• Rereading David & Goliath – Part 3: What actually killed Goliath?

Rereading David & Goliath – Part 3: What actually killed Goliath?

Click HERE for Part 1

Click HERE for Part 2

Hi Dojo readers! We’ve been looking a the story of David and Goliath over the past few posts and seeing how some of the most well-known stories from the Bible that we learned as kids are actually quite different when we read them in the biblical text rather than a storybook version. From how tall Goliath the Philistine Giant was, to where the David’s slingstone struck him, a number of the details aren’t exactly as we remember them from the cartoon versions.


No…not that cartoon version!

Another example involves Goliath’s actual death. If you were to ask 10 people “how did David kill Goliath?”, I’m willing to bet that 10 out of the 10 would say “with a rock to the forehead!”  As we saw last time, there is already good reason to conclude that the “forehead” where the rock hit wasn’t the one above Goliath’s face–but rather one of the ones on his leg (see last post for more on that!). But even if the stone DID hit Goliath in the literal forehead, you might be surprised to learn that it was not the rock that killed the giant.

My favorite version as a 9 year old in Sunday school because…blood!!

Part of the reason for this misunderstanding has to do with popular English translations of the passage, particularly the NIV. It reads as follows:

1Samuel 17:50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his had he struck down the Philistine and killed him.  51 David ran and stood over him.  He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the scabbard.  After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

This seems pretty clear to most readers. AFTER the rock-to-the-face killed Goliath, David ran up and decapitated him for some reason (perhaps as a trophy or a show of might to the watching–and likely shocked!–Philistine army).

But this is not what it actually says. The word “after” is nowhere in the Hebrew text. It is an interpretive decision by the NIV committee in an attempt to make the passage read smoother and flow better in English. But it is misleading. A better translation of this particular incident is that found in the NRSV:

1 Samuel 17:50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. 51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it.

The NRSV has not inserted “after” into v.51. It preserves the original syntax better wherein the overall account is given in v.50 (i.e. David beat Goliath with a sling and stone and then killed him), and then the details of HOW he did it exactly are given in v.51 (i.e. He had no sword, so he ran, grabbed Goliath’s own sword, and killed him with it, cutting off his head).

This is a common literary feature in Biblical Hebrew. An event is summarized, then in the subsequent section the narrator doubles back and recounts a key part of it in greater detail. One famous example of this phenomenon, in fact, is in the Creation account. Genesis 1 gives the overall summary of Creation and then Genesis 2 jumps back to the events of “day” 6 where humanity is created in Eden. There are many other examples of this practice in the OT, and even scholars sometimes miss certain instances of it (and often propose various hypothetical “redactors” as the reason for such “chronological dysjunctiveness” in the text).

But there’s no need for any confusion. Here how the Hebrew text reads literally:

50 So he triumphed David over the Philistine with the sling and with the stone and he struck down the Philistine and he killed him.  And a sword not in the hand of David 51 and he ran David and he stood over the Philistine and he took hold of the sword of him and he drew her from the scabbard of her and he killed him and he cut off with her the head of him.

And here is a proposed smoother rendering that brings out the details more clearly:

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with the sling and with the stone.  He struck down the Philistine and he killed him.  (Now there was not a sword in David’s hand 51 so David ran and he stood over the Philistine, took hold of his sword, drew it from its scabbard and killed him. Then he cut off his head with it.)


One of the differences this reading makes has to do with the nature of Goliath’s death. He wasn’t killed by a “lucky” shot from a shepherd boy’s sling. Instead…and far more humiliating for him and the Philistines and their gods…he was killed with his own weapon by a shepherd boy who had no training in use of the sword to begin with! To be killed in battle by a lesser warrior was embarrassing. To be killed in battle by a lesser warrior with your own weapon was SHAMEFULLY embarrassing!

Everything about this brings out the shame and embarassment of the defeat of this “champion” from Gath who had “taken his stand against the LORD’s Annointed”, and thus against the LORD Himself. It is an extension of the Abrahamic promise God made that He would “curse” those who “curse” the Seed of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3).


Continued in Part 4

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  1. […] Continue to Part 3…How exactly did Goliath die? […]

    Pingback by Disciple Dojo – JMSmith.org » Rereading David & Goliath – Part 2: Where did the sling-stone hit? on October 8, 2015 at 2:08 pm

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