Poole on 1 Samuel 17:8-11: Goliath's Challenge

Verse 8:[1] And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye (1 Sam. 8:17) servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me.


[Why have ye come?[2] etc.] Why are ye come out? or, will ye come out? that is to say, it is not necessary that ye all come out (Vatablus). Why would ye come forth? that is to say, What is the need to come forth with the battle line set in array, since the matter is able to be settled with a lesser with less production, that is, by single combat between me and one of you (Piscator out of Junius).


[I am a Philistine] That is, born of a free and bellicose people: ye are the servants of Saul, that is, who, although ye were free, have submitted your necks to the royal yoke (Hostus’ Concerning the Duel of David and Goliath 6).


[Choose you a man from you, etc.] Such offers were common in those ages: as between the Spartans and the Argives[3] in the time of Othryades;[4] between the Romans and the Albans,[5] when the Horatii and Curiatii fought[6] (Grotius); between Paris and Menelaus,[7] Iliad 3. Goliath proposes this so that this war might be concluded with less loss, and with greater fruit (Hostus).


Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me: That the battle may be decided by us two alone. Such offers were frequent in those times. And possibly he thought the valiant Jonathan, who had assaulted a whole army, would never have refused this challenge. But God so ordered the matter, that none should accept it, because he would reserve this honour for David, as a step to his kingdom.


Verse 9:[8] If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and (1 Sam. 11:1) serve us.


[If he be able to fight with me, etc.] It is occasionally lawful to turn a war into a duel: when it is done by public authority, that by the slaying of one the slaughter of many might be avoided (Lapide). Thus the Philistine speaks; but we do not read that this condition was here agreed upon by the parties. Saul, who was not certain of the event, was obliged not to expose the whole people of God to the danger of servitude to the Philistines. Neither did the Philistines stand to the pact, but fled (Estius).


[Ye shall be servants, and serve us] The doubling carries force: and they are the words of one confidently promising victory to himself; that is to say, ye shall certainly serve us (Malvenda).


Verse 10:[9] And the Philistine said, I (1 Sam. 17:26; 2 Sam. 21:21) defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.


[I myself have reproached,[10] etc.] I translate it, as far as I am concerned, I have insulted, etc., that is, by challenging the Israelites to single combat, to which not one of them dares to descend. Thus below, verses 25 and 26. The Nominative is posited absolutely, as the distinguishing accent shows[11] (Piscator).


Verse 11:[12] When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.


[They were astounded and afraid] Thus they were frozen with faintheartedness, because they were not trusting in the promises of God. Previously one Jonathan had routed the army of the Philistines; now the whole army of the Israelites does not dare to set itself in opposition to one Goliath. And that is strange, especially in the case of Jonathan. But here we see that holy men are not always the same, nor are they conducted by the same spirit and impetus. These are signs of God, either angry and hostile, or favorable and propitious. If we believe in God, one of ours shall put to flight a thousand enemies: If we believe not, a thousand of ours will not be sufficient for one.[13] Moreover, God willed this victory to be destined for one David, and that he come known from these beginnings (Martyr).


They were dismayed, and greatly afraid: Which may seem strange, considering the glorious promises, and their late experiences of Divine assistance. But the truth is, all men do so entirely depend upon God in all things, that when he withdraws his help, the most valiant and resolute persons cannot find their hearts nor hands, as daily experience shows.

[1] Hebrew: וַֽיַּעֲמֹ֗ד וַיִּקְרָא֙ אֶל־מַעַרְכֹ֣ת יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לָהֶ֔ם לָ֥מָּה תֵצְא֖וּ לַעֲרֹ֣ךְ מִלְחָמָ֑ה הֲל֧וֹא אָנֹכִ֣י הַפְּלִשְׁתִּ֗י וְאַתֶּם֙ עֲבָדִ֣ים לְשָׁא֔וּל בְּרוּ־לָכֶ֥ם אִ֖ישׁ וְיֵרֵ֥ד אֵלָֽי׃ [2] Hebrew: לָ֥מָּה תֵצְא֖וּ. [3] Argos is a city on the Peloponnese of Greece. [4] In the mid-sixth century BC, the Spartans and the Argives both sought control of Thyrea. Instead of general war, they each selected three hundred champions for the battle. Two Argives survived, and returned to Argos to report the victory. One Spartan survived, Othryades, and he stayed on the field to loot the bodies. Both sides claimed victory: the Argives, because two champions survived; the Spartans, because the Argive champions had retreated from the field. And so general fighting broke out anyway, leading to a Spartan victory. Othryades, ashamed to be the sole survivor of the three hundred, committed suicide on the battlefield. [5] The inhabitants of Alba Longa in central Italy. [6] In the mid-seventh century BC, conflict erupted between the Romans and Albans. Both sides feared that a general war might open the door to Etruscan invasion, so each chose three champions. The battle was committed to champions: the Horatii, Roman warrior triplets; and their Alban counterparts, the Curiatii. Publius, one of the Roman Horatii, survived and was victorious. [7] Paris represented Troy; Menelaus, the Greek forces. [8] Hebrew: אִם־יוּכַ֞ל לְהִלָּחֵ֤ם אִתִּי֙ וְהִכָּ֔נִי וְהָיִ֥ינוּ לָכֶ֖ם לַעֲבָדִ֑ים וְאִם־אֲנִ֤י אֽוּכַל־לוֹ֙ וְהִכִּיתִ֔יו וִהְיִ֤יתֶם לָ֙נוּ֙ לַעֲבָדִ֔ים וַעֲבַדְתֶּ֖ם אֹתָֽנוּ׃ [9] Hebrew: וַ֙יֹּאמֶר֙ הַפְּלִשְׁתִּ֔י אֲנִ֗י חֵרַ֛פְתִּי אֶת־מַעַרְכ֥וֹת יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה תְּנוּ־לִ֣י אִ֔ישׁ וְנִֽלָּחֲמָ֖ה יָֽחַד׃ [10] Hebrew: אֲנִ֗י חֵרַ֛פְתִּי. [11] The Rebia (֗) is a comparatively strong disjunctive accent. [12] Hebrew: וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ע שָׁאוּל֙ וְכָל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֥י הַפְּלִשְׁתִּ֖י הָאֵ֑לֶּה וַיֵּחַ֥תּוּ וַיִּֽרְא֖וּ מְאֹֽד׃ [13] See Leviticus 26:8; Deuteronomy 32:30; Joshua 23:10.

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