Remember last week as we first entered into this final section of the Samuels I mentioned chapters 21-24 is an appendix, intended to be a poetic conclusion to the entire 1-2 Samuel story. We’ve spoken of the poetic structure of a chiasm before, often used to highlight a central point, and here we find another one:
A1 – A Three year Famine (21:1-14)
B1 – Valiant Warriors, part 1 (21:15-22)
C – David’s Songs (22:1 – 23:7)
B2 – Valiant Warriors, part 2 (23:8-39)
A2 – A Three day Plague (24)
The centerpiece being highlighted here is David’s praise to the Lord. Which is indeed a stout way to end his story because he is, despite his failures, a man after God’s own heart.
Again, this matters because it’s a map, and tells us where we are and how to get to where we’re going. And this map reminds us we’re entering the final section of the storyline that is by its very design is crafted to tell us a great truth: king David was one of the greatest kings Israel ever had. But the greatness of king David had everything to do with David knowing and David loving the greatness of God. That is the theme we’ll see over and over in this final section of the Samuels. And we’ll see it today too as we look at Valiant Warriors, part 1.
As our text begins in v15a we see something familiar, “There was war again between the Philistines and Israel…” This is familiar to us because battle with the Philistines is in the background of almost the entire story of the Samuels. They first appeared in 1 Samuel 4 when they defeated Israel and stole the ark. Israel did recover the ark but battle continued to rage between them and the Philistines. Such that one of the reasons the people came to Samuel asking for a king was so that the king would go out and fight their battles for them (1 Sam. 8:20). In kindness God granted them their desire, even telling Samuel the king would “save His people from the hand of the Philistines” (1 Sam. 9:16). As handsome and rugged as Saul was he neglected much of his kingly duties, including the Philistines. But his son Jonathan did devote much energy to fighting hard against them. All in all, 1 Samuel 14:52 says it well, “There was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul.” This would continue until Saul’s death in 1 Samuel 31 where the Philistines killed him. But long before Saul’s death, we met a young man named David. In him we begin to see contrasting image of strength emerge from God for the people of God. Saul was king, but it was David who continually struck down the Philistines, from the champion Goliath (1 Sam. 17) until he was king (2 Sam. 5:17-25), and afterwards.
In our text this morning we see four such wars between the Philistines and Israel, where four valiant warriors take down giants. They’re quick descriptions for sure, more like snapshots than battle reports. But we can only imagine that if the narrator gave as much attention to these moments as he did in 1 Sam. 17 when David fought Goliath we see many wondrous deeds of heroism, courage, and faith in God. Nevertheless they still tell us much, so let’s take each one in turn as it comes to us in the text.
War #1 (v15-17)
“There was war again between the Philistines and Israel, and David went down together with his servants, and they fought against the Philistines. And David grew weary. And Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants, whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze, and who was armed with a new sword, thought to kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.”
As familiar as a battle is between the Philistines and Israel we’re surprised in v15. When we read “…and David went down together with his servants, and they fought against the Philistines…” we usually just go ahead and insert ‘and David defeated the Philistines and subdued them’ as we’ve so many times before. On this occasion though, we read something else. “David went down together with his servants, and they fought against the Philistines. And David grew weary.” This word in Hebrew for weary is funny it sounds in English almost exactly what it means, uwph. Now weariness in battle does not mean defeat, but I think it does mean David has likely grown in years and isn’t quite as young as he once was. And it shows here in battle. His mind may be raring to go, but his body is ready to call for the check and go home. Growing weary in a fight has consequences, it can give the enemy a quick boost of energy knowing their closing in on victory. And sure enough, one Philistine champion named Ishbi-benob, a descendant of the giants, noticed David’s fatigue and wanted to take advantage of it. The text lets us know his might, not only by saying he was a giant himself, but that he had a spear weighing in at 300 shekels of bronze (7.5 lbs., half the weight of Goliath’s), and that he had a new sword, which he no doubt was eager to try out in battle. This giant, whose description is intimidating, zeroed in on the tired David. But Abishai came to his aid and slayed the giant.
