In this series on the story of David and Goliath we are trying to provide four things:

  1. Demonstrate the value and importance of digging deeper into the context, background, and details of biblical stories and passages.
  2. Create useful research results for teachers and students wanting to see what “digging deeper” looks like.
  3. Make it possible for a teacher or student to use this research to teach others, as well as repeat this process in their own studies of other passages.
  4. Helping the Bible student realize that research and notes created for one study, even if unused immediately, then become resources already in hand for other studies further down the road.

In this section we want to look at King Saul. The events of I Samuel 17 are preceded by what led Saul to this point. We put together this general timeline for King Saul by using materials from and basically outlining the story of Saul as recorded in I Samuel chapters 8 thru 17. For some additional resources we recommend this biography of Saul by Alan Wong. Wong also has some good charts summarizing all the kings of ancient Judah and Israel. For an even more extended study of Saul, check out the great 28 lesson study on I Samuel by Bob Deffinbaugh. (Deffinbaugh is one of my favorite authors!)

  • Israel asks Samuel to appoint a king for them – I Samuel 8
  • Saul is first introduced and described in the biblical account – I Samuel 9:1-2
  • He is anointed by Samuel (I Samuel 10:1) and God’s Spirit comes upon him – I Samuel 10:10
  • Samuel presents Saul to the assembled people as their king – I Samuel 10:17-25
  • Saul assembles an army and delivers Ramoth-Gilead from the Ammonites – I Samuel 11:1-11
  • Saul is officially crowned king at Gilgal – I Samuel 11:15. (1052 BC) Saul is aged 30, and will reign as king for 42 years I Samuel 13:1
  • King Saul and son Jonathan carry out an unprovoked first-strike against the Philistines, beginning a war – I Samuel 13:1-7
  • Saul does not wait for Samuel’s arrival before making a sacrifice in preparation for facing the Philistines. He is rebuked by Samuel when he arrives, and told the kingdom will be given to another – I Samuel 13:8-22
  • Jonathan leads Israel to a victory over the Philistines and Saul foolishly makes a vow he will not (and should not) keep – I Samuel 14:1-46
  • King Saul conducts military campaigns against the hostile nations on every side – I Samuel 14:47-52
  • Sent by Samuel to totally destroy the Amalekites, Saul disobeys and spares the best of the livestock and the Amalekite King Agag. Samuel discovers his insubordination and announces that the LORD will rip the kingdom away from Saul – I Samuel 15
  • Without Saul’s knowledge, Samuel is sent by the LORD to anoint David, son of Jesse, in Bethlehem to be the next king. We would estimate David’s age at about 15 or 16 (1025 BC) – I Samuel 16:1-13
  • The Spirit of the LORD comes on David (I Samuel 16:13) and departs from Saul (I Samuel 16:14).
  • Saul now begins to struggle with bouts of depression, fear and paranoia, but finds temporary comfort in music played by David on the harp – I Samuel 16:14-23. It is possible this section is out of chronological order in the text, and should actually be placed after chapter 17.

Now, in I Samuel 17 King Saul is gathered with his army at a vital mountain pass (Elah Valley) blocking the Philistines from advancing further into Israel’s territory. The two sides are at a stalemate. Saul’s inaction is the opposite of his earlier aggressive attacks on the Philistines and other enemies; probably this is the result of the Spirit of the LORD having left him, and his fear of dying in battle (harkening back to the words of Samuel earlier). When the gigantic Goliath begins to issue his challenges to fight one man from Israel, it seems clear he is really challenging Saul to come out and fight. It was noted several times that Saul was head and shoulders taller than the average Israelite man, though he would still be significantly smaller than Goliath. Saul neither accepts the challenge nor even is visible on the front line to be seen by either his own men or the Philistines. The king that Israel wanted to deliver them from their enemies has become a coward after some 27 years as their courageous leader!

The image is an 1878 painting by Ernst Josephson entitled “David and Saul.” It is available in the article on “Saul” at