In Western society, even amongst non-Christians and the unchurched, there is an understanding of “David and Goliath.” This understanding, however, does not necessarily include knowledge and understanding of the two men themselves, their societies, and the event that took place between them. Rather, the understanding is one of a traditional metaphor, the metaphor of “David and Goliath.” A typical David and Goliath metaphor as understood by contemporary society might be the victory of an underdog over a powerhouse team in a sports event, the triumph of the “little guy” over a big-money corporate entity in a lawsuit, or the ability of a small country to repulse the military invasion of a military superpower. Some examples of these types of David and Goliath metaphors would be the 1980 Winter Olympic “Miracle in Ice” hockey victory of the United States over the U.S.S.R, the successful litigation of small-time lawyer Ed Masry against the corporate Giant Pacific Gas & Electric (as made famous in the movie Erin Brokovich), or the Afghani repulsion of a Soviet military invasion in the 1980s. While these examples are quite notable and worthy of admiration, they do not truly demonstrate a biblical understanding of the David and Goliath concept. Why is this so?
A review the story provides the answer. The book of 1 Samuel describes the Hebrew David as “only a boy,” more experienced in herding sheep, playing the harp, and running the errands of his family than in the arts of war. David’s Philistine enemy Goliath, on the other hand, is described as giant, standing over 9 feet tall, a warrior since his youth. Goliath is so imposing that not one warrior is the Hebrew army is willing to answer his challenge and face him in single combat, even through King Saul has offered riches and the hand of his daughter in marriage to one who would defeat him. David, the shepherd boy proceeds to answer Goliath’s challenge and strike him down quite easily.
Now, considering those details alone, it certainly does seem that David is the underdog triumphing, against all odds, against a greater foe. This context (the context of the contemporary David and Goliath metaphor), however, discounts the participation of God. A theological review of the story reveals that David is a representative of God’s army, fighting not with faith in himself, but rather with full faith in the Lord to deliver him. When considering theological factors, it is clear that David and Goliath is not the story of an underdog snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. It is quite the opposite. The true underdog in the story is Goliath, for he is the one who chose to defy the army of God’s people. The lesson to be learned from the story of David and Goliath, one that is absent from the contemporary understanding mentioned before, is that greatness and victory ultimately come through the Lord’s deliverance.
ISRAEL, A NATION AT WAR.
Like many ancient cultures, Israel was often at war with its immediate neighbors. The nation of Israel was built through Joshua’s military conquest of Canaan. It was eventually dismantled through military conquest in the form of Assyrian and Babylonian invasions. In between Israel’s birth and downfall, the Old Testament mentions conflicts with numerous other Israeli military adversaries. Of these many adversaries, the Philistines were perhaps this greatest thorn in the side of Israel. In fact, the Philistines are mentioned over 250 times in the Hebrew Bible. Before the individual battle between David and Goliath, King Saul and Israel had been warring against the Philistines for some time. 1 Samuel, Chapter 17 sets the stage for yet another battle. The Philistine army is gathered for war against Israel. The armies of each nation are camped at opposite hills with a valley in between. The Philistine champion, Goliath, is among his army. David’s brothers are camped with the Israeli army. Conflict is, once again, brewing.
Who were the Philistines?
The Philistines were a coastal people; their territory included the Pentapolis of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath, which were situated west of Judah and east of the Mediterranean Sea. Although the Philistines clearly exhibited a Canaanite culture, historians identify them as a people of Indo-European origin. Part of this Canaanite culture was the worship of Pagan Gods such as Baal, Astarte, and Dagon. Thus, the Philistines were enemies of God’s people and conflicts between the two cultures were numerous. (During one such conflict, the Israelites even managed to lose the Ark of the Covenant to the Philistines in battle.) Like Israel, Philistine society would eventually meet its end through Assyrian conquest. It would first, however, suffer numerous defeats at the hands of David…one of which being the death of their, Champion Goliath.
Israel’s battles with the Philistines under Saul
Israel had been battling with the Philistines long before Saul’s reign began. Due to Israel’s disobedience, the Lord had delivered them into the hands of the Philistines (as well as others). The Lord raised up judges such as Samson and Samuel to lead them against the Philistines. Samuel had successfully done so into old age. Still, the Israelites asked for a king to lead them and Saul was appointed by the Lord.
