Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 36




SAMUEL ordered Thalout (Saul) to make war upon Gjalout (Goliath), and to assemble the fighting men of the tribes of Israel. Saul summoned all the men, and they numbered eighty thousand. Samuel gave Saul a suit of mail, and said to him, "He who can wear this coat with ease will decide the war, and Goliath will perish by his hand."

Saul started with his army; his way led through a desert, a day's journey across; and it was very hot weather. On the other side of the desert was a broad river, between Jordan and Palestine, and the children of Israel had to pass this river to reach the army of Goliath. Saul thought that now he would prove his soldiers, for Samuel had bidden him take into battle only as many men as he could rely upon.

The men were faint with heat and thirst as they reached the river of Palestine, and Saul said, "He who drinks of this water shall not come with me, but he who drinks not thereof shall follow after me."[1] For he would not have them slake their thirst till they reached Jordan.[2]

But, according to another version of the story, the men were fainting in the wilderness, and murmured against Saul. Then Samuel prayed, and God brought a water-spring out of the dry, stony ground, and made standing water in the desert, fresh as snow, sweet as honey, and white as milk.[3]

Samuel spake to the soldiers, and said, "Ye have sinned against your king and against God, by murmuring. Therefore refuse to drink of this water except in the hollow of your hand, and so expiate your fault."[4]

Samuel's words were disregarded. Only three hundred and thirteen men were found who had sufficient control over themselves not to drink except slightly out of the hollow of their hand; but these felt their thirst quenched, whereas those who had lain down and lapped were still parched with thirst.

Saul and his army came before that of Goliath; then said the majority of those who had lain down and lapped, "We have no strength to-day to stand against the Philistines." So Saul dismissed them to their homes, to the number of seventy-six thousand men; he had still with him four thousand men. Next day, when they saw the array of the Philistines, and the gigantic stature of their king, and their harness flashing in the sun, the hearts of more of the warriors failed, and they would not follow Saul into battle, but said, "We have no strength to-day to stand against the Philistines!"

So Saul dismissed three thousand six hundred men, and there remained to him only three hundred and thirteen, the same number as those who on the day of Bedr remained with the prophet Mohammed.

Then said Saul, "God is favourable to us!" and he advanced, and set his army in array against Goliath. And he prayed, saying, "Grant us, O Lord, perseverance."[5]

However, God sent an order by Samuel, saying, "Go not into battle this day, for the man who is to slay Goliath is not here; he is Daud (David), son of Jesse, son of Obed, son of Boaz; he is a little man, with grey eyes, and little hair, timid of heart, and slender of body. By this shalt thou know him: when thou placest the horn upon his head, the oil will overflow and boil."

Then Samuel went to Jesse, and said to him, "Amongst thy sons there is one who will slay Goliath."

Jesse said, "I have eleven sons, men stalwart and comely."

Samuel placed the horn on their heads, but the oil was not to be seen.

Then God gave him a vision, and he said to him, "Look not at the beauty and strength of these men, but on the purity of their hearts and their fear of God."

Samuel said to Jesse, "God says thou art a liar, and He says thou hast another son besides these."

Jesse answered, "It is true; but he is diminutive in stature, and I am ashamed to bring him into the company of men; I make him tend sheep; he is somewhere with the flock to-day."

Samuel went to the place, and it was a valley into which a torrent fell. He saw David drawing the sheep out of the torrent by twos. Samuel said, "Certainly this is the man I seek." He placed the horn on his head, and the oil overflowed.

Now Goliath, seeing the small number of the children of Israel, despised them, and scorned to fight them. He sent a messenger to Saul, saying, "Thou hast come out to fight against me with this handful, and I disdain to attack thee with my large army. If thou wilt, come forth that we may fight each other, or send any one out of the army, whom thou wilt, to fight with me."

None in Saul's army would venture against the giant, and Saul was himself afraid. He produced the shirt of mail Samuel had given him, and he tried it upon each of his soldiers in turn; but it was too short for one, too long for another, too tight for a third, and too loose for a fourth.

