Giants in the Land: A Biblical Theology of the Nephilim, Anakim, Rephaim (and Goliath)  

Christians, including many pastors and scholars, tend to gloss over the references to giants in the Bible. Yet giants play an important role in the biblical story, particularly in relation to their occupation of the Promised Land. As will be seen, Israel initially refused to enter the land because of giants, and only men of great faith (Joshua, Caleb, and David) were able to defeat them. 

The Sons of God and Giant Nephilim (Genesis 6:1-4)

The first mention of giants in the Bible is the Nephilim in Genesis 6:1-4. I have previously argued that the “sons of God” were spirit beings that mated with women and produced the Nephilim. The phrase “sons of God” elsewhere refers to spirit beings/angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7), and Genesis 6:1-2 contrasts this group with all of mankind (not some subset such as Cain’s line), meaning they are non-human. The common view that this was the mixing of the lines of Seth and Cain assumes that everyone in Seth’s line was godly and everyone in Cain’s line was wicked. This is not something the text ever claims. Furthermore, alternative views (also including the kingly-line view) fail to explain how this intermarriage produced mighty (giant) warriors:

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown (Genesis 6:4). 

It is important to note that Genesis 6:4 never explicitly calls the Nephilim “giants.” However, the Nephilim have often been considered giants because of the description of the giants in the land as those who come from the Nephilim in Numbers 13:32-33. Also, the Septuagint translates both the Hebrew נְּפִלִ֞ים (Nephilim) and גִּבֹּרִ֛ים (gibborim, “mighty men” or “men of renown”) in Genesis 6:4 as γίγαντες (gigantes, “giants”).[1] (It may be that the Septuagint translated Nephilim as “giants” because of the account in Numbers 13, though some think Nephilim comes from the Aramaic word naphiyla for giant.[2])

Whether descendants of the Nephilim were actually in the land of Canaan is uncertain, as the Israelite spies may have been exaggerating their account. However, exaggeration is unlikely because Genesis 6:4 says the Nephilim were on the earth “in those days, and also afterward” and the link between the Anakim and Nephilim in Numbers 13:33 seems to be an editorial comment (possibly referring back to Numbers 6:4). At minimum, the claim in Numbers 13:33 shows that the Israelites were aware that the Nephilim of old had a reputation of being giants (more on this below).

In the context of Genesis 6, God sent the flood to wipe out violent humans, including the Nephilim, seen in the language of “all flesh” (Genesis 6:12-13). God continued the human race through Noah, a new Adam, who was not tainted by Nephilim blood. Noah’s direct lineage is given all the way back to Adam (Genesis 5:1-32), and he is said to be “blameless in his generations” (Genesis 6:9), possibly referring to his pure line—notice the plural “generations” (דֹֽרֹתָ֑יו). In spite of the flood, giants eventually made a comeback and dwelt in the land of Canaan.

Nephilim and Anakim in the Land of Canaan (Numbers 13:21-33)

Numbers 13 is the key passage on giants in the land of Canaan. When Israel left Egypt and was in the wilderness seeking to enter the Promised Land, Moses sent 12 Israelite spies (one from each tribe) to Canaan. The spies were to scout out the land and assess “whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak” (Numbers 13:18). The spies returned to Moses after 40 days and gave a good report about the land—“It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit” (Numbers 13:27). However, they gave a bad report about the people in the land:

However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan (Numbers 13:28-29).

Caleb, one of the spies, urged Israel to go up and occupy the land, but the other spies (except Joshua) said they were not able because the people there were stronger (Numbers 13:30-31). Then the “bad report” got even worse:

The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them (Numbers 13:32-33).

The spies lacked faith and were rightly judged for their unbelief. Israel was made to wander the wilderness for 40 years (one year for each day of spying) so that the adults would all die out. God even killed the 10 unfaithful spies with a plague, sparing only Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 14:20-38). However, what concerns us here is the report of giants in the land. Was their report accurate? If so, this would help explain why the spies were so fearful.

While it is possible that the spies were exaggerating their account of the people in the land, this exaggeration must be limited. This is because Moses confirms the spies’ account in Deuteronomy 9:1-2, where he says that Israel would cross the Jordan to “dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’” (cf. Deuteronomy 1:28; 2:10). The people in the land, particularly the Anakim, were in fact tall and mighty.

