Damien F. Mackey
Dr. Courville’s discussion of the Philistines at the time of Iarim-Lim,
an older contemporary of Hammurabi – but a younger contemporary of
King David – whilst correctly identifying these as biblical Philistines,
has consequently set them in the wrong era.
PHILISTINES: ERA OF SAUL AND DAVID
The later Judges era is wrongly thought to have coincided with the massive invasion of the “Sea Peoples” during the reign of Ramses (so-called) III of the (so-called) Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt. Ramses actually belongs roughly half a millennium after the Judges.
The following gives the standard (but incorrect) view:
“Between 1276 and 1178 BC, a confederation of pirates known collectively as the Sea Peoples terrorized the coastal cities and civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean. For the most part, these pirates, who were the Bronze Age precursors to the Vikings of Scandinavia, preyed upon Egypt, which at that time was in its New Kingdom period.
What followed was a series of destructive raids that culminated in two major battles—the Battle of Djahy and the Battle of the Delta. The former, a land battle, was won by the army of Pharaoh Ramses III. The latter, a naval battle, not only repulsed one of the last major invasions by the Sea Peoples but may very well have saved ancient Egyptian civilization.
Despite their important role in history and the widely held notion that they were responsible for the Late Bronze Age Collapse, a near-catastrophic decline in civilization throughout the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, the Sea Peoples remain the subject of controversy.
Although there are many areas of consensus, some historians and archaeologists continue to discover new interpretations. …”.
Naturally, given the conventional context, a common conclusion is that the “Sea Peoples” – or part thereof – were the Philistines who were a prominent element during the time of the Judges (e.g. Samson’s foes). And that is a tentative conclusion reached in the above article:
Depicted as the archvillains of the ancient Israelites in the Old Testament, the Philistines settled the southern coast of Israel (which today includes the Gaza Strip). After establishing settlements, the Philistines formed a confederation of city-states that included Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron.
The Philistines came into conflict with the Israelites once they started expanding their power beyond their coastal domains. Because of this conflict, the Israelites not only demonized the Philistines but made actual demons out of their gods, including the fish god Dagon. Elsewhere in the Bible, the Philistines were synthesized in the form of the giant Goliath, a proud, loutish warrior who is bested by the small and humble fighter David.
Outside of the Bible, the Philistines are mentioned in several Syrian, Phoenician, and Egyptian letters. While it is generally considered that the Philistines were a group of Sea Peoples who settled the area, not everyone agrees on their exact origins.
Dr. Courville had disputed such a view, clearly demonstrating (via their distinctive pottery) that the biblical Philistines were a Cretan people – going right back to Neolithic Crete – whereas the “Sea Peoples” were essentially Aegean. The coalition of “Sea Peoples” admittedly did include Philistines (Sherden, Peleset, Denyen, Shekelesh and others), or Peleset.
Dr. Courville has located the “Sea Peoples” and their pottery stratigraphically to Iron Age I, whereas the somewhat different Middle Bronze pottery belongs to late Judges and era of Saul:
- The Culture of the Sea Peoples in the Era of the Late Judges
The new pottery found at Askelon [Ashkelon] at the opening of Iron I, and correlated with the invasion of the Sea Peoples, was identified as of Aegean origin. A similar, but not identical, pottery has been found in the territory north of Palestine belonging to the much earlier era of late Middle Bronze.
By popular views, this is prior to the Israelite occupation of Palestine. By the altered chronology, this is the period of the late judges and the era of Saul.
… That the similar pottery of late Middle Bronze, occurring both in the north and in the south, is related to the culture found only in the south at the later date is apparent from the descriptions of the two cultures. Of this earlier culture, which should be dated to the time of Saul, Miss Kenyon commented:
The pottery does in fact provide very useful evidence about culture. The first interesting point is the wealth of a particular class of painted pottery …. The decoration is bichrome, nearly always red and black, and the most typical vessels have a combination of metopes enclosing a bird or a fish with geometric decoration such as a “Union Jack” pattern or a Catherine wheel.
