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Uncovering the Bible's Greatest Mysteries
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Uncovering the Bible's Greatest Mysteries

by Alton Gansky
The Bible is full of things that seem beyond our comprehension and understanding Tales of the ark of the covenant, the Nehushtan, fire from heaven, Leviathan, and many other strange yet intriguing mysteries are found sprinkled in the narrative of God's Word. Join Alton Gansky and explore these mysterious objects, fascinating people, and unusual places. Walk up the


The Bible is full of things that seem beyond our comprehension and understanding Tales of the ark of the covenant, the Nehushtan, fire from heaven, Leviathan, and many other strange yet intriguing mysteries are found sprinkled in the narrative of God's Word. Join Alton Gansky and explore these mysterious objects, fascinating people, and unusual places. Walk up the Mount of Transfiguration to encounter the "glow" of God's glory, or wander with the Israelites in the desert and gaze upon the raised serpent. These adventures will leave you with a deeper understanding of and a greater appreciation for profoundly curious elements of the Bible.

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Uncovering the Bibles Greatest Mysteries
By Alton Gansky

Broadman & Holman Publishers

Copyright © 2002 Alton Gansky.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-8054-2499-7

There Be Giants

1 Samuel 17:1-58

IT HAD BEEN FORTY DAYS since the confrontation began. Forty days of listening to the ridicule, jabs, insults, and taunts from the terrifying man on the valley floor. Behind him, stationed on the slope of a hill, stood the Philistine army, ready to fight or ready to sit and wait. King Saul and his army were encamped on an opposing hill. It was a standoff, as neither army was willing to surrender the strategic position of higher ground. Whichever army was foolish enough to descend from their perch, cross the flat valley bed, and climb the next rise would be at the mercy of their enemy. It was a stalemate, but the Philistines, the persistent enemy of Saul, had an idea: Why not send their best warrior to fight the champion of Israel?

Goliath made his way to the valley floor and issued a challenge: "Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight me and kill me, then we will become your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall become our servants and serve us."

There was logic in this. A one-on-one battle would save a great deal of bloodshed. Still, no one took Goliath's challenge—and for good reason. Goliath was no ordinary man. As he stood on the valley floor with the sun highoverhead, glinting off the bullet-shaped helmet Philistine soldiers wore, he seemed a colossus. No one was willing to face him.

After all, the Bible describes him as standing six cubits and a span. A cubit was an inaccurate measure—the distance between a man's elbow and the tip of his middle finger. People come in different sizes, so the cubit varies in length from seventeen and one half inches to twenty-one inches. (Just imagine the difference between a cubit based on David's forearm and that of Goliath's.) For most purposes, eighteen inches serves as an average cubit. A span was the distance between the thumb and little finger when the hand is spread wide—about nine inches. This would make Goliath at least nine feet nine inches tall (if the long cubit is used, he would have towered over eleven feet).

Heights like that are hard to imagine. Even the tallest professional basketball player would seem small standing next to Goliath. In a modern home the standard door height is six feet eight inches from the unfinished floor. That means that Goliath would have to lower his head three feet eight inches just to walk into a house.

But he was more than just tall; he was powerful. The text describes his armor and weapons in detail. Converting the biblical weights of "shekels of iron" into modern terms (about forty shekels of iron to the pound), we learn that Goliath wore 125 pounds of scale-armor and carried a spear with a sixteen-pound head. This does not count the weight of his spear shaft (about seventeen pounds), helmet, or sword. Goliath, whose name means "splendor," would have been a frightening sight.

Did Goliath Have a Glandular Disorder?

Goliath may have suffered from one of several growth disorders such as acromegaly or gigantism. Acromegaly (from acro, meaning "height" or "extreme" and mega, meaning "large") is caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland and effects fifteen thousand Americans. This tumor causes an excessive release of growth hormone that leads to extreme height. The condition also causes medical problems such as thickening of the skin, spade-like hands, premature osteoarthritis, and weakness. It usually occurs in adults older than thirty, although it can begin in childhood. But it is doubtful that Goliath could have been a warrior with such a disease. Saul tells David that Goliath "has been a warrior from his youth." Acromegaly, while not incapacitating in itself, would have left Goliath unfit for his role as a titan of war.

Gigantism, a similar disorder, occurs at a much younger age and is caused by an overactive pituitary gland. The condition begins prior to adolescence, so the bones have not ossified (hardened), allowing for unusually great growth. Robert Pershing Wadlow of Alton, Illinois, grew to nearly nine feet (eight feet eleven inches) and weighed 491 pounds. But Goliath could not have suffered from this affliction either since it too brings muscular weakness.

What then was the cause of Goliath's great size? No one can say for certain, but he wasn't alone in his stature.

