How tall was Goliath really?

How tall was Goliath really and does it really matter? I just watched this TED Talk by Malcom Gladwell that a friend told me about and I wanted your opinon on it.

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Hey Brent – hope all good with you today! Thanks so much for posting this video, so interesting, I really enjoyed watching it and the opportunity to consider this amazing account in 1 Samuel 17 about David and Goliath. Malcolm Gladwell makes some cool points and I particularly appreciated some of the insights he gave into the reasons for the standoff between the Israelite army and the Philistines due to the Valley in between. Regarding Goliath’s height, 1 Samuel 17: 4 tells us that this was a huge man standing at “six cubits and a span” which may equate to 2.5 meters or more. Even bigger than some of the biggest rugby players I’ve ever seen!

Scholarship is unsure who exactly might have been the author of the books of Samuel. It is thought unlikely to be Samuel himself since his death is recorded towards the end of the first book. Death would definitely be an impediment to a writing project! Whoever it was, I don’t think we are to imagine that that individual was given permission to measure Goliath for himself immediately before the battle or that the Philistine army kept detailed records of the weights and heights and physical attributes of their troops which could have been consulted as an external source. Unavoidably then, there is inherent ambiguity about Goliath’s exact height which, as you right anticipate in your question, would indicate the significance of these observations and of the event overall lying further beyond these details.

Goliath’s height is mentioned to draw attention to the fact that this was a HUGE guy and the extent of intimidation that would have been felt at the prospect of taking him on in a duel – as indeed seemed widespread to be the case among Israel’s army before David’s arrival on the scene. So, does it matter what height Goliath was? Yes it does – in this sense of supporting our understanding of the context of the scene and the magnitude of David’s courage. However, in another sense, it does not matter what Goliath’s height was, especially if it were to cause us to wonder off into speculation about the whys and wherefores of why he might have been whatever height he was. Gladwell’s speculation about this or that medical explanation is incredibly interesting, but unfortunately, can only ever be speculation!

If this is not about Goliath’s height and interpreting the story through exploring why he might have been that height and the rest of what that may mean, we are left with the fundamental question of why this account is in the Bible at all. Gladwell’s conclusion is that it helps us see that “giants aren’t as powerful as they seem and sometimes the shepherd boy has a sling in his pocket.” That’s a cool application and something which may encourage us at times – but Gladwell misses the even greater encouragement which David the Victor offers to us himself. David’s confidence did not come from his own strength, or from his ability with the sling. We are told that David’s confidence was in the God of Israel who had delivered him in the past and would deliver him again (17:37).

David begins an incredible statement to Goliath “You come to me with a sword and javelin but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (17:45) and he concludes “For the battle is the Lord and he will give you into our hand” (17:47). Gladwell’s video is great – but his conclusion that this is about us being able to defeat giants in our lives in our own strength is wide of the mark – this is primarily a story about God defeating giants for his people, something we see ultimately at the cross where Jesus defeats the only giant which could ever kill us. Amazing!

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