Now the father of David had come with his eleven sons into the host; but he had left David, because he was young and small of stature, to keep the sheep; and he had bidden him, from time to time, bring him supplies of food. David came with the provisions. He was dressed in a woollen shirt, and he bore in his hand a staff, and a pouch attached to his waist.

As he passed over a pebbly strip of soil, a stone cried to him, "Pick me up, and take me with thee." He stooped and picked up the stone, and placed it in his pouch. And when he had taken a few paces, another stone cried to him, "Pick me up, and take me with thee." He did so. And a third stone cried in like manner, and was in like manner taken by David. The first stone was that wherewith Abraham had driven away Satan, when he sought to dissuade the patriarch from offering up his son; and the second stone was that on which the foot of Gabriel rested when he opened the fountain in the desert for Hagar and Ishmael; and the third stone was that wherewith Jacob strove against the angel whom his brother Esau had sent against him.[6] But, according to another account, the first was the stone which Moses cast against the enemies of God, the second was that cast by Aaron, the third was destined to cause the death of Goliath.[7] When David came into the army, Saul had finished trying on the suit of mail upon the soldiers, and he said, "It fits none of them." Then he spied David, and he said, "Young man, let me place this shirt of mail on thee." Then he cast it over him, and it fitted him exactly.

Saul said, "Wilt thou fight Goliath?"

David answered, "I will do so."

Saul said, "With what horse and arms wilt thou go?"

David answered, "I will have no horse and no arms, save these stones of the brook."

David was feeble in body, he had grey eyes, was short, yellow-complexioned, thin-faced, and had red hair.[8]

Saul had little hope that David would overcome the giant, but he thought his example might shame and stimulate others, therefore he let him go.

Now when Goliath came forth and defied the army of Israel, David went to meet him, wearing only his linen shirt, and belt, and pouch, and he had his shepherd's staff in his hand.

Then cried Goliath, "Who art thou, that comest out to meet me?"

Then David replied, "I am come out to fight with thee."

Goliath said, "Go back, petty fool, and play with children of thine own age. I despise thee; thou art unarmed."

"And I despise thee, dog of a Philistine!" cried the stripling; "thou deservest to be dealt with as men deal with dogs,—pelting them with stones till they turn tail."

Then Goliath was in a rage, and he lifted his spear against David; but David hasted and loosed his belt, and laid in it one of the stones, and slung it; and the wind caught the helmet of Goliath, and lifted it in the air above his head, and the stone struck him on the brow, and sank in, and crushed all his skull, and strewed his brains all over the horse he rode; then the giant fell out of his saddle, and died.

Then again David placed the second stone in his sling, and he cast it, and it smote the right wing of the army of the Philistines; then he cast the third stone, and it smote the left wing, and the host of the Philistines fled before him.[9]


Saul had promised his daughter to the man who should slay Goliath. When the Philistines had been routed, Saul told Samuel all that had taken place; and the prophet exhorted the king to fulfil his promise, and to give to David his daughter in marriage.

To this Saul agreed, and he gave David his ring, and made him manager of all his affairs, and he exalted him to be his son-in-law.

Several years passed, and Saul became envious of David, whose praise was in everybody's mouth.

He sent David into the wars, in hopes of his there meeting his death; but it was all in vain. Then he spoke to his daughter Michal, that she should introduce him into her husband's chamber at night, that he might slay David with his own hand.

Michal told David her father's resolution, with many tears; but David bade her be comforted. "For," said he, "the God of my fathers, who preserved Abraham and Moses from the hands of the executioner, will deliver me from thy father. But do as he bade thee, open the door at night, and fear not for me."

Then David went into his smithy and wrought a suit of chain mail. He was the inventor of chain-armour. And he had received from God the power of moulding iron, like wax, in his fingers, without fire and without hammer.

Now he fashioned for himself a whole suit of chain mail; it was so thin that it was like gossamer, and it fitted to his body like his skin, and it was impenetrable to the thrust of every weapon.