Who were the Anakim? They were descendants of a man name Anak, whom we are told had three sons, Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai (Joshua 15:14; Judges 1:10, 20). Joshua later devoted the Anakim to destruction, only leaving them in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod (Joshua 11:21-22). (1 Samuel 17:4 says that Goliath was from Gath, leading us to conclude he was a descendant of Anak.) Caleb is said to have driven out the Anakim from Hebron (Joshua 14:12; 15:14; Judges 1:20), a city that was formerly called Kiriath-arba, named after Arba, who “was the greatest man among the Anakim” (Joshua 14:15; cf. Judges 1:10).

Numbers 13:33 mentions that these sons of Anak “come from the Nephilim” (which is the only explicit connection between the Anakim and Nephilim in Scripture). Is this claim correct? Since Moses never mentions the Anakim as coming from the Nephilim, this may be the part that the spies fabricated in order to support their case against entering the land. However, there are three reasons for believing the statement in Numbers 13:33 is correct and that the Anakim in fact came from the Nephilim:

  1. Genesis 6:4 says the Nephilim were on the earth at a later time—“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward.” The “afterward” is presumably after the flood. Numbers 13:33 is the only other mention of Nephilim in Scripture, so this would explain the comment in Genesis 6:4.

  2. The spies’ claim to have seen the Nephilim in Numbers 13:33 is followed with what reads like an editorial comment that seeks to connect the reference of the “sons of Anak” in 13:28 with the reference to Nephilim in 13:33—“the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim.” In this case, the author of Numbers considered the spies’ report of the Nephilim accurate and then added his own explanation that the Anakim came from the Nephilim.

  3. This connection between Anakim and the Nephilim in Numbers 13:33 is the only apparent explanation as to why some of the Canaanites were so tall. While some scholars suggest that these were only giants relative to the shorter Israelites (meaning six feet would be tall), Og’s bed and Goliath’s height suggest these were in fact genuine giants over nine feet tall (see below).

If the giants in the land came from the Nephilim, how did this happen when the Nephilim were wiped out in the flood? While some argue that the flood was only local, this would still be an unlikely explanation because the flood was intended to wipe out the Nephilim in Genesis 6. Thus there are two likely explanations: (1) The same event transpired later in history, as spirit beings again bred with women and produced more Nephilim; (2) Nephilim genes were passed down through Noah’s daughters-in-law. These wives of Ham, Shem, and Japheth were not descended from Noah and thus potentially had Nephilim genes in them.

Moses Defeats Og of Bashan, One of the Last Rephaim (Deuteronomy 3)

Israel was afraid of the giants in the land of Canaan, and it would have to be a later generation that dealt with the giants under Joshua’s leadership. However, Israel still had to deal with a giant while in the in the wilderness, Og of Bashan. As Israel went up the way to Bashan, King Og came out against them for battle.

Yahweh gave Og into Israel’s hand, and they “devoted” Og’s people to destruction (herem), leaving no survivors, just as they had done to Sihon king of the Amorites (Deuteronomy 3:6). (This victory is celebrated in Psalm 135:11 and 136:20.) We are told that both Og and Sihon were considered Amorite kings (Deuteronomy 3:8). Then we read this fascinating verse:

For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit (Deuteronomy 3:11).

Seeing that a cubit was about 18 inches, Og’s bed was about 13 feet 6 inches long. This suggests he was a giant. On top of this, Og is said to be the last remnant of the Rephaim. Both Joshua 12:4 and 13:12 also say Og was of the remnant of the Rephaim, which the LXX interestingly translates as “giants” (γιγάντων).

Who were the Rephaim? They were likely the descendants of a giant named Rapha. Rapha (רָפָה) is mentioned six times in the Bible (2 Samuel 21:16, 18, 20, 22; 1 Chronicles 20:6, 8), in contrast to the more common plural Rephaim (רְפָאִ֥ים). Though some translations like the ESV take this as “giants,” Rapha is probably a proper name.

Deuteronomy 2 provides some interesting information about the Rephaim. It says the Rephaim were as “tall as the Anakim,” but were mostly wiped out by Yahweh (Deuteronomy 2:21). The Ammonites called the Rephaim by the name “Zamzummim” (Deuteronomy 2:20). Deuteronomy 2:10-11 says that the “Emim” were also as “tall as the Anakim,” but then it says that both the Anakim and Emim “are also counted as Rephaim.” This is important, as it links the Anakim with the Rephaim. While Og was one of the last of the Rephaim, there were still Rephaim in the land, namely the Anakim and the “descendants of Rapha” in 2 Samuel 21:16, 18, 20, 22.

