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When Offerus, a giant Arabian warrior, converted to Christianity, the Christian hermit Babhlas baptized him and gave him the Christian name of Christopher. Having decided to devote his life to helping others, Christopher built himself a shack on the nearby river, which at times became impassable because of its high raging waters. On such occasions, he used his great size to ford the river and bodily carry stranded travelers across.
He also talked to the wayfarers about Jesus and converted many to the faith. He became so successful at this that King Dagnus of Samos demanded that he stop. When he refused, Dagnus cast him into a prison and ordered that he be severely tortured; in A.D. 250, unable to get the giant to renounce his faith, the king had him put to death.
Following his martyrdom, the church granted Christopher saint-hood, making him the patron of travelers. Storytellers of course made him the hero of many later legends.56
Although the giants after Joshua's time never again posed a real danger to the children of Israel, as a nation, battles with some revengeful descendants of those who escaped to Philistia continued long afterward. Of these, the most memorable were young David's fight with Goliath and his later, losing encounter with the giant Ishbi-benob, who hailed from Goliath's hometown.
According to the chronicler of 1 Samuel, David and Goliath came face to face after the Philistines, with some giants in their ranks, invaded Israel with the intent to once more make themselves masters of God's land. To check this hostile incursion, King Saul called the nation to arms. Of Jesse's eight sons, three of the oldest left to join Saul's army, while David, the youngest, remained behind to tend the sheep.
When reports reached him that the Philistines had advanced as far as Socoh in Judah, Saul marched his army down from Benjamin to the Valley of Elah. There he took up a position on the rocky northern height opposite the one the Philistines were beginning to occupy on the other side of the small valley. These opposing slopes, now being covered by the two rival armies, rose to a height of about five hundred feet. Between them lay the rich alluvial valley, perhaps little more than a quarter-mile wide and "cut in two by the red banks fringing the white shingly bed of the torrent." Because such a move would have placed them in the open and at some disadvantage, neither Saul nor the Philistines seemed willing to strike first across the small valley floor. So, from the first day, the confrontation settled into an uneasy standoff. A war of nerves ensued.
Unfortunately, Israel soon found itself losing this psychological war and losing it decisively. The reason for their growing dismay appeared twice daily before them--in the form of a terrifying nine-foot-nine giant.57 Each morning and evening this famous Goliath of Gath would descend with his shield-bearer into the valley between the low, rocky, bush-covered hills occupied by the two encampments. From here, with his terribly loud voice, this champion warrior of the whole Philistine army hurled vile insults at the whole Israelite army. On these occasions he would dare them to produce from their miserable ranks a champion who might in single combat with him decide this issue between the two nations.
Goliath's intimidations and his challenge to a one-on-one duel only followed the custom of those times. Such a hero warrior, be-cause he stood halfway between the opposing armies to make his challenge, became known as "the man of the midst." The practice involved a religious belief, prevalent in those days, that the gods of the various nations accompanied their armies on the battlefield. The army whose god proved the strongest naturally won. So, finding out which god that day was the strongest by single combat was seen as a way to settle differences with little bloodshed. The chief gods of the Philistines were Dagon, Baal, and Beelzebub. These pagan deities Goliath flaunted before the Israelites, while casting aspersions upon the God of Israel. Also on this occasion, according to the Chaldee Targum, the giant warrior loudly boasted to Saul's men that it was he who slew Hophni and Phinehas at Aphek and captured Israel's sacred Ark of the Covenant.58
From atop their hill, those in Saul's army stared down upon this slayer of countless men. His abusive and threatening words both galled and shamed them. But no man among them, not even those who had proven their valor on many fields of battle, dared to step out and fight him. Just the sight of this Gibborim mongrel standing down there, waiting, instilled in the hearts of even the bravest Hebrews on the northern hill an awful dread. The weight of his armor and the size of his weapons both awed and unnerved them. On his massive head he wore a bronze helmet. The rest of his large body he protected with bronze greaves or leggings and a coat of mail. Around his thick waist hung a great sword, and across his broad back was slung an oversized javelin. The spear he carried in his hand bore a blade weighing twenty pounds.
For forty days now the Hebrews had endured Goliath's arrogance and abuse. Seeing the morale of his men sink lower and lower with the giant's every appearance, King Saul despaired. Hoping to find in his ranks a man willing to fight the Philistine, he offered a reward, plus his daughter in marriage, and a lifetime tax exemption for the family of the Hebrew champion.
This settled gloom David encountered the moment he walked into the Hebrew encampment. Just minutes after the young shepherd arrived with provisions sent by his father to his older brothers, Goliath again stepped out from the Philistines' lines and descended to the valley floor. There he took up his usual menacing stance before Saul's army and shouted out to them his usual loud invectives and insolent defiance of Israel and its God. As he stood now gazing down at the giant, listening to him taunt the Israelites with boasts and insults and pleading with them to send out to him their most feared warrior, David could hardly believe his ears. Nor his eyes--for no man among all Saul's legions stirred to take up Goliath's challenge.
A youth now in or near his twentieth year, David lacked formal training for armed combat, but, to protect his sheep, he had on occasion fought and killed "both the lion and the bear."59 This question he put to some men near him was not therefore without genuine contempt for the boastful giant: "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?"60
In a stratagem to make King Saul aware of his desire to answer Goliath's challenge, David moved about the camp, making the same statements to others. As he had hoped, Saul soon sent for him. Declining the king's offer of his personal tunic, coat of armor, and sword, he took only his shepherd's staff and goats-hair sling and walked out of the Hebrew encampment. As he stepped down an incline toward the still-blustering manslayer, the entire Hebrew army gathered on the front of their hill and on the slopes to watch and cheer their young champion on. Upon reaching the red banks of the torrent that still separated them, David stepped into the stream and chose five smooth stones. Putting these in his pouch, he resumed his walk toward the oncoming Goliath and his shield-bearer. David had already settled on his strategy. During his years as a shepherd, he had become an expert slinger--so that he usually hit anything he aimed at.61 He now intended to stun the Philistine giant with a rock hurled full force at his forehead and then kill him before he could recover.
