Articles Archive -- Topical Index -- Textual Index

by Al Maxey

Issue #856 -- November 5, 2022
O, 'tis excellent to have a giant's strength;
but 'tis tyrannous to use it like a giant.

William Shakespeare [1564-1616]
Measure for Measure

Puzzling "Tall" Tale of Goliath
Stature-Seeking Study of 1 Samuel 17:4

The above quote from the pen of William Shakespeare, which appeared in his work "Measure for Measure" [II, ii, 107], brings to mind a somewhat similar sentiment expressed by Basil O'Connor (1892-1972), a Harvard-educated attorney and advisor to Franklin D. Roosevelt. In an address before the National Conference of Christians and Jews in 1945, he declared, "The world cannot continue to wage war like physical giants and to seek peace like intellectual pygmies." There is a tremendous amount of wisdom contained in this statement, and that wisdom is applicable to any number of confrontational situations, whether they be between nations, political groups, churches, families, or individuals with differing perspectives and practices. When conflict looms on the horizon, the victory isn't always to the most powerful; rather, it is often to the most insightful instead. Might doesn't always make right, yet too often men give in to that might by cowering intellectually and spiritually before it. Good defaults to evil by failing to courageously engage it with the power of infinitely greater Truth and with the aid of HE who is infinitely greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4; cf. 2 Kings 6:16).

An excellent example of this above principle is found in a very well-known Bible story; one with which even our youngest children are quite familiar. It is the story of the shepherd boy, David, who dares to take on the giant from Gath named Goliath: an enormous man, well-armed, and the acknowledged "champion" of the Philistine army which had arrayed itself against the army of the people of Israel led by King Saul (1 Samuel 17). Although this is a familiar account, there are some interesting perspectives to be gained from some of the lesser emphasized aspects of it, which one may find in my following two studies: "Five Stream-Smoothed Stones: A Reflection on David's Selection" (Reflections #634) and "Seeking War-Horse Salvation: The Deadly Folly of a Misplaced Trust" (Reflections #783). With regard to the basic story itself, however, "Goliath had all the things that would normally impress and intimidate ... yet no matter how big this giant might be, God is greater" [Charles Swindoll, Profiles in Character: David, p. 35-36]. To use the terminology of Basil O'Connor, David was a mere "pygmy" in the eyes of Goliath, for the latter was "an enormous man ... somewhere near 9' 9" tall. The NBA would love him!" [ibid, p. 37]. At the end of the story, however, a much different reality would become evident: "Out of this battle, the real truth emerged, evident to the troops on both sides of the Valley of Elah: Goliath was the dwarf and David was the giant!" [ibid, p. 47]. How was this possible?! "This youth met his antagonist, being accompanied with an invisible Assistant, who was no other than God Himself" [Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, book 6, chapter 9, section 5].

Swindoll, one of my favorite Christian devotional authors, makes some interesting observations about this Bible story in chapter four of his above-mentioned book (a chapter titled "David and the Dwarf"). He points out that you and I face many "giants" in our journey through life. They may be in the form of people, circumstances, trials, temptations, worries, and the like. These may appear enormous to us; overpowering and overwhelming; leaving us discouraged, despairing, and even defeated. "Intimidation. That's our MAJOR battle when we face giants. When they intimidate us, we get tongue-tied. Our thoughts get confused. We forget how to pray. We focus on the odds against us. We forget Whom we represent, and we stand there with our knees knocking. I wonder what God must think!" [Swindoll, p. 46]. Yet, when we face our giants in life with God on our side, and when we view these giants through His eyes, we perceive them for what they truly are: dwarfs and pygmies. WE are the giants, and in Him we are already "more than conquerors" (Romans 8:37). "That's why you don't tolerate giants," Swindoll says; instead, "you kill them!" [p. 42]. We need to be slayers, not nay-sayers; we need to be slaying the fears, worries, anxieties that this world daily places in our path; put them to the sword (figuratively speaking). Don't let evil or evildoers intimidate you. They may loom largely before you, but it is you who are the true giant in this battle. James states the principle this way: "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:7, NKJV). The Message reads, "Yell a loud No to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and He'll be there in no time!"

