent, most likely, was set up for David upon this occasion, where he placed the armour of Goliath. It was afterwards deposited in the tabernacle, as a trophy to the glory of that God who had given David the victory.

Verses 55-58

1 Samuel 17:55-58. Whose son is this youth? &c.— Saul probably knew David's person, but had forgotten the name of his father. He does not ask, therefore, who the youth is, but whose son he is; a question of the more consequence to him, as he had promised his daughter in marriage to the conqueror of Goliath. Besides, as David had been for some time absent from Saul, perhaps a year or two, what is there improbable, that the youth, who had been so little with Saul, should, after such an absence, not even be remembered by him in person at first view; especially as he was now in his shepherd's habit, and not in that of one of Saul's guards (see the note ch. 1 Samuel 16:21.); and when Saul had himself been employed in a multiplicity of important affairs, seen such a variety of different persons since the first interview with David, and had been disordered by the melancholy of his own mind? But it is much less to be wondered at, that he should not remember his parentage, which is the only thing that the sacred historian affirms. See Grotius, and Chandler's Review, p. 96. Houbigant is of opinion, that Saul was at this time seized with that evil spirit which troubled him, and that Abner, courtier-like, would not answer him, lest his answer should prove to Saul the present unhappy and disturbed state of his mind. We learn from the whole of this pleasing chapter, how ready God is to help those who trust in him; for whose defence and protection he makes use of means, apparently the most weak, to humble the pride of the wicked, and to destroy the powers which seem most formidable.

REFLECTIONS.—1st. David having put off his armour, in his shepherd's dress, with his sling in his hand, marches down toward this proud Philistine, and chooses five smooth stones from the brook which ran in the valley, nor was at all terrified by the formidable appearance of his antagonist, since God was the strength of his hope.

1. Goliath, looking on such a puny foe, a youth, and so accoutred, treated with high disdain his insolence in daring to approach him, as if he were a dog, to be beaten with a shepherd's staff; and, cursing him by his gods, threatens, as easily as a lion tears the lamb, to give his flesh to the birds and beasts. Note; (1.) The curse which is causeless falls only on the head that utters it. (2.) The presumption of the proud destroys them.

2. David replies with confidence and dependence upon God, and hurls back this boaster's threatenings into his face. Having authority from the God of Israel, whom, in his people, Goliath had defied, dependent on the arm of that omnipotent Lord of hosts, who alone giveth victory in the battle, he threatens that his carcase, and those of his countrymen, shall this day afford a nobler feast to the birds and beasts: the nations around shall then acknowledge the glory of Israel's God, and his church and people adore him for a salvation so great and wonderful.
2nd, We have the issue of this unequal match, and see that the battle is not always to the strong.
1. Like a Colossus, huge Goliath strides along, glittering in burnished armour; David, with nimbler step, hastes to meet him, and, having placed the stone in his sling, aimed at the broad mark of this Philistine's forehead. Swift flew the messenger of death, resistless pierced through his skull, and backward fell the mighty hero, extended breathless on the plain. With eagerness now David flies on his prey, draws forth the vanquished champion's sword, and severs his head from his body, as the trophy of his victory. Note; (1.) Vain is the arm of flesh against the power of God. (2.) Thus has Jesus conquered the powers of darkness, and spoiled them openly; and thus shall every believer conquer those giant-like corruptions which wage war against his soul.

2. A panic seizes the hosts of Philistia when they behold their boasted hero fallen; whilst Israel's armies, shouting for victory, pursue the dispirited fugitives even to the gates of their cities, and on their return spoil the camp. Note; They who rely on man will find their dependence but a broken reed.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 17". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/1-samuel-17.html. 1801-1803.
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