Saul managed to lead Israel to victories against both the Philistines and the Amalekites (another of Israel’s enemies). However, he did not carry himself in the way the Lord specified as Israel’s king. In preparing for a certain battle against the Philistines, Saul, acting outside of his kingly authority, made an improper sacrifice to the Lord. On another occasion, he failed to completely to destroy the possessions and king of the defeated Amalekites, as ordered by the Lord. Because of his tendency to carry out the Lord’s work in his own way rather than as instructed, Saul lost the favor of both Samuel and the Lord. Samuel made Saul aware of this and perhaps it is why Saul and the Israeli army cowered in the face of Goliath’s challenge while encamped at the Valley of Elah.
The Heart of a Godly Leader
Because of Saul’s disobedience, the Lord ordered Samuel to appoint a new king. David was the Lord’s choice. The Lord implies in 1 Samuel Chapter 16, verse 7 that David was chosen for his heart. As demonstrated by his disobedience, Saul’s heart was clearly not dedicated to the service and glorification of God. It is made abundantly clearer by Saul’s action of setting up a monument to himself, rather than the Lord, to commemorate one of his military victories. These are not the actions of a leader who puts his faith in God, but one who puts his faith in himself. Saul and those in his command were not fit to face Goliath, not only because of their lack of faith but also because of their boastful attitude. Had Saul slain Goliath, it would have been another victory for Saul, instead of a miracle from the Lord. Perhaps this is why Saul was overtaken by an evil spirit from the Lord as mentioned in Chapter 16 of 1 Samuel.
David’s ability to put his faith in God and not in himself would be a factor in his defeat of Goliath. Before and after his defeat of the great Philistine champion, David gave full credit to the Lord. Furthermore, he remained in the king’s service, although he had been the one to win the great victory. He had even been anointed by Samuel! Other men might have taken this opportunity to usurp power. David did not. This kind of attitude is clearly what God was looking for in Israel’s champion and king. This kind of attitude is what gave David the courage, the courage that was lacking in the hearts of all the other men of Israel, to face down the Philistine Giant, Goliath.
A WARRIOR, A SHEPHERD BOY.
Regarding military practice in ancient times, there is some disagreement among historians about how common it was for “champion warfare” to take place. Champion warfare resolved disputes between armies through single combat between two chosen representatives. The account of David and Goliath is an example of such single combat. Another notable story from the ancient near east, The Tale of Sinhue includes such action; however, it is unclear whether or not this story is actually an accounting of historical events. It is considered by many to be a work of fiction. Ancient Greek literature also emphasizes single combat between champions as a common practice, although how common is left unclear. Given the great expense of military equipment, it is safe to assume that such warfare would be somewhat limited to those who could afford their own armor and equipment. 1 Samuel chapter 13 notes that out of the whole Hebrew army, at least at one point, only Saul and Jonathan (the king and prince) were in possession of a sword. History certainly gives us more examples of mass warfare between large armies than it does of duels between two heroes. However, as art does often imitate life, it is safe to say that one-on-one duels between champions did take place in ancient times. In the case of David and Goliath, it appears that terms of the duel were not followed after Goliath’s death; according to the challenge issued by Goliath, the Philistines would become the Hebrews’ slaves if he were defeated and vice versa. This clearly did not take place, but the Hebrews did route the Philistines in battle immediately following Goliath’s death. Even though the initial terms of the challenge were not followed upon Goliath’s death, the showdown between the David and Goliath would go down as history’s most notable example of champion warfare.
In this Corner…
In modern times, great showdowns between two accomplished opponents are often highly anticipated. A great deal of time and money is spent on promoting and advertising such events. Historic examples range from the 1938 “Match of the Century” horserace between the renowned thoroughbreds Seabiscuit and War Admiral to the 1975 and the “Thrilla in Manilla” boxing match fought between pugilistic legends Joe Frazier and Mohammed Ali. While these contemporary events were mere sports entertainment, not life and death matters that would decide the fate of nations, they provide the closest possible modern day comparison to the champion warfare of ancient times.