Furthermore, it seems this little skirmish within the larger battle was noticed by many. And when David’s men saw him weary and tired and rescued by Abishai they said to him in v17, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.” This language isn’t to highlight David’s prominence as a man or a military general in Israel, no. Rather it calls attention to David as the symbolic figure head of God’s covenant people. He is God’s anointed king and as king he was to be a light to a people who had known great darkness. I wonder if you notice something of a bookend here? The Samuels begin with a similar lamp reference in 1 Sam. 3 during days when the Word of God was rare the people are reminded “The lamp of God had not yet gone out.” Meaning their days were truly dark but God’s light shone out still, He had not abandoned them. What happened next? Samuel is called as a prophet. Now in our text, near the end of 2 Samuel there is another reference to a lamp, specifically the people’s desire that the lamp of God not go out. And what happens next? David the lamp of Israel is made secure.
We’ll come back to this in a moment…
For now, move ahead with me to…
War #2 (v18)
“After this there was again war with the Philistines at Gob. Then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Saph, who was one of the descendants of the giants.”
This war is much briefer in its description than the first, but the major details are similar. It begins with the same refrain of war occurring again between the Philistines and Israel. There is another valiant warrior for us to see and as with Abishai before we get his whole name, Sibbecai the Hushathite. And there is a descendant of the giants named Saph who is struck down by Sibbecai. We do not know, nor do we read of David’s involvement in this war. But it’s likely David wasn’t present because in this war or the last two wars because his age was catching up with him.
That’s war #2, now see…
War #3 (v19)
“And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.”
This third war is as brief as the second, and it too has within it the common threads we see in the first two. The same refrain of war occurring again is present. A valiant warrior is here again with his full name, “Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim.” And there is another giant defeated. But with the mention of this third giant’s name comes controversy galore. I’m sure you can imagine why. When we see his name, Goliath the Gittite, we’re taken back to 1 Sam. 17, where a young David defeats the Philistine champion named Goliath and is launched into national popularity and prominence. That Goliath is said to come from Gath, this Goliath is said to be a Gittite, which also means from Gath. In light of that pivotal event for David and this text here, many questions rise to the surface. Is this the same Goliath or a different Goliath? It says in both passages their spear was like a weaver’s beam, but surely it can’t be the same champion, because David’s Goliath died when a stone sank into his forehead from his sling. So it must be a different Goliath, but how could it be to have two giants named the same thing? Further, who is Elhanan? The only other place he appears in the entire Bible is 1 Chronicles 20:5 where it says he killed “Lahmi the brother of Goliath, whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” Which, of course, raises other questions. Who did Elhanan kill? Goliath or his brother Lahmi? And, perhaps following after all these questions is a question of more importance: do the Chronicles contradict the Samuels? Is this an instance of an error in Scripture? Robert Alter, the foremost Hebrew scholar of our time has stated, “This is the most famous contradiction in the Books of Samuel.” Lots of questions here for sure, some of which are easier to answer than others. But let’s try to get through them. There are, I think, a four ways to respond to these this.
First, some deny the events of 1 Sam. 17 ever happened, saying this valiant effort of Elhanan was attributed to David some time later on in order to bolster his reputation. I believe this approach is skeptical at root and plays fast and loose with Scripture and seems to deny the truthfulness of 1 Sam. 17. This is not a position I’d recommend.
Second, some think there was a scribal error at a point in time. Meaning when a monk was copying the Scriptures to preserve it for the next generation he just simply forgot to include the phrase “Lahmi the brother of.” Which gives us the impression Elhanan killed Goliath instead of Lahmi. This is the view taken by the ESV, and you can see its presence down in the footnote on the bottom of the page where it says “1 Chron. 20:5 may preserve the original reading.” This is the view of most of your study Bibles and commentaries.
Third, some teach this is evidence there were in reality two champions named Goliath in Philistine history. To this position’s strength just last week we saw two Mephibosheth’s as well, and in v21 we meet a different Shimei. Not to mention how many other duplicate names there are in the rest of the Old Testament. It is not out of bounds to believe a name can be used many times.
Fourth, others teach the word ‘Goliath’ was a title and not a name given to all the champions of the Philistines. Similar to how each ruler of Egypt was called a ‘Pharaoh.’