At Megiddo the first bichrome pottery is attributed to Stratum X, but all the published material comes from tombs intrusive into this level. It is in fact characteristic of Stratum IX. Similar pottery is found in great profusion in southern Palestine …
Very similar vessels are also found on the east coast of Cyprus and on the coastal Syrian sites as far north as Ras Shamra.
Drawings of typical examples of this pottery show the same stylized bird with back-turned head that characterized the pottery centuries later at Askelon.
… The anachronisms and anomalies in the current views on the interpretation of this invasion and its effects on Palestine are replaced by a consistent picture, and one that is in agreement with the background provided by Scripture for the later era in the very late [sic] 8th century B.C. ….
I have already discussed Dr. Courville’s mistake (in my opinion) in re-dating Hammurabi from c. 1800 BC to the – admittedly closer to what is correct – era of Joshua.
This, however, is still roughly half a millennium too early.
And I have noted that some astute revisionists have followed Dr. Courville into this same chronological trap.
Dr. Courville’s discussion of the Philistines at the time of Iarim-Lim, an older contemporary of Hammurabi – but a younger contemporary of King David – whilst correctly identifying these as biblical Philistines, has consequently set them in the wrong era.
I wrote the following (very Courville-based) sections regarding Iarim-Lim, the Philistines (Cretans), the archaeology of Alalakh, and the era of King Saul:
The Earlier Philistine History
It remains to be determined whether or not the Philistines can be traced all the way back to Crete in accordance with the biblical data; though obviously, from what has been said, to well before the time of the ‘Sea Peoples’, whose immediate origins were Aegean, not Cretan.
Courville has looked to trace just such an archaeological trail, back through the era of the late Judges/Saul; to Alalakh (modern Atchana) at the time of Iarim-Lim (Yarim-Lim) of Iamkhad (Yamkhad) and Hammurabi of Babylon; and finally to Crete in early dynastic times. I shall be basically reproducing Courville here, though with one significant chronological divergence, in regard to his dating of the Alalakh sequences. Courville has, according to my own chronological estimation for Hammurabi and Iarim-Lim, based on Hickman … dated the Hammurabic era about four centuries too early (as opposed to the conventional system’s seven centuries too early) on the time scale.
Courville had wonderfully described Hammurabi as “floating about in a liquid chronology of Chaldea”, just after his having also correctly stated that: … “Few problems of ancient chronology have been the topic of more extensive debate among scholars than the dates to be ascribed to the Babylonian king Hammurabi and his dynasty …”. And so he set out to establish Hammurabi in a more secure historical setting.
This, I do not think he managed successfully to achieve however.
Courville’s re-location of Hammurabi to the approximate time of Joshua and the Conquest is still fairly “liquid” chronologically, as it seems to me, without his having been able to establish any plausible syncretisms beyond those already known for Hammurabi (e.g. with Shamsi-Adad I and Zimri-Lim).
Revisionist Hickman on the other hand, despite his radical lowering of the Hammurabic era even beyond the standard [Velikovsky-date lowering] scale, by about seven centuries to the time of kings David and Solomon (c. C10th BC), has been able to propose and develop what are to my way of thinking some promising syncretisms, e.g. between David’s Syrian foe, Hadadezer, and Shamsi-Adad I (c. 1809-1776 BC, conventional dates), with the latter’s father Ilu-kabkabu being the biblical Rekhob, father of Hadadezer (2 Samuel 8:3); … and between Iarim-Lim and the biblical Joram (var. Hadoram), son of To’i, and prince of Hamath (cf. 2 Samuel 8:10 and 1 Chronicles 18:10).
I shall have cause to re-visit some of these kings in the following chapter.
So now, with Hammurabi and his era somewhat more securely located, as I think, than according to Courville’s proposed re-location – and hence with the potential for a more accurate archaeological matrix – we can continue on with Courville’s excellent discussion of the archaeology of the early Philistines: ….
