One of the earliest mentions of giants in Scripture is found in Genesis 14.
“In the fourteenth year, Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him came and attacked the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh Kiriathaim, and the Horites in their mountain of Seir… Then they turned back and came to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and attacked all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who dwelt in Hazezon Tamar” (Genesis 14:5–7, emphasis added).
Genesis 14 does not reveal that the Rephaim, Zuzim, Emim, or Amorites were giants, but this information can be found in other places.
The Amorites are mentioned more than 80 times in Scripture, and early on, some were allied with Abraham (Genesis 14:13). They were descendants of Noah’s grandson Canaan (Genesis 10:15–16). Although the Bible does not provide this information, the Jewish general-turned-historian Josephus gives the name of their ancestor as Amorreus. While the Amorites are mentioned in the same contexts as other giants a few times, they are specifically described as giants in the Minor Prophets.
“Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was as strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. Also, it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite.” (Amos 2:9–10).
Through Amos, God clearly stated that the Amorites were generally very tall and strong. Some may downplay the description of the Amorites in this passage since these verses employ figurative language, but there are some good reasons to take this passage in a straightforward manner.
The idea that the Amorites were giants is supported by the report of the spies whom Moses sent through the land of Canaan. The Amorites were one of the people groups they saw (Numbers 13:29), and they claimed that “all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature” (Numbers 13:32). It is telling that in their response, Joshua and Caleb did not challenge the size of the land’s inhabitants (Numbers 14:6–9).
Deuteronomy 2 reveals that the Emim, which likely means “terrors,” were giants:
“The Emim had dwelt there in times past, a people as great and numerous and tall as the Anakim. They were also regarded as giants [Hebrew rephaim], like the Anakim, but the Moabites call them Emim.” (Deuteronomy 2:10–11).
Moses told the people that the Emim used to live in the territory that God had given to the descendants of Lot’s son Moab (Genesis 19:37).
The Zuzim (Zamzummim)
The Zamzummim (almost certainly the same as Zuzim in Genesis 14:5) were also called giants and listed in the same chapter as the Emim:
“[The land of Ammon] was also regarded as a land of giants [Hebrew rephaim]; giants [rephaim] formerly dwelt there. But the Ammonites call them Zamzummim, a people as great and numerous and tall as the Anakim. But the Lord destroyed them before them, and they dispossessed them and dwelt in their place.” (Deuteronomy 2:20–21).
These verses explain that a group of giants known as Zamzummim had lived in the land of Ammon, “a land of giants.” God destroyed the Zamzummim so that the descendants of Lot’s son Ben-Ammi (the Ammonites) could live in the land (Genesis 19:38).
According to Genesis 14:5, the Zuzim were in the land of Ham. This may be in reference to Noah’s son, Ham, since they descended from him. But it is more likely a reference to the Hamathites, who were descendants of Canaan, Ham’s son. While the Zuzim and Zamzummim may have been different people groups, there are enough similarities in name, description, and geographical location to infer that they were variant names for the same group.
The most common term used to describe giants in the Bible is Rephaim (e.g., Deuteronomy 3:11, 13). It may refer to a certain people group, or it may be a term that simply means giants. The singular form, raphah, also appears several times (e.g., 2 Samuel 21:16, 18, 20). The third chapter of Deuteronomy contains an interesting account of the victory of the Israelites over Sihon, the king of the Amorites, and Og, the king of Bashan. It is here that we learn an intriguing detail about Og:
“For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the giants [rephaim]. Indeed his bedstead was an iron bedstead. (Is it not in Rabbah of the people of Ammon?) Nine cubits is its length and four cubits its width, according to the standard cubit.” (Deuteronomy 3:11).
Some translations use the word sarcophagus (NEB) or coffin (TEV, CEV) in place of bedstead, for the Hebrew word עֶרֶשׂ (eres). The majority of English Bibles render this term as bed or bedstead, which makes sense since eres means couch, divan, bed, or bedstead. Also, it would be indeed strange to translate it as sarcophagus since these were made of stone or marble, and Og’s “bedstead” was made of iron.
Whether Moses referred to Og’s bed or coffin is not particularly relevant to the discussion at hand. However, the size of this object is noteworthy. We are told that it was nine cubits long and four cubits in width “according to the standard cubit.” Since the standard cubit is approximately 18 inches long, then Og’s bed or coffin was about 13.5 feet long and 6 feet wide. To put this in perspective, if stood up on end, the height of this bed would have been exactly twice as tall as a person who is 6 foot 9 inches tall. Of course, he may not have been as large as his bed. Some authors have attempted to downplay the significance of these dimensions, but the Bible clearly identifies Og as a giant.
The earliest mention in Scripture of giants is just prior to the Flood account.
“There were giants [nephilim] on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:4).
The word translated as “giants” in this verse is the Hebrew word Nephilim, and many Bible versions simply transliterate it as such. There has been much debate over the meaning of this word. Some believe it comes from the Hebrew verb naphal, while others claim that it is from the Aramaic noun naphil. These individuals are described in Hebrew as gibborim (“mighty men”).
