Scenes from the Promised Land
Valley of Elah—Where David Slew a Giant!
FEW Bible accounts are more thrilling than that describing how “David, with a sling and a stone, proved stronger than the Philistine” giant, Goliath. (1 Samuel 17:50) This was in the Valley of Elah.
But where is that valley, and what is it like? Knowing this will enable you to visualize this famous victory of the lad anointed as Israel’s future king. God later made with David a kingdom covenant that can bring us everlasting benefits, and this should give us added reason to learn about what happened in the Valley of Elah.
The Philistines lived along the coast of Canaan. The Israelites controlled the Judean mountains (south of Jerusalem). So there you have it—enemies in the lowland to the west, God’s servants in the higher country to the east. Between them was a disputed buffer region, the lower hills called the Shephelah. How could the Philistines attack Israel? A logical route was up an east-west wadi, or pass, a main one being the Valley of Elah. This extended from the plains near their cities of Gath and Ekron, up through the Shephelah, to the mountains about 15 miles [24 km] southwest of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The picture (viewed to the southeast) shows the upper end of this valley. On the horizon you see the Judean mountains.*
Looking at this photograph, imagine the Philistines having come up this flat valley toward the mountains. To halt them, the Israelites came southwest from Judea. Here a standoff developed. Why? “The Philistines were standing on the mountain on this side, and the Israelites were standing on the mountain on that side, with the valley between them.”—1 Samuel 17:3.
Though we do not know precisely where along the valley it happened, visualize the Philistines on the hill in the lower right. Saul’s army could have been across on the hill beyond the brownish field. Neither army would descend, cross the valley, and attack the opposing force in its elevated, defensively secure position. The resulting standoff lasted for over a month. What would break it?
Each morning and evening Goliath, a Philistine champion who was over nine feet [2.7 m] tall, stood in the valley taunting Saul’s camp to decide the matter by single combat. But no Israelite dared to answer him. Finally, a young shepherd named David came from Bethlehem with food for his brothers in the camp. His reaction to this insulting challenge? “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he has to taunt the battle lines of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:4-30) David clearly had the view reflected in the theme text that Jehovah’s Witnesses have for 1990: “Be of good courage and say: ‘Jehovah is my helper.’”—Hebrews 13:6; Psalm 56:11; 118:6.
When King Saul heard that this lad, though unarmed and untrained as a warrior, would face the awesome Goliath, he offered the use of his armor. David declined, being willing to go against the giant with his shepherd’s staff, a leather sling, and five stones that he found in the valley. What were the stones like? It is unlikely they were mere pebbles the size of grapes or olives. Slingstones have been found that are from 2 to 3 inches [5 to 8 cm] in diameter, the size of a small orange. A slinger could fling such a stone at speeds of from 100 to 150 miles per hour [160 to 240 km/hr].
You have no doubt read what happened down in the valley, in full view of both armies. David declared: “You are coming to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I am coming to you with the name of Jehovah of armies, the God of the battle lines of Israel, whom you have taunted.” Jehovah then gave the victory. The lad slung a stone so forcefully that it sank into Goliath’s forehead, killing him. Then the shepherd ran up and with the giant’s own sword cut his head off.—1 Samuel 17:31-51.
Encouraged by David’s faith and trust in God, the Israelites charged their dispirited enemies, pursuing them down through the Shephelah and back into Philistia.—1 Samuel 17:52, 53.
Think of the rejoicing that must have been heard in Judah! God’s people in the mountains could look to the west down into the Valley of Elah and the Shephelah, as in the modern view below from an area near Hebron. The white blossoms of an almond tree are a beauty to behold, but the beauty of a victory over God’s enemies was even more beautiful. Well could the Israelite women say: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens of thousands,” including that giant whom he struck down in the Valley of Elah.—1 Samuel 18:7.
The same picture in large size is in the 1990 Calendar of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which also shows the location on the cover map.
[Picture on page 17]
[Picture Credit Line on page 16]
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.