Thursday, August 21, 2014

Moses: 120 Years Young (Deuteronomy 34:7)

How old was Moses when he died? 120 years (Deuteronomy 34:7)

Israel’s renowned liberator, Moses, dies alone with God high atop Mount Nebo (Deuteronomy 34:1-8). Though he will not accompany his nation into the Promised Land, he spends the last moments of his earthly life scanning the region with God’s assurance that it will be given to his descendants (Deuteronomy 34:1-4).

Moses lives to the age of 120 (Deuteronomy 34:7). Despite his advanced years, the text is clear that Moses does not succumb to old age.

Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated. (Deuteronomy 34:7 NASB)
Moses does not endure the diminished capacity that invariably comes with age (Deuteronomy 34:7). Even when he dies at the age of 120, he’s still got it!

Gene A. Getz (b. 1932) applauds:

Moses had begun his career in Israel as a very strong man, and even though he endured unusual stress, he ended his life on earth well-preserved [Deuteronomy 34:7]—a great tribute to his trust and confidence in God and an even greater tribute to the Lord’s loving care and concern for His friend. (Getz, Moses: Freeing Yourself to Know God, 174)
Dennis T. Olson (b. 1954) supports:
Moses remains exceptionally strong and healthy: “His sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated” (Deuteronomy 34:7). Unlike the ancestor Isaac, whose eyes were dim in his old age (Genesis 27:1), Moses is able to see clearly the land that God has showed him [Deuteronomy 34:4]. Moreover, Moses’ “vigor” remains strong. The word for “vigor” is rare in Hebrew but is associated with the fresh, moist property of young trees and fresh fruit. At 120, Moses remains strong, young and supple. These claims about Moses’ extraordinary strength and youthfulness are common legendary motifs associated with heroes in ancient literature. (Olson, Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses: A Theological Reading, 167-68)

Moses is characterized as the picture of health throughout his life. Danny Mathews observes:

The canonical presentation of Moses begins and ends with reference to the appearance and health of Moses. At his birth, he is described as “beautiful (מוב; Exodus 2:2). Upon his death, Moses “was one hundred and twenty years old...his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated” (Deuteronomy 34:7). Here Moses is presented as one in perfect health on the day of his death who dies rather at “the Lord’s command” (Deuteronomy 34:5). (Mathews, Royal Motifs in the Pentateuchal Portrayal of Moses, 48-49)
Some have seen a discrepancy in the narrator’s evaluation of Moses’ health and his own personal assessment presented three chapters earlier (Deuteronomy 31:2, 34:7).

Dennis T. Olson (b. 1954) acknowledges:

This heroic depiction of Moses [Deuteronomy 34:7] seems to contradict the portrait of Moses as feeble and weak in Deuteronomy 31:2: “I am now one hundred twenty years old. I am no longer able to get about.” While the contradictions may be explained away as coming from two different sources, their presence together in the final form of Deuteronomy suggests a meaningful tension in the portraiture of Moses. Moses is heroic and legendary and at the same time subject to the limits and weaknesses of all human beings. The same dialectic is at work in the juxtaposition of the stress of the inevitable reality of Moses’ death on the one hand (Deuteronomy 34:16) and on the undiminished vigor and sight of the heroic Moses on the other (Deuteronomy 34:7). (Olson, Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses: A Theological Reading, 168)
Mark E. Biddle (b. 1957) evaluates:
Moses’ admission (Deuteronomy 31:2) that, at 120 years of age, he could “no longer go out or come in,” sounds like a description of geriatric infirmity. If so, it contradicts the claim (Deuteronomy 34:7) that at the time of his death Moses’ eyesight was still good and he was still vigorous. Contrasts such as this prompt modern scholars to hypothesize multiple traditions or editorial processes. Rabbinic scholars, on the other hand, regarded such infelicities as indicators of some subtlety...The late medieval Jewish commentator Nachmanides [1194-1270], for example, assumed that the great Moses would have been in remarkable health to the end. The interpretive problem, then, is Moses’ apparent misrepresentation in Deuteronomy 31:2. Nachmanides suggested a psychological motivation for Moses’ white lie; Moses’ statement reveals his pastoral concern for the people who were about to be deprived of the only leader they have ever known: “he told them this in order to comfort them”; that is, so they could find some rationale for Moses’ passing...The Talmud (Sotah 13b) harmonizes the two statements by postulating that Deuteronomy 31:2 refers to Moses’ mental condition while Deuteronomy 34:7 refers to his physical condition. It explains that “This [Deuteronomy 31:2] teaches us that the well-springs of wisdom were stopped for him.” (Biddle, Deuteronomy (Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary), 455)
Moses must be in relatively good physical condition as he can climb the mountain (Deuteronomy 34:1) and his eyes are strong enough to see the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 34:2, 4).

Moses’ age and health (Deuteronomy 34:7) are often seen as emblematic of divine blessing, comparable to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief in the incorruptibility of the saints.