The prior information sheds interesting light on Genesis 14:5-7, where Chedorlaomer “defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir,” in addition to defeating Amalekites and Amorites. It seems Chedorlaomer fought three groups of giants—the Rephaim (the Septuagint actually translates Rephaim in Genesis 14:5 as γίγαντας, “giants”), the Zuzim (which is probably the Zamzummim of Deuteronomy 2:20), and the Emim (Deuteronomy 2:10-11). The Amorites may also have been giants. Amos 2:9-10 says, “the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars,” and Og was also an Amorite (Deuteronomy 3:8).  

What is all the more fascinating is that Abraham then went and defeated Chedorlaomer—the giant killer—in order to rescue his nephew Lot (Genesis 14:14-17). These groups, including the Amalekites, Amorites, and Anakim-Rephaim, were still in the land during the time of Joshua (Numbers 13:29, 33). Thus Abraham’s victory in Genesis 14 is a foretaste of Joshua’s later victories over the giants in the land of Canaan.

It is of note that the region of Bashan was in the land of the Rephaim. Og was king of Bashan, and Og was one of the Rephaim giants. But Deuteronomy 3:13 makes this land connection explicit—“The rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, the kingdom of Og, that is, all the region of Argob, I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh. (All that portion of Bashan is called the land of Rephaim . . . ” Scripture calls this both the “land of the Rephaim” (Joshua 17:15) and the “Valley of Rephaim” (Joshua 18:16; 2 Samuel 5:18, 22; 23:13; 1 Chronicles 11:15; 14:9; Isaiah 17:5). Bashan is seen as a place of darkness in the Old Testament and may even be called the “mountain of the gods” (Psalm 68:15). The Hebrew הַר־אֱ֭לֹהִים (har elohim) can be translated as “mountain of God” (as per the ESV) or “mountain of gods” (so false gods/spirit beings) which may make more sense due to the negative associations with Bashan elsewhere.

The Rephaim are also associated in the OT with Sheol, the place of the dead. They are said to be inhabitants of Sheol in the following passages: Isaiah 14:9; 26:14, 19; Psalm 88:10; Job 26:5-6; Proverbs 2:18; 9:18; 21:16. The Hebrew Rephaim is in every one of these passages, yet you would never see this in the English if reading translations like the ESV, NASB, or KJV. Instead, the ESV uses words like “shades,” “dead,” and “departed.” If we leave Rephaim untranslated, this may reveal the role of the dead giants in Sheol, which is distinguished from other dead beings there. The Rephaim are said to rise up to greet the Babylonians when they sink down to Sheol in death (Isaiah 14:9). The false gods that Israelites at times worshipped are described as dead Rephaim that will not rise (Isaiah 26:14). The Psalmist asks whether the Rephaim will rise up to praise God (Psalm 88:10-11; cf. 88:3). The other passages highlight the Rephaim as inhabitants of Sheol (Job 26:5-6; Proverbs 2:18; 9:18; 21:16).

Joshua and Caleb Drive Out the Anakim (Joshua 11; 14–15)

Once Israel entered the land of Canaan under Joshua's leadership, they had to face the Anakim that the spies in Numbers 13 had feared 40 years prior. Joshua had to be strong and courageous, but with Yahweh fighting for them, he was able to drive out the Canaanites, including the giants (Deuteronomy 1:30-31).

Joshua and Caleb were the only two of the 12 spies who believed that Yahweh would give them victory over the giants in the land (Numbers 13:30; 14:6-9), and thus they were the only two allowed to enter the land 40 years later (Numbers 14:30). It is therefore fitting that Joshua and Caleb drove out those giants, which they did by faith in Yahweh:

And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain (Joshua 11:21-22).

Joshua cut off the Anakim and “devoted” (herem) them to destruction (Joshua 11:21), thus carrying out Yahweh's command for Israel to “devote” the Canaanites to destruction (Deuteronomy 7:1-2). This practice is known as “the ban,” or simply by its Hebrew term חרם (herem), which means to “devote” something to God. The Israelites were to kill the Canaanites as an offering to Yahweh. Though not the primary point of God’s command, the destruction of the Canaanites included the giants who were in the land. Joshua only left the Anakim in three Philistine cities—Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod (Joshua 11:22).