- The Culture of Level VI at Alalakh Is Related to That of the Philistines
He commences by recalling Sir Leonard Woolley’s investigations at this site in the 1930’s, during which Woolley discovered “seventeen archaeological levels of occupation”:
A solid synchronism is at hand to correlate Level VII at Alalakh with the era of Hammurabi of the First Dynasty at Babylon …. The basis for this synchronism is found in the Mari Letters where it is stated that “… there are ten or fifteen kings who follow Hammurabi of Babylon and ten or fifteen who follow Rim-sin of Larsa but twenty kings follow Yarim-Lim of Yamkhad”.
Investigations at Alalakh revealed numerous tablets inscribed in cuneiform, most of which are by the third of the three kings of the dynasty, Yarim-Lim by name.
…. Since the First Dynasty at Babylon was of Amorite origin, then so also was the Yarim-Lim dynasty of Amorite origin.
In the reports by Woolley, he indicates the find at Alalakh of two characteristic pottery types which were designated as “White-Slip milk bowls” and “Base-Ring Ware”. As the digging proceeded downward, he found that such types of pottery were plentiful in Level VI, all but disappeared in Level VII, and then reappeared in all levels from VIII to XVI. Level VII, which did not contain the pottery, was the level containing the inscribed tablets of the Yarim-Lim dynasty. The obvious conclusion was that the people of Yarim-Lim (Amorites) had conquered this city and probably also the surrounding territory, ruling it for a period estimated to have been about 50 years. At the end of this time, the original inhabitants were able to reconquer the site and reoccupy it.
Courville now turns his attention to seeking an identity for the people from whom the city of Alalakh was taken for about half a century, but who then reoccupied it: ….
What then was this culture like …? We let Woolley tell us about the culture:
… We do indeed know extremely little about the Level VI buildings. It is to the pottery that we must look for information about Level VI, and the pottery can tell us a good deal. On the one hand we have what I have called the “nationalist revival” of the traditional painted ware which had been suppressed under the late regime, and some examples of this are perfect replicas of the old both in form and in decoration, but as time goes on, there appear modifications of the long-established types – instead of the isolated and static figures of birds or animals these become active and are combined in running scenes surrounding the whole pot without the interruption of the triglyph-like partitions which were once the rule …
For the first time we get a polychrome decoration in red and black paint on a buff surface, and the design includes not only birds but the “Union Jack” motive which is specially characteristic of contemporary Palestine … [Emphasis Courville’s]
As one examines this pottery description, he will be struck with the notable similarities of decoration found on the pottery at Megiddo for the era of Philistine occupation in the time of Saul. There is the same use of red and black paint, the similar use of birds as a decoration motif, and the same use of the “Union Jack”. ….
DAVID NOT INFLUENCED BY AKHNATON
A never-ending theme in ancient history books relating to the Bible is how the pagans influenced the thought and literature of the Hebrews.
To give just a few of endless examples: the Genesis Flood narrative is said to be based on the Epic of Gilgamesh; the Exodus account of baby Moses supposedly based upon the legend of Sargon of Akkad; the Law of Moses based on the Code of Hammurabi.
And here is another one. The henotheistic idolater, Pharaoh Akhnaton, often appallingly described as the “world’s first monotheist” – one of whose followers Sigmund Freud thought to have been Moses himself – is said to have influenced Psalm 104 of King David.
The Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian ruler, Akhnaton (c. 1351-1334 BC, conventional dating), is commonly identified today as Moses himself. That is the view, for instance, of Islamic writer, Ahmed Osman: https://grahamhancock.com/moses-akhenaten-same-person-osman/
Now Ahmed Osman, using recent archaeological discoveries and historical documents, contends that Akhenaten and Moses were one and the same person.
In a stunning retelling of the Exodus story, Osman details the events of Moses/Akhenaten’s life: how he was brought up by Israelite relatives, ruled Egypt for seventeen years, angered many of his subjects by replacing the traditional Egyptian pantheon with worship of Aten, and was forced to abdicate the throne. Retreating to exile in Sinai with his Egyptian and Israelite supporters, he died out of the sight of his followers, presumably at the hands of Seti I, after an unsuccessful attempt to regain his throne.