David put upon him his armour, and lay down in his bed. He slept, but was awakened at midnight by the knife of Saul stabbing at him as he lay. He sprang up, struck the weapon from the hands of his father-in-law, and thrust him forth out of the house.[10]

After this, Saul came to Michal and said, "He was not asleep, or I certainly would have slain him. Admit me again into his chamber at night."

Michal went to David and told him all, with many tears.

Then said David, "I must escape from my house, for my life is not in security here. But do thou fill a leather bottle with wine, and lay it in my bed."

Michal did so; she took a large skin of wine and placed it in the bed, and drew the cover over it. But David fled away to Hebron.

And in the night came Saul, and he felt the clothes, and he thought it was David in the bed, so he stabbed at him with his knife, and the wine ran out in the bed. Then Saul smelt it, and he said, "How much wine the fellow drank for his supper!"[11]

But when he found that David had escaped him once more, he was wroth, and he gathered men together, and pursued after him; in his anger, moreover, he sought to kill Michal, but she fled away and concealed herself.

Saul pursued David in the mountains, but David knew all the caves and lurking-places, and Saul was unable to catch him. One night, David crept into the camp and thrust four arrows, inscribed with his name, into the ground, round the head of Saul. When Saul awoke, he saw these arrows, and he said, "David has been here; he might have slain me had he willed it."

During the day, Saul came upon his enemy in a narrow valley; he was mounted, and he pursued David, who was on foot. David fled as fast as he could run, and managed to reach a cave a few moments before Saul could reach it. Then God sent a spider, which spun a web over the mouth of the cave; and Saul saw it and passed on, saying, "Certainly David cannot have entered in there, or the web would be torn."[12]

One night, Saul and his soldiers lodged in a cavern. And David was there, but they knew it not. In the night David carried off the sword and banner and seal-ring of the king, and he went forth out of the cave, for it had two openings. In the morning, when Saul prepared to continue his search, he saw him on a mountain opposite the mouth of the cave, and David had girded the royal sword to his side, and brandished the flag, and held forth his finger that all might note that he had on it the king's signet.[13]

Then Saul said, "His heart is better than mine;" and he was reconciled with David, and he bade him return with him and live at peace. And he did so.


Now when Saul had gone forth against David, the wise men of Israel had gathered themselves together, and had remonstrated with him. But Saul was wroth at this interference, and he slew them all, and there escaped none of them save one wise woman, whom his vizir spared. This vizir was a good man, and he took the woman into his own house, and she lived with his family.

Some time after that, Saul had a dream, and in his dream he was reproached for having slain the wise men. And when he awoke he was full of remorse, and he went to his vizir and said, "It repents me that I have put to death all the wise men of my realm; is there none remaining of whom I might ask counsel how I could expiate my crime?"

Then the vizir answered, "There remains but one, and that is a woman."

Saul said, "Bring her hither before me."

Now, when the wise woman was come before Saul, the king was troubled in mind, and he said, "Show me how I can make atonement for the great sin that I have committed."

The woman answered, "Lead me to the tomb of a prophet; I will pray, and may be God will suffer him to speak."

They went to the tomb of Samuel, and the woman prayed.

Then Samuel spake out of his sepulchre, and said, "Let his expiation be this: He shall go down, he and his sons, to the city of Giants, and they shall fall there."

Saul had twelve sons. He called them to him and said to them all the words of Samuel. They then answered, "We are ready, let us go down."

So they went to the city of Giants, and fought against it, and fell there, all in one day.[14]

  1. Koran, Sura ii. v. 250.
  2. Tabari, i. p. 418.
  3. Perhaps the passage in Psalm cvii. 35 may refer to this miracle, unrecorded in Holy Scripture.
  4. Weil, pp. 200, 201.
  5. Koran, Sura ii. v. 251.
  6. Weil, p. 203.
  7. Tabari, i. p. 421.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Tabari, i. p. 422; Weil, pp. 202-4; D'Herbelot, i. p. 362.
  10. Weil, pp. 205-8.
  11. Tabari, i. p. 423. The same story is told of the escape of S. Felix of Nola, in the Decian persecution.
  12. Tabari, i. p. 429.
  13. Weil, p. 207.
  14. Tabari, i. p. 424.