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How many times did David kill Goliath?

There’s a curious double killing in 1 Samuel 17:50-51.
50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.  51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.

1 Samuel 17:50-51

At first this looks like clumsy editing (the ignorant refactor blunders again, in his obsessive need to keep sources he wrecks the narrative flow, once again – fortunately Altar and others have taught us to credit the reactor with a little more sense).

Instead, the careful reader is faced with a question – why did Goliath get killed twice?  Surely once is enough.  

There are a few theories.  The first is that the blow from the stone merely stunned Goliath, the second blow was the one that really killed him.  That seems to be the sense of verse 49.  The the first blow caused him to fall.  But verse 50 seems to stop us going down this route.  It’s there to say “no, that one stone was enough; that was all he needed to prevail, and by the way he didn’t need a sword.”  There is a whole anti-sword thing going on in this chapter – it’s most prominent in verse 38, where David refuses Saul’s sword.  The whole point of the chapter is that the world of armies, and kingly posturing, and armour isn’t going to work for Israel.  She’s already tried this with Saul and it’s not been going well.  If Israel wants to play the human power game, the game of militarism and weapon acquisition then it’s going to fail.  It will fail because it will always meet a Goliath, and it will fail because an over-reliance on technology creates an army of cowards, who don’t know how to trust in God because all they know is the power of technology.  There is a quote from a French General which I can’t source who I am sure said of the Americans during the Bosnian war (when the Americans could kill from a distance through their technology) “what kind of soldiers are these who no longer look upon the eyes of their enemy” (similar points are made here).

Verse 50 is key here.  It’s a deliberate interjection.  The story would work without it, the stone would stun and then David would kill in verse 51.  But verse 50 is a deliberate interjection – David has prevailed at this point, he has done what he needed to do.  The Philistine has been killed with one shot.  He got him with the first stone.  You have to ask, “what is going on when he gets killed with the first stone, not just stunned but killed, there has to be a God in this, because humans don’t kill Giants with their first stone.”

But verse 51 happens.  It’s almost as if David chooses to forget what he knew in Saul’s armoury, what he learned out in the fields defending the sheep.  It’s God, the great shepherd, who protects him.  It’s the Lord who delivers.  You don’t need swords.  But David sees the Philistine lying there and suddenly the sword seduces him, the glory of the raised head, the desire to be champion, and to get there by his own mastery of weapons.

So David kills him a second time.  And foreshadows the moments that will darken his own kingship, when he over reaches, does things that he doesn’t need to do, plays the games, kills the enemies that God was already protecting him from.  He gets seduced by the power games and the show, because what God did wasn’t quite enough.  And this is a brutal David – the David who will humiliate Nabal, arrange the murder of Uriah and cultivate the allegiance of the gangster Joab.  David’s whole life will be caught between these two verses.  Verse 50 is David of the psalms, David weeping for his dying sons, David sparing the life of Saul; Verse 51 is the other David – the grabber, the assassin, the bitter old King arranging the death of his enemies with Solomon.

There is something subtle going on in the Hebrew here as well.  The killing in Verse 50 is the Hiphil, the causative.  David causes death to the Philistine.  The killing in verse 51 (in most of the texts) is the intensive, the Polel.  This is a frenzied act of killing, an urgent bit of sword wielding, but the causative has gone.  It definitely looked more ferocious in verse 51, but verse 50 is where it really happened.  The God guided pebble did what needed to be done; the frenzied sword was an unnecessary display of destruction.  David’s tragedy is that he got seduced too often by verse 51, and he absolutely didn’t need to.  Verse 50 was enough.  Stopping at verse 50 would have been like Ali not throwing the punch at Foreman, the graceful restraint which reveals true power.  Verse 51 unveils the bully, the brutalist, the one who pretends he needs swords, when the truth is he doesn’t, he just likes them.