Osman reveals the Egyptian components in the monotheism preached by Moses as well as his use of Egyptian royal and Egyptian religious expression. He shows that even the Ten Commandments betray the direct influence of Spell 125 in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Osman’s book, Moses and Akhenaten provides a radical challenge to the long-standing beliefs concerning the origin of Semitic religion and the puzzle of Akhenaten’s deviation from ancient Egyptian tradition. In fact, if Osman’s contentions are right, many major Old Testament figures would be of Egyptian origin. ….
Having myself read various of Osman’s writings, I can vouch that he must rank as one of the world’s most confused would-be historians.
David Rohl has, by locating kings David and Saul to the approximate time of Akhnaton -whereas these two kings of Israel well preceded Akhnaton – opened the door, perhaps, for Akhnaton’s hymns to have influenced David.
According to a review of David Rohl’s book, A Test of Time: The Bible – From Myth to History:
“An intriguing synchronism in the New Chronology is that the heretical pharaoh Akhenaten [Akhnaton] is a contemporary of Saul and David. Akhenaten’s “Hymn to the Aten” may have inspired one of the Biblical psalms.
This is easily explained if Akhenaten and David were contemporaries (and if parts of Psalms really are Davidic), but seems more difficult to fathom if Akhenaten lived several centuries before David, especially if we also assume that the Psalms attributed to David weren’t composed until long after the king’s death. Why would a hymn written by a heretical pharaoh survive for centuries in some obscure corner of Palestine? Surely it’s more parsimonious to explain it by cultural diffusion during Akhenaten’s own lifetime?”
Rohl’s is already a huge improvement on the text book history of Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty, according to which pharaoh Akhnaton (Amenhotep IV), c. 1350 BC, would have preceded King David by more than two centuries.
In David Rohl’s book, King Saul is identified with Lab’ayu of the El Amarna [EA] period, contemporaneous with pharaohs Amenhotep III and IV (Akhnaton). Hence, through cultural interchange, one might expect from such a scenario certain likenesses between the pharaonic literature of EA and the Davidic writings.
This is not nearly so likely, however, in the context of the conventional scheme whose protagonists must inevitably argue for an Egyptian influence upon a much later King David – of Akhnaton’s Sun Hymn upon Psalm 104.
Have we not already encountered cases whereby historians must, owing to a false chronology, insist upon the pagan world’s having influenced the Hebrew (biblical) one?
Kings Saul and David, we have already found, were contemporaries of Egypt’s early Eighteenth Dynasty rulers: Ahmose I; Amenhotep I; and Thutmose I. The latter, c. 1500 BC conventional dating, apparently a late contemporary of King David’s, pre-dated pharaoh Akhnaton (c. 1350 BC) by about one and a half centuries.
So only David could have influenced Akhnaton, not vice versa.
But the literary, psalmic and wisdom writings of, collectively, King David and his son Solomon – not to mention their religion, the Temple ritual, architecture, royal ceremonies, fleet – would begin to assert their influence upon a contemporary Egypt well before the EA period. Pharaoh Thutmose I will, as we shall later read, use the same tri-partite coronation ceremony for his daughter, Hatshepsut, that David would use in the case of his son, Solomon. And, during the co-reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, Genesis and Davidic literature, including Solomon-like love poetry, would pour into an Egypt ruled by Hatshepsut, “the Queen of Sheba”, who had been “overwhelmed” by what she had seen in King Solomon’s Jerusalem (I Kings 10:5).
CONTEMPORARY SHEPHERD KINGS
With the reign of King Saul now estimated to have been far less than the customarily-accepted 40 years – following Josephus’s testimony that it was more like 20 years, and further diminished by Dr. John Osgood to 10-15 years – then David, already anointed by the prophet Samuel to replace Saul (who, due to his folly, had been rejected), did not have to wait so unreasonable a length of time to assume the rulership of Israel.
One could describe David’s life during his service to King Saul, as, ‘never a dull moment’.
King Saul was indeed a mercurial character, totally unpredictable.
