How Old Was David When He Killed Goliath?-2

Posted by on Oct 7, 2020

Indeed, how old was David when he killed Goliath? Was he a young boy as pictured on popular movies and “Bible studies”, or a young strong man who decided the outcome of the war against in the war against the Philistines?

This is a continuation of article “How Old Was David When He Killed Goliath?” Part 1, wherein we explained that David must have been older than 20 when he killed Goliath, and more particularly 22 years old.

The little young David against Goliath?

The little David against Goliath?

We also learned in Part 1 of this study the significance of this war against the worst enemy of Israel, namely, that with it Israel began to conquer the rest of the Promised Land.

King Shaul had already been twice rejected by YHVH Elohim, when He sent His prophet Shemuel to Yishai the Beyth Lechemite, because He saw among his sons the new king of Israel for Himself.

Shemuel was to invite Yishai to bring his sacrifices and then YHVH would show him the one who should be anointed for Him (1Sa 16:1-3).

And Shemuel did as told and went to Beyth Lechem and he set Yishai and his sons apart in order to choose the anointed one for YHVH. The oldest son of Yishai, Eliyav, was not chosen. Then Yishai called Avinadav, and made him pass before Shemuel, but he was not the one. Next Yishai made Shammah pass by, but he was not the one either (1Sa 16:4-9).

And Yishai made all seven of his sons pass before Shemuel, but none of them was chosen. And then Shemuel said to Yishai, “Are these all the youths?” But these were not all young men in the house of Yishai; there was one more, the youngest son, who was tending the sheep and who would be chosen for the next king of Israel: David (1Sa 16:10-11).

All confusion concerning the age of David at the time he killed Goliath, perhaps, starts with the translation of a few verses in 1Samuel 16 and 17 of Jewish Publication Society (JPS).

In the phrase above “Are these all the youths?” in Hebrew is הַנְּעָרִים han’narim, which literally means “youths” or “young men”, hence, Yishai had at least seven sons, who were young men. Some translations render han’narim “boys”, others such as JPS and KJV just render han’narim by the general term “children”.

And the youngest son of Yishai was brought before Shemuel. And he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and handsome. And that was the one who YHVH chose to be anointed. That was David. And Shemuel anointed him with olive oil in the midst of his brothers (1Sa 16:12-13).

The Philistines had gathered their armies for battle against Yehudah. And King Shaul gathered all Israel to meet them (1Sa 17:1-2).

We continue,

And the three eldest sons of Jesse had gone after Saul to the battle; and the names of his three sons that went to the battle were Eliab the first-born, and next unto him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. (1Sa 17:13 JPS)

For some reason, the author of 1Samuel regarded it as necessary to introduce the three oldest sons of Yishai again, this time along with the youngest one David.

From the plain meaning of the text Eliab the first-born, Abinadab, and Shammah were old enough to be enlisted in the army of Israel, namely, they must have been older than 20 years. According to Num 1:45, all Israelites 20 or older were considered men of battle.

We should not do the mistake to consider Num 1:45 a “law of army draft”. The purpose of the law in Num 1:1-3 is for the census of the children of Israel, not for military draft. King David made this mistake (2Sa 24:9) and had to pay dearly for it.

Therefore, the purpose of the census of Israel was meant to number the Israelites 20 years and older. We are given no reason as to why YHVH established the law of census and we should leave it like this. The law, however, indeed says “everyone going out to the army in Israel”, but this is not the main reason for the census, but rather a secondary one.

Also, it is common perception that the age of 20 is the age when a young Israelite was considered old and mature enough to be held legally accountable before the Torah of YHVH. While the Israelites 19 and younger were still considered immature to be held responsible for their actions according to the Law.

Later, when Israel refused to take over the Promised Land, all those males who were numbered 20 years and older in the census were held legally accountable and had to die in the desert. Hence, we understand that the age limit of 20, was not primarily for the purpose of going for war, but for the purpose of legal accountability.

Therefore, the ages of the three oldest sons of Yishai have no bearing on determining the age of David when he killed Goliath, and they will not be considered for the purpose of our study. Perhaps, they were mentioned again in the narrative in order to imply that they were much older than the other sons, as the text indeed says about all together them: “the three oldest sons”.

Now, in the context, we read thus,

And the three oldest sons of Yishai went, they had gone to follow Shaul to the battle,  And David was the youngest. And the three oldest followed Shaul, but David went and returned from Shaul to feed his father’s sheep at Beyth Lechem. (1Sa 17:13-15)

The immediate context tells us that three oldest sons of Yishai were eligible for battle, and David the youngest of all sons of Yishai is named among them. Why should we know this?