Our problem is, however, that we don't always see things through the eyes of our God. Like the Israelite spies, we see giants (Numbers 13:31-33), when God sees dwarfs, and thus we become intimidated and fearful, and we flee from that which should be fleeing from us. This tendency of our human nature was pointed out to Samuel just prior to the "David and Goliath" story. As Samuel was tasked by the Lord with locating a king for Israel, he began looking where God was not. Thus, God said to him, "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, ... For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). We are impressed (or intimidated) by size; God is impressed by spirit. We focus on the outward; God focuses on the inward. If only you and I would do the same more often in life! Dr. F. B. Meyer (1847-1929), an English pastor and good friend of D. L. Moody, observed, "Are there not 'giants' equally determined and terrible that threaten us, in national and individual experience, and find us unable to cope with them?! We need David's God and David's faith!" [Through the Bible Day-by-Day, e-Sword].

Interestingly, one Bible reference source points out that "Saul, Israel's king and 'giant,' should have responded to the challenge" of Goliath, rather than the lad David [Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 519], for in 1 Samuel 9:2 we read, "Kish had a choice and handsome son whose name was Saul, and there was not a more handsome person than Saul among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people." Israel's "giant" ought to have been the first to boldly rise to the challenge of the Philistine's "giant." But sadly, by the time of the assault against Israel that is mentioned in 1 Samuel 17, Saul's faith had all but failed and "the Spirit of God had departed from Israel's leader," and the people "shared in the depression which this national consciousness brought. In such warfare," as Saul and Israel faced, "all depended on decision and boldness. But unbelief makes cowards," and Saul had lost that sense of trust in his God: his weakness was now evident to all [Dr. Alfred Edersheim, Bible History: The Old Testament, vol. 4, p. 87]. Thus, "Israel's hereditary enemy the Philistines, probably encouraged by their knowledge of Saul's state, advanced" upon Israel to destroy the nation [ibid]. Our own nation and its many spineless, self-serving, less-than-godly leaders would do well to heed this lesson from history, just as "we the people" would also do well to keep it in mind when we go to the polls to cast our votes for those who will lead and represent us!

But, back to the man known to us as Goliath. That name appears only six times in the Bible, all of which are in the OT writings: 1 Samuel 17:4, 23; 21:9; 22:10; 2 Samuel 21:19; 1 Chronicles 20:5 (although there is significant debate among scholars on how to understand those last two texts). "It is probable that Goliath was not actually of Philistine stock, but instead was a descendant of an aboriginal group such as the Rephaim, Anakim, or Awim. These peoples may have served as combat troops in the Philistine forces, and some of them were certainly living in the area of Gath at the time of Saul - see: 2 Samuel 21:22 and 1 Chronicles 20:8" [The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 524]. If this view is correct, then Goliath was likely "one of the few descendants of the giant race left by Joshua - see: Joshua 11:21-22" [Dr. Paul Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: the OT, vol. 1, p. 482]. Most scholars would tend to agree with this understanding of his origins. Others, however, take it much further. "Rabbinic literature records many legends about Goliath. According to these, his mother was Orpah (cf. Ruth 1:14), who walked 40 paces with Naomi and Ruth, and then returned to a profligate life in Moab. Goliath was born of her illegitimately (the Vulgate calls him 'vir spurius' = 'a bastard'). He boasted of having slain Eli's two sons (1 Samuel 4:11) and of having stolen the ark of Israel (1 Samuel 4:17). The 40 days of his challenge to the Israelite army (1 Samuel 17:4-10) compared to the 40 paces of his mother Orpah, and it was done at the time of the reciting of the Shema" [The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p. 709]. Such ancient myths and legends should be given little if any credence!