Eugene E. Carpenter (1943-2012) informs:

Old age was a blessing from the gods in the thinking of the ancient Near East. The kings before the flood in the Sumerian King List were attributed heroic lives of thousands of years. The age of one hundred and ten represented a fulfilled life in Egypt. Ramesses II [1303-1213 BCE] lived to be about ninety. Moses reaches the biblical ideal of one hundred and twenty years (Genesis 6:3; cf. Genesis 50:26). (John H. Walton [b. 1952], Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, 513)
Some have viewed Moses’ 120 year life span as an approximation (Deuteronomy 34:7). Pierson Parker (1905-1995) and Henry Herbert Shires (1886-1961) consider:
It is difficult to know whether or not we should take this tradition at face value. In rough computation Israel frequently assumed a generation to be roughly forty years (cf. the time spent in the wilderness [Deuteronomy 2:7], i.e., a generation). Moses’ age as here given is simply thrice forty years, which may mean nothing more than that he was an old man who had seen grandchildren grow to maturity. (Parker and Shires, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel (The Interpreter’s Bible), 511)
Ian Cairns (1930-2000) supplements:
Moses’ age is 120 years (Deuteronomy 31:2; cf. Deuteronomy 34:7). In the historical framework of the Deuteronomistic history, “forty years” stands for a complete generation (e.g., Judges 3:11, 5:31b), or for the time in office of a great leader — Eli, David, Solomon, Joash, and Moses himself (e.g., Deuteronomy 2:7)...That Moses’ life span is precisely three times forty years may be symbolic of his preeminence. (Cairns, Deuteronomy: Word and Presence (International Theological Commentary), 271)
There is meaning attached to the number 120. Gary Harlan Hall (b. 1941) footnotes:
There is probably some symbolism at work here. The ideal age in Egypt was 110, the age of Joseph at his death (Genesis 50:26). In ancient Syria the ideal age was 120 (John H. Walton [b. 1952] and Victor H. Matthews [b. 1950], Genesis–Deuteronomy, p. 265). In the Old Testament 120 years was the limit to life after the flood (Genesis 6:3). Moses’ full life of service had been under the careful watch of God and was now complete. In the Old Testament forty was the number that signaled a full and complete period of service (Eli – I Samuel 4:18; David – II Samuel 5:4; Solomon – I Kings 2:11; Joash – II Kings 12:1) or a full generation (Judges 3:11, 5:31b, 8:28). Moses’ life spanned three such periods. (Hall, Deuteronomy (College Press NIV Commentary), 453)
J.A. Thompson (1913-2002) contemplates:
The age of Moses is given as a hundred and twenty years (Deuteronomy 34:7; cf. Exodus 7:7). The significance of the figure is not clear. In Egyptian literature 110 years was the life-span of a wise man and numerous examples are known. The fact that Moses’ life was ten years longer may be a device to express Moses’ superiority over the wise man of Egypt. Again, the age 120 is three times forty (cf. the time spent in the wilderness, Deuteronomy 2:7) and may well denote three generations. In any case Moses was an old man who had seen his grandchildren grow to maturity. (Thompson, Deuteronomy (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), 290)
Jack R. Lundbom (b. 1939) adds:
Moses is the only person in the Bible to achieve the ideal life span set forth in Genesis 6:3...A life span of 120 years occurs in the ancient Sumerian folktale “Enlil and Namzitarra” (lines 23-24), which speaks of the uselessness of accumulating wealth when life is so short; you die and can take nothing to the grave (Jacob Klein [b. 1934] 1990). In Egyptian literature the ideal life span is 110 years (Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 414 n 33; cf. Genesis 50:26, where Joseph’s age at the time of his death in Egypt is 110 years). Joshua, too dies at 110 years (Joshua 24:29). Psalm 90:10 puts the normal lifespan at 70, perhaps 80. (Lundbom, Deuteronomy: A Commentary, 829)
Moses’ advanced age is certainly an anomaly. James M. Scott (b. 1955) surveys:
If, as we have seen, Moses died at 120 years of age (less than three jubilees) [Deuteronomy 34:7], then the death of Moses on the verge of entering the Land marks the end of an era, since human longevity thereafter drops to below two jubilees. This corresponds to the fact that outside of the patriarchal narrative in Genesis, only four individuals in the Old Testament are said to have lived beyond 100 years of age: Moses (120 years [Deuteronomy 34:7]), Joshua (110 years [Joshua 24:29]), Job (140 years [Job 42:16]), and the high priest Jehoiada (130 years [II Chronicles 24:15]). (Scott, On Earth as in Heaven: The Restoration of Sacred Time and Sacred Space in the Book of Jubilees, 114)
Jewish tradition advances that Moses is the first of four significant figures who die at the landmark age of 120. The Midrash Sifre (Deuteronomy 34.7 §357.14) records:
He [Moses] is one of four who died at the age of one hundred twenty years. These are they: Moses, Hillel the Eder [110 BCE-7CE], Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai [30 BCE-90 CE], and Rabbi Aqiba [40-137]. Moses spent forty years in Egypt, forty years in Midian, and forty years as sustainer of Israel. Hillel the Elder emigrated from Babylonia at the age of forty years, served as disciple of sages for forty years, and spent forty years as sustainer of Israel. Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai spent forty years in trade, served as disciple of sages for forty years, and spent forty years as sustainer of Israel. Rabbi Aquiba studied Torah at the age of forty years, served as disciple of sages for forty years, and spent forty years as sustainer of Israel. There are six pairs who lived the same length of time: Rebecca and Cheetah, Levi and Amam, Joseph and Joshua, Samuel and Solomon, Moses and Hillel the Elder, and Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Aquiba. (Jacob Neusner [b. 1932], A Theological Commentary to the Midrash: Sifré to Numbers and Sifré to Deuteronomy, 187)
At the time of his death, Moses is one hundred twenty years young (Deuteronomy 34:7). Despite his many years, he is still vigorous. This detail adds an element of tragedy to his death.

