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1 Samuel 17:33 (NRSV) says:

Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

I have taken into consideration the answer stated in this link, which argues that David was 15 years old or younger. Are there any proven claims on the exact age of David when he fought Goliath? If not, what is the best approximation?

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Thanks for you first question on BH.SE. Two things: (1) You should add a specific verse quote/reference into your question, since one of the requirements for this site is to have a specific text at least as a start point for the question (perhaps 1 Sam 17:33). (2) Do not expect a "proven" claim on "exact age," because if such existed, there would not be all the controversy about how old he was. However, you may get some answers that give even more biblical evidence to pinpoint a good approximation of age for David. – ScottS May 22 '14 at 13:55
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. Be sure to properly cite the text you're asking about. The chapter and verse numbers do not always line up between the Hebrew, Greek, and English texts. I've edited your post in line with ScottS's helpful comment. I also added the claim from the link into the question, as Internet links change. – Dan May 22 '14 at 14:14
Oh thank you for the info :) – nathan742 May 23 '14 at 4:46

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The only Biblical answer I can find is that the men were at least 20 to be in the army. So David would have been less then twenty if he was considered too young to fight.

Num 1:3

from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies.

The following is only conjecture and can not be proved, though I do think it is logical.

Based on the age (of twenty) of "manhood" and a few more references (to show my work), it is possible to make a logical guess.

1) We know that his 3 oldest brothers were at the fight.

1Sa 17:13

Now David was the son of the Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, whose name was Jesse, and he had eight sons. And Jesse was old in the days of Saul, advanced in years among men. The three older sons of Jesse had gone after Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and the second to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah.

2) Assuming that all who were old enough to go to war went.

1Sa 14:52

Now the war against the Philistines was severe all the days of Saul; and when Saul saw any mighty man or any valiant man, he attached him to his staff.

3) And if Shammah, the youngest of the 3 that went, was 20 then that leaves 4 brothers between them and David. If they were born a year apart then David would be 14 or 15. Obviously if they were born with more time between them then David could be even younger.

If not all were required to join the war but only those that wanted to, then David could be up to 19.

It is worth noting that both the Hebrews and Goliath thought David was a boy that was too young to fight. So if he was 19 then he might not have really looked like a boy.

Based on this line of reasoning, I think he was between 12 and 15 years old when he fought and killed Goliath, though nothing is certain.

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@PaulVargas, I have made another update. Is this better or do I still need more? – Joshua Wilson May 23 '14 at 2:44
@JoshuaWilson I can follow your logic here. Looks good. +1 – Dan May 23 '14 at 3:01
@JoshuaWilson Very well explanation. Thanks with this! – nathan742 May 23 '14 at 4:46

This information is in further support of an answer close to Joshua Wilson's (which was not really much other information that the original link you posted), though leaning toward the older end of his range and perhaps even slightly older (15-18 years old).

Reading commentaries and looking at various translations informs one that Saul's age and length of reign are somewhat suspect from the witness in 1 Sam 13:1 (cf. Act 13:21). Such might have helped pinpoint David's age, but there is still some other evidences.

Some other Facts

David was 30 years old when he became king, having just moved from Ziklag (2 Sam 1:1), and settled in Hebron (2 Sam 2:4). It was not until Hebron that he had any children himself (2 Sam 3:2; 1 Chr 3:1), but he had already been married to both Ahinoam and Abigail (1 Sam 27:3) during the 1 year and 4 months he lived among the Philistines (1 Sam 27:7) immediately prior to Saul's death (1 Sam ch. 28-29).

David was then about 28 (30 - 1yr 4m) years old when he moved to Philistine land, the last part of his time in running from Saul.

Abigail did not become David's wife (1 Sam 25:42) until after Samuel died (1 Sam 25:1), so in the timeline of 1 Samuel, probably David was likely 26-27 when marrying Abigail.

Now Ishbosheth was 40 when his father Saul died (2 Sam 2:10), but Jonathan had been the oldest son (1 Sam 14:49, 20:31). So Ishbosheth was 10 years older than David, which means Jonathan was more than 10 years older than David.