Naturally, Samuel had been nervous about visiting Jesse of Bethlehem for the purpose of anointing one of his sons to the kingship (I Samuel 16:1-2):
The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king’.
But Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me’.
Even the wise Samuel had been inclined to judge by appearances (“height”) the worth of Jesse’s sons (v. 6): “When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord’.”
But, in an interesting glimpse into the Lord’s thinking, we then read (v. 7): “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’.”
Had not Saul himself, who would so miserably fail as king, been a man of the most striking height and appearance (I Samuel 9:2): “Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else”?
David, the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, was not even present (v. 11): “‘There is still the youngest’, Jesse answered. ‘He is tending the sheep’.”
It is this characteristic that would mark David’s kingship, ‘tending his sheep’.
He was, like Jesus Christ, a true “Shepherd King”, modelling himself upon “the Lord [who was his] Shepherd” (Psalm 22, Douay).
Kings at this time (revised) came to describe themselves from this time onwards as Shepherds.
For example (Hammurabi Stele):
I, Hammurabi, the shepherd,
have gathered abundance and plenty,
have stormed the four quarters of the world,
have magnified the fame of Babylon,
and have elated the mind of Marduk my lord.
And compare this one: “Prince Rim-Sîn, you are the shepherd, the desire of his heart”, with the shepherd, David’s being “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22).
Rim-Sin was a ruler of Larsa in Sumer (southern Mesopotamia) during the reign of Hammurabi of Babylon (slightly later than King David).
Rim-sin’s prayerful sentiments can be very David-like – even quasi-monotheistic:
“-7……, who is fitted for holy lustration rites, Rim-Sîn, purification priest of An, who is fitted for pure prayers rites, whom you summoned from the holy womb ……, has been elevated to lordship over the Land; he has been installed as shepherd over the black-headed. The staff which strengthens the Land has been placed in his hand. The shepherd’s crook which guides the living people has been attached at his side. As he steps forward before you, he is lavishly supplied with everything that he offers with his pure hands.
8-20Your attentive youth, your beloved king, the good shepherd Rìm-Sîn, who determines what should be brought as offerings for his life, joyfully pours out offerings for you in the holy royal cultic locations which are perfect for the cultic vessels: sweet-smelling milk and grain, rich produce of the Land, riches of the meadows, unending abundance, alcoholic drink, glistening wine, very sweet emmer beer fermented with pure substances, pure …… powerful beer made doubly strong with wine, a drink for your lordship; double-strength beer, superior beer, befitting your holy hands, pale honey exported from the mountains, which you have specifically requested, butter from holy cows, ghee as is proper for you as prince; pressed oil, best oil of the first pressing, and yellow cream, the pride of the cow-pen, for the holy abode of your godhead.
21-26Accept from him with your joyful heart pure food to eat as food, and pure water to drink as water: offerings made for you. Grant his prayer: you are indeed respected. When he humbly speaks fair words to you, speak so that he may live. Guide him correctly at the holy lordly cultic locations, at the august lordly cultic locations. Greet him as he comes to perform his cultic functions.
27-37May his kingship exist forever in your presence. May he be the first of the Land, called (?) lord and prince. Following your commands he shall be as unshakeable as heaven and earth; may he be …… over the numerous people. May the mother goddesses among the gods attend to his utterances; may they sit in silence before that which he says, and bring restorative life. May he create heart’s joy for the population, and be the good provider for their days. May the terrifying splendour that he wears cover like a heavy raincloud the king who is hated by him. May all the best what he has be brought here as their offerings.
38-52The good shepherd Rim-Sîn looks to you as to his personal god. Grant him …… a life that he loves, and bestow joy on him. May you renew it like the daylight. As he prays to you, attend to his ……. When he speaks most fair words to you, sustain his life power for him. May he be respected ……, and have no rivals. As he makes supplication to you, make his days long. In the …… of life, …… the power of kingship. May his correct words be ever ……. May he create heart’s joy in his ……. …… make the restorative …… rest upon him, the lion of lordship. When he beseeches you, let his exterior (?) …… shine. Give him …… life ……. May you bring …… for his life with your holy words. Hear him favourably as he lifts his hands in prayer, and decide a good destiny for him.
