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In addition to how tall he was, we are also told that Goliath was well-equipped with the latest hi-tech gear when he strode out to face the armies of Saul…
“…on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back.” 1 Samuel 17:6
What is most interesting is the word translated as “greaves” (Hebrew: mitschath). It is what’s known as a Hapex Legomenon, that is, a word that only appears once in the entire Hebrew Bible. Translators are justified in using “greaves” to translate the term, mainly because the text tells us he was wearing them on his legs (though we aren’t told if they are shin-guards, knee-guards, or thigh-guards…or a combination of any of these).
But where it gets really interesting is later in the chapter…
“Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead (metsach). The stone sank into his forehead (metsach), and he fell facedown on the ground.” 1 Samuel 17:49
According to some Hebrew scholars, the word ‘mitschath’ is actually a plural form of the word ‘metsach’ which means “forehead.” In other words, the things Goliath was wearing on his legs in v.6 are literally called bronze ‘foreheads’ in Hebrew.
This means that it is quite possible–perhaps even likely–that the ‘forehead’ upon which the stone struck Goliath and into which it “sank” in v.49, was one of the bronze ‘foreheads‘ he was wearing on his legs!
If this is indeed the case, then it might also make better sense of the passage in numerous other ways as well:
- Sling stones found from the Ancient Near East were usually the size of baseballs or softballs and were often used for knocking down walls of an enemy city or fortress. Such a stone would definitely dent a piece of armor on the leg and leave it looking like it “sunk” into it—whereas the results on a human forehead would be much worse.
- The text implies that it was the stone hitting Goliath’s ‘forehead’ that caused him to fall “facedown.” If the stone knocked his leg/s out from under him, this would be the normal outcome—whereas if it struck him on the literal forehead it would likely knock him backwards rather than forward and facedown.
As evangelical OT scholar Ronald Youngblood notes in his commentary on this passage:
Medieval Jewish commentators wondered (1) how David’s stone could have sunk into Goliath’s “forehead,” which was presumably covered by his helmet, and (2) why, if struck on the forehead, Goliath would have fallen “facedown” instead of on his back. Deem (“`And the Stone Sank Into His Forehead,'” pp. 349-51) suggests that mesah, the ordinary Hebrew word for “forehead,” should here be translated “greave” (cf. mishat nehosheth “greaves made of bronze”] in v.6). David’s sling stone would thus have struck Goliath on or near his knee, just above one of his two greaves, causing him to fall facedown and enabling David to rush forward and behead him with his own sword. Deem points out that such a reading has an interesting parallel in T Judah 3:1: “I ran out alone against one of the kings, struck him on his leg armor, knocked him down, and killed him” (translation of H.C. Kee in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments ed. James H. Charlesworth [Garden City: Doubleday, 1983], 1:796). But Deem admits (1) the occasional possibility of the exposure of the forehead in helmets similar to that worn by Goliath, (2) the weight of Goliath’s frontal armor and the momentum of his forward movement would surely have been enough to cause him to fall facedown rather than backward, and (3) a sling stone sinking “into his greave” seems much less threatening than one sinking “into his forehead.”
[Youngblood, Ronald. Expositor’s Bible Commentary, The, Pradis CD-ROM:1 and 2 Samuel/Notes to First Samuel/First Samuel 17 Notes/First Samuel Note 17:49, Book Version: 4.0.2]
In the end, either translation of ‘mitschath/metsach’ makes sense in the story. The stone could’ve theoretically hit and sunk into either of Goliath’s ‘foreheads‘, whether Bronze or Bone…as reflected in the proposed translation below:
1Samuel 17:49 Then David reached his hand into the bag, took out a stone and slung it. When he struck the Philistine on his forehead/greave, the stone sank into his forehead/greave so that he fell on his face to the ground. [Disciple Dojo proposed translation]
If the ‘metsach’ which the stone hits is one of the ‘mitschath’ on Goliath’s legs, the details take on a slightly more dramatic, realistic, and theologically-nuanced feel. The giant was killed by his own weapon only after the young shepherd made him first kneel facedown to the God if Isreal—the God whom the giant had been defying for nearly 40 days!
Either way, however, the message of the story of David’s triumph over Goliath is a tangible example of the message of Psalm 2—the nations that ‘take a stand against the Lord’s Anointed,’ no matter how mighty, fearsome, and formidable they are, will be humbled and ultimately destroyed. For this same theological concept expressed in the New Testament, see 1Corinthians 15:24-28 and Revelation 19:11-21.
Continue to Part 3…How exactly did Goliath die?