What some may not realize, and what others may be puzzled by if they have done any amount of comparative textual study, is that there is quite a bit of variety in the various versions of the Scriptures with regard to the actual height of Goliath. And we're not just talking inches (although there is plenty of that), we're also talking feet. The most common reading is that his height was "six cubits and a span," which one finds in the King James Version ... American Standard Version ... English Standard Version ... Modern English Version ... New American Standard Bible ... New Century Catholic Bible ... New International Version ... Revised Standard Version ... Young's Literal Translation, just to name a few. Of course, this begs the question: "So, what exactly is a 'cubit' and a 'span' according to the standard of measurement of our own day?" What exactly does "six cubits and a span" equate to in our day and age? Well, therein lies part of the problem, for no less a biblical scholar than Dr. Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), who was born to Jewish parents in Vienna and later converted to Christianity, an expert in the Talmud and Torah and Jewish culture and traditions, was honest enough to admit, "We are not quite sure of the exact equivalent of Hebrew measures and weights" [Bible History: The Old Testament, vol. 4, p. 89]. Confusing the matter even more, as Edersheim also noted, is the fact that in the ancient Greek version of the OT writings known as The Septuagint, the "measurement was changed from six to four cubits" [ibid]. Naturally, some later English translations followed this textual rendering rather than that of the Hebrew (the Masoretic) text. We find "four cubits and a span" in the International Standard Version and the updated edition of the New Revised Standard Version, for example, and we should also note that Josephus wrote, "Goliath was a man of vast bulk, for he was four cubits and a span in tallness" [Antiquities of the Jews, book 6, chapter 9, section 1]. So, was it six or was it four?!

Increasing one's confusion is the debate over the size of a "cubit" and of a "span." Most agree, in general, that a CUBIT is "the distance from the elbow to the extremity of the middle finger," and that a SPAN is "the distance between the extremities of the thumb and the little finger in the outstretched hand," with the latter (a span) generally thought to be "half that of a cubit" [The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, e-Sword]. On average, this is believed by many to result in: a cubit = 18 inches and a span = 9 inches. Yet, whose arm, hand, and fingers constitute the standard for this measurement? "The length of a cubit and a span differs according to the average size of the people involved and the time period" [Dr. John T. Willis, First and Second Samuel, p. 179]. Due to all the above considerations, scholars over the years have suggested a height for Goliath anywhere from just over 6 feet to just over 11 feet. Quite a spread!! A number of English translations have opted not to use the phrase "six cubits and a span" or "four cubits and a span," but instead try to assign a phrase more meaningful to us today (and in so doing have only increased the confusion). Notice the following examples:

Well, you get the idea. "The portrayal of Goliath may well be 'the most detailed physical description of any found in Scripture'" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 695 - quoting Dr. Boogaart, The Story of David and Goliath, p. 207]. Nevertheless, it leaves us with more questions than answers, including questions such as, "Why does Scripture contradict itself?" and "How reliable and trustworthy is Scripture?" and "Where else is the text potentially wrong or misleading?" If our Bibles can't even agree on the height of a particular man, some ask, how can we believe that our Bibles "get it right" about the nature of our God?! These are serious questions, and they deserve to be given serious consideration, for there are people genuinely troubled by this (and by countless other such examples that could be given). Although it is beyond the scope of this particular article, these questions, and more, have been addressed in a fascinating field of study known as Textual Criticism, one that I have been doing personal study in for decades, going back to my time in graduate school at the university where I spent a number of very enjoyable years. The more one spends time studying the origins, history, transmission, and translation of the Scriptures, the more one's eyes are opened to some stark realities about the book we hold in our hands called the Bible. Frankly, there are many notions about this book and its contents that are simply not supported by the facts, and a good number of our convictions about it are founded more in human tradition than divine truth. I dealt with this to some degree in a recent article titled "From Biblicism to Bibliolatry: Have We Made the Bible an Idol?" (Reflections #829).

The Scriptures are literary documents produced by a number of men over a number of centuries from diverse backgrounds. Yes, I believe these individuals were guided by God with respect to the truths, principles, and core message He sought to convey to mankind through them, but I do NOT believe that God dictated to these men word-for-word the text of these writings. They didn't "fall into a trance" and awaken hours later to find a grammatically and theologically flawless document on the table in front of them. These writings are the product of imperfect men, and those imperfections radiate from these writings on occasion: indeed, it's part of the beauty of them, for we get to know the human writers as well as the One about whom they are writing! I truly believe that ALL of the information our God desires for mankind to receive through these writings IS readily available through them; NO necessary Truth is negated, altered, or hidden by the imperfections of the medium. God preserves and protects His Message as He sends it forth. BUT, these writings themselves are NOT that Message; they merely contain it. Jesus made that clear to those religionists of His day who were conflating and confusing Truth with the text. "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; but it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life" (John 5:39-40). Paul told Timothy that "the sacred writings" contain, and are thus able to provide, wise counsel "that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). They themselves don't save us (that's not their purpose), but they can point us to the ONE who can. Yes, these writings are "inspired," they are "God-breathed," and they are clearly "profitable" for achieving the purpose for which they were given by God. But does that make them grammatically, historically, scientifically, medically, even theologically infallible?! NO, and we miss the point of their purpose if we proclaim that they are, which I discuss in my article titled "All Scripture is God-Breathed: A Reflective Study of 2 Timothy 3:16a" (Reflections #444).

