overthrow of Michmash, Philistines were slaughtered in their thousands.
It was then that we lost our ascendancy over Israel. The Hebrews
were no longer our servants. It had been twenty-seven years since
that national disaster. It took so long for the Philistine people
to recover. But finally our strengths and spirits had returned and
it was time to regain supremacy. Our army mustered for battle on
the top of a ravine, Wady Beit Hanina, that lead down to the Philistine
plain, about fourteen miles southwest of Jerusalem. On the opposite
side of the valley the Israelites stood ready and waiting.
A long forty days
passed since that first sighting of the enemy. But during this period
not one single soldier was killed. Goliath had decided to appoint himself
champion of the Philistines and started to march in front of the ranks
of Israelites, shouting abuse and calling for a Hebrew champion to oppose
him. It was good of him to offer to settle this dispute with just one
fight; after all, it could have saved many Philistine souls. However,
because of a lack of response from the Jews, for the rest of us it meant
a long and boring wait, just sitting around in the camp with nothing
to do. Mind you, it was no real surprise that a challenger was hard
to find, Goliath was over nine feet tall and his armour and weapons
alone weighed more than the average man.
a day, morning and evening, Goliath would venture down into the valley
and do his stuff. For a while it was good entertainment: his formidable
appearance, his boastful parading, the torrent of abuse that would pour
from his mouth. We watched the Jews cower resentfully, too fearful and
too incapable of doing anything to stop him. But after about ten days
or so, it became repetitive, wed heard all of Goliaths witty
insults, and knew that the mortified Jews would do nothing in return.
So we started desperately looking for ways to amuse ourselves.
Before I was called
upon to join the army I ran a small bookmakers in Ashkelon. Some of
the men persuaded me to apply my talents by running a book on the upcoming
bout. At first I was reluctant, as we had no idea of whom the Jews would
find to challenge Goliath. How could I give a fair price on a fight
where only one of the competitors was known? But then I realised that
with Goliath as our champion it didnt really matter who represented
the Jews. The fact that they were taking so long to find anyone showed
they were obviously struggling to meet the grade.
So I offered 1-20
on the big guy, and 10-1 on the mystery Jewish champion. Everyone wanted
to back our man, but at such low odds it was hardly worth a bet. But
under such circumstances how could I lengthen the odds on Goliath? So,
to keep things interesting I offered prices on the method of despatch
that Goliath would employ. Goliath was armed with a five foot long bronze
spear, capable of being used as a javelin, and a heavy sword. His protector
carried a shield to fend away missile attack. I chalked up the odds
for the mortal blow.
The Israelite challenger
Disembowelled with sword 5-2
Beaten or strangled to death with bare hands 10-3
Punctured with spear 4-1
Bludgeoned with shield 6-1
This really caught
the imagination of the punters. Over the weeks leading up to the fight
the money came flooding in. I even took bets on bizarre and unlikely
forms of killing that the soldiers invented themselves. For instance,
I took 20 shekels from a man who was prepared to bet at 45-1 that Goliath
would kill his challenger by thrusting the blunt end of his javelin
up his nose - until it ruptured the brain of his defeated foe. Easy
money, I thought.
One day an old man
walked over from the Israelite ranks on Elah. Would I be correct
in assuming that you are the Philistine who is running a book on this
contest? he asked.
I am, but I didnt think you Israelites were allowed to gamble.
Money should indeed be earned by honest work to obtain Gods
grace. He said.
So how can you come here and gamble?
It is stealing that really upsets God, and while gambling may
not be honest hard work it is certainly not stealing. It does not say
in the Bible that thou shall not gamble. I wish to bet on our challenger,
what odds will you give me?
5-1 I said, not wishing to offer the same value to the enemy
as I had to my fellow soldiers.
What if I told you that our challenger is just a shepherd and
not a warrior at all? Would you lengthen the odds then?
No, because I would not believe you. I replied. Out
of all your forces why would you choose a shepherd boy to fight a nine
So be it, 5-1 it is then. He replied.
I accepted the old
mans stake; it was the biggest single bet Id taken, 100
shekels, more easy money. As the old guy walked back to his ranks the
Israelites cheered him home. Nice one Samuel! they cried.
Did you tell him you were a prophet? they laughed. Obviously
this guy wasnt quite all there I thought. Fancied himself as a
prophet indeed! That suited me fine though, the more punters who deluded
themselves into believing theyd got a winning system or a special
relationship with lady luck, the better it was for me.
Goliath was on his evening jaunt on the 40th day when finally the Israelites
started to get excited about something. They left their camp and gathered
around the top of the valley. Goliath looked up at them So you
have finally found someone with enough courage to face me! He
boomed. Bring out your champion of the Jews! Then a boy
came out from the ranks, brandishing what looked like a double rope
contraption and a stick.
Am I a dog, he roared at the boy, that you come at
me with a stick? Then followed some more of the kind of abuse
that we had become accustomed to.
Come over here, and Ill give your flesh to the birds and
wild animals! Goliath boomed.
Now taking 100-1 on a Hebrew victory! I yelled across the
camp. And although I was joking, I would willingly have taken the money
from any soldier who had wanted to place that bet. But the soldiers
laughed along with my joke; no one was about to throw away good money
on a boy with a stick.
The laughter had
hardly died down when I turned back to look across the valley and saw
a terrible sight. Goliath was stumbling blindly, clutching his forehead.
His bronze helmet toppled from his crown. With a deafening crash that
echoed across the valley he collapsed face down into the ground. We
stood there, silent for a second. We watched speechless as the boy strode
over to unsheathe Goliaths sword from his writhing body. He coolly
raised it high in the air before swinging it down and slicing clean
through Goliaths neck.
We turned to run.
The Israelites charged after us. I was lucky, after several miles I
reached safety behind the town gates of Gath. The road behind me, from
Shaaraim as far as Ekron, was strewn with the bodies of dead and wounded
Philistines - those who had lacked the speed and stamina to run for
such a distance.
All bets had lost.
Except for one of course, the one placed by the Jew. Maybe this Samuel
guy was some kind of prophet after all. Perhaps the Israelites were
not laughing at him, but at me, the stupid bookmaker had just accepted
a bet from a man who could predict the future. As I write this account
of the battle, I realise that I am forever destined to be looking over
my shoulder for this Samuel - to whom I owe a small fortune.
© Jim Johnson