Two armies are facing off. One boasts a taunting, blasphemous giant that intimidates the army of Israel. Israel’s “champion”—a young boy. We know this story! We especially know the characters in it—the giant, Goliath and the one-day-to-be-king, David. You’ve probably tried to picture the ruddy, young shepherd and the armor-clad giant as you read the account in 1 Samuel. Characters and people are easy for our brains to imagine, but do you ever find yourself skipping over the other details in the story that describe the location? It’s hard to get a mental picture of a place you’ve never seen. But the Bible is rich in details of the landscape and geography. Why? Because the places it tells about are real. Let me show you…
“Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-Dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath…” (I Samuel 17:1-4)
All of the places named in this text can be seen in the aerial panoramic above. The Philistines had gathered their forces at the Judean city of Socoh, farthest left in the picture, which has long been identified as biblical Socoh. Recently, this identification was sealed when a pottery sherd inscribed with “Socoh” was discovered there. The Scripture states that the Philistines were not gathered in Socoh itself, but rather on the mountain or ridge that is associated with Socoh called Ephes-Dammim. You can see the Philistine camp marked on the picture, just to the right of Socoh. The text further describes this ridge (Ephes-Dammim) as being located between the Judean cities of Socoh and Azekah. Azekah, seen towards the right side of the panoramic, is under excavation right now.
Knowing which mountain the Philistines occupied helps identify the mountain on which the Israelites were encamped. The Bible states that, “Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley (Valley of Elah) between them.” The battle between David and Goliath took place somewhere in that valley between the two facing ridges which are bookended between the Judean cities of Socoh and Azekah.
What about David’s choice of weapon—five smooth stones? Well, at the base of the mountain where the Israelites were entrenched, there is a stream that still runs today. It is not labeled in this panorama because it isn’t visible due to the angle of the picture. But it is still there, and many a tourist has carried away a smooth stone!
The thrilling end of the story depicts David using those stones to kill Goliath, who the Bible tells us was from the town of Gath (barely visible in the distant background on the far right of the picture). Why does the Bible mention Goliath’s hometown? Because real people come from somewhere, and throughout its pages, the Bible tells stories of God encountering people in their own homes, in their own families, in their own hometowns, their own cultures. He reveals Himself and calls them to believe Him, follow Him and trust Him to give them the strength to overcome their enemies…His enemies. Ultimately, it tells of the story of how the Son of David came Himself in real flesh, choosing Bethlehem as His town and overcame His enemy…our enemy—sin and death.
The Bible is true. The story is real. Our Champion is real! Praise You, Lord Jesus!!