Taken, at face value, the David vs. Goliath showdown would not have stirred up the kind of fervor of a Frazier vs. Ali type matchup. David was a mere shepherd boy, who was not even considered indispensible enough by his people to man the front lines of the battlefield. He was left to tend to livestock. Goliath, on the other hand, was the showpiece of the Philistine army. This can only be inferred from context; the book of 1 Samuel does not provide any history of Goliath’s past military victories, nor does history not provide us with a list of adversaries felled by Goliath. Goliath is a feared warrior of intimidating physical size. From the whole of the Philistine army, it is he who emerges daily to taunt the Hebrews and strike fear into their hearts. Even without a known military pedigree, it is clear that Goliath is a man of great reputation…who will face David, the insignificant shepherd boy in a duel to decide the fate of two nations.
As stated previously, there is not an extensive history of Goliath available. All that is known him personally is that he was a warrior of imposing size and reputation. One can presume that Goliath, being a Philistine, put his faith in a pagan God such as Dagon and would have had little regard for or fear of Yahweh. If Goliath had feared the God of the Israelites, he surely would not have so brazenly challenged his army. Goliath obviously had faith in himself; this was not without good reason. Aside from being a man of great physical stature, he was well equipped with military hardware.
Goliath’s armament is clearly described in 1 Samuel. “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.” This listing sounds imposing in itself, but when taking into account the historic context of Hebrew-Philistine warfare from a technological standpoint, it is even more so. The Philistine society was skilled in the arts of metallurgy, and their weaponry reflected this. A Philistine soldier of the time would have been outfitted with iron weapons made specifically to inflict carnage on the battlefield. Conversely, the Hebrew people, being far less technically advanced, were known to use farm equipment or household items as weaponry. In addition to all his Philistine weaponry, Goliath also had a shield bearer. This indicates that he was soldier of considerable standing. Goliath, in addition to being a giant, was clearly a professional soldier from an imposing, well equipped army. He was surely a worthy candidate to represent his people in single combat.
The Shepherd Boy
Unlike Goliath, David’s personal history and military exploits are extensively documented. David would eventually attain great rank in King Saul’s army, so much so that he was thought of in the high regard as a military leader by the Hebrew people; higher, even, than King Saul. In his kingship, David would conquer the city of Jerusalem, a feat the Hebrews had previously been unable to accomplish, and set it up as Israel’s great capital. David went down in Israel as Israel’s greatest king and military leader. At the time of his face-off with Saul, however, he was still young and largely unknown shepherd. The accomplishments he would be famous for, not the least of which was Goliath’s defeat, were yet to be achieved.
“My God, a freshman!” These were the words exclaimed by legendary Georgia Bulldog football radio broadcaster Larry Munson to describe Herschel Walker as he trampled over the opposing defense during the 1980 gridiron matchup between the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the University of Tennessee Volunteers. Walker, a future Heisman Trophy winner, burst onto the college football scene as an unknown freshman running back at the unheralded University of Georgia. Much like Walker, David was a young unknown who would become great. Walker would lead the Georgia Bulldogs to a national championship; David would sleigh the fearsome Goliath and go on to lead Israel to dominate the Promised Land. “Abner, whose son is this young man?” These were the words uttered by King Saul to his officer as he watched David defeat Goliath. He was, perhaps, as shocked then as Larry Munson was in 1980 when he exclaimed, “My God, a freshman!” Such shock would have been appropriate. David was the youngest of his family; a family that, by David’s own admission, was not one that carried any special prestige in Hebrew society.
However, at least one of Saul’s servants was aware of David’s fine attributes and recommended him to Saul as an attendant. David was already splitting his time between assigned royal duties (performing as a musician of the royal court and acting as Saul’s armor bearer) and tending to his father’s sheep at the time Goliath issued his challenge to the Hebrew army. Saul’s servant (the one who recommended David) was not the first to recognize David’s capacity for success. Unbeknown, to Saul, Samuel had already anointed David as the next king of Israel by God’s order. Samuel, himself, was surprised when David’s older brothers were rejected in favor of the young shepherd boy. The Lord said to Samuel regarding his selection of David, “The Lord dies no look at the things a man looks at. Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. David’s heart was surely a brave one, for he was not afraid of danger. It was also a humble one, for he did not credit his victories to himself.
David, though he had not fought any Philistine giants, had certainly faced danger before. The life of a Hebrew shepherd such as David, though not one of military training and tactics, was certainly hazardous. David, in the course of his shepherding duties had slain both lions and bears in the defense of his flock. David used his experience as a slayer of dangerous of wild animals as an argument to attain Saul’s permission to face Goliath after volunteering himself to do so. Saul, was initially not in favor of sending David to face the Philistine but was swayed by David’s argument. 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 the 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.” As a result of this argument, Saul granted David permission to fight Goliath.