Eugene H. Merrill (b. 1934) laments:

That Moses’ death was premature, even though he was 120 years old, is clear from the assessment that “his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone” (Deuteronomy 34:7). In other words, he did not fail to enter Canaan because he died, but he died because he failed to enter Canaan [Numbers 20:12]. (Merrill, Deuteronomy (New American Commentary), 453-54)
George W. Coats (1936-2006) analyzes:
At this critical point in the heroic story, intimacy between the hero and God is apparent. But in the death away from the people, intimacy between hero and people is broken. In the past he also belonged to his people. Now his people are absent. The death of the hero is thus typically tragic: ‘No man knows the place of his burial to this day’ [Deuteronomy 34:6]. Deuteronomy 34:7 heightens the tragedy. Moses was one hundred twenty years old. That age is the time for death (contrast Deuteronomy 31:1). But for Moses the vigor of his heroic life remained. ‘His eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.’ He could have continued his leadership. He was in physical form if not in chronological age a young man. And he left his people when he would have still been able to lead them. (Coats, Moses: Heroic Man, Man of God, 152)
Despite Moses’ premature death prohibiting him from entering the Promised Land, he never experiences poor health and is permitted to inspect the region while imagining a better life for his people given divine assurance that his efforts have not been in vain (Deuteronomy 34:1-4). Deuteronomy 34:7 provides a fitting epitaph for the revered leader .

What does Deuteronomy’s epitaph convey about Moses (Deuteronomy 34:7)? How do you picture Moses, as a vigorous mountain man or a decrepit lawgiver; which is more accurate? How important is vitality to a leader’s credibility? What do you think Moses felt as he inspected the Promised Land, hope or regret (Deuteronomy 34:1-4); is this viewing a blessing or a curse? Who have you known who experienced good health even well advanced in years; who aged best? How long would you like to live?

Moses’ 120-year life can be divided neatly into three parts. Gary Harlan Hall (b. 1941) delineates:

Moses was a hundred and twenty years old [Deuteronomy 34:7]. This marked the end of the third cycle of his life and rounded off his service to God. Moses was forty wen he fled Egypt (Acts 7:23), eighty at the time of the Exodus (cf. Deuteronomy 2:7), and now 120. Now at the end of the third cycle he was no longer able to carry out his leadership functions. The end had come for Moses not because of deteriorating health (see Deuteronomy 34:7), but because his role in God’s plan was at an end. A new task called for new leadership. (Hall, Deuteronomy (College Press NIV Commentary), 453-54)
Though Moses’ life has three notable forty year phases, he is primarily remembered for what he achieved during its final chapter (Deuteronomy 2:7, 34:7); Israel’s renowned leader saves his best for last. In a very real sense Moses’ life begins at eighty (Exodus 7:7). Moses’ age provides hope that it is never too late to serve God. And to do so well.

How did the first phases of Moses’ life prepare him for its final chapter? How would you divide your life into eras? Who do you know who was most productive during the last leg of their life’s race? What do you want to do in the final chapter of your life? What would you do if you knew that you were living it now?

“Sometimes, the embers are better than the campfire. It’s strange, but it’s true.” - Stephen King (b. 1947), The Green Mile: The Complete Serial Novel

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Don’t Act You Age! (I Timothy 4:12)

Who does Paul tell not to let anyone despise his youth? Timothy (I Timothy 4:12)

First Timothy is a letter comprised of ministerial advice from a mentor, Paul, to his protégé, Timothy (I Timothy 1:1-2). Given this content, it is one of three New Testament writings grouped as the Pastoral Epistles (I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus). One of the issues addressed is that of age discrimination as Paul instructs Timothy not to let anyone discount him on account of his youth (I Timothy 4:12).

Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. (I Timothy 4:12 NASB)
From this account, some Christian organizations have incorporated the term “Young Timothy” into their programming. Paul’s protégé is forever linked with youth, perpetually frozen in time as a young pastor.

