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1 Samuel 17:4

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

There went out a champion - Our word champion comes from campus, the field; Campio est enim ille qui pugnat in campo, hoc est, in castris, "Champion is he, properly, who fights in the field; i.e., in camps." A man well skilled in arms, strong, brave, and patriotic.

But is this the meaning of the original הבנים איש ish habbenayim, a middle man, the man between two; that is, as here, the man who undertakes to settle the disputes between two armies or nations. So our ancient champions settled disputes between contending parties by what was termed camp fight, hence the campio or champion. The versions know not well what to make of this man. The Vulgate calls him sir spurius, "a bastard;" the Septuagint, ανηρ δυνατος, "a strong or powerful man;" the Targum, מביניהון גברא gabra mibbeyneyhon, "a man from between them;" the Arabic, rujil jibar, "a great or gigantic man;" the Syriac is the same; and Josephus terms him ανηρ παμμεγεθιστατος, "an immensely great man." The Vulgate has given him the notation of spurius or bastard, because it considered the original as expressing a son of two, i.e., a man whose parents are unknown. Among all these I consider our word champion, as explained above, the best and most appropriate to the original terms.

Whose height was six cubits and a span - The word cubit signifies the length from cubitus, the elbow, to the top of the middle finger, which is generally rated at one foot six inches. The span is the distance from the top of the middle finger to the end of the thumb, when extended as far as they can stretch on a plain; this is ordinarily nine inches. Were we sure that these were the measures, and their extent, which are intended in the original words, we could easily ascertain the height of this Philistine; it would then be nine feet nine inches, which is a tremendous height for a man.

But the versions are not all agreed in his height. The Septuagint read τεσσαρων πηχεων και σπιθαμης, four cubits and a span; and Josephus reads the same. It is necessary however to observe that the Septuagint, in the Codex Alexandrinus, read with the Hebrew text. But what was the length of the ancient cubit? This has been variously computed; eighteen inches, twenty inches and a half, and twenty-one inches. If we take the first measurement, he was nine feet nine; if the second, and read palm instead of span, with the Vulgate and others, he was ten feet seven inches and a half; if we take the last, which is the estimate of Graevius, with the span, he was eleven feet three inches; or if we go to the exactest measurement, as laid down in Bishop Cumberland's tables, where he computes the cubit at 21.888 inches, the span at 10.944 inches, and the palm at 3.684 inches, then the six cubits and the span will make exactly 11 feet 10.272 inches. If we take the palm instead of the span, then the height will be 11 feet 3.012 inches. But I still think that the nine feet nine inches is the most reasonable.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

A champion - literally, “a man between the two camps:” i. e., one who did not fight in the ranks like an ordinary soldier, but came forth into the space between the hostile camps to challenge the mightiest man of his enemies to come and fight him.

Goliath of Gath - One of the places mentioned in Joshua 11:22 as still retaining a remnant of the sons of Anak; Gaza and Ashdod being the others. The race of giants (the Rephaim, from רפא râphâ' ) is mentioned again in the account of David‘s Philistine wars 2 Samuel 21:15-22; 1 Chronicles 20:4-8. It appears from these passages that Goliath had a brother Lahmi. Four are named as being “born to the giant in Gath.” See Deuteronomy 2:10-11, Deuteronomy 2:20-21; Deuteronomy 3:11-13.

Six cubits … - If the cubit, the length from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, is about 1 12 feet; and the span, the distance from the thumb to the middle or little finger, when stretched apart to the full length, be half a cubit, six cubits and a span would equal about nine feet nine inches. The bed of Og king of Bashan was nine cubits long Deuteronomy 3:11.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Men so entirely depend upon God in all things, that when he withdraws his help, the most valiant and resolute cannot find their hearts or hands, as daily experience shows.
Ellen G. White
Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4a, 79

Especially was the heart of Jonathan knit with David's, and there was a most sacred bond of union established between them, which remained unbroken till the death of Saul and Jonathan. This was the Lord's doings, that Jonathan might be the means of preserving the life of David, when Saul would try to kill him. God's providence connected David with Saul, that by his wise behaviour he might obtain the confidence of the people, and by a long course of hardships and vicissitudes be led to put his entire trust in God, while he was preparing him to become ruler of his people. 4aSG 79.1

