They Might Be Giants
David and Goliath.
These names evoke a visual response in our mind's eye.
If an NCAA basketball tournament game is described as "David vs. Goliath," we get the metaphor. My favorite example is actually a football game, when Appy State went into "the big house" and beat the Michigan Wolverines in 2007. David took down Goliath. Even if you don't know about that game, you probably get the metaphor.
|This game has it's own Wikipedia page. Fun reading if you're a Spartans fan.|
The story of David and Goliath is found in 1 Samuel 17. David is a shepherd, the youngest of eight sons. His three oldest brothers were in battle against the Philistines and one day David, at the request of his father, left the sheep to bring his big brothers some food.
When David arrives at the battle scene, he witnesses Goliath, a Philistine soldier, challenging the army of Israel to present a worthy foe. In 1 Samuel 17:4 (and later in 17:23), Goliath is called "the man between the two." Translations usually don't call him that. Most call him "champion." What he is, though, is the one who stands between two opposing groups, serving as the best representative of one army, challenging the other army to present their best. Hence, the man between the two. Hence, champion.
The Bible goes on to tell us that Goliath was "six cubits and a span." Since most of us don't use cubits or spans as measurements of length anymore, I'll let you know this means he was probably around 9 feet 9 inches tall. An imposing figure indeed.
But ancient manuscripts of 1 Samuel don't always agree as to how tall Goliath was. A lot of very important, very trustworthy manuscripts say that Goliath was "four cubits and a span" (about 6 feet 9 inches tall). Now at this point I could go into a lot of detail about ancient Hebrew manuscripts and the earliest Greek translations of the Hebrew scriptures and which ones say "six cubits" and which ones say "four cubits," but I suspect that would interest me a lot more than most of the people reading this post. In fact, there's even one manuscript that says "five cubits and a span." It's as if the scribe said, "A bunch of these say six cubits and a bunch of them say four cubits. I guess I'll split the difference."
Let me just say that good arguments have been made on both sides, but when one weighs the evidence of the relevant manuscripts, I think Goliath was probably "four cubits and a span." The oldest copy of 1 Samuel 17 says exactly that.
|This is a portion of a very old copy of 1 Samuel that dates to the 1st century BC. Yep. It was written before the birth of Jesus. A fragment of this scroll identifies Goliath's height as "four cubits and a span."|
Also, it has been argued that at some point, a scribe's eyes accidentally jumped from "cubits" in verse 4 to "hundred" in verse 7 (the words look a lot alike in Hebrew), and the "six" found with "hundred" in verse 7 was then accidentally moved to verse 4. Just a slip of the eyes. Maybe you've done this when you were typing or writing.
I'm sure someone will read this and think, "Great. Here's one more guy trying to take the miraculous out of the Bible. Why can't he just accept the Bible as it is. If the word of God says a shepherd boy whooped a giant, then doggone it, a shepherd boy whooped a giant!"
Here's the thing. The Bible doesn't say that. In fact, Goliath is never called a giant in 1 Samuel 17. Don't take my word for it. Go. Read the story. I'll wait.
I didn't take the giant out of the story. He was never there.
We have grown so accustomed to some of the stories of the Bible that we quit reading them with fresh eyes. Instead, we rely on our memory of the times we heard these stories in Sunday School, church camp, or sermons when we only half listened.
If Goliath is only "four cubits and a span," the story doesn't lose it's power. God used a shepherd boy who was delivering lunch to his soldier brothers to defeat a 6 foot, 9 inch champion (with a slingshot, by the way). Before the story is finished David decapitates Goliath with Goliath's own sword and delivers it to the king of Israel. There's plenty of power in the story, even if Goliath wasn't the tallest human being in the history of the human race.