As you can see there are many different people land in different places here, as it must be admitted there are no easy answers. I don’t think the first option is a good one, but the remaining three are within bounds. All in all do not miss the point of this third war, another formidable foe has been defeated in David’s kingdom by another of David’s valiant warriors.
War #4 (v20-21)
“And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants. And when he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, struck him down.”
As with the previous two wars, this fourth war in v20-21 is briefly described. There is another giant (whose not named) and another valiant warrior, David’s brother Shimei. But this time there are extra details given. The giant is from Gath as a few others, but this one is a twenty-four-digit warrior. And he was very sure of his success no doubt glorying in his strength. But taunt as he may, there is no might mightier than the Lord who once again gave the victory.
So we read in v22, “These four were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.” Yes, David is only mentioned in the first war. And yes, David’s grown older and weaker. But these four snapshots of war show how David’s kingdom was stronger than the strongest of opponents.
I could at this point finish the sermon by calling you to pluck up, stick your chest out, stand your ground, and slay your giants! In doing so I could even quote William Carey, the great missionary who said, “Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.” I could then go to Ephesians 6 and speak of the armor of God and encourage you to dress for war and pick up the sword of the Word and go out boldly to win the world for Christ. That would be a good place to go, Christians are a people who fight against the spiritual forces and principalities in this world, but I would be mistaken to go there first. Why? Because we’re not a people who fight and wage war for victory, no. We are a people who fight and wage war from victory already won!
So Church, go back to v17 with me. In the first war they saw David grow weary and they grew fearful because they didn’t want, David, the lamp of Israel to be quenched. Let’s pull on that thread more now and go further.
Back in the tabernacle and the temple there was a lamp burning constantly as a symbol of God’s presence with the people. Seeing that lamp burn was a great encouragement to God’s people in the past. Here in our text, they referred to David as the lamp of Israel and made sure he remained alive, this was a great motivation for God’s people. Of course, David is just a man, and a man who at times is weak and weary. But David is the king, and does have special status that they recognized and rejoiced in.
All of this, of course, comes to fulfillment in the New Testament. From seeing David held high and treasured by his own as the lamp of Israel, do you see more of why Jesus chose to say that He is the true Light that has come into the world, which gives light to everyone (John 1:9), that He is the Light of the world (John 8:12), and that whoever doesn’t follow Him walks in darkness? One reason (among many) why Jesus used this image is because like David once was Jesus is now the lamp of God’s true people, and we who follow recognize that and rejoice in Him because in Him we do not walk in darkness but have the light of life. And like David felt weakness battling against giants Jesus too felt great weakness. But unlike David, Jesus was overcome by a greater giant in His death on the cross. But His weakness and suffering and death was temporary, and as He rose Jesus did what David couldn’t do defeating the giant over all giants once for all, Satan himself. So war has been waged, victory has been won, redemption has been accomplished! Now for us His people, in all of our weakness today, we find great encouragement and motivation in Christ’s very presence with us, by His living Word (Heb. 4:12) and the fire of His ever-burning Spirit within us (Rom. 12:1-2). Such that we now gladly say with the Psalmist, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…the nearness of God is my good” (Psalm 73:26, 28).
Then and only then, flowing forth from the victory already won by Jesus Christ, we come forth as His redeemed host, dressed and ready for war, eager to join in and fight our already vanquished foe! He is fighting against us, seeking to deceive and devour, so fighting back isn’t an occasional activity for us it’s our constant posture until we get to glory.
So Church, be of good courage. Stand your ground. Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God, why? The giant’s already been slayed!
 Nearly every commentator points out the chiasm present in this section, though most differ on the nature of chapter 21-24.
 John Woodhouse, 2 Samuel: Your Kingdom Come, ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 496-97.
 Bill Arnold, 1 and 2 Samuel – NIVAC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003), 622.
 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 497.
 David Toshio Tsumura, The Second Book of Samuel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2019), 298.
 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel, 498.
 Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (New York ; London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018), 407.
 ESV Bibles by Crossway, ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2008), 577–78.
 Arnold, 1 and 2 Samuel, 624.
 Richard D. Phillips, 2 Samuel (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2018), 378.
 Phillips, 376.