Benjamin Fiore (b. 1943) discerns:

II Timothy suggests the same youthfulness in mentioning his mother and grandmother at II Timothy 1:5, the threat of youthful passions at II Timothy 2:22, Timothy’s education, his teachers, and his childhood at II Timothy 3:14-15. In the letters’ concern for preserving the authentic Pauline tradition, Timothy represents the next generation. (Fiore, The Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus (Sacra Pagina), 95)
Few biographical details emerge within First Timothy regarding the letter’s recipient. Elsa Tamez (b. 1950) compiles:
An important figure is Timothy, described as a youth (I Timothy 4:12) ordained by the elders (I Timothy 4:14, 1:18) with stomach problems (I Timothy 5:23), who has the task of easing through the instructions sent to him. (Tamez, Struggles for Power in Early Christianity: A Study of the First Letter to Timothy, xxiii-xxiv)
The admonition regarding Timothy’s age (I Timothy 4:12) does not seem to conform to the rest of the composite sketch First Timothy paints. Jouette M. Bassler (b. 1942) recognizes:
The reference to despising Timothy’s youth [I Timothy 4:12] comes somewhat as a surprise, for the letter has thus far projected an image of him as a mature, responsible church leader. It may simply be one of the numerous personal references that increase the verisimilitude of these letters (see, e.g., I Timothy 1:3, 6:12; II Timothy 1:5). Timothy was known to have been Paul’s younger coworker (Philippians 2:22) and Paul himself had instructed the Corinthian church not to let anyone “despise” him (I Corinthians 16:10-11), though he did not link this problem to Timothy’s age. On the other hand, the words may reflect a difficult issue that the church faced in its early years. The bishops and deacons, unlike the elders...did not have implicit or explicit age requirements (I Timothy 3:1-13). The “natural” subordinate relationship of youth to age could thus be overturned by the appointment of a youthful church member to one of these leadership positions...It was just the sort of situation...that led Ignatius of Antioch [35-98] to admonish the church in Magnesia (Asia Minor) in the early decades of the second century “not to presume on the youth of the bishop, but to render him all respect” (Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians 3.1). Within I Timothy, however, the reference to Timothy’s youth seems to serve a more literary function, for it anticipates the next section where issues related to groups defined (in large part) by age are addressed. There the natural deference of youth to age is generally upheld (I Timothy 5:1-2) and while older widows are honored (I Timothy 5:9), younger ones are viewed as dangerously flighty (I Timothy 5:11). At the same time, however, “elders” are not beyond rebuke (I Timothy 5:19-20) and, as this verse [I Timothy 4:12] signals, leadership categories can supersede age categories in defining the social order of the church (I Timothy 5:22). (Bassler, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 86)
It is not known whether Timothy has actually experienced criticism regarding his age or if his mentor merely anticipates it (I Timothy 4:12). Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) connects:
Paul apparently thought Timothy would encounter the same sort of obstacle he anticipated in the Corinthian church. Although the mandate dimension of this letter (written to Timothy but also for the church [I Timothy 1:1, 6:21) differs from that of I Corinthians (written directly to the church [I Corinthians 1:2]), the closest parallel to the kind of concern expressed here is I Corinthians 16:10-11...The issue of Timothy’s relative youth is not specifically mentioned in I Corinthians 16:10-11, but the possibility that the Corinthian church would scorn or despise him if he were sent in Paul’s place is paralleled in this text in the term “to look down upon” (cf. Titus 2:15). (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 313-14)
It seems unlikely that the author would supply the church a reason to denigrate his charge if it is not already an issue. Doing so might create a problem that does not exist. Thus, in all likelihood, in this instance, age is an issue for Timothy.

Timothy is not to be disregarded because of his youth (I Timothy 4:12). The epistle uses the Greek verb kataphronéō which is translated “despise” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NRSV, RSV), “look down on” (NASB, NIV), “make fun of” (CEV), “put...down” (MSG) or “think less of” (NLT). J.N.D. Kelly (1909-1997) renders the word “underrate” (Kelly, The Pastoral Epistles (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 103).

The term is forceful. William D. Mounce (b. 1953) probes:

