Battle by champions (1 Samuel 17)

Bilderesultat for assyrian slingers

Illustration: Assyrian slingers

The story of David and Goliath stands within the tradition of “battle by champions” in the ancient Near East. Such battles differed from duels in that they had ramifications for entire armies or nations. The strongest member, or champion, of each party fought a similar representative of the opponent to the death, and the victory of one man vindicated the entire host. Similar battles are found in the Egyptian history of Sinuhe, in the encounter of Marduk and Tiamat in the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish and in the conflict of Paris and Menelaus in Homer’s Iliad, 3.340-82. 2 Samuel 2:12-16 also contains an account of a representative battle waged by 12 selected warriors.

Such “single combat” was practiced based upon the belief that the gods of each army actually fought or decided the battle. Therefore, only on “champion” was needed from each side. This concept is clear in 1 Samuel 17:43-45, as both David and the Philistine call upon their respective gods. David’s victory over the Philistine giant indeed proves that, against pagan armies or false gods, “the battle is the Lord’s” (17:47). Unlike those who trusted in the stature, strength and skill of their best warriors, Israel sent an untrained, ill-equipped boy into battle as its only willing champion. David himself, however, trusted in God’s might rather than his own.


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