Caleb went to Joshua and said that he was as strong at 85 years of age as he was at 45, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (Joshua 14:6-11). Caleb then asked Joshua for Hebron, the land of the Anakim:

So now give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said. Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the LORD, the God of Israel. Now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba. (Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim.) And the land had rest from war (Joshua 14:12-15).

Hebron was the land of the three sons of Anak (Numbers 13:22). So Caleb received the land of Hebron and drove out the “three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak” (Joshua 15:14; cf. Judges 1:10, 20). Together, Joshua and Caleb drove out the giants that the 10 other spies feared 40 years before.

David Kills Goliath (1 Samuel 17)

As we have seen, Joshua left some Anakim remaining in the Philistine cities of Gath, Gaza, and Ashdod (Joshua 11:22). This is significant for several reasons. First, this means the task that God gave Israel to drive out the Canaanites was not complete (seen more clearly in Judges 1–2). Second, the Philistines, with whom the Anakim remained, became Israel’s chief enemy during the time of Samuel. And third, the Philistines’ champion in 1 Samuel 17 was from Gath.

This puts David’s battle with Goliath in proper context. Goliath was from Gath, one of the three Philistine cities where Anakim remained. Goliath also receives the most explicit description of a giant in all of Scripture:

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron (1 Samuel 17:4-7).

David did not just defeat some random giant that Saul and the Israelites feared. Rather, Goliath was a remnant of the Anakim that Israel was supposed to drive out of the land of Canaan. The Anakim apparently became aligned with Israel’s new enemy, the Philistines. In killing Goliath, David was finishing the task of herem in Deuteronomy 7 that Joshua began to carry out.

Moreover, Goliath is called a gibbor (גִּבּוֹר), a “mighty man,” in 1 Samuel 17:51, associating him with the gibborim-Nephilim of Genesis 6:4. (The ESV translates gibbor as “champion” in 1 Samuel 17:51, but this is a different Hebrew word than that for “champion” in 17:4.) David, of course, proved to be his own gibbor in defeating Goliath (1 Samuel 16:18).

There has been much discussion over Goliath’s height. The Hebrew text says he was six cubits and a span tall. A cubit was approximately 18 inches and a span nine inches, making Goliath 9 feet 9 inches tall. Many scholars prefer the reading of the Septuagint and an early Hebrew manuscript from Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls), both of which say that Goliath was only four cubits and a span, or about 6’9”. In general, we should prefer the Hebrew Masoretic Text, unless we have good reason to go with alternate readings. There are problems with the MT textual tradition of 1-2 Samuel, so there may be a good reason to favor the alternate readings.[3]

However, thinking 9’9” is too tall for a giant is not a good reason to reject the Hebrew text. We already saw that Og of Bashan had a bed that was over 13 feet long, which cannot be explained well if he were under seven feet tall. This should at least make us open to the idea of Goliath being closer to 10 feet tall. The four cubit and a span reading (6’9”) would make Goliath’s height less impressive, nine inches shorter than the five cubit (7’6”) Egyptian man killed by Benaiah, one of David’s mighty men (gibborim) (1 Chronicles 11:23-24).

There is the possibility that the Septuagint used the longer Egyptian cubit in its description, meaning the Septuagint was essentially in agreement with the Hebrew.[4] The alternative is that there are two variant manuscript traditions, with one of them in error. Most text critical scholars seem to favor the Septuagint and Hebrew DSS reading, but this position is not certain (and still has to explain why the MT has a different number). One principle of text criticism is to prefer the harder reading, and the 9’9” measurement is certainly the harder reading.

It is also important to mention that Goliath wore “scale armor” (שִׁרְי֥וֹן קַשְׂקַשִּׂ֖ים, shiryon qasqasim) (1 Samuel 17:5). This armor weighed over 125 pounds, implying he was massive. Everywhere the term קַשְׂקַשִּׂ֖ים (qasqasim) is used in the OT, it means “scales” (Leviticus 11:9-10, 12; Deuteronomy 14:9-10; Ezekiel 29:4). The ESV only makes one exception, as it translates the word as “coat of mail” here in 1 Samuel 17:5. Though this translation is understandable because chain mail would resemble scales, it obscures an important connection with the serpent (and possibly Dagon).

