And the Philistine Cursed David
And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. (1Sa 17:43 KJV)
In the reign of King Sha’ul the Philistines had gathered their armies for battle and came together against Israel. King Sha’ul and the men of Israel were gathered and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in battle array to meet them. The young David was the only one to stand up for Israel against Goliath the champion of the Philistines. In our verse, we are told, Goliath cursed David by his gods. But, by whose gods David was cursed?
Let us make a literal word-for-word translation of the above verse to see whether we can find some clues. Let us start with the first word from right to left:
וַיֹּאמֶר and said הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי the Philistine אֶל־דָּוִ֔ד to David
הֲכֶלֶב the dog אָנֹכִי I כִּי־אַתָּה that you בָא־אֵלַי come to me בַּמַּקְלֹות with sticks
וַיְקַלֵּל and cursed הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי the Philistine אֶת־דָּוִד David בֵּאלֹהָיו in his god ׃
אָמַר amar, means to say.
פְּלִשְׁתִּי pelishtiy, comes from the root פָּלַשׁ, palash, to roll (in dust), and means a Pelishtite or inhabitant of Pelesheth.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian cursed the Jewish people and renamed the Roman Province Judaea and called it “Palestine” after the Philistines, an ancient enemy of Israel that had existed more than 600 years earlier. The ancient Pelishtiym (Philistines) had nothing common with the people who live today in Judea and Samaria, or the so-called West Bank. Palaestina was a Roman province between 135 and about 390 AD following the defeat of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 AD.
דָּוִד dahviyd, David King of Israel, loving. It comes from דּוֹד , dod, meaning to love, beloved. This word has an alternative spelling דָּוִיד but having the same meaning.
כֶּלֶב kehlev, to bark, a dog. The name “Kalev”, one of the twelve spies who scouted the Promised Land after the Exodus, derives from the same word כֶּלֶב.
בּוֹא bo, means to come.
מַקֵּל makkel, means to germinate, a shoot, or a stick.
קָלַל kahlal, to lighten, to make light (in weight), or figuratively: to despise. Let us pay close attention to this word.
The literal meaning of קָלַל kahlal, to lighten, to make light (in weight), can be seen in verses like the shown below:
Your father made our yoke hard, and now, lighten (קָלַל kahlal) the hard service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, then we serve you. (1Ki 12:4)
Sons of Adam are but a breath, sons of men are a lie. If weighed in the scales, they are altogether lighter (קָלַל kahlal) than breath. (Psa 62:9)
And the seamen were afraid, and each one cried out to his mighty one, and threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea, to lighten (קָלַל kahlal) the load. But Yonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, and he lay down, and was fast asleep. (Jon 1:5)
But its figurative application “to despise” can be found in Gen 16:4-5 and elsewhere:
And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. And Sarai said to Avram, “My wrong be upon you! I gave my female servant into your bosom. And when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised (קָלַל kahlal) in her eyes. Let Yehovah judge between you and me.” (Gen 16:4-5)
Here, we see that Sarai the wife of Avram felt “lightened” in authority and honor in his household, that is, she was diminished in Hagar’s eyes as her mistress and thus lessened her authority, dignity, and reputation in the eyes of all her servants. Or, in other words Sarai felt that she was brought to naught.
This Hebrew word is the same word found in Gen 12:3 where קָלַל kahlal should be translated as “to diminish, to bring to naught” in the sense of “to destroy” hence “to curse”:
And I shall bless those who bless you, and curse (קָלַל kahlal) him who curses (אָרַר arar) you. And in you all the clans of the earth shall be blessed.
And last but not least, the Hebrew word commonly translated as “God” or “gods” but its literal meaning is “mighty one(s)”. It can be translated either in singular or plural depending on the context:
אֱלֹהִים elohiym, mighty one(s).
So, by whose gods David was cursed? In 1Sam 17:43 we find בֵּאלֹהָיו which means “in/by his god(s).” This brings ambiguity into the text: the Goliath cursed David by whose god(s): by his (Goliath’s) or by David’s God?
And the Philistine cursed David by his [Goliath’s] gods. Or, And the Philistine cursed David by his [David’s] God.
Per the Jewish sages in Leviticus Rabbah 17:3, and also this is the understanding of the present author, it is the latter rather than the former: And the Philistine cursed David by his [David’s] God.
And indeed, David would not have cared less about Goliath’s gods; as far as David was concerned they did not even exist. However, if the Pelishtiy had cursed David by the Name of Yehovah, then he took it very seriously and the rest is history.