The Giant Greater than Goliath

by the late Dr. Lawrence Duff-Forbes

The late Dr. Lawrence Duff-Forbes was a Messianic Rabbi from Australia.

You will recall the historical incident of Goliath recorded in the seventeenth chapter of First Samuel. The Philistines had gathered together their armies to battle upon territory which belonged to Judah: "Now the Philistines gathered their armies together to battle, and were gathered together at Sochoh, which belongs to Judah ... "

Note that! The territory belonged to Judah, not the Philistines. The Philistines were intruders. And across the valley were the armies of Israel. Then there stepped out into the space that separated the opposing forces nine feet six inches of Philistine bombast bearing the name Goliath.

Clad in heavy armour made of overlapping plates of bronze which allowed him free movement, and armed with weapons the magnitude of which well matched his gargantuan stature, he uttered taunting challenges to Israel to produce a man to fight with him. Israel was dismayed and greatly afraid, for apparently their armies lacked a man capable of matching the giant.

We know the rest of the history. Unexpectedly there appeared a champion for Israel, David by name, a shepherd. Flecks of grey were already showing in his beard and hair, but, although a little on the good side of the prime of life, he seemed no match for the giant. Gathering his wife and children round him he disclosed his intention of facing Goliath in combat. They were frantic with fear, and his eldest son, a stalwart youth, even sought to restrain him by force. However, David insisted ...

There! There! I feel I dare not further encroach upon your patience even in a good cause. Already you are repudiating the false picture of David I have given. "Why!" you say (and you say correctly), "David was only a youth when he overthrew Goliath." True, and so obviously a youth that the Philistine was insulted: " ....he disdained him; for he was but a youth, ruddy and good-looking. So the Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods" (1Samuel 17:42,43).

The very thought of David being surrounded by wife and children is quite wrong; that a full-grown young man was his son is equally fantastic. David himself would barely qualify as being a full-grown young man. Indeed the words used to translate the Hebrew text are ‘stripling’, ‘youth’, and he was the youngest of Jesse’s sons.

From a perusal of the text of the Hebrew Scriptures it is very doubtful if he could have been regarded even as of marriageable age. So the picture I first painted of David is false to the Scriptures, and our long-held impression of David as a mere lad is the correct one, justified by those same Scriptures.

Everybody, without a solitary exception, is in full agreement: David was a lad, and the Hebrew word which gives us the right to regard him as such is alem, which means a full-grown youth or young man.

So we can all relax - no one, unless with an ulterior motive or an axe to grind, would drain out of that Hebrew word alem its natural and justifiable connotation of lad-ness, with its equally justifiable corollary of youthful masculine virginity, if I may use such an expression.

The Giant Prejudice

The Hebrew word for youth generally, in a collective sense is alumim, so that if you were called to give a lecture to a group of young people, they would be described as alamim. And of course, if they were all girls you would have to use the feminine plural alamot. If the word ‘lad’ had a feminine form it would be ‘lad-ess’, whereas the feminine form of the Hebrew word alem lad is almah.

There is no axe to grind, no contraversy, in respect to David’s alem-ness, his lad-ness, his boy-ness with its clear indication of a male youth who is what I have termed a male virgin. The only giant facing David is Goliath himself. However, when we turn to that same word in its feminine form there is an axe to grind, there is controversy, there is pre-judgement, blind, deaf, but painfully vocal.

We face a giant greater than Goliath - the Giant Prejudice.

Prejudice is a busy beaver. Its sharp teeth gnaw through many a living tree sap-filled and greenly beautiful, and from Nature’s fallen forests it builds its barricades and swims around in liquid pools of its own construction.

Prejudice is defined as an unfavourable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought or reason. Prejudice is deaf; it is also blind. But none can call it dumb. It shouts so loudly that it threatens to drown the melodious voice of Truth itself.

One needs a medley of metaphors to depict this Giant Goliath who roars his challenge not only to Israel but to all whom God has ceded the right of residence in the Promised Land of revealed truth. And because I do not feel myself David enough to make a frontal attack upon this Giant Prejudice I will encompass his overthrow by other methods.

I will take the five smooth stones of objectivity, honesty, sincerity, sympathy and willingness, and, armed with the sling of love for truth, prevail over prejudices, and smite the uncircumcised Philistine.

Here then is the theological ‘David’ against which the Giant Prejudice roars: "Then he said, ‘Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign: Behold, the almah shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel (God-with-us)’" (Isaiah 7:13,14).

Does the masculine noun alem mean a male virgin? Does the feminine noun almah mean a female virgin?

The Biblical Root

Before we attempt an answer, let me call your attention to an important feature of the Hebrew language: the shoresh or root or stem which consists mostly of three consonants on which the meaning depends. These three basic consonants are like the prime root of meaning buried beneath the surface, but always there. Sprouting from this root are the verbs and nouns that pertain to that root and that retain the flavour and colouring of that root.

So let us now dig beneath and expose the root of those words alem and almah. The classical or Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic give the root meaning as ‘to enwrap’, ‘to veil’, ‘to hide’, ‘to conceal’, thus implying something hidden, something concealed, something unexposed; similarly with modern Hebrew. Indeed we further find the verbs ‘to vanish’, ‘to disappear’ as from the same root. And incidentally, in Arabic, which is closely related to Hebrew, the same root means ‘ripe and marriageable’.

Now we are better equipped to answer our question. There may be truth in the contention that alem and almah do not specifically mean virginity, but when applied to a human being, the root conveys the thought of one whose conjugal nuptial rights or attributes have remained potential only, and thus unexpressed, hidden, concealed, virgin. Hence the feminine word almah receives justification from its root for the word ‘virgin’.

Then too in modern Hebrew one of the dictionary meanings of almah is ‘girl’, which does not specifically mean a virgin, but to what else could it apply? Obviously a maiden who is, or certainly morally should be, a virgin.

The Voice of the Bible

As we turn to the Bible we find that the masculine singular noun alem appears only twice in the Hebrew Scriptures. The first occurrence is on the occasion when Jonathan planned to warn David of his father Saul’s intentions concerning David’s wellbeing or otherwise: "But if I say to the young man, ‘Look the arrows are beyond you’ ... " (1 Samuel 20:22), the very ‘young man’ translated ‘lad’ in the previous verse: "and there I will send a lad, saying ... " where the Hebrew word is alem.

The second appearance refers to David as a youth whom Saul wished to identify after he had slain the giant: "And the king said, ‘Inquire whose son this young man (alem) is" (1 Samuel 17:56). Some translations use the word ‘stripling’ or ‘youth’ for alem.

hus the Biblical use of the word alem, of which almah is the feminine form, clearly indicates a youth who is a virgin.

There are only seven pertinent uses of the word in its feminine form, almah. The first we find in the account of Rebekah prior to her marriage with Isaac where she is described as an almah, and also as a bethulah. Abraham’s servant says: "Behold I stand by the well of water; and it shall come to pass that when the virgin (almah) comes out to draw water ... " (Genesis 24:43); "and the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin (bethulah); no man had known her" (24:16).

Here we may digress to make reference to this latter word bethulah because many contend that it is the one specific word meaning virgin, and not just implying virgin. The root of bethulah in Hebrew means ‘to separate’, ‘to divide’, and it will readily be admitted that the thought coming from this can surely be virginity, for separation can conjure such a conception.

However, it should also be as readily admitted that the root thought of ‘concealment’ embedded in the word almah likewise yields the same thought, even more strongly if anything, as there is a stronger flavour of virginity in ‘concealment’, ‘non-exposure’ - the root thought of almah - than in ‘separation’ - the root thought of bethulah.

And the word bethulah does not always mean virginity even although that is its meaning in the majority of its sixty odd uses in Scripture. For instance, in Joel 1:8 we read: "Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth" here the word is bethulah.

To return to the word almah, we next find it used of Miriam the sister of Moses at a time when she would be about ten or twelve years old: "And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ So the maiden (almah) went and called the child’s mother" (Exodus 2:8).

We encounter the word almah in most enlightening usage in Proverbs 30:19: " ... and the way of a man with a virgin (almah)", sometimes translated ‘maid’, and surely meaning courtship rather than marriage.

In Psalm 68 with its basic thought of the triumphal march of God through human history via Israel to the ultimate establishment of His universal kingdom on earth, we are given a view of what might well be a prophetic portrayal of a joyous procession to the Temple of the future.
"The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the maidens playing timbrels" (verse 25). Here the word ‘maidens’ is the feminine plural form alamot.

This same word in the feminine plural is used apparently of a musical instrument. In Psalm 46:1 and in 1 Chronicles 15:20 we find the word alamoth : "A song for alamoth" and "Zechariah, Aziel ... and Benaiah, with strings according to alamoth." It is not certain that the word actually denotes a musical instrument; it may refer to maidens. However, no trace can be discovered of the existence of what may be described as a female choir as actually functioning within the Temple. But if a musical instrument existed bearing that name, then the thought embedded in the word could again suggest purity (virginity) of sound.

In the Song of Solomon (1:3): "Because of the fragrance of your good ointments, your name is ointment poured forth; therefore the virgins (alamoth)love you", which seems a reasonable translation, and in 6:8: "There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins (alamoth) without number", we see three degrees of feminine state and status.

The Sphere of Marriage

Man over the years has allowed official concurrent relationship with three categories of womanhood, seen even in the Scriptures. There was the principal or first wife, and then accepted auxiliaries who had lesser roles. In the lesser category was the concubine who was attached to the household more or less as a slave, but who could be granted her freedom if she were successful in bearing children to her master.

hen we therefore consider the Scripture from the Song of Solomon we are able to assess the implication of the word almah . The term queen would imply cohabitation within the married relationship; the term concubine would imply relationship within the sphere of what may be termed the auxiliary-marriage relationship; so the word alamoth must imply something different from these other two.

What remains? Surely nothing other than ‘virgins’, a state or condition during the maintenance of which they would answer somewhat like a female eunuch.

There is also a further word for youth, boy, lad - alem - and girl, maid, maiden - almah - and that is naar, naarah, and it would appear that all these words, almah, bethulah and naarah are equal in their implication of virginity unless the context indicates otherwise.

Possessing our Possessions

All this background and research has been necessary to plough up, soften and sweeten ready for unbiased harvest that ground trodden hard and unproductive by the heavy stampings of our Giant Prejudice. Moreover we remind ourselves again that the territory which this Philistine giant stamps on belongs to Judah by Divine grant.

Up, therefore, Israel! Let us possess our possessions and defy the giant. With the spirit and armoury of David let us now possess Isaiah 7:14! "Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

If this Scripture refers to a married woman, then to say the least of it the word almah was a very unhappy word to choose when such a choice was quite unnecessary. And it is well to remind ourselves that the third century B.C. seventy Jewish translators of the Greek Septuagint version, who certainly had no axe to grind in the third century before the Common Era, did not hesitate to translate the Isaiah Scripture: "Behold the virgin ... " with parthenos meaning virgin.

Moreover, two factors must also be observed in connection with the ‘sign’. It was to be a sign from the Eternal Himself, and it was not a sign to Ahaz; it was to be a sign from God to the "house of David" (Isaiah 7:13). "Hear now, O house of David!"

Could the mere conception and birth of a son by a married woman fill out the requirements for such a sign? That God intended a miracle to be associated with the sign is clear from the preceding: "Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above" (7:11). To read the magnitude of God’s invitation, and then to read into it a mere ordinary birth, conveys rather the picture of a little boy strutting round in vain attempt to fill his pater’s pants with his puny person!

And the name, that is the character, of the sign-child should cause very sober reflection: "Immanuel - God with us." Here surely is the promise and prophecy of Deity incarnate.

The first promise of the supernatural birth of the Messiah-Redeemer is clearly embedded in the Hebrew text of Genesis 3:15, where God is addressing Satan in the garden of Eden: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed ... " The form of the Hebrew text shows ‘her’ to be emphatic; this is the Redeemer whose sinless Being Deity and Humanity perfectly unite.

Sin’s tragic taint in Humanity has flowed, with but one interruption, from Eden to the present day. That one interruption was the occasion when the Messiah, by virgin birth, appropriated to Himself a sinless Humanity, and in that perfect state upheld the Law, and gave His sinless life, by blood atonement, as a ransom for all.

May we of Israel not be like King Ahaz who refused God’s offer of a sign with the words: "I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!" And God’s reply to him was: "Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also?" May we not weary God by refusing such a heaven-granted sign.

Let not the giant’s roar place us with those who cry in fear, "My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts!" May this uncircumcised Philistine, Prejudice, fall prostrate upon the ground "which belongs to Judah", and may we speedily remove his carcass from our midst.

May we also take possession of the promise and its fulfilment: "But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins."

"Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, : ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which is translated, GOD WITH US’" (Matthew 1:20-23).

Dr. Lawrence Duff-Forbes was indeed an interesting character we are told. His widely circulated booklet titled "Out of the Clouds" was written in prose. Rabbi Duff-Forbes was an Australian who came to this country to attend the "Hebrew Christian Alliance" in the late 50's. Some say He was a mysterious person, but after reading his books, I think he was a spiritual person filled with wonderful insights from God the Holy Spirit. He dressed as a cantor or rabbi when he taught, he was tall and very colorful. Rabbi Duff-Forbes was on the local radio station and his voice was delightful, I have a few of his tapes. I believe you can still get some of his tapes from David-House Fellowship. He was one of the best of the early Messianic Movement Jewish Rabbis, and loved the Lord very much. Every one a pure gem.

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