Scale armor ramps up the significance, as it connects Goliath with the serpent himself. Goliath was the seed of the serpent, and David was of the seed of the woman. Whether Goliath was the biological offspring of the serpent (through the Nephilim) or merely the spiritual offspring, there is a connection with Genesis 3:15. David killed Goliath with a stone to the head, and then he cut off Goliath’s head (1 Samuel 17:48-51). David, the seed of the woman, crushed the head of the seed of the serpent. Thus David’s defeat of Goliath is ultimately a picture of Christ conquering the devil.

The scale armor may also connect Goliath with the Philistine god Dagon, who was possibly a god of the sea. Goliath had cursed David “by his gods,” but in the end it was Goliath who was cursed (1 Samuel 17:43). Like his god Dagon, Goliath fell facedown and his head was cut off (1 Samuel 17:49-51; cf. 5:3-4). Israel’s first king, Saul, fought a serpent in his first battle against Nahash (Hebrew “serpent”), king of the Ammonites, and here David faced his own serpent. David passed the test by defeating the giant serpent and cutting off his head. David was better than Saul, the tall man who feared the Philistine giant (1 Samuel 17:11).

David and His Men Finish Off the Giants (2 Samuel 21; 1 Chronicles 20)

In addition to Goliath, David and his men killed four other giants—all from Gath:

. . . And Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants, whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze, and who was armed with a new sword, thought to kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him . . . Then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Saph, who was one of the descendants of the giants. And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants. And when he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, struck him down. These four were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants (2 Samuel 21:15-22).

Comparing the parallel passage of 1 Chronicles 20:4-8, we observe the following about these giants. Abishai killed the giant Ishbi-benob. Sibbecai killed the giant Saph. (1 Chronicles 20:4 says Sippai, which is probably a variant of the same name). Elhanan killed Goliath the Gittite (though 1 Chronicles 20:5 says he struck down “Lahmi the brother of Goliath”).[5] And Jonathan (David’s nephew) killed the unnamed 24-digit giant.  

These four men are described as Rapha (רָפָה), which the ESV translates as “giants” (2 Samuel 21:16, 18, 20, 22; 1 Chronicles 20:6, 8). The description of Rapha is related to the word for Rephaim (רְפָאִ֛ים). This connection is made explicit in the use of the plural Rephaim (רְפָאִ֛ים) in 1 Chronicles 20:4 for Sippai and the use of the singular Rapha (רָפָה) for Saph in 2 Samuel 21:18. (Saph and Sippai are likely variant spellings of the same name.) While 2 Samuel 21:15-22 uses the singular Rapha four times, 1 Chronicles 20:4-8 uses Rapha once and the plural Rephaim twice (1 Chronicles 20:6, 8).

As noted above, Rapha is probably a proper name of a giant from whom Goliath was descended. To make the connections clear, the Anakim were “considered” Rephaim (Deuteronomy 2:11, 21). This makes sense, as Goliath and his relatives are associated with both the Anakim and the Rephaim. They were killed by David and his own “mighty men” (גִּבֹּרִ֖ים, gibborim, contra the “mighty men” of Genesis 6:4) (2 Samuel 23:8).

Conclusion—Giants Today

The story of giants starts with the mysterious Nephilim in Genesis 6:4, who were wiped out by the flood. However, the Nephilim are linked with the later Anakim and Rephaim. Ten of the 12 Israelite spies feared going into the land of Canaan because they saw giant Anakim there, and Numbers 13:33 says they came from the Nephilim. Deuteronomy 2:11 says the Anakim were part of the giant group known as the Rephaim. And while in the wilderness, Moses defeated the giant Og of Bashan, who was one of the remaining Rephaim. After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, Joshua and Caleb—the two faithful spies—then drove out the giant Anakim from Canaan. They “devoted” the Anakim to destruction, though they left some Anakim in Philistine territory (Joshua 11:21-22). One of those cities was Gath, from where Goliath hailed.