There are a number of great scholars and disciples of Christ who have grasped this truth, and who are doing an excellent job of sharing this insight with their readers and listeners, among whom I number Dr. Patrick Mead, a noted neuro-scientist who brings a very unique, powerful, and persuasive perspective to bear on the biblical text, its stories, the person and message of Jesus, and the whole field of textual criticism and biblical hermeneutics. In fact, in some of his Monday morning messages (a series titled "Who Told You About ...?", which has been running for several months) he has addressed this very issue of inspiration and infallibility. You can find them online at several sites by simply searching for "Our Safe Harbor Church." Do yourself a huge favor and check out this site: you will be richly blessed!

In addition to my friend Patrick's site and insights, let me also share with you a book that I was recently made aware of by my youngest son Tim (who just turned 42 ... wow, I'm getting old). He had come across the work of two local professors and was intrigued by some of their insights, especially as their work pertained to the questions of the height of Goliath and why there was such a disparity in the biblical evidence. I had never heard of these two men, but if they had caught Tim's eye, then I knew I had to check them out. And he was right: they had penned some thoughts that got me thinking, which then turned into this present issue of Reflections. So, my thanks to my son Tim Maxey for inspiring me to put these thoughts together in this article!

The book mentioned above is titled "Scribes and Scripture: The Amazing Story of How We Got the Bible" by Dr. John D. Meade and Dr. Peter J. Gurry. The Publisher is: Crossway (October 18, 2022). It can be purchased on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. On October 24, 2022 (just days after the release of the book), these two men wrote an article which was adapted from their book, and it was this article that first introduced me to the thinking of these men. That article is titled "How Tall Was Goliath? A Textual Dilemma" (easily found online by typing in the title and/or the authors' names). Both are currently seminary professors in Phoenix, Arizona (near where my son and his family live), and both have earned PhD degrees (Dr. Curry from University of Cambridge and Dr. Meade from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). Let me just share, in closing, a paragraph from near the end of their article, as it reflects so beautifully what I and Patrick and many others have sought to convey about the Scriptures. Drs. Gurry & Meade wrote, "Varied witnesses tell the story of the Old Testament text. However, we don't need to despair over this situation. Rather, we should hear all of the witnesses that Providence has preserved for us in these diverse ways and texts so that we can appreciate the various contours and lines contributing to the beautiful textual mosaic that we have. God providentially superintended the preservation of His revelation through the normal arduous work of ancient scribes and translators. Some scribes were more careful than others. Some translators produced more literal translations, while others created more dynamic ones. Some scribes intervened more than others in the copying process. God used all of these normal human means to pass down His word faithfully."


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Special Radio Program

The Michael Shinabery Show, recorded live on Nov. 3, is now online. Click on the link; it will take you to the podcast page for the radio station. Scroll down to Michael's section, scroll down the list of dates to Nov. 3rd, then click on either of the blue links next to the date. Another pastor and I were his guests, and the topics of this one-hour radio program were: the sanctity of life & abortion and attitudes about the upcoming election. I hope you find the dialogue uplifting. I really enjoyed being a part of the broadcast and thank Michael for inviting me. In the middle is Andy Olsen, a pastor from Cloudcroft, NM. Michael, the host, is on the left.

Readers' Reflections
NOTE: Differing views and understandings are always welcome here,
yet they do not necessarily reflect my own views and understandings.
They're opportunities for readers to voice what is on their hearts, with
a view toward greater dialogue among disciples with a Berean spirit.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Al, please send me the following CD sets: "Reflections: The Complete Collection - from December 2002 to the Present" and "The Debates of Al Maxey." Also, please send me a signed copy of your fourth book titled "From Ruin to Resurrection." My check is enclosed. Al, I have been following you for years! Keep up the good work, and may God continue to bless you. I sense some hope for our sidetracked brotherhood. Thank you!

