Painting of David from the Biblical story of David and Goliath.

The Legend of David & Goliath

The legend of David and Goliath comes from the Hebrew Bible. More specifically, from the Book of Samuel. I call it a legend. You might not.

Legends are historical but unverifiable stories. They’re the rivers that flow between myth and history. This particular legend is three thousand years old. I suspect it’s rooted in truth, but how much of that root remains? Even the Hebrew Bible is conflicted, unsure of whether David or Elhanan faced Goliath.

It’s reasonable to think David existed. Most historians agree that he eventually became the king of all the tribes of Israel. It’s said he rose to prominence after his encounter with the giant, Goliath. This is the story of that encounter.

I’ll tell the story in my own words while keeping it true to its original meaning. I’ll explain that meaning after.

The Legend

The Philistines came from the sea, settling along the shores of Gaza, pushing the Twelve Tribes of Israel back into the desert. King Saul gathered the Israelite armies under his banner, and they assembled by the Valley of Elah, prepared to drive back these fierce attackers.

King Saul stood head and shoulders above his fellow Israelites, but a giant stood among the Philistines. Goliath of Gath, they called him. His armour was made of gleaming iron, the work of a master blacksmith. His sword glimmered silver and was said to be magic. He stood over nine feet tall.

Painting of the giant Goliath from the Biblical story of David and Goliath.

Goliath’s voice was so loud that it shook the very ground, so deep that even the mountains trembled. “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Choose your champion so that I may fight him in single combat! If he can kill me, we will become your subjects. But if I kill him, you will be ours!”

King Saul looked upon the giant and saw his death there. He said nothing. Did nothing.

Every morning and evening for the next forty days, Goliath called out to the Israelites, begging them to send a warrior. But none of them could find the courage to answer, and Goliath grew restless.

David was a shepherd and harpist, but three of his older brothers served in King Saul’s army. His father sent David to bring them food. As the four of them sat around the campfire, the ground shook, the mountains trembled, and Goliath’s challenge fell once more upon the Israelites.

“Who is that man?” David asked his brothers.

“Goliath the son of Gath,” his brother Shimeah answered. “They say he was born of his mother’s hundred suiters and has the strength of all of them. The king will give great piles of gold to the man who kills him, but his voice cuts to the very bone, and his sword would surely cut much deeper.”

“I know how conceited you are,” his eldest brother Eliab interjected. “I know how wicked your heart is. You didn’t come to give us food. You came only to watch the battle.”

But instead, David went to King Saul and volunteered to fight Goliath.

King Saul shook his head. “You are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth. You have no chance of killing him.”

But David did not waver. “When lions and bears carried off my father’s sheep, I went after them, hurled rocks upon them, seized them by the hair, and slit their throats. If God can ward me against their claws, he can protect me from the giant’s sword.”

King Saul acquiesced. He doffed his armour and helped the young man into it. It was much too large, and David couldn’t bear its weight. He took the armour off and ventured forth to face the giant with nothing more than his sling and shepherd’s staff.

“Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?” the giant sneered. “Come closer, boy, so that I might feed your flesh to the wolves, though I fear twill only wet their appetite.”

“You carry naught but sword and spear,” David rejoindered, “while I carry the Will of God Himself. Neither the wolves nor the birds nor the beasts will go hungry tonight, for I will strike you down, cut off your head, and make a carcass of your army.”

Goliath drew his great sword and raised it high, but God cared not for size nor strength nor gleaming iron. Before Goliath could bring down his sword, David plucked one of the smooth stones from his pouch, placed it in his sling, and hurled it at the giant’s unarmoured head.

The stone struck Goliath in the forehead and knocked him to the ground. David dashed forward, grabbed Goliath’s sword, and cut off his head. He held the severed head high so all could see the Glory of God.

Seeing their hero defeated, the Philistines fled. The Israelites pursued them as far as Gath and the Gates of Ekron, leaving behind a road made of corpses.

Painting of David holding up Goliath's severed head.

The Moral & the Meaning

The moral of the story has changed, at least for some. It’s become the tale of the underdog who uses his wits, skill, or determination to best the larger foe. It’s easy to retell the story that way. But in the original, Yahweh is the most powerful being in existence. David wields the might of God Himself. Goliath is a mere giant, pitiful by comparison.

Historically, the moral of the story was to have faith in the Jewish god, Yahweh. David wasn’t just a young shepherd facing off against a fearsome giant; he was the vessel of an all-powerful god. It’s a story that shows Yahweh’s might. It proves that Yahweh is the only god worth worshipping.

Either way, it’s a story of courage and conviction. David was the only Israelite both brave and faithful enough to face Goliath.

Similar Legends

If you like the legend of David and Goliath, you might like other historical legends that are ostensibly rooted in truth. Here are some of my favourites:

Each of those legends has an interesting moral lesson. And if you’re willing to veer away from history, you may also like the myth of How Odysseus Survived the Sirens.

Juan Artola Miranda

I am Juan Artola Miranda, a fabulist living in the Mexican Caribbean. My friends know me by the name of my father's father, but that name grew into something bigger, my writing reaching tens of millions of readers. It was too strong for me to control. Artola Miranda is the name of my mother's mother. It's a better name for a fabulist.

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