Thus the giant Goliath represented not just the Philistines, but the dreaded Anakim—which even Joshua could not fully defeat. Goliath and his fellow Anakim were also considered Rephaim (2 Samuel 21:15-22; cf. Deuteronomy 2:11). And if the Anakim were descended from the Nephilim (as Numbers 13:33 claims) and the Nephilim were the children of fallen angels and women (Genesis 6:4), then this would make Goliath the biological offspring of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Goliath’s connection to the Nephilim is strengthened by his description as a gibbor, a “mighty” one (1 Samuel 17:51; cf. Genesis 6:4). Furthermore, Goliath wore serpent-like “scale armor” (1 Samuel 17:5). This was a battle between the seed of the woman, David, and the seed of the serpent, the giant gibborim-Nephilim-Anakim-Rephaim warrior named Goliath. By defeating Goliath and his relatives, David completed the conquest that Joshua began.

There is no mention of giants in Scripture after the time of David. As far as we know, the gibbor David (1 Samuel 16:18) and his group of gibborim (2 Samuel 23:8) brought an end to the giants, those gibborim of old (Genesis 6:4). There are no more Nephilim, Anakim, or Rephaim on the earth.

The typical sermon on Goliath today encourages Christians to “slay the giants” in their lives, usually referring to sin and the fears of life. Advocates of redemptive-historical preaching often criticize this example of how preachers cover the Goliath story. However, there may be something to considering our own giants to slay—not primarily our individual enemies, but rather those of the church.

This connection is seen when we understand that the Promised Land typifies the whole world in which we dwell. Now that King Jesus has come, the whole earth belongs to Him (Matthew 28:18; Romans 4:13). And just as there were giants in the land of Canaan that needed to be driven out, the earth today is filled with Christ’s enemies. The spiritual giants, including unbelief and false teaching, must be driven from the earth so that all will come to saving faith in Christ. However, this is a spiritual war, not one of flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).

Jesus defeated the serpent on the cross, along with all spiritual forces opposed to God and His people (Colossians 2:15). And in the end, He will have victory. The nations will be converted, and the spiritual giants will be defeated. In the power of Christ, we now drive out His enemies through the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word. It is a hard task we have been given, and just like the Israelites, we must trust the Lord to bring it about.    

[1] The Septuagint also translates גִּבֹּרִ֛ים (gibborim) as γίγαντες (gigantes, “giants) in Ezekiel 32:21, 27, a passage that may describe giants and their place in Sheol after death. Nimrod was a גִּבֹּ֖ר (gibbor), which the Septuagint also translates as γίγας (“giant”) in Genesis 10:8-9.

[2] Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm, 107.

[3] See Daniel J. Hays, “Reconsidering the Height of Goliath,” JETS 48.4 (2005), 702–715, who discusses the textual issues and argues for the shorter height.

[4] See Clyde E. Billington, “Goliath and the Exodus Giants: How Tall Were They?” JETS 50.3 (2007), 489–508., who criticizes Hays’ article from two years prior and instead argues that Goliath was about eight feet tall. Hays then responded to Billington: Daniel J. Hays, “The Height of Goliath: A Response to Clyde Billington,” JETS 50.3 (2007), 509–516.      

[5] 2 Samuel 21:19 says, “Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite.” 1 Chronicles 20:5 says, “Elhanan the son of Jair struck down Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite.” So which is it? There are three possibilities. The first possibility is that 2 Samuel left out “Lahmi the brother of” from the text. This would make sense because 1 Samuel 17 says that it was David who killed Goliath, not Elhanan. It is also the case that the text of 2 Samuel 21:19 appears to be corrupted, seen in that it describes Elhanan as “the son of Jaare-oregim.” The word “oregim” (אֹרְגִ֜ים) is the same word used at the end of the verse for “weaver” and is not in 1 Chronicles 20:5, which only says “son of Jair.” The second possibility, suggested by the NET notes, is that 1 Chronicles 20 corrupted the word for “Bethlehemite” (בֵּ֣ית הַלַּחְמִ֗י) and instead created the word “Lahmi” with the direct object marker (אֶת־לַחְמִי֙). The problem with this latter is that it requires too much change. The direct object marker is still in 2 Samuel 21:19, and 1 Chronicles 20:5 also adds the word “brother” (אֲחִי֙). The third option is that there were two giants named Goliath. David killed Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, and Elhanan killed the other Goliath in 2 Samuel 21/1 Chronicles 20. This latter Goliath was also known as Lahmi, making him both “Goliath” and “Lahmi the brother of Goliath.” The fourth option, a variation of the latter, is that Goliath was a more general term for “giant.”