καταφρονειν, “to despise, treat contemptuously,” can be a strong word, denoting disgust and even hatred. Jesus said that no one can serve two masters; he will be devoted to and love one, and hate (μισειν) and despise (καταφρονειν) the other (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). Jesus also says not to despise little children (Matthew 18:10). To the rich Corinthians who were abusing the Lord’s Supper Paul says that by doing so they are despising the church and humiliating the poor (I Corinthians 11:22). Peter describes those who “indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (II Peter 2:10). The only other occurrence of the word in the Pastoral Epistles is when Paul tells slaves not to despise their masters because they are Christians (I Timothy 6:2), although καταφρονειν does occur as a variant for περιφρονειν where Paul tells Titus not to let anyone disregard or despise him (Titus 2:15). The strong connotation that καταφρονειν carries helps to explain why throughout the Pastoral Epistles Paul instructs Timothy on issues that Timothy already knows. Since Timothy was meeting extreme opposition, being ignored because of his age, this epistle must carry the apostle’s full authority and transfer that authority to Timothy in the eyes of the Ephesians. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 258)
Jerome D. Quinn (1927-1988) and William C. Wacker (b. 1951) support:
In this letter, “disdain” translates the verb kataphroneitō (contrast the periphroneitō of Titus 2:15 and Jerome [347-420]’s comment in Titum [Patrologia Latina 26.589-90], who says the kata- compound denotes contempt in its proper sense, as when a martyr despises and scorns all the torments inflicted in him as of no account). In the eight other New Testament uses, Matthew 6:24 = Luke 16:13 (Synopsis of the Four Gospels §224) as well as Matthew 18:10 (in a context of leadership, a little child, and greatness!) have the verb refer to a person, and in the first examples cited, to “masters” (kyriois), as in I Timothy 6:2...it refers to “masters” (despotas). The uses in Romans 2:4 (of the riches of God’s goodness and I Corinthians 11:22 (the churches of God) are somewhat different, as are Hebrews 12:2 (Christ “despising the shame” of the cross) and II Peter 2:10 (persons despising the lordship or rule of authority of Christ? See Carl Schneider [1900-1977], Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 3.632-33). Ignatius of Antioch [35-98]’s Epistle to the Smyrnaeans uses the verb of Peter and those with him who saw the risen Jesus and thereafter “despised even death” (kai thanatou katephronēsan). The three uses in The Shepherd of Hermas, similarly, do not have a personal object (Mandate 7.2 [but note the passive]; 9.10; and 10.3.1). (Quinn and Wacker, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (Eerdmans Critical Commentary), 382)
D. Edmond Hiebert (1910-1995) interprets:
The verb “connotes that the contempt felt in the mind is displayed in injurious action” (Newport J.D. White [1860-1936]). He is not to allow them to push him around because of his youth. (Hiebert, First Timothy (Everyman’s Bible Commentary), 85)
Timothy’s age is underscored grammatically (I Timothy 4:12). Aida Besançon Spencer (b. 1947) acquaints:
The cause (your youth) of the negative opinion is emphasized by being placed before the verb (despise) [I Timothy 4:12]. (Spencer, 1 Timothy (New Covenant Commentary), 113)
Timothy’s issue is his “youth” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, RSV), that he is “young” (CEV, MSG, NIV, NLT, NRSV), or that he exhibits “youthfulness” (NASB). The term encompasses a broad range of ages.

William D. Mounce (b. 1953) researches:

νεότης, “youth,” occurs in the New Testament elsewhere only in the phrase “since my youth” [Mark 10:20; Luke 18:21; Acts 26:4]. The rich young ruler says that he obeyed the commands since his youth (Mark 10:20; Luke 18:21), and Paul speaks of “my manner of life from my youth [ἐκ νεότητος] spent from the beginning [ἀπ’ ἀρχης] among my own nation” (Acts 26:4). Paul was a youth when Stephen was stoned (cognate νεανίας: Acts 7:58; cf. Acts 20:9 [Eutychus]; Acts 23:17 [Paul’s nephew]; cf. also the cognate νεανίσκος). The phrase ἐκ/ἀπὸ νεότητος, “from youth upwards,” is common in extrabiblical Greek (James Hope Moulton [1863-1917] and George Milligan [1860-1934], 424). The Didache says that “from their youth thou shalt teach them [i.e., sons and daughters] the fear of God” (4:9). These passages show that νεότης can refer to a very young person. Henry George Liddell [1811-1898], Robert Scott [1811-1887], Henry Stuart Jones [1867-1939] and Roderick McKenze [1897-1937] (1170), moreover cite several references where νεότης refers to young men of military or athletic age (e.g. Pindar [522-443 BCE] Isthmian Odes 8[7].75; Herodotus [484-425 BCE] 4.3; 9.12; Thucydides [460-395 BCE] 2.8, 20). E.K. Simpson [b. 1873] (69) cites several secular references: Aulus Gellius [125-180] (10.28) says soldiers are iuniores “up to forty-six”’ Josephus [37-100] notes that although Antonia “was still a young woman,” she refused to marry; he calls Agrippa “youthful” when he was almost forty (Antiquities 18.6§§143-239); in describing Flaminius Polybius says, “he was quite young, not being over thirty” (νέος ἡν κομιδη πλείω γὰρ των τριάκοντ’ ἐτων οὐκ εἱχε; The Histories 18.12.5; Loeb Classical Library translation). Irenaeus [130-202] (Adversus Haereses 2.22.5) preserves a fragment from The Relics of the Elders that states “But that the age of thirty years is the prime of a young man’s ability, and that it reaches even to the fortieth year, every one will allow” (translation J.B. Lightfoot [1828-1889], Apostolic Fathers, 554). (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 258)
George W. Knight, III (b. 1931) bounds:
νεότης (Mark 10:20; Luke 18:21; Acts 26:4) and the related adjective νέος are used of “children, youths, and of men at least as old as 30” (Henry George Liddell [1811-1898], Robert Scott [1811-1887], Henry Stuart Jones [1867-1939] and Roderick McKenzie [1897-1937] s.v. νέος). The phrase “wife of your youth” (ἐκ νεότητος σου) is used in the Septuagint (Proverbs 5:18; Malachi 2:14) and shows the second category of usage. The third category extends into and somewhat beyond the age of thirty and is evidenced by the following: Polybius [200-118 BCE] (18.12.5) speaks of Flaminius as “young” because he is only thirty, and Irenaeus [130-202] (Adversus Haereses 2.22.5) explicitly says that one could be called “young” up to forty (cf. John Henry Bernard [1860-1927], E.K. Simpson [b. 1873], JN.D. Kelly [1909-1997])...Luke called Paul a “young man” (Acts 7:58) when he was of the same age range as Timothy is now. Timothy’s age, in his thirties (the estimate most would agree on), might seem to be a handicap in the Ephesian community, where some of the other believers and other elders are older. (Knight, The Pastoral Epistles (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 205)
William D. Mounce (b. 1953) adds:
The cognate νεόφυτος, “neophyte,” “new convert” is found in the prohibition that neophytes should not be deacons (I Timothy 3:6), but this refers to spiritual and not physical age. William Mitchell Ramsay [1851-1939] says that the cognate νέος, “new,” was used of fully grown men of military age (The Teaching of Paul in Terms of the Present Day [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1913] 41; cited in James Hope Moulton [1863-1917] and George Milligan [1860-1934], 424). Ramsay also mentions the Νέοι, a social club of young men over twenty years old as distinct from the ’Έηβοι (adolescents) and the Γερουσία (“Council of Elders”; “Senate”; “Sanhedrin”; Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, 2 volumes [Oxford: Clarendon, 1895, 1897] 1:110-11; cited in Moulton and Milligan, 24). Moulton and Milligan (424) cite a passage in which the νέοι are later described as ἀνδρων, “men” (Wilhelm Dittenberger [1840-1906], Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum, 524 [second century B.C.])...Irenaeus [130-202] (Adversus Haereses 2.22.5) says Jesus suffered when he was thirty [Luke 3:23], “being in fact still a young man.” While there is a problem in using cognates to define related words, the meaning of νέος supports the conclusion that Timothy was in his late twenties to mid thirties. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 259)
Aida Besançon Spencer (b. 1947) contextualizes:
According to the Mishnah, twenty was the age to pursue a calling and thirty for authority (Mishnah ‘Abot 5:21). (Spencer, 1 Timothy (New Covenant Commentary), 113)
William Victor Blacoe (b. 1954) augments:
Youth (Greek neotes νεότης) means newness as respecting youthfulness. The Latin translation of this word is “adulescentiam” – from which the English word adolescence is derived. The word referred to “grown up military age, extending to the 40th year.” For example, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) used this Latin word to describe himself when he was 27 years of age; the word is also applied to Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) when he was 33 or 35 years of age. “We may therefore presume that Timothy was now between thirty and forty.” (Blacoe, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Understanding the New Testament), 74)
Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) condenses:
Among the various Greek schemes (more or less detailed) for classifying age groups (e.g. Dio Chrysostom [40-120] 74.10; Philo [20 BCE-50 CE], On the Creation 105; cf. On the Embassy to Gaius 227), a more basic distinction between “young” and “old” existed that placed youth at the age of forty and under (e.g., Irenaeus [130-202], Against Heresies 2.22.5; see also Josephus [37-100], Antiquities of the Jews 18.197; cf. I Clement 21.6-8). See further I. Howard Marshall [b. 1934], 239. (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 314)
It appears that forty was always the new forty as even in the ancient world this age denoted youth.

