2. Giants in Scripture
We may think of Goliath as either fictitious or a freak. However, giants are mentioned several times in the Bible, so they had been around the Land of Canaan for some time. The first mention of giants is in the introduction to the story of Noah, where it says in Genesis 6:4a:
There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward… NKJV
The Hebrew term translated as “giants” in that passage is Nephilim. Anak and the Anakites were also understood to be giants, or Nephilim. They are mentioned by the spies reporting about the Promised Land to the Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 13:27-28, 32-33):
“We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there...”
So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” NRSV
This report scared the Israelites and they were afraid to go into the land the Lord had promised to them. As a result of their lack of faith in God, they were punished by not being allowed to enter the land for 40 years, until that generation had passed away. Goliath wasn’t the only of those giants still around during the time of David. Here’s the mention of two battles between David’s forces and the Philistines from 1 Chronicles 20:4, 6 (NRSV):
After this, war broke out with the Philistines at Gezer; then Sibbecai … killed Sippai, who was one of the descendants of the giants; and the Philistines were subdued...
Again there was war at Gath, where there was a man of great size, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; he also was descended from the giants.
So that we don’t think these giants are just legend or exaggeration, here’s a brief report on giants in the Land of Canaan from the IVP Bible Background Commentary:
Champions of this size are not simply a figment of Israelite imagination or the result of embellished legends. The Egyptian letter on Papyrus Anastasi I (thirteenth century B.C.) describes fierce warriors in Canaan who are seven to nine feet tall. Additionally, two female skeletons about seven feet tall from the twelfth century have been found at Tell es-Sa’ideyeh in Transjordan.
3. Accuracy of Slings
Regarding the sling, it is estimated that a skilled slinger could hurl a stone at more than one hundred miles per hour. The effective range was probably about one hundred yards. These ancient slings were not like the Y-shaped slingshot we think of. The stone was held in a leather pouch with cords attached at opposite ends. The sling was whirled over the head until the person let go of one of the ends, opening the pouch and sending the stone flying.
4. Psychological Warfare
Goliath’s insults and curses against the Israelites, David and his God reflect an early type of psychological warfare. These insults were intended to demoralize and intimidate your opponents. In those days the warriors were generally understood to be stand-ins for their gods, who were really the ones who were doing battle. The insults were aimed at the opposing army’s gods, and they were calling down curses on the enemy from their own gods. That’s why David reacted to Goliath’s insults the way he did, saying:
“Who is this heathen Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26b, paraphrased)
We will take a look at what we can learn from this story of David and Goliath in the next post.