53-69As his life ……, so may it delight his land. Cast the four quarters at his feet, and let him be their ruler. Reclining in meadows in his own land, may he pass his days joyously with you ……. In the palace, lengthen the days and reign of Rim-Sîn, your compliant king who is there for you; whose name you, Acimbabbar, have named, …… life. …… the august good headdress. …… due praise for his life. …… the throne, and may the land be safe. May satisfaction and joy fill his heart. May …… be good for his ……. Place in his hand the sceptre of justice; may the numerous people be bound (?) to it. Shining brightly, the constant …… in his ……. Confer on him the benefit of months of delight and joy, and bestow on him numerous years as infinite in number as the stars in the lapis-lazuli coloured heavens. In his kingship may he enjoy a happy reign forever.
70-85May you preserve the king, the good provider. May you preserve Rim-Sîn, the good provider. May his reign be a source of delight to you. Lengthen the days of his life, and give him kingship over the restored land. For him gladden the heart of the land, for him make the roads of the land passable. For him make the Land speak with a single voice. May you preserve alive Rim-Sîn, your shepherd with the compliant heart. May his canals bring water for him, and may barley grow for him in the fields. May the orchards and gardens bring forth syrup and wine for him, and may the marshes deliver fish and fowl for him in abundance. May the cattle-pens and sheepfolds teem with animals, and may rain from the heavens, whose waters are sporadic, be regular for him. May the palace be filled with long life. O Rim-Sîn, you are my king!”
Compare, for example, King David’s Psalm 60 (Douay), otherwise Psalm 61:6-7:
‘Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him’.
According to Timothy S. Laniak (Shepherds After My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible, p. 63): “By the beginning of the second millennium BC [sic] Akkadian and Amorite kings were using conventional shepherd language to describe themselves”.
When David – young, but mature beyond his years – indignant at the mockery being publicly and loudly uttered by the Gath-ite champion, Goliath – ‘defying the armies of the living God’ – was told by King Saul that he was not experienced enough to fight against the Philistine, he will apprise the king of the extreme dangers that he had already faced as a shepherd: ‘When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it …’.
Here follows David’s exchange on this occasion with King Saul (I Samuel 17:32-37):
David said to Saul, ‘Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him’.
Saul replied, ‘You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth’.
But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine’.
Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the Lord be with you’.
Young David had been taking supplies from his father Jesse back to his three oldest brothers, and then returning “to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem” (vv. 14-19).
Now these were the very three sons, the “firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah”, whom Samuel had first considered for the anointing (I Samuel 16:6-9). Yet here they were frozen almost to a standstill in the face of the angry Goliath (“all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified”), while David, the youngest of them, was aflame with indignation.
It is a famous story (17:1-11):
Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.
A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.
Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, ‘Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul?
Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us’. Then the Philistine said, ‘This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other’. On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
Eliab, the oldest of Jesse’s boys, the one upon whom Samuel had first fastened, would severely reprimand his youngest brother for intruding into the army’s affairs, also implying that David may have been neglecting their father’s sheep. But we had already been told that David, who was only obeying his father’s instructions, anyway, had “left the flock in the care of a shepherd”. Here follows the feisty David’s exchanges with the Israelite soldiers and with Eliab (vv. 20-31):
Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.
Now the Israelites had been saying, ‘Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel’.
David asked the men standing near him, ‘What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?’
They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, ‘This is what will be done for the man who kills him’.
When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, ‘Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle’.
‘Now what have I done?’ said David. ‘Can’t I even speak?’ He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.
It has been said: “One man’s meat is another man’s poison”. King Saul’s armour, which the huge Benjaminite wore easily, was nothing but cumbersome to the smaller man, David.
To use another saying, it fell ‘all over him like a cheap suit’.
Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. ‘I cannot go in these’, he said to Saul, ‘because I am not used to them’ So he took them off”.
Then, it is back to his shepherding experience (v. 40): “Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine”.