The scope of the Greek allows for a Timothy that is older than a present-day literal reading might envision. Walter L. Liefeld (b. 1927) clarifies:

If, as is probable, Timothy was in his thirties, words such as “young” and “youth” [I Timothy 4:12, 5:1, 2, 11, 14] might give the contemporary reader the wrong impression, since we generally reserve these words for people in their teens and early twenties. (Liefeld, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (NIV Application Commentary), 165)
Thomas D. Lea (b. 1938) agrees:
We need not take Paul’s description of Timothy as “young” [I Timothy 4:12] to picture him as a teenager or a young adult in his early twenties. Acceptable estimates of Timothy’s age could easily place him between thirty and thirty-five years old. Some Christians in Ephesus could chafe at receiving instructions from a man even this young. (Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr. [b. 1947], 1, 2 Timothy, Titus (New American Commentary), 137-38)
Though it is impossible to determine Timothy’s age precisely, it has not deterred speculation. Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) records scholarly estimates:
E.K. Simpson [b. 1873] (35-40 years old); Burton Scott Easton [1877-1950], 146 and Raymond F. Collins [b. 1935], 128 (20s); Joachim Jeremias [1900-1979], 34 (30s). (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 314)
In addition to linguistic clues, many have attempted to gage Timothy’s age by piecing together a timeline. William D. Mounce (b. 1953) reconstructs:
Timothy started serving with Paul during the second missionary journey about A.D. 49 (Acts 16:1). Allowing for that journey, the third journey, the imprisonments (including the Roman one), and the time required for subsequent release and time spent in Ephesus (c. A.D. 62)...thirteen years or so had passed. Combined with the fact that Timothy must have been old enough in Acts 16 to have been an effective helper, this suggests that Timothy was now in his late twenties to mid thirties. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 258)
Thomas C. Oden (b. 1931) assumes:
“That Timothy must have been thirty to thirty-five is based on the date of his joining Paul (ca. 49-50) and the date of this letter (ca. 62-64)” (Gordon D. Fee [b. 1934], p. 71). “Indeed this particular age [thirty] is stamped as full and complete by the mystery of Christ’s assumed manhood” (Jerome [347-420], Letters, LXXXII.8, p. 173). (Oden, First and Second Timothy and Titus (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 126)
Dick France (1938-2012) concludes:
At the time of this letter Timothy must have been at least thirty, and it was ten or fifteen years since Paul had recruited him as his associate [Acts 16:1-3]. He was not the sort of ‘recent convert’ mentioned in I Timothy 3:6. But for all his experience he was still a ‘youth’ (I Timothy 4:12) in comparison with at least some of the ‘elders’ over whom he had responsibility, and in a culture which valued the wisdom of age he may well have found it difficult to maintain his authority; indeed some of the people whose teaching he had been appointed to oppose may well have used his age against him. (France, Timothy, Titus, and Hebrews (Daily Bible Commentary: A Guide for Reflection and Prayer), 46)
Some of his parishioners have the impression that Timothy is too young (I Timothy 4:12). Though reality may not coincide with the perception, it is still a very real obstacle for the pastor.

