“For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood”
– Prophet Isaiah (8th century BC ).
Elah. A valley between two hills.
One hill, perfect for a battle formation: Ephes Dammim. On this the Philistines are arrayed.
The other, ideal for scattering a group; on this Israel finds herself.
It’s the season of rain. Today though seems far from rainy. With the sun at its highest lately, heaven perhaps renders its approval for the battle in Elah.
At first glance, the outcome of this battle seems clear — the sons of Israel are heading home as sheep without a shepherd; except by some miracle, the Philistine army is halved and every of its towering giants eliminated, or by some magic, the Israelites’ number doubled and its diminutive soldiers heightened.
Haphshak, captain of the Philistine army realizing how the battle seems destined to end in His favor decides to make it quick and avoid the spillage of much blood. On his charge, Goliath of Gath, champion of the Philistine army, most sinister of the towering giants, steps out of his camp and into Elah bearing a message for Israel.
His well-built, bulky, nine feet tall frame, bronze helmet, leg armor, coat of mail weighing 125 pounds, sends a wordless but nonetheless clear message to the cowering Israelites.
In his right hand is a javelin, the shaft of which is as heavy and thick as a weaver’s beam, tipped with a spearhead made of iron and weighing 15 pounds. He is a pawn to his master, ready to sacrifice or be sacrificed in battle against whoever stands up for Israel against him – from kid to king. The valley and its bounding hills fall silent at the sight of the champion.
With both feet firmly anchored on both sides of him, he raises both hands, as in defiance of an unseen exalted being in Israel’s camp. With vicious looking veins protruding from both sides of his neck, he bellows: “Oh Israel, hear me!”
His booming voice echoes back and forth through the valley.
“I am Goliath of Gath, champion of the Philistines!” He lowers his right hand and pounds on his chest a few times. “Am I not a Philistine and you all sons of Israel and servants to Saul?! Choose this day a man of you who will come here and fight me, and thus spare my companions the delight of having their swords bloodied by your flesh!”
The Philistines’ camp behind him becomes immediately animated. Belligerent laughter erupts from every part of the camp, echoing through their end of the valley. Goliath, in the valley, isn’t left out of the brief excitement.
The sons of Israel stay quiet still. They haven’t got much of a choice. Fear is theirs today.
“If he kills me, we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be ours!” Goliath continues.
Silence covers the valley like a veil.
“I defy today the armies of Israel! Send me a man!” Now his eyes are fiery, the laughter is gone from him, leaving behind the look of a beastly predator awaiting its prey.
Only regions inhabited by the dead could be quieter.
Haphshak marvels at the giant’s delivery of his message: a smirk crosses his face at Israel’s silent reaction.
Saul, king, and commander of Israel’s army is troubled, terribly shaken by these words. He, loftiest in the land, is as terrified by the giant as his lowliest soldier.
I am the loftiest in the land of Israel. From shoulder upwards am I taller than all else. If I be terrified by the sight of this monstrous being, then how is my army not to be? There is no such man in Israel as can stand against this mammoth being in a fight and triumph. Yielding to these words translates to suicide and slavery for the whole of Israel. Not yielding does not appear a very favorable option still…
“Israel sends me no one,” Goliath rues.
“Here’s what will be. I’ll help you with some hope that you’ll find a man to fight me. Forty days I’ll come uttering these words: at dawn and at dusk. If by the fortieth day you fail to find me a man to fight, you leave me with no choice than to share this battle’s delight with the whole of the Philistine army! And I’d be damned and the whole Philistine army if any son of Israel is left to see the sun rise on the forty-first day!”
With that, the giant stomps out of Elah, and up into his camp, shield bearer behind – pawn to a pawn.
Day 2 – 38
Everything stays the same: Israel terrified, still in search of a savior; the Philistines, buoyed, expecting word from Saul; Goliath – made to adhere to the agreed rules of battle – being daily goaded by Israel’s silence begins a countdown. Israel’s becoming failure to present him as the hero of the Philistines by giving him a man he believes he’ll inevitably defeat is exasperating.
Just one man Israel… One death to savor. Alone.
Give you a man and help us find slavery, death? No.
There are the occasional skirmishes between both armies… but nothing too intense…
Until Shiloh comes.