Although Saul offered David his own armor and sword, David refused them in favor of the weapon he was used to, his staff and sling. Although David eschewed wearing physical armor, he did not go into battle unshielded and unprotected. David was wearing the full armor of God that the Apostle Paul would later mention about in Ephesians by saying, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.”  With his faith and adorned in the full armor of God, David slew the Philistine giant, Goliath.
In the simplest sense, the story of David and Goliath is just a battle event that transpired during the early years of ancient Israel’s monarchy. The victory did not immediately propel David to kingship and it wasn’t the last conflict the Israelites would ever have with the Philistines. In the simplest sense, it was just a notable victory by a notable man. There were, no doubt, many instances of individual wartime heroics during Israel’s history. Many of them are recorded in the Old Testament (notably in 1 Chronicles 20 or throughout the book of Judges). However, few of them are as well-known and thoroughly studied as the David and Goliath battle. When viewed in broader terms, there are lessons to be learned in the story of David and Goliath.
As recorded in the book of Samuel, the David and Goliath battle does not specifically lay these lessons out. Rather, Samuel (or an eventual biblical author) tells the story in a very straightforward manner. It is up to the reader to extract the moral of the story. Because the understanding of the story of David and Goliath is viewed from different perspectives, different lessons are learned from its study.
The Secular/Academic Perspective
When taken out of a faith-based context and studied from a secular perspective, certain aspects of the David and Goliath, as told in the Bible, story are viewed as exaggerations or even adaptations. Historians, Scholars, and some Theologians have called into question everything from the details of as Goliath’s height and armament to the historicity of the story itself. In taking such a view, secular society extracts a far different moral from the story of David and Goliath than does religious society.
Goliath’s height is called into question as being 6 Feet, 9 inches tall, which far less than “over nine feet.” This contention in the result of textual differences in The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint as compared to Masoretic texts; the former listing Goliath’s height as 4 cubits and a span, the latter listing it at 6 cubits and a span. While there is a clear textual difference between these texts, there is room for scholarly argument that the standard of measurement during the times those texts were written was not consistent. 
There has been doubt cast on who actually killed Goliath. 2 Samuel 21:19 states, “In other battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan, son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehimite killed Goliath the Gittie, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.” This seems like a contradiction from the story of David and Goliath as told in 1 Samuel and it has been argued that David was retroactively credited with slaying Goliath to enhance his reputation. Some biblical defenders argue that Elhanan is another name by which David was known. The solution to the apparent contradiction may lie in 1 Chronicles 20:5 which states, “And there was war with the Philistines again, and Elhanan the son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.”
It has been suggested that the story of David and Goliath was borrowed from Greek tradition. The progression of the David and Goliath story in 1 Samuel is story is very similar to that of the showdown between Ajax in Hector in the Iliad. This is not the only similar tale in the Iliad; there is an even more striking similarity to the story of the young Nestor defeating the giant Ereuthalion. Furthermore, Goliath’s armor as described in 1 Samuel was very similar to that of the ancient Greeks. Taking these Greek similarities into account, it’s not hard to see why some secular historians could make the case that David and Goliath is an adaption.
When the story is considered as exaggeration or fable, it seems like a religious culture is making up a story to enhance itself. Viewing the story from this type of perspective leaves no room for learning useful theological lessons. This kind of perspective reduces David to a “Little Engine that Could,” type of literary character rather than a historical hero and leader. From this perspective grows the view that David (as a literary character) is an underdog, who prevailed in the face of overwhelming opposition when he was supposed to fail. While the lesson that courage and determination can help one overcome obstacles is certainly encouraging one, it is not the best or even the intended lesson to be extracted from the story.
The Faith-Based Perspective
When studied from a faith-based perspective, the David and Goliath story yields a very different lesson than what is gleaned from a secular perspective. The veracity of the story is not in doubt. The story can be considered in context as a part of the larger biblical work. The story is not looked at as some kind of cultural exaggeration, but rather as part of the biblical cannon. The story of David and Goliath in this sense will yield a much more meaningful lesson, a theological one.