The designation of youth is subjective. What is young to some may be old to others. C. Michael Moss (b. 1950) asserts:

Age is relative. The elders at Ephesus, as well as many members there, could very well look at Timothy as a young man. He might, after all, be the age of some of their children. (Moss, 1, 2 Timothy & Titus (College Press NIV Commentary), 92)
John Phillips (1927-2010) illustrates:
Forty is considered old for most professional athletes, yet it is considered young for the chief executive of a corporate conglomerate and very youthful indeed for a president or prime minster. (Phillips, Exploring the Pastoral Epistles: An Expository Commentary, 127)
Noticeably, Timothy is young as compared to Paul. Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) elucidates:
The words “let no one despise your youth” [I Timothy 4:12] (cf. Ignatius of Antioch [35-98] Epistle to the Magnesians 3:1) do not suggest that Timothy is either very young or a mere babe in the faith...By the time the present letter was written, Timothy was likely thirty-five or thirty-six, which certainly was young in comparison to Paul’s age. (Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 257)
Raymond F. Collins (b. 1935) adds:
The detail is consistent with the Pastor’s presentation of Timothy as Paul’s true son (I Timothy 1:2). Timothy is portrayed as a younger man to whom the ministry of Paul, the old man, has been entrusted. (Collins, I & II Timothy and Titus: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 128)
Timothy may also be younger than many of his parishioners. William D. Mounce (b. 1953) understands:
Timothy was dealing with people whom Paul had personally evangelized many years earlier and who had been leaders in their church for some time. It would have been natural for them to have looked down on any younger person who was correcting them. There is no similar injunction to Titus, who was probably older than Timothy and did not have to deal with this particular problem. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 259)
Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) considers:
The sense of the command, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young [I Timothy 4:12],” may compare his age to Paul’s, or to that of older people in the church over whom he would exercise some delegated apostolic authority. Each possibility would apply, as well as the simple fact that he was standing in for Paul in a situation where anti-Pauline sentiments might have been on the increase. In any case, if the noun translated “youth, state of youthfulness” is a reference to an age group, Timothy would probably have been less than forty years old. Attempts at greater precision are speculative since we do not know his age at the time he was called. But the possibility that “youth” means here simply “younger than me” or “younger than the elders in the church” should not be ruled out. Either way, the parallel in I Corinthians 16:10-11 (Titus 2:15) suggests that Paul’s practice of dispatching coworkers authorized to act in his place (instructing, disciplining) meant putting them into very ticklish ministry situations. In this case, the explicit reference to Timothy’s youth adds the burden of crossing the cultural line of age veneration. (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 314)
If Timothy’s parishioners’ definition of youth is consistent with most, it simply means that the pastor is younger than them.

Though the sentiment is often absent in contemporary American society, it is natural to venerate elders. Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) compares:

For a similar description of youth being despised, see Diodorus Siculus [90-30 BCE] 17.7.1; Romans 2:4; I Corinthians 11:22; Ceslas Spicq [1901-1992], Theological Lexicon of the New Testament 2:280-84; Carl Schneider [1900-1977], Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 3:631-32. The situation faced by Titus, which the similar command of Titus 2:15 addresses, may not be precisely that of youthfulness...Paul’s own insistence on the selection of older leaders (I Timothy 3:6) underlines the potential for disrespect in the case of the younger Timothy. For the veneration of age in Greco-Roman culture and Hellenistic Judaism, see Ceslas Spicq [1901-1992], 511-512. (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 314)
William Barclay (1907-1978) attends:
The Church generally liked its office-bearers to be people of maturity. The Apostolic Canons laid it down that a man was not to become a bishop until he was over fifty, for by then ‘he will be past youthful disorders’. Timothy was young in comparison with Paul, and there would be many who would watch him with a critical eye [I Timothy 4:12]. When the British politician the elder William Pitt [1708-1778] was making a speech in the House of Commons at the age of thirty-three, he said: ‘The atrocious crime of being a young man...I will neither attempt to palliate or deny.’ The Church has always regarded youth with a certain suspicion, and under that suspicion Timothy inevitably fell. (Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (New Daily Study Bible), 110)
Age’s twin is experience and the criticism against Timothy may reflect a perceived deficiency in this resource as well. Robert W. Wall (b. 1947) suggests:
To be sure, Timothy’s precise age cannot be determined, but perhaps his youthfulness [I Timothy 4:12] refers to a lack of work experience, especially when compared to the absent Paul or even to the elders of the congregation. The Roman world considered apprenticeship and field experience requirements of mature instruction; rather than a reference to chronological age, Paul’s exhortation may reflect concern for an incomplete or inadequate résumé for a congregational leader. The earlier catalogs of virtues were focused on what sort of person leads a sacred household rather than on expertise gained from experience, but even they assumed a level of real-world experience, since virtue is not formed in a vacuum. (Wall with Richard B. Steele [b. 1952], 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus (Two Horizons New Testament Commentary), 123)
In all likelihood Timothy has at least a decade of experience. As such, this criticism, if it exists, is more imagined than real.

