1 Samuel 17:57–58—Why did Saul not recognize his harp player David as the one who killed Goliath?

Problem: In 1 Samuel 16, Saul hired David to play the harp for him, and yet, in chapter 17, after David killed Goliath the giant, Saul did not seem to recognize who he was.

Solution: There are two possibilities here. First, it would not be unusual that a busy preoccupied king had not taken enough notice of this humble hired musician so as to recognize him as the same person who killed Goliath. However, once David performed the notable feat of killing the giant, the king could not help but take note of him and ask who he was.

On the other hand, it is possible that Saul knew who David was, but, after David had performed this feat, was only inquiring who David’s father was. This fits the exact nature of Saul’s question which was, “Whose son are you, young man?” (17:58). Had he not recognized David he should have asked “What is your name?” Saul was known for placing the most valiant men in his bodyguard (14:52). Saul may have wondered if David had any more brave brothers. Or he may have simply wished for more complete identification of this brave young man so that he could properly reward his extraordinary accomplishment. In either case there is no contradiction here.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.