Some Logical Conclusions

All the above is stated for the following reason—right after David's victory over Goliath, we have three things indicating something about his maturity that would point toward the higher end range of 15-18.

  1. David was large enough to be able to wear the robe and tunic of Jonathan (1 Sam 18:4), a man 10+ years David's senior. This indicates not a lot of height/size difference (like one would expect between say a 12 year old and a 23+ year old man).
  2. David was mature enough to be put in a command position immediately (1 Sam 18:5), and upon returning from defeating Goliath (vv.6-9), the next day (v.10) or soon after he was placed in command of 1000 men (vv.12-13). That is not a responsibility likely to fall upon someone too young (i.e. he became a man of war, based off defeating Goliath, despite his youth).
  3. David may have been old enough to be of marriageable age (1 Sam 18:26), though there is an undetermined time gap with 1 Sam 18:19. Still, given #1-2, #3 is likely true, David was old enough to be given a wife based off his slaying of Goliath.

The Inconclusiveness of David's Birth Order to Determine Age

There are problems with placing too much weight on David's birth order for determining his age. This is because:

  1. We do not know if any of his older brothers were twins or triplets.
  2. We do not know his brother's ages, so assuming 4 older brothers not yet 20 (not men of war), then looking for a maximum age for David, assuming #1 is not true, and assuming a roughly normal gestation period (no premature births, about 40 weeks, or 9.23 months, we'll say 10 months minimum between pregnancies), we have this rough possibility:

    4th oldest = 19yr 11m old
    5th oldest = 19yr  1m old
    6th oldest = 18yr  3m old
    7th oldest = 17yr  5m old
    David      = 16yr  7m old

    Yet if #1 is true, then for every multiple birth among these four brothers, David's maximum age would bump up one slot.

    UPDATE: Regarding this calculation, I should note David's two sisters from 1 Chr 2:16—Zeruiah and Abigail. I confidently assert that Zeruiah is a non-factor in these calculations. She most certainly was born prior to the 4th oldest son, as her own three sons (Abishai, Joab, and Asahel), nephews to David, are also men of war at the time of David—Abishai during the time of David's fleeing Saul (1 Sam 26:6), and Joab and Asahel by the time of Saul's defeat during the confrontation with Abner (2 Sam 2:12-32). So she was likely at least 10-15 years older than David to have three sons of her own that were either already men of war, or at least nearing that age at the time David was also nearing it.

    Abigail is harder to disqualify from affecting the calculations. She was mother of Amasa, who does not enter the scene until much later in David's reign, when Absalom (David's son) elevated Amasa during his coop to take the throne (2 Sam 17:25). So Amasa could be near Absalom's age, and thus Abigail closer to David's age. If Abigail falls between the 4th oldest son and David, then David's maximum age would have to bump down 10 more months, so for sake of argument, assume she is just above David, though she could be in any slot (this assumes as well that she was not a fraternal twin to any of those sons):

    4th oldest = 19yr 11m old
    5th oldest = 19yr  1m old
    6th oldest = 18yr  3m old
    7th oldest = 17yr  5m old
    Abigail?   = 16yr  7m old
    David      = 15yr  9m old

    There is no further information I am aware of to either include or exclude Abigail as a possible factor, and so David's maximum age must be set as a range between 15yr 9m and 16yr 7m, depending upon whether she was or was not a factor by her birth order.

  3. However, there is a reasonable possibility that David is the 7th of 8 total sons of Jesse. This would bump David up one slot in the above order as well. How could David be 7th of 8? Doesn't it state he is the "youngest" (1 Sam 16:11, 17:14), and clearly had seven brothers (1 Sam 16:10), with eight sons total (1 Sam 17:12)? Follow this logic...

    First, 1 Chr 2:13-15 gives a listing of David's family by birth order from Jesse:

    1st Eliab
    2nd Abinadab
    3rd Shimea (a.k.a Shammah, 1 Sam 16:9, 17:13)
    4th Nethanel
    5th Raddai
    6th Ozem
    7th David
    8th is then unnamed and uncounted here

    Some common ways of reconciling this with David being the youngest of eight speculates that this much later Chronicle account does not mention one brother who died young (i.e. before reaching manhood and/or having children; e.g. Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on 1 Chr 2:15) or was disowned by Jesse between the Samuel and Chronicle accounts, or had a different mother (a solution noted in Gill's Exposition of 1 Chr 2:13), and is not listed here for one of these reasons.