From a Reader in Wyoming:

Al, your article "Seeking the This of 'That': Query on a Word in Ephesians 2:8" (Reflections #855) was another excellent exposition and reflection! You, John Mark Hicks, and N. T. Wright are great blessings in my spiritual journey for understanding and growth! Thank you, brother!!

From a Minister in Texas:

Al, I hope you are having a great week. I loved your last article ("Seeking the This of 'That'") and thought you might be interested in N. T. Wright's thoughts about faith, love, and baptism. Here is the link, if you choose to take a look at it: "What Did the Gospel Mean to Paul?" Also, I have found that the website Precept Austin has lots of good resources, and I often use this site to see what others say about certain biblical verses and topics. We enjoy keeping track of you and your family on Facebook. Blessings!

From an Author in Nevada:

Al, just a quick note to say that the thoughts of the "Reader in Prince Edward Island, Canada" (in the Readers' Reflections section of your last issue) was easily one of the all-time great letters ever written to you!! Thank you for sharing it with us.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Al, I noticed that I had not seen any of your Reflections in my "inbox" lately, so I searched my "junk" file and found several. I enjoyed them all.

From a Minister/Author in Florida:

Al, I was looking through your Reflections to see if you had dealt with the Lutheran Missouri Synod's belief that the bread and wine, when blessed, becomes the body (flesh and blood) of Jesus, and does not just "represent" His body and blood. I haven't studied the topic in years, but a sister-in-Christ is married to a Lutheran, and this is the biggest issue she is dealing with, since he will only take Communion in a Lutheran Church. They have been studying, and he comes to the church assembly with her some, but the Communion issue is a difficulty for them. Have you dealt with this issue in your writings? Thank you.

From a Reader in Maine:

Al, thanks for your Reflections on "Seeking the This of 'That'" in the Ephesians 2:8 passage. I especially appreciated the quote you provided from the writings of Dr. Kretzmann: "It is a gift, not a purchase." Saying it that way gives even more insight into this Ephesians text, which finally "came to life" for me only in the past three of my eight decades! By the way, I hope to be out your way soon, and I'd really like to meet you and hear you preach in person! Blessings!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I pray that you will be lifted up each time you receive comments from your readers, knowing that your work and devotion is making a difference! I have said it before, and I will say it again: I fully believe the same Holy Spirit that gave Paul and other writers of our Bible words to write, is also giving you words to write. I believe they are as important (possibly even more so, since it is our modern-day culture and our own time period) as the words we find in the Bible. I pray that God gives you an abundance of joy and time to continue blessing all of us for years to come!! We love you, brother!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Another great article, brother ("Seeking the This of 'That'"), and I particularly liked your statement: "The dead do not have the ability to impart life unto themselves! They are dead." That says it all, brother!

From a Reader in South Carolina:

Al, I really enjoyed your last Reflections study. I saw where someone said something negative about Patrick Mead. Patrick is one of the best ministers that I know!! I really enjoy listening to him and reading his writings. If Patrick Mead has recommended your Reflections to his many listeners, and calls you one of his "heroes," then THAT is an outstanding recommendation! Keep up the good work, Al, and don't let the naysayers discourage you. They have their own agenda!

From an Author in Texas:

Another good one, Al. You certainly put the emphasis where it belongs: on Jesus and His saving work, resulting in a "free gift." Thank you very much. Keep up the good work.

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Wow!! What a comprehensive and exhaustive article, as always! Thanks for the acknowledgment of my enquiry! In addition to all that you have said in it, I say this: I think "that" also alludes to the Source and Origin of the "free gift" - i.e., God Himself. Also, by elaborating "not of works," I believe this means there is nothing participatory nor contributory to that divine gift on our part! It is solely the exclusive, unique work of God, and can only be appropriated by faith (Romans 4:16). Thanks again, Al. GREAT article!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Great article as always! My mind always goes to the quote by Max Lucado, formerly a celebrated "CofC" author, who memorably said, "The only thing I contribute to my salvation is my sin!" I can't always remember what I had for breakfast, but it's not likely that I will ever forget that quote! Al, the work required to provide as much detail as you do in your studies must be exhausting at times (and I'm sure some will berate you for doing it - LOL). Just remember: There are more of us who appreciate you by far than those who don't!! Love ya, brother!

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