The Challenge in the Valley of Elah relates the story of Saul, David, and Goliath. The Philistines assembled an army and prepared for battle with the Israelites. The Philistines camped at Ephes Dammim between Socoh and Azejah; Socoh is about 18 miles WSW of Jerusalem in Judah territory. Saul and the Israelite army camped in the Valley of Elah. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another hill with the Valley spread between them. The Philistines had a champion call Goliath. Goliath was a giant man over nine feet tall and wore bronze armor. Goliath challenged the Israelites, demanding that their champion come out and battle against him. Goliath said that the loser’s people would become subjects of the winner’s people. When Saul and the Israelites heard Goliath’s proposal, they were dismayed and terrified because Goliath was so physically overpowering. No soldier or leader in the Israelite army would meet Goliath in individual battle.
David had three brothers serving in Saul’s army and brought them food from home. When David heard about Goliath’s challenge, he asked, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:26). When David’s words were reported to Saul, Saul ordered David to be brought to him. David told Saul that he battled bears and lions with his slingshot while tending his father’s sheep and he would accept Goliath’s challenge. Saul gave David permission to battle Goliath, but insisted that David wear his armor. After David was dressed in Saul’s armor, David reported that he could not wear them. Apparently, the armor was too large and cumbersome for David. Instead, David faced Goliath in his own clothes and with five smooth stones and his slingshot.
When he saw David that was only a boy, Goliath despised David and cursed him. David was not intimidated and he told Goliath, “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” (1 Samuel 17:45). When Goliath moved forward to attack, instead of running from Goliath David ran forward to meet him. Taking out a stone, David slung it and struck Goliath on the forehead. Immediately, Goliath dropped face forward onto the ground. David moved forward to Goliath, picked up Goliath’s sword, and cut off Goliath’s head. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. The Israelites pursued the Philistines as far as two of the Philistines walled cities. Then the Israelites returned to the Philistine camp and plundered it.
David took Goliath’s head and offered it to Saul. From that day onward Saul kept David with him. Saul’s son Jonathan and David became loyal friends. Even though David beat Goliath in battle, the Philistines did not keep their word and become subjects to the Israelites.
The valley of “Elah” where Saul and the Israelites prepared to battle the Philistines received its name from terebinth trees growing there. The Hebrew word êlâh refers to Pistacia. The pistacia of the Valley of Elah was the Pistacia terebinthus variation palaestina, also known as the Pistacia palestina, terebinth tree, turpentine tree, and by its Arabic name butm. Terebinth trees grows on the lower slopes of mountains and in the hills Israel, where it is thought to be a native plant. Generally, the terebinth grows as a solitary tree rather than in thickets or forests. When left undisturbed, the terebinth can reach a height of 30–33 feet tall and live up to 1000 years. In ancient Israel, terebinth trees were well-known landmarks and sometimes used as memorials for the dead. The terebinth develops a very deep and extensive root system; consequently, leaves are green even in years of drought. Terebinths are deciduous trees, often with a short gnarled trunks and spreading boughs. Limbs can be irregular and sharply angled. Young branches are red in color as are sprouting leaf stems (petioles). Terebinth trees can reproduce by fertilized seed, semi-woody cuttings, or by layering. Even after being cut back to a small trunk, P. terebinthus may sprout and re-grow.
Several authors identified a symbolic meaning for the P.terebinthus to include as memorials to death, mighty or sturdy, and as representing knowledge of right and wrong which leads to peace and smoothness when living in society. Although these meanings have value, the terebinth in the Valley of Elah is better associated with the word “solitary.” Solitary means occurring singly, or being, or going alone without companions. In the ancient Middle East, terebinth trees did not grow in groves or groups. Usually, they grew alone without other trees around; thus, can be seen from far distances and used to identify locations. Similar to the terebinth growing alone, David went out to meet and to slay Goliath alone and without companions.
Sheep-herding was largely a solitary job and David was alone as he tended his father’s flock. Tending sheep allowed David to solve problem alone; e.g., David encountered wild animals, sudden storms, and all types of sheep-induced situations. Sheep have never been identified as one of the more intelligent animals in the Bible; rather many times sheep are described as inept and getting lost from the flock. As a shepherd, the situations David encountered gave him the ability to quickly assess a situation and respond. He used his experiences when he challenges Goliath and Goliath moved toward him with sword drawn. Even though David was alone, he was not paralyzed with fear. He responded by knocking Goliath unconscious with a stone from his sling shot. Then, he killed the nine-foot tall warrior with Goliath’s own sword.
Earlier in this book, I wrote about how Christians need the support of the Church, fellow Church members, and other Christians. At the same time, accepting Christ is a solitary act. We ourselves must make the decision to accept or not accept Christ; no one can do it for us. We must responsibility for our own actions in this life. Do you remember the old hymn, “Jesus Walk this Lonesome Valley?” Please read the words to this hymn and reflect on how they apply to your life.
Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley (Author Unknown)
Jesus walked this lonesome valley. He had to walk it by Himself;
O, nobody else could walk it for Him, He had to walk it by Himself.
We must walk this lonesome valley, We have to walk it by ourselves;
O, nobody else can walk it for us, We have to walk it by ourselves.
You must go and stand your trial, You have to stand it by yourself,
O, nobody else can stand it for you, You have to stand it by yourself.
From Moser, J. (2011).
I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/
Copy right except for poem on November 27, 2011; carolyn a. roth