Timothy is not the first Biblical hero to be underestimated due to youth. Much to his chagrin, Goliath famously undervalues David (I Samuel 17:43-44) and pays for his miscalculation with his life ((I Samuel 17:1-54).

Nor is Timothy the last to be castigated for his lack of years. The problem still persists into the present day. Thabiti M. Anyabwile (b. 1970) admits:

Some pastor search committees will not consider a man younger than age forty. Of course, that would have meant the end of Timothy’s candidacy, not to mention Jesus’s [Luke 3:23]. Then there are those committee members who will look at a young pastor and conclude, “He’s young but we’ll train him and fit him to our tastes.” There are also members of churches who disregard a pastor’s instruction because “he is so young and inexperienced.”...In a million ways youth can be despised. (Anyabwile, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, 131)
N.T. Wright (b. 1948) empathizes:
I Timothy 4:12 warns Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because he’s young; he must keep his nerve, and trust that God will be at work through him when he does what he’s been called to do. Some clergy feel the pressure of their youth, not least in the kind of parish where the average age of the congregation is twice their own. ‘We’ve been here in this church for fifty years,’ they seem to be saying, ‘and don’t you try to tell us what to think or do!’ But there are other pressures too, on clergy, not least because most of the time they are not directly responsible to anybody else; nobody is telling them to do these four things this morning, those five this afternoon, and to finish off the rest this evening. Rather, a generalized mass of possible tasks stares up at them from a crowded desk and a flashing answerphone. How many people, faced with all that, will have the courage to obey even the first of Paul’s instructions? (Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters, 51)

Isaiah prophesies that a “a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6 KJV) and, thankfully, there are many biblical examples of youthful leaders. Wayne Rice (b. 1945) catalogs:

We have a treasure trove of biblical heroes to inspire teenagers who want to do something significant with their lives for God: Moses, Joseph, Samuel, Esther, David, even Jesus himself, who at age twelve declared “I must be about my father’s business [Luke 2:49].” King Josiah began his successful thirty-one year reign in Jerusalem when he was eight years old [II Kings 22:1; II Chronicles 34:1]. Joan of Arc [1412-1431] was only nineteen when she was martyred for her faith. There are many examples in history of teenagers who showed remarkable competence and courage as they assumed roles that day are more or less reserved exclusively for adults. And young people today are just as capable, if not more so. (Rice, Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again): From Bells and Whistles to Flesh and Blood, 45)
Though priests had a twenty-five year window between the ages of twenty-five to fifty to serve publicly, this did not prevent anyone from doing great things for God (Numbers 8:24-25). Doug Fields (b. 1962) contends:
Jesus never said, “Take up your cross and follow me when you’re and adult.” The Bible is clearly devoid of any age requirement for serving. God shattered age limits with biblical heroes like David, Jeremiah, and Mary. A sign of a healthy church is one that helps all Christians, regardless of age, to discover their gifts and express them through serving in ministry. (Fields, Purpose-driven Youth Ministry: 9 Essential Foundations for Healthy Growth, 175)
The complaint against Timothy’s youth (I Timothy 4:12) may represent a real concern on the part of the congregation but it is equally possible that it is used for convenience to mask other perceived flaws. Timothy may be facing a problem that many do when following the founding pastor of a church. He finds himself in the unenviable position of following a legend. Regardless of skill level, this scenario presents its own unique obstacles.

All pastorates come with their own intrinsic challenges. His age is just one of the many obstacles Timothy will have to overcome to adhere to his calling. Timothy may have problems, but according to Paul (and implicitly to God), however, his youthfulness is not one.

Why would parishioners resent Timothy’s youth (I Timothy 4:12)? What are the limitations of the young? What should a young person be prohibited from attempting? What are the advantages to being young? How important is experience? How does your church view its youth; is discrimination against youth still an issue in churches? What constitutes young to you? When have young people successfully led organizations? Do you prefer your leaders to have discernible age? What is the youngest pastor you have encountered; did his or her age influence your perception? How young is too young to serve as pastor? Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your age? What can Timothy, and other young pastors, do to deflect criticism?

Timothy must not be intimated by the criticism as the stakes are too high. George W. Knight, III (b. 1931) assesses:

The admonition of the apostle is that Timothy not