When the Philistines renewed war with Israel, David was permitted to go to his father's house to resume the occupation of shepherd which he loved. The Philistines dare not venture their large armies against Israel, as they had heretofore done, fearing they would be overcome and fall before Israel. They are ignorant of the weakness of Israel. They know not that Saul and his people have great anxiety, and dare not commence the battle with them, fearing that Israel will be overcome. But the Philistines propose their own manner of warfare, in selecting a man of great size and strength, whose height is about twelve feet, and they send this champion forth to provoke a combat with Israel, requesting them to send out a man to fight with him. He was terrible in appearance, and spoke proudly, and defied the armies of Israel and their God. 4aSG 79.2

For forty days this proud boaster filled Israel with terror, and made Saul greatly afraid, for no one dared to venture to combat with the mighty giant. Israel, on account of their transgressions had not that sacred trust in God which would lead them to battle in his name. But God would not suffer an idolatrous nation to lift their heads proudly against the Ruler of the universe. He saved Israel, not by the hand of Saul, but by the hand of David, whom he had raised up to rule his people. 4aSG 80.1

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Ellen G. White
Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4a, 79-82

Especially was the heart of Jonathan knit with David's, and there was a most sacred bond of union established between them, which remained unbroken till the death of Saul and Jonathan. This was the Lord's doings, that Jonathan might be the means of preserving the life of David, when Saul would try to kill him. God's providence connected David with Saul, that by his wise behaviour he might obtain the confidence of the people, and by a long course of hardships and vicissitudes be led to put his entire trust in God, while he was preparing him to become ruler of his people. 4aSG 79.1

When the Philistines renewed war with Israel, David was permitted to go to his father's house to resume the occupation of shepherd which he loved. The Philistines dare not venture their large armies against Israel, as they had heretofore done, fearing they would be overcome and fall before Israel. They are ignorant of the weakness of Israel. They know not that Saul and his people have great anxiety, and dare not commence the battle with them, fearing that Israel will be overcome. But the Philistines propose their own manner of warfare, in selecting a man of great size and strength, whose height is about twelve feet, and they send this champion forth to provoke a combat with Israel, requesting them to send out a man to fight with him. He was terrible in appearance, and spoke proudly, and defied the armies of Israel and their God. 4aSG 79.2

For forty days this proud boaster filled Israel with terror, and made Saul greatly afraid, for no one dared to venture to combat with the mighty giant. Israel, on account of their transgressions had not that sacred trust in God which would lead them to battle in his name. But God would not suffer an idolatrous nation to lift their heads proudly against the Ruler of the universe. He saved Israel, not by the hand of Saul, but by the hand of David, whom he had raised up to rule his people. 4aSG 80.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, 218-20

In the presentation of unpopular truth, which involves a heavy cross, preachers should be careful that every word is as God would have it. Their words should never cut. They should present the truth in humility, with the deepest love for souls and an earnest desire for their salvation, and let the truth cut. They should not defy ministers of other denominations and seek to provoke a debate. They should not stand in a position like that of Goliath when he defied the armies of Israel. Israel did not defy Goliath, but Goliath made his proud boasts against God and His people. The defying, the boasting, and the railing must come from the opposers of truth, who act the Goliath. But none of this spirit should be seen in those whom God has sent forth to proclaim the last message of warning to a doomed world. 3T 218.1

Goliath trusted in his armor. He terrified the armies of Israel by his defiant, savage boastings, while he made a most imposing display of his armor, which was his strength. David, in his humility and zeal for God and his people, proposed to meet this boaster. Saul consented and had his own kingly armor placed upon David. But he would not consent to wear it. He laid off the king's armor, for he had not proved it. He had proved God and, in trusting in Him, had gained special victories. To put on Saul's armor would give the impression that he was a warrior, when he was only little David who tended the sheep. He did not mean that any credit be given to the armor of Saul, for his trust was in the Lord God of Israel. He selected a few pebbles from the brook, and with his sling and staff, his only weapons, he went forth in the name of the God of Israel to meet the armed warrior. 3T 218.2

Goliath disdained David, for his appearance was that of a mere youth untaught in the tactics of warfare. Goliath railed upon David and cursed him by his gods. He felt that it was an insult upon his dignity to have a mere stripling, without so much as an armor, come to meet him. He made his boast of what he would do to him. David did not become irritated because he was looked upon as so inferior, neither did he tremble at his terrible threats, but replied: “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.” David tells Goliath that in the name of the Lord he will do to him the very things that Goliath had threatened to do to David. “And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord's, and He will give you into our hands.” 3T 219.1

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