From a faith-based perspective Goliath is a giant. The exact conversion of cubits to feet is not important. He is much taller than David and much taller than the rest of the Jews, even Saul who according to 1 Samuel 9:2 was “a head taller” than any of the other Israelites and “without equal.” Even though David is smaller than Saul, he is the one who answers Goliath’s challenge. Even though David is much smaller and less experienced in formal battle than Goliath he is victorious. Is this kind of victory any different from God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from the hands of Pharaoh’s army during the Exodus? Is it any different from God delivering Jericho into the hands of Joshua and his army? Was it not God who sent an Angel to destroy Senanchrib’s army and deliver King Hezekiah from the hands of Assyira? When viewed in context with the rest of the Old Testament, it is clear that size and experience matter little where God’s favor is concerned.
At the time of the showdown with Goliath, David had already been anointed by Samuel as the next king. David’s reputation did not need any retroactive glorification. He did not have to sleigh Goliath to be considered great. David’s many other military victories bear no ostensible contradictions with Elhanan or any other Biblical figure. Furthermore, there is no other biblical king who is held in such high regard for his accomplishments. David was not only ruler and warrior, but also a skilled musician and psalmist. The killing of a Philistine, no matter how tall, does little to enhance his legacy. His legacy is provided by God from beginning to end. David himself states that he is fighting Goliath, not further his own legend, but so that all will know “that there is a God in Israel.”
In viewing the story of the David and Goliath as a small part of a greater biblical history, the story can be truly appreciated for what it is and truly seen for what it is not. It is not an underdog story. Because of God’s plan for David and the nation of Israel, Goliath, never really had a chance to win against David. God often chooses the humble and least among the world to go out and proclaim his message. This happens throughout biblical history. The odds are never against God and those He chooses. The lesson to be learned from the battle between David is that faith in God, not armor, experience, or bravado is the ultimate competitive advantage. Although it may be the best at demonstrating this lesson, the David and Goliath story is just one Bible story that teaches it.
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Herzog, Chaim and Mordechai Gichon, Battles of the Bible, Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2006
Killebrew, Ann E., Biblical peoples and ethnicity: an archaeological study of Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, and early Israel, 1300-1100 B.C.E. (Illustrated ed.), Society of Biblical Lit, 2005
Walton, John H, Victor Harold Matthews, and Mark William Chavalas, The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament, 6th ed. , InterVarsity Press, 2000
Hackett, Sir John Winthrop, Warfare in the Ancient World, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1989
Barta, Miroslay, Sinuhe, the Bible, and the Patriarchs, Set Out, 2003
Hildenbrand, Laura, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, Random House, 2001
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La Sor, William Sanford, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, and Leslie C. Allen, Old Testament survey: the message, form, and background of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996
Walker, Herschel, Gary Brozek, Jerry Mungadze, and Charlene Maxfield, Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder, Simon and Schuster, 2009
Billington, Clyde E. “Goliath and the Exodus Giants: How Tall were They?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2007 Accessed at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3817/is_200709/ai_n29491707 on October 16th, 2009.
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Yadin, Azzan, “Goliath’s Armor and Israelite Collective Memory,” Vetus Testamentum, Volume 54, Number 3, 2004
West, Martin Litchfield, Indo-European Poetry and Myth, Oxford University Press, 2007
 All Scripture quotations in this paper, unless noted otherwise, are from the Holy
Bible, New International Version (New York: International Bible Society, 1984).
 Killebrew, Ann E., Biblical peoples and ethnicity: an archaeological study of Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, and early Israel, 1300-1100 B.C.E. (Illustrated ed.), Society of Biblical Lit, 2005 pp. 204-205
 Walton, John H, Victor Harold Matthews, and Mark William Chavalas, The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament, 6th ed. , InterVarsity Press, 2000 p. 307
 Hackett, Sir John Winthrop, Warfare in the Ancient World, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1989 p. 54
 1 Sam. 17:7
 La Sor, William Sanford, David Allan Hubbard, Frederic William Bush, and Leslie C. Allen, Old Testament survey: the message, form, and background of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996 p. 170
 Walker, Herschel, Gary Brozek, Jerry Mungadze, and Charlene Maxfield, Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder, Simon and Schuster, 2009 p. 118
 1 Sam. 17:55
 1 Sam. 16:7
 1 Sam. 17:34-36
 Ephesians 6:10-17
 1 Sam. 17:4
 Billington, Clyde E. “Goliath and the Exodus Giants: How Tall were They?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2007
 1 Sam. 17:46