Christians can regard David’s “five smooth stones”, symbolically, as the five wounds of Christ, and again, with the “sling”, as the five-decade Rosary.
Thus Frits Albers introduced his book, “… five smooth stones …” (1998):
In this story David had only one enemy to overcome, and in the hands of a trained, young shepherd like David, each of his five stones was deadly, and each one of them, if selected, would have killed the braggart.
In Christ’s own words the purpose of His coming was not to abolish the Old Covenant, but to complete it, bringing it to perfection. The story of David and Goliath will not be complete until it has served as a model and inspiration for the defeat of all God’s enemies. God has many adversaries, and the five stones of David are a prefiguration of the Five Sacred Wounds of Our Blessed Saviour, with which He overcame the Enemy. In these Five Wounds the story of David came to perfection, ‘and His whole Assembly knows that it is not by sword or spear that God gives victory’. But in His Divine Wisdom and Goodness Christ left still very much to do for us, and so, although perfected, the story is not quite complete: we have to make up for what was still left undone in the Passion of Christ. (Cfr. Col. 1:24). ….
In our own day, two notable unbloody victories were won by the Rosary, over Communism. Both Austria and Brazil were saved from communist domination, by the Rosary.
Thus I say, the Rosary is not primarily a devotion, but a weapon. It was foreshadowed by David’s sling, in the Old testament. With one stone cast from that sling, he felled Goliath, the giant Philistine. He took the giant’s sword, and cut off his head.
If you hold in one hand, outstretched, the crucifix on your Rosary, as you would the cross of a slingshot, and with the other hand outstretched, held the beads against your chest, and you see the resemblance of the Rosary to the slingshot. The five smooth stones of young David took for his sling from the running brook … what are those, but the five mysteries of the Rosary in each of its three parts? Again, the Rosary is that ‘sword of the spirit’ which St. Paul tells us to take for ourselves, along with the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation.
An effect of this, David’s oft-recounted victory over Goliath, would be that the formerly obscure and youngest son of Jesse would now begin his rise to become ‘a household name’ amongst the people of Israel. It was customary in those days, and indeed later, to place on display the head of a renowned enemy (I Samuel 17:54): “David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent”.
The heroine Judith would, about three centuries later, do somewhat likewise with the head of “Holofernes” (Judith 14:1): “Then Judith said to them, ‘My friends, please follow my advice. In the morning, take this head and hang it on the town wall’.”
David now, also, was in personal possession of the “weapons” of Goliath, which would have included the prized Sword of Goliath.
Who is this bold young man, the Israelite leaders were now wondering? (vv. 55-58):
As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, ‘Abner, whose son is that young man?’
Abner replied, ‘As surely as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know’.
The king said, ‘Find out whose son this young man is’.
As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head.
‘Whose son are you, young man?’ Saul asked him.
David said, ‘I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem’.
Saul’s jealousy of David would very quickly raise its ugly head. I Samuel 18:6-7:
When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres. As they danced, they sang:
‘Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands’.
Saul, predictable in his unpredictability, will go from twice attempting to impale David with his spear (vv. 8-11) to telling David that he likes him and wants him to become his son-in-law (v. 22).
David will end up marrying King Saul’s daughter, Michal – a situation that Saul had engineered for his own jealous and malicious purposes, but one that would completely recoil upon him (I Samuel 18:20-29):
Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. “I will give her to him’, he thought, ‘so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him’. So Saul said to David, ‘Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law’.
Then Saul ordered his attendants: ‘Speak to David privately and say, ‘Look, the king likes you, and his attendants all love you; now become his son-in-law’.’
They repeated these words to David. But David said, ‘Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known’.
When Saul’s servants told him what David had said, Saul replied, ‘Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies’.’ Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.
When the attendants told David these things, he was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law. So before the allotted time elapsed, David took his men with him and went out and killed two hundred Philistines and brought back their foreskins. They counted out the full number to the king so that David might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.
When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.
Meanwhile (v. 30): “The Philistine commanders continued to go out to battle, and as often as they did, David met with more success than the rest of Saul’s officers, and his name became well known”.