It Ran in the Family

2 Samuel 21:15-22

It may be surprising to learn that there is more than one giant mentioned in the Bible. Almost everyone knows of Goliath, but few realize that eleven other giants are discussed—four of them related to Goliath.

In 2 Samuel 21 the account of the four skirmishes between David and/or his men with these Philistines reports on the giants who died and the men who slew them. The first clash occurs between King David, now a much older man, and a giant by the name of Ishbi-benob. His height is not given, but the passage makes his size clear. We are told that his spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze (about seven and a half pounds, less than half of Goliath's spear). It is also said that he carried a "new sword." The word sword is not in the original Hebrew. The phrase should be translated "a new thing." What was the new thing? No one knows. It may have been a weapon never before seen by David, or it may have been nothing more than an unused sword. The fact that it is mentioned is odd.

Ishbi-benob proved more than King David could handle. In hand-to-hand combat, David was no longer a youth with a sling, but a man well past middle age. Abishai, one of David's men, killed the Philistine giant and rescued his king. David's men refused to let him return to battle lest "the lamp of Israel" be snuffed out.

Another battle with the Philistines took place at Gob and again a giant was present. Saph (Sippai, in 1 Chronicles 20:4) faced off with and was killed by Sibbecai the Hushathite. As with Ishbi-benob, Saph's height is unknown. He, too, is referred to as a "descendant of the giant."

A third battle is recorded in this chapter—one that has brought much debate. The controversy centers on a giant by the name of Goliath, killed by a man named Elhanan (the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite). Does this account contradict the story of David and Goliath in I Samuel 17? Could there be two giants with the same name, each with a spear like a weaver's beam? Or could Elhanan be another name for David? Let's consider the possibilities. First, Goliath may have been a popular name in that era. Second, even though both had spears described as the size of a weaver's beam, the description does not necessarily indicate the same man. An Egyptian giant (whom we will talk about later) is also said to have had such a spear (1 Chronicles 11:22-23).

That both lived in Gath is to be expected, especially since the two were most likely related. This Goliath was also "born to the giant in Gath" (2 Samuel 21:22). The simplest and most probable answer is that there were two giants named Goliath, one decades older than the other. Sound like too much of a stretch? There are several people (some count five) in the Bible named Jesus (see Colossians 4:11 for an example).

The fourth giant in this passage is nameless but unique. All we are told of his height is that he was a man of "great stature." We are also told that he had "six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot"! He was slain by David's nephew, Jonathan.

These giants have several things in common:

� They may have been a race unto themselves, but they shared one or more cities with the Philistines.

� They fought against God's chosen people.

� They were killed by servants of King David.

� They were remarkable enough to have their deaths recorded in Scripture.

� They were descendants of "the giant," literally, the Rapha.

This last point is curious. Who was the Rapha? The Rapha was the ancestor from whom these giants came. (Rapha is an eponym—a name that is the source of other related terms or names. For example, Rome is named after its mythical founder, Romulus. Romulus, therefore, is an eponym.) In 1 Chronicles 20:4, the writer uses the same Hebrew term Rapha but makes it plural—the Rephaim—a race distinguished from others living in the same area.

It is possible that these four giants were blood relatives of Goliath of Garb, whom David slew. Or there may be somewhere in the dark, unseen past a giant by the name of Rapha who was considered the progenitor of a race of giants. Either way, a genetic connection certainly existed.

Not every giant, however, was associated with the Philistines or lived during David's time.

The Odd Furniture of King Og

Deuteronomy 3:3-4

Long before David, in the days of Moses and Joshua, there was a powerful king by the name of Og. He ruled Bashan, a region east of the Sea of Chinnereth (known as the Sea of Galilee in Jesus' time). He was master of sixty cities, many of which were fortified with walls, gates, and bars. The extent of his power and the importance the Jews placed on his downfall is evident from the multiple mentions (twenty-two times) of his name in the Bible. King Og was utterly defeated by Moses and the Israelites because of God's intervention.

In addition to being a powerful king who went down in defeat, Og has another historical note of interest—his bed. "For only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bedstead was an iron bedstead.... Its length was nine cubits and its width four cubits by ordinary cubit" (Deuteronomy 3:11). This would make his bed thirteen and a half feet long and six feet wide. For years all that remained of the last Rephaim giant in the land was his bed.

Taller Than Your Average Egyptian

1 Chronicles 11:22-23

Not all biblical giants are Canaanites or Philistines. First Chronicles relates the story of a mighty warrior named Benaiah who fought and killed an unnamed Egyptian of great stature. According to the Bible, the Egyptian soldier stood five cubits tall, about seven and a half feet. Compared to other biblical giants, he was short (Goliath would have towered over him by two feet). Also of interest is the comparison of his spear to a "weaver's beam." This phrase is used two other times: once to describe David's Goliath (1 Samuel 17:7) and once for Goliath the Gittite 2 Samuel 21:19). It was the Egyptian's bad luck to run up against Benaiah, who killed the big man with the Egyptian's own spear.

