So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. — 1 Sam. 17:50-51
I’ve always wondered why David cut off Goliath’s head.
I’ll admit, I’ve always assumed that Goliath died when David struck him with the stone from the sling. That’s kind of the impression you get when you read verse 49:
And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.
Stone sinks into forehead, Goliath falls over, he’s dead. Right?
Some commentators argue that David was simply “making sure” when he decapitated Goliath. Makes sense. You’d hate for David to be standing there pumping his fist victoriously, only to have Goliath pop back up in cheap horror movie fashion. So I get the whole “finish the job” mentality.
Other commentators argue that the ancients believed that the head represented the seat of wisdom and power for either an individual or a people group. By cutting off the head of their champion, David was striking a blow at Philistine paganism specifically and more generally at any who would be so brazen as to defy the armies of the God of Israel. Or so the argument goes.
Others say David was simply taunting both Goliath and the Philistines, an ancient version of this:
Ultimately, David made the head of Goliath a significant part of his future administration in Jerusalem:
And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem… — 1 Sam. 17:54
But it would be years before David was enthroned in Jerusalem. So was the decapitation of Goliath some serious long range strategic planning on David’s part? Was it an “in your face” to the Philistine way of life? Was he simply making sure that Goliath was out of commission?
But I think there may be another reason David took Goliath’s head.
Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons….The three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest. The three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep in Bethlehem.
And Jesse said to David his son, “Take for your brothers and ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers. Also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See if your brothers are well, and bring some token from them. — 1 Sam. 17:12-18
David’s father asked for a token, a pledge, an assurance of the security of Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah. The root word here was used of the earnest money paid out in advance for a commodity. In business terms, such a pledge was a means of securing ownership. It seems that Jesse is asking for some assurance from the king that his boys are okay. “I need some guarantee,” Jesse says, “that my boys will be secure.”
I believe David presented Goliath’s head to his father as just such a token, a representation of YHWH’s provision and security and blessing. The text makes clear that what little provision Saul can provide is quite laughable. David refuses his armor and sword in favor of the provision of YHWH. Jesse’s plea is understandable. How many of us have asked for the same degree of security, some sort of ironclad guarantee, when it comes to our own children? And yet, we are consistently reminded that such guarantees simply don’t exist. That sort of provision isn’t offered to us.
Only David emerges here as one who understands the source of true security. Anointed in the mighty Spirit of YHWH (16:13), David is willing to enter the fray, to risk much, understanding that the crucible of conflict was the proving ground of provision. David steps fully into the moment armed only with his faith. The irony of it all is that a son of Jesse must risk it all in order to secure the safety of Jesse’s oldest sons.
The head of the giant represented a token for David’s father, Jesse, the man who cared deeply for each of his boys, especially the three on the front lines of the battle.
But the head of Goliath also represented a token from the Father, the God in heaven who called David and anointed him with the Spirit to lead Israel. This is the great lesson we learn from David.
The token for the father was a token from the Father.
I think that’s why David took Goliath’s head. I think he took it home to Jesse and said, “Your sons are safe, father.” This was the work not of the administration, but of YHWH, the One who was faithfully present as David ran to the battle line to meet Goliath (17:48). And for years afterward, Goliath’s head remained a token of YHWH’s provision, both for David and for Israel.
Interestingly, the Hebrew root word here is imported into the NT to describe another “token” from the Father, the same Spirit that empowered David so many centuries ago:
Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory. — Eph. 1:13-14
The Spirit is a token from the Father, a deposit guaranteeing his ownership, his seal of provision and security. Anointed with the Spirit, we — like David — can live in faith rather than in fear. We can walk in bold trust, confident in the promises of YHWH.
And we can look to this token and know that we are safe.