When Giants Walked the Earth

Author: Michael S. Heiser

If they haven’t read it, most people have at least heard the story of David and Goliath of Gath (“the Gittite”). The names of the hero and villain have iconic status. But how many people know anything about the giant Goliath, other than that he lost his head to a boy named David from Israel?

Second Samuel 21:15–22 and 1 Chr 20:4–8 tell us that there were other unusually tall warriors among the Philistines[1]. The lists are not identical, but putting them together we read that there were four: Saph (also called Sippai), Lahmi, Ishbi-benob, and an unnamed warrior. The descriptions are similar to that given Goliath, noting “great stature” and the dimensions of their weaponry. Unlike Goliath or any of the other named warriors, the unnamed giant is said to have six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. This malformation, known as polydactylism, is only mentioned in the description of this giant. The Bible does not mention it when it discusses other giant clans.

Wait a minute—giant clans?

There are several people groups described as giants or among whom giants lived in the Old Testament:[2]

1. There are the Anakim, who are descendants from the Nephilim mentioned in Gen 6:1–4 (compare Num 13:33), and whom the people of Israel encountered under Moses, and later under Joshua (Num 13:22–33; Josh 15:13–14).

2. At one time, before the children of Israel traveled through the Transjordan, the land to the east of the Jordan River was heavily populated with tall people known as Emim (Deut 2:10–11) and the Zamzummim, also called the Zuzim (Deut 2:20).

3. The Amorites, another group that stood in the way of Israel claiming the Promised Land, is described as being exceptionally tall (Amos 2:9–10).

4. Lastly, there were the Rephaim, which are mentioned nearly twenty times, most often in association with the conquest of the Promised Land, when Moses encountered king Og of Bashan, whose bed measured to thirteen feet in length (Deut 2:11, 20–22; 3:11–13; Josh 12:4; 13:13).

Goliath was Rephaim. He and the four giant warriors listed alongside him are descended from rapha (פהר) in Gath (2 Sam 21:22; 1 Chr 20:8). If rapha is interpreted as a proper name, Rapha, then the four warriors were all brothers of Goliath. The biblical text does not actually say this. Only one of these men, Lahmi, is specifically said to be the brother of Goliath. Therefore, it is best to translate the term as “giants” or “Rephaim” as many English translations do.

Some of the Rephaim giants survived the wars of Moses and Joshua and their descendants settled in the Philistine city of Gath. The other warriors who accompanied Goliath may not have been brothers, but they were all part of an enduring and unusual lineage that challenged Israel for their land and opposed their God.

[1] The Bible does not record the height of any of these other men. The height of Goliath is uncertain due to disagreements in the manuscript evidence. These passages also introduce a famous Bible difficulty, telling us that Elhanan killed Goliath of Gath, not David. This is discussed in pgs. 33–35 of this issue of BSM

[2] Aside from the people groups noted here, others may have been unusually large, depending on how we take the location of their names in lists of the clear giant clan groups, and the meaning of their names in Hebrew. Examples are the Horites, the Avvim, and the Jebusites.

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Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 1 No. 4.