When Goliath drew near enough to see that not much more than a boy had come out against him and one armed only with a staff and a sling at that, he became enraged. Seething at the insult, he apparently declined the use of his shield. "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" He bellowed. "Come here and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the air!" The giant then cursed David by his gods Dagon, Baal, and Beelzebub and devoted the young Israelite as a sacrifice to them.62
Setting a stone in his sling, David calmly answered the nearly ten-foot-tall warrior: "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head."63
Even without his shield, Goliath's other armor protected him all over his body, except his arms and face. Now, as he came on, in fury, David--not hampered by the heavy weight of armor--ran quickly toward him. Feinting to the right and left, he suddenly stopped, whirled the sling around his head, and let the stone fly. The smooth white projectile flew straight toward the giant's one vulnerable spot. The rock struck Goliath on his forehead with such force that it penetrated the bone. As he fell forward, like an axed tree, a great cheer went up from the Hebrews' hill. David ran to him, unsheathed his heavy sword, and cut off his head.64
The Philistine army, having seen its great champion go down, stood a few moments motionless, in stunned disbelief. Then a sudden stirring in Saul's camp, accompanied by war whoops, awakened them. To the Philistines, Goliath's defeat meant that Israel's God had, at least on this occasion, overcome their gods. Accepting that fact as an ill omen for their side, they fled in panic. Saul's now enthusiastic army, spurred on by the conviction that the Almighty God of Israel now watched over them, pursued the Philistines even to the gates of Gath and Ekron, wreaking upon them a great slaughter. Josephus, in recounting this mostly downhill, twenty-five-mile chase, says that thirty thousand Philistines were slain that day, with twice that number being wounded."65
But neither Israel nor David had seen the last of the giants. In Goliath's hometown of Gath there lived others, at least four of whom were also warriors. They were the sons of Rapha. The scriptures identify one of these as Goliath's brother, and some scholars think all were his brothers. Their names, as we have them, were Lahmi, his brother, who was equally huge and bore a spear just as massive; Ishbi-benob, whose armor vied in weight with Goliath's; Sippai, whose enormous height and size were the wonder of all; and besides these, one, unnamed, who had six fingers and six toes on each hand and foot. These giants probably descended from either the Anakim or Rephaim who fled to the five Philistine cities in Joshua's day. No doubt they heard the news of David's crowning with keen interest. All of them understandably would be out to avenge him for Goliath's death.
After David was anointed king, he reigned the next seven years at Hebron. It was probably during these years, or soon after he transferred his capital to Jerusalem, that Benaiah, one of his thirty mighty men, did the exploits that won him renown. These included Benaiah's killing of two mighty Ariels, or, as the King James Version describes them, "two lion-like men" from Moab;66 his going down into a pit on a snowy day to fight a lion; and his delivering the deathblow to an Egyptian giant. The big Egyptian that Benaiah fought wielded a spear as large as a weaver's beam, while Benaiah was armed only with a club. But, in the sparring, Benaiah snatched from the giant his own spear and dispatched him with it.67
David had his second encounter with a giant on the battlefield some while after this--in Israel's continuing wars with the Philistines. When this battle went decisively against the pagans and they turned and fled the field, the king alone stayed in hot pursuit of them. And when he had tired himself out, writes Josephus, he was seen by Ishbi-benob. "He had a spear, the handle of which weighed three hundred shekels, and a breastplate of chainwork and a sword. He turned back, and ran violently to slay David... for he was quite tired out with labor; but Abishai, Joab's brother, appeared on the sudden, and protected the king with his shield, as he lay down, and slew the enemy. Now the multitude were very uneasy at these dangers of the king, and that he was very near to be slain; and the rulers made him swear that he would no more go out with them to battle lest he should come to some great misfortune by his courage and boldness, and thereby deprive the people of the benefits they now enjoyed by his means, and of those that they might hereafter enjoy by his living a long time among them."68
Later on, having heard the Philistines had gathered around the city of Gob, near Gezer, David sent an army against them. In the ensuing battle, Sibbecai the Hushathite slew the giant Sippai. According to Josephus, Sibbecai that day slew several others who "bragged they were the posterity of the giants, and vaunted them-selves highly on that account."69 In another skirmish with these people at Gob, Elhanan felled Lahmi in single combat and put the rest to flight. Lastly, in an Israelite attack on Gath, the boastful giant with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot came out and taunted Israel. Jonathan, son of Shimeah, David's nephew, accepted his challenge to single combat and killed him. After this, the Philistines no more made war against Israel.70 (For other one-on-one fights with giants, see Colbrand the Giant vs Sir Guy of Warwick; from Retenu)
Archaeologist John Garstang says that Debir's ruins yielded evidence of an overthrow like Jericho's, including "a terrific conflagration." After the fortress-city fell to them, the Hebrews slew its king and all the giants who did not escape. But while Israel was occupied in the northern campaign the giants who managed to escape reoccupied the city. After that campaign ended, however, Caleb and his men returned and retook Debir. (See Israel's Wars with the Giants; also see Anab's Giants; Hebron's Giants)