Like Father, Like Sons

Joshua 14:15; 15:13-14; 21:11, 21; Numbers 13:22-33; Deuteronomy 9:2; Judges 1:10-12

Before the city of Hebron was named Hebron, it was called Kiriatharba, the city of Arba. Arba was a man with two claims to fame: (1) he built a city and (2) he was the father of a giant named Anak and the grandfather of Ahiman, Sheshai, Talmai. The fact that he had four sons and grandsons total may explain why he was called Arba, since his name means "four." Each son became the head of a tribe.

Almost nothing is known of Anak. He is always mentioned as either being the ancestor of the Anakim or the son of Arba. Nothing more is revealed. The Anakim were the giants whose strength and stature so frightened ten of the twelve spies sent by Moses to assess the land of Canaan.

Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai are mentioned three times in the Bible and always together. Joshua and his army routed their descendants.

Land of the Giants

Giants were not unique in biblical days. In fact, the Bible records not only twelve individual giants, but also at least five races of mega-men. The exact number of races is difficult to determine because some of the terms seem to be local words for the same group of people. There also seems to be two types of giants: pre-flood and post-flood.


Genesis 6:1-4; Numbers 13:33

A hotly debated section of the Bible is Genesis 6:1-4. The passage has launched a torrent of opinions, all hinging on the identity of the "sons of God" (B'nai ha-Elohim) and where they came from. Various human origins have been suggested, such as the descendants of Seth, but the most reasonable (also the most provocative) answer assumes them to be nonhuman beings. Why nonhuman? Read on.

First, the phrase "sons of God" is consistently used for angels. The description occurs in Job 1:6; 2:1; and 38:7. Similar terms are used in Psalms 29:1 and 89:6. It is in keeping with Scripture to interpret this phrase the same as it is interpreted in other parts of the Old Testament.

Also the passage states the "sons of God" took whatever wives they chose. The wording is interesting, implying that the choice rested solely with them. The Hebrew word for "took" can mean "seize," although it is used also to mean "accept." It appears the women had little choice in the matter as the Nephilim had unrivaled authority and influence.

Third, the offspring are unusual. They are first described as Nephilim. Nephilim is the plural of naphal—a word that means "fallen" or "feller" (that is, one who causes others to fail). During the third and second centuries before Christ, the Old Testament was translated from its original Hebrew into Greek. That translation, called the Septuagint, translates Nephilim as gigantes, from which we get the word "giant." Genesis 6:4 calls these offspring "mighty men" (gibbor)—men of valor. In other words, they had a frightening reputation.

A fourth reason is found in the New Testament. In Jude 1:6 is this intriguing line: "And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day." Jude wrote this as if his readers already knew who these wayward angels were. Their crime is listed twice in this one verse. The initial mention is that they did not keep their own domain. Literally, the verse reads "did not keep their first position." Then Jude goes on to say that they "abandoned their proper abode," meaning that they left their place of habitation, their dwelling place. The question is, Did they leave their domain to mate with humans on earth?

The apostle Peter mentions the same event in 2 Peter 2:4—"For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment." Again sinning angels are mentioned. If these are not the beings of Genesis 6, then what are they? Looking more closely at the verses of 2 Peter 2:4-6, we see that all his illustrations are from Genesis: angels who sinned and were condemned to the pits of darkness (Genesis 6); the ancient world destroyed by the flood (Genesis 6-9); and Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed by fire (Genesis 19). Clearly, Peter had the "sons of God" of Genesis 6 in mind when he wrote his book.

Ancient writings other than the Bible hold the view of nonhumans mating with human women. The Book of Enoch mentions the same event (69:4-6). The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius mentions it in his Antiquities of the Jews. Even early church fathers such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus held the view of nonhuman/human cohabitation.

What about Jesus' teaching that angels neither give nor take in marriage? Some have maintained that this teaching proves an angel is incapable of physical relations. But is that what Jesus said? Consider Matthew 22:30: "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." To understand this teaching we must understand the context. The Sadducees—a religious group who were distinguished more by what they didn't believe than what they did (they didn't believe in angels or the resurrection)—had asked Jesus a trick question. They had posed a hypothetic situation (a woman marries seven times and each time her husband dies) and asked Jesus whose wife she would be in the resurrection.


Excerpted from Uncovering the Bibles Greatest Mysteries by Alton Gansky. Copyright © 2002 by Alton Gansky. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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