David’s first appearance in the public eye came as a direct result of the Philistine pressure on Judah in the Shephelah. By taking the upper, Judean end of the Elah Valley from Azekah to Socoh, the Philistines laid claim to the two main routes into the mid-section of the hill country from the west, one heading to Hebron, the primary city of Judah, and the other to Bethlehem and, eventually, Gibeah of Saul (1 Sam 17:1).
The view here is from one of the gates of Khirbet Qeiyafa toward Socoh, the lower, light green mound just right of center with the Elah Valley between. Another gate at Khirbet Qeiyafa points directly toward Azekah. Goliath and the Philistines camped somewhere between (1 Sam 17:1). A recent suggestion puts Saul’s camp at Qeiyafa (1 Sam 17:20); if so, the famed confrontation between David and Goliath may have been at a point where the valley narrows a bit (the gai) at the base of Socoh. (Photo: Paul H. Wright)
Image source: © Carta, Jerusalem
Unchecked, they could walk into both, and Judah’s viability as an Israelite tribe would be gone. Under-armed (cf. 1 Sam 13:19–22), undermanned (1 Sam 17:10–11, 16) and lacking the vision of the moment, Saul was paralyzed while David, with survival skills honed in the wilds of the Wilderness of Judah, defeated the Philistine hero in hand-to-hand combat (1 Sam 17:20–51). David’s victory over Goliath allowed Israel to push the Philistines out of the Shephelah (1 Sam 17:52–53); his greater triumph was to gain a reputation as a warrior and leader mightier than even king Saul (1 Sam 18:6–9).
Saul sensed that David’s star was rising, and the two began a game of dodge and feint played out on a personal level but with tremendous national ramifications. While for Saul David could be useful (1 Sam 18:17–19, cf. 14:52), he was also a threat that needed to be neutralized. For David, Saul was God’s anointed one (lit. “messiah”); (1 Sam 24:6; 26:9; 2 Sam 1:14) and should not be harmed, but at the same time David was not above forging alliances that strengthened his hand at Saul’s expense.
David became the captain of Saul’s bodyguard (1 Sam 22:14) and also married Michal, Saul’s daughter, for love but also out of expediency (1 Sam 18:20–30). The situation was endemic to tension and jealousy, prompting a prolonged flight and chase through the hill country, foothills and wilderness of Judah, taking him more than once even into Philistia (1 Sam 19:1–27:12).