The Nephilim were mentioned again when the spies returned from their exploratory mission of the land of Canaan. These men reported that Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai (descendants of Anak, progenitor of the Anakim) dwelt in Hebron. They also stated, “the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there” (Numbers 13:28). The chapter concludes with ten of the spies giving “a bad report” trying to convince the Israelites that they could not conquer the land:
The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:32–33, (NASB)).
The Anakim were mentioned in several of these passages. They were perhaps the best known of the giants dwelling in the land of Canaan at the time of the Exodus. As stated in the verse above, they were part of the Nephilim. If Nephilim simply refers to giants in general, then the Anakim are just said to be giants in Numbers 13:33, which is consistent with their description in this passage. So the Amorites and other giant people would also be Nephilim. If Nephilim refers to a particular giant tribe, then the Anakim were part of this line.
Numbers 13:22 states that Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai were descendants of Anak, who was obviously the namesake of the Anakim. Both the Emim and Zamzummim were compared to the Anakim, as they were both “a people as great and numerous and tall as the Anakim” (Deuteronomy 2:10, 21; 9:2).
Anak was the son of Arba (Joshua 15:13). Little is known about Arba, and his ancestry is not provided. However, he was apparently somewhat legendary as indicated by the parenthetical statements in the text when his name appears. The city of Hebron, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob settled and were buried was also called Kiriath Arba.13 We are told that “Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim” (Joshua 14:15), and “the father of Anak” (Joshua 15:13; 21:11).14 Kirjath Arba was also called “Mamre” in Genesis 35:27. Mamre was an Amorite, who was an ally of Abram (Genesis 14:13). This man owned some trees by which Abram settled, and at some point, part of Hebron became synonymous with his name.
Joshua fought several battles with the Anakim and the Amorites. Eventually, he “cut off the Anakim from the mountains: from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel; Joshua utterly destroyed them with their cities. None of the Anakim were left in the land of the children of Israel; they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod” (Joshua 11:21–22). These actions set the stage for the famous account of Goliath in 1 Samuel.
Of course, the most renowned giant was the mighty Philistine slain by David. Here is how he is described in Scripture.
“And a champion went out from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs and a bronze javelin between his shoulders. Now the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his iron spearhead weighed six hundred shekels; and a shield-bearer went before him” (1 Samuel 17:4–7).
Notice that Goliath was from Gath, which happened to be one of the three places where Anakim remained, according to Joshua 11:21–22. So although he is not called one in 1 Samuel 17, it is possible that Goliath was a descendant of the Anakim who mixed with the Philistine population in that area.
There is some debate about Goliath’s height due to the textual variants in ancient manuscripts. Most English translations follow the Masoretic text in listing his height at “six cubits and a span” (approximately 9’9”). However, the NET Bible puts Goliath at “close to seven feet tall.” The reason for the discrepancy is that the Masoretic Text differs from some ancient texts, including the Septuagint and an ancient manuscript found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, labeled 4QSama, which list Goliath’s height as four cubits and a span (approximately 6’9”).
Many modern scholars believe there is stronger textual support for the shorter Goliath. But while he is not specifically called a giant in this passage, 2 Samuel 21:15–22 seems to identify Goliath as the “giant” (raphah) from Gath. There are other details provided that make the “six cubits and a span” the more likely figure. For example, the sheer weight of his armaments required that he must have been of enormous size and strength. His coat of mail weighed about 125 pounds and just the tip of his spear was 15 pounds. This does not even take into account his helmet, armor on his legs, javelin, or sword.17 Also, I personally find it hard to believe that every member of Israel’s army would have been terrified of someone who was my height (6’9”).
There are many other details about the account of David and Goliath that are often overlooked. Most people assume David was a short young man when he fought against the giant, but the Bible is very clear that David was considered “a mighty man of valor, [and] a man of war” (1 Samuel 16:18) prior to fighting Goliath.
The Bible mentions four more Philistine giants, who were relatives of Goliath from the region of Gath. 2 Samuel 21:15–22 provides a more detailed account of these giants than the record of 1 Chronicles 20:4–8, but the latter passage does provide some extra information that helps us make sense of the passage. The additional details from 1 Chronicles are provided in brackets.
When the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David and his servants with him went down and fought against the Philistines; and David grew faint. Then Ishbi-Benob, who was one of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose bronze spear was three hundred shekels, who was bearing a new sword, thought he could kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and struck the Philistine and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall go out no more with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.”
Now it happened afterward that there was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob [or “Gezer”]. Then Sibbechai the Hushathite killed Saph [or “Sippai”], who was one of the sons of the giant. Again there was war at Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaare-Oregim [or “Jair”] the Bethlehemite killed [“Lahmi”] the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.
Yet again there was war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; and he also was born to the giant. So when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea, David’s brother, killed him.
These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants (2 Samuel 21:15–22).
“David’s mighty men killed giants named Ishbi-Benob, Saph (Sippai), and Lahmi, as well as an unnamed giant with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot.20 Each of these men could have descended from the remnant of Anakim that survived in the region of Gath, Gaza, and Ashdod.” (Joshua 11:22).