Also, the author regarded it as important to tell us that their father Yishai was an old man (verse 12), which explains the age gap between Eliyav, Avinasav, and Shammah, and the other sons of Yishai who were relatively younger.

So, why was there the need to say that David was the youngest along with the three oldest sons, unless it was meant to tell us that these four sons of Yishai were in the legitimate age to be considered men of battle.

We are not told why the other brothers, whose names we do not even know, were not mentioned in the narrative along with the oldest ones Eliyav, Avinasav, and Shammah. Perhaps, they were of no concern to the author of 1Samuel. But we should not assume that because they had not been mentioned along with the oldest sons of Yishai, they were younger than 20 years old.

The text does not say they were older than 20, but also the text does not say they were younger than 20, and we should leave it like this. For the story of David and Goliath, and even of the broader context of the first victory of Israel over the Philistines, with which Israel began to take over the rest of the Promised Land Yehoshua was not able to conquer, the age of those four sons of Yishai perhaps was irrelevant.

Likewise, the text does not say that David was younger than 20. But in such cases when the narrative is silent we should consider the entire context and if necessary do Bible math, as we did in Part 1 to draw conclusions.

Verse 15 says,

Now David went to and fro from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Beth-lehem. (1Sa 17:15 JPS)

Furthermore, from this seemingly unnecessary verse, we learn that David was not permanently assigned to be with King Shaul, not even on that day of battle. David played music for Shaul when the evil spirit rested upon him and at all other times he would return home to tend his father’s sheep.

Therefore, if this reasoning is correct, then we may say that David had already been in service in the royal circle of the king.

Moving forward in the story, in verse 26 David inquired from the soldiers as to what should be done for the man who would strike Goliath the Philistine and take away reproach from Israel, most evidently speaking of himself.

When the oldest son Eliyav heard it he said to him in displeasure,

Why did you come down here? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your pride and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle. (1Sa 17:28)

What was the need for Eliyav to say that, unless he suspected that his younger brother strongly wanted to take part in the battle against the worst enemy of Israel, and he became jealous of that? We will see later that David would indeed take part of that battle in which he killed Goliath that led to the defeat of the Philistines.

David answered him modestly but also put the scorn of his oldest brother to shame: “What have I done, then? It was only a word.”

We should have noticed so far that David was not reproved by fellow soldiers, nor was he mocked for his naïve inquiry and for daring to show up in the battle field and challenge them, if his age was concerned. Not even his oldest brother did this to him; Eliyav scorned him for having left their father’s sheep unattended, but the real reason behind it was his jealousy that the young David wanted to fight in the war against the Philistines.

When David’s words were brought up to Shaul, the king said to him,

וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל אֶל־דָּוִד לֹא תוּכַל לָלֶכֶת אֶל־הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי הַזֶּה לְהִלָּחֵם עִמּוֹ כִּי־נַעַר אַתָּה וְהוּא אִישׁ מִלְחָמָה מִנְּעֻרָיו׃

You cannot go to that Philistine and fight him, because you are a youth, and he a man of battle from his youth! (1Sa 17:33)

Thus, we came to the key moment in our study to determine the age of David when he killed Goliath.

The Hebrew word נַעַר na’ar above means a youth from the age of infancy to adolescence, a young man; by implication a servant; also (by interchange of sex), a girl of similar age.

With this meaning נַעַר na’ar has a wide range of applications, such as: “men of battle in Gen 14:23-24, 1Sa 30:17, Jdg 8:20; a young man old enough to get married in Gen 34:19 and Isa 62:5, a servant in Gen 41:12; Mosheh’s servant Yehoshua the son of Nun, a man of battle and leadership in Exo 33:11; the spies sent by Yehoshua in Jos 6:23; an armor-bearer in Jdg 9:54 and 1Sa 14:1; servants on the field in Rth 2:9; David’s most trusted men in battle in 1Sa 25:4-5 and 1Sa 25:8-9; Yarovam, a brave man of battle, King Solomon’s officer over the compulsory labor in 1Ki 11:28; a young man mighty of valor old enough to be a commander of 22 captains in 1Ch 12:28; Yoseph the son of Ya’akov, 17 years old in Gen 37:2.

In all of these instance where נַעַר na’ar is used (excepting Gen 37:2), we find that this word denotes a young man of battle, and hardly, na’ar can mean a boy.

But even more intriguing is the use of נַעַר na’ar in the most dramatic moment in the Scripture, when Avraham brought his son Yitschak up on the mountain and YHVH said to him,

Do not lay your hand on the young man, nor touch him. For now I know that you fear Elohim, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me. (Gen 22:12)

For more insight on another age controversy, refer to the articles “How old Isaac when Abraham offered him?” and “Did YHVH tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?“.

Furthermore, in 1Sa 17:33, we find that נַעַר na’ar, a young man, couples with another Hebrew word, נָעֻר na’ur, which is a passive participle from נַעַר na’ar, used only in plural collectively or emphatically. In such an application, it means youth; also the state of juvenility, or in general: young people.

With this meaning, we find נָעֻר na’ur in,

As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of one’s youth. (Psa 127:4)

Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice with the wife of your youth. (Pro 5:18)

The phrase “the wife of your youth” is also used in Isa 54:6; see also Jer 2:2, Joe 1:8, and Mal 2:14-15. And one more,

And they whored in Egypt, they whored in their youth. There their breasts were handled, and there their maiden nipples were squeezed. (Eze 23:3)

For what whoring in Egypt YHVH Elohim refers to, read the article “The Exodus from Israel’s whoring in Egypt“.

With that being said, we understand that both נַעַר na’ar and נָעֻר na’ur denote age of young men and women. Moreover, not just any young men but brave men of battle. David was a na’ar and so must all his other brothers.

We should note again that in 1Sa 17:33 the young David and the fearful Goliath are both called נַעַר na’ar, young men; hardly the giant Goliath, a mighty man of battle who stood before David, could be called a “boy”. And if Goliath was not translated “boy”, why was David?

Was David such a brave man of battle, when he killed Goliath? Indeed he was. We read again from 1Samuel and we should take his words literally,

 when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and rescued it from its mouth. And when it rose against me, I took hold of it by its beard, and struck it and killed it. Your servant has stricken both lion and bear.  (1Sa 17:34-36)

And when Shaul heard these words, he dressed David with his armors and put his bronze helmet on his head.

Now, as we explained in the Part 1, the common perception is that David was a young boy who shepherded his father’s sheep and liked to play around with his sling. However, this type of “David” is not supported by the context of 1Samuel 16 and 17, nor by the Hebrew language, as we explained above.

We also explained in Part 1 that King Shaul stood in the midst of the people, and he was taller than any of the people, from his shoulders and upwards (1Sa 10:23-24).

In our story, Shaul dressed David with his garments and put his bronze helmet and his armor on him (1Sa 17:38).

So, how tall was King Shaul? He was taller than anyone of his people, from his shoulders and upwards. If he put his armor on David, David must have been as strong, tall, and fit as him.

If we assume that David was a little boy when he killed Goliath, as seen in some movies, that would be grotesque, to say at least, if not mockery to the text. We should notice that those movies do not show the “little David” putting on King’s armor. And why should they?

King Shaul was no fool, nor was the “little David” naïve to put on the heavy bronze armor and go in battle against the giant Goliath before whom all Israel feared.

The more realistic David who killed Goliath

The more realistic David who killed Goliath

Notice also that David girded King’s Shaul sword over his garments, and began to go, but he took them off and said,

I am not able to go with these, for I have not tested them. (1Sa 17:38-39)

He took them off, because he did not get used to them, not because the bronze armor was too large and heavy for him. And he was not get used to them, because he was not an enlisted soldier in the army of Israel.

Besides, David was a man of YHVH Elohim and he did not want the victory over Goliath and the Philistines to look like his but YHVH’s. The only thing the brave young man David needed to kill Goliath was his shepherd staff, his sling, and five smooth stones from the wadi (1Sa 17:40). The rest he needed he already had it: the trust in YHVH Elohim, the Mighty One of Israel.

So, if David was 22 years old when he killed Goliath, as we explained in Part 1, why was he not in the army in the first place? Again the narrative is silent and the only conclusion we can come to is that David being the youngest son of eight was left to be in help to his old father (see 1Sa 17:12). Yishai’s seven sons had already been enlisted and David was his only son to be close to him.  

The other misconception that has contributed to the distorted imagery of the strong David is that the shepherd staff and sling David used to fight Goliath are just extras to the scene.

On the contrary, in ancient times a shepherd used his staff not just as a walking stick but also to protect himself and his sheep from predators, and a sling was a powerful weapon of war in the regular armies; the sling then is the sniper’s rifle now. The sling was a strong weapon in battle in the hands of a skillful marksman like David.

From the loins of this strong man of battle, the King of Israel, another King will come riding on a white horse leading the heavenly armies, and on whose banner will be written, “KING OF KINGS AND MASTER OF MASTERS”. And He shall rule over the nations with His iron staff.

And she bore a male child who was to shepherd all nations with a rod of iron. And her child was caught away to Elohim and to His throne. (Rev 12:5)

And out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations. And He shall shepherd them with a rod of iron. (Rev 19:15)


May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.