    Second, Gill's Exposition of 1 Chr 2:13 also notes others have David 7 of 8. He states (emphasis added):

    Kimchi mentions a Midrash ... according to which his name [David's unmentioned brother of 1 Chr 2] was Elihu, and was younger than David, who is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 27:18, and Jarchi observes, that the writer, having found the pearl (David), reckons not the eighth son Elihu

    Others consider Elihu of 1 Chr 27:18 to be another name for Eliab. Whether Elihu is the name of the 8th brother or not is irrelevant (though I lean that way), what is more important is dealing with the "youngest" terminology used for David, so...

    Third, David may not have been the "youngest," but rather the "smallest" of his brothers. The word used, קָטָן (qāṭān) can mean "small" or even "unimportant" (see BDB). Given God's comment about Eliab's physical stature (1 Sam 16:7), the term being used of David may refer to his stature, not his age (which is even more plausible given the 1 Chr 2:13-15 information).

All this to say that not knowing details of the other brothers, David's age is rather flexible. If two brothers are twins and David was 7th in order, then David could well be 18 years old.

David's "Youth"

The word used of David's "youth" (1 Sam 17:33, 42) is נַ֫עַר (nǎʿǎr). There is a large range of flexibility in its meaning (see BDB), including "marriageable age," and David using the term himself of Absalom (2 Sam 18:5), his third son (2 Sam 3:3) at a time when he was clearly already a grown man (having his own children, 2 Sam 14:27). So it can be a very "relative" term, as well as one indicating appearances of youth. So the term could still easily be used of one just under 20 years old.

Final Concluding Thoughts

Based off the time frame of David marrying Abigail, there has to be some years time for his fleeing Saul prior to that, as well as his brief marriage to Michal that occurred relatively soon after the Goliath incident. That, coupled with the information from Joshua Wilson's answer certainly weighs to him being under 20 at the time of the encounter.

However, the other factors of his size and maturity hinted at in connection with his slaying of the giant weight heavily to his being probably not less than 15, and likely a couple more years mature than that.

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Your answer had a good coverage based on the logical conclusions which were not discussed by Joshua Wilson. But, still, this makes a missing link on how and when he was born being the youngest in the 8 brothers. Plus, can you give your view on the "boy" factor of David as what the other characters said in the time being. Good references used though :) – nathan742 May 27 '14 at 4:37
@nathan742: I've added discussion of the items you requested. Learned a lot myself from the study as well. – ScottS May 27 '14 at 16:35
Don't forget that 1 Chr. 2:16 tells us that David had two sisters, and there's a decent chance that one or both of them were born between the 3rd son and David (7th or 8th). If so, this could reduce the estimate of David's age by as much as 2 years (or 1 year and 8 months if using 10 month gaps). By my calculations, if David was 8th, there's a 56% chance that one of the sisters falls in the critical range and a 31% chance that they both do. (Odds are reduced to 44% and 20%, respectively, if you assume David was 7th.) – Mark Aug 1 at 20:58
@Mark: I have to admit I did not consider the sisters in my initial calculations. I do not know how you are deriving your "chance" numbers, but I can state this much: Zeruiah is certainly not a factor, but Abigail may be (see my updated answer for my revised analysis taking them into consideration). – ScottS Aug 3 at 17:42
@ScottS My chance numbers were based on assumption of each sister independently falling into any of the 9 positions before/between/after the 8 brothers with equal probability. I didn't look into the ages of their kids as you have--nice. All in all, both you and Joshua Wilson have done an excellent analysis. Thanks! – Mark Aug 4 at 12:57

Here's one other clue that would support the idea that he's older than 15 years old. In the previous chapter, one of Saul's attendants describes David this way:

1 Sam 16:18 (NIV)

One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.”

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