Sights and Insights: An ordinary valley, one amazing day

The Elah Valley may appear at first glance just to be like any other in the Judean foothills, but it tells the story of David's victory over Goliath.

Elah Valley 311 (photo credit:
Elah Valley 311
(photo credit:
Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at
At first glance, the valley looks like nothing remarkable. Just a road winding its way up into the Hill Country of Judea. A large satellite dish sits on one hill. A dry streambed divides patches of tall weeds. Greenhouses clump together next to wheat fields. Like the other valleys in the Shephelah today, the Elah Valley appears so commonplace. Very ordinary.
But back up three thousand years, and the Elah Valley offers one of the most strategic battlefields in Israel.
Photo: BiblePlaces.comPhoto: BiblePlaces.comWith the Hebrews dominating the Hill Country and the Philistines controlling the coastal plain, the border between these enemies was the Shephelah—often translated to “foothills” or “lowland.” Five valleys cut in an east-west direction through the Shephelah offered convenient passages. So convenient, in fact, they had to be guarded vigilantly.
Having lost control of the Hill Country farther north, the Philistines tried to come up the Elah Valley to gain access once again (1 Samuel 14; 1 Samuel 17). The valley offered a backdoor entrance to the Hill Country via Bethlehem. They had to be stopped.
The Philistines camped on the south side of the valley—between Socoh and Azekeh—and faced King Saul’s army on the strategic hill to the north. The vale between them offered a level middle ground, the approximate location where the modern highway runs today. It was here David killed Goliath.
How ironic that the two men whoPhoto: BiblePlaces.comPhoto: faced each other in the middle ground came from two towns at either end of it. The valley begins just east of Gath and ends near Bethlehem.
I got out of our vehicle and made my way down beside the small bridge that spans the Elah Brook. The dry streambed had rocks scattered here and there. I searched for five of them. A tough task! Obviously, I wasn’t the first to scavenge for five stones here. In fact, David was.
Some people assume David selected five stones from the stream that snaked through the valley so that he could take down Goliath and his four brothers! Although that’s creative, only Goliath stood in the valley to defy the young Hebrew. David’s choice of five stones more likely represented all he could easily carry. Most sling stones measured the size of a fist, so carrying more than five of them could have inhibited David's ability to maneuver.
Photo: BiblePlaces.comPhoto: BiblePlaces.comDavid came to the Elah Valley that day from Bethlehem, a mere twelve miles away. But he didn’t come to be a national hero. His father had instructed the young shepherd to check on the welfare of his brothers in the army. But once he arrived, David took the responsibility no one else would accept.
It was just an ordinary day in an ordinary valley. But it changed David’s life forever. God often uses ordinary days in extraordinary ways.
What to Do There: Read the story from 1 Samuel 17. Take a compass, and try to orient yourself to the battle positions. While you’re there, pick up five stones to remind yourself of the importance of ordinary days and how God uses them.
How to Get There: From Jerusalem, take Route 60 south to Route 375 west. Turn right at the HaEla Junction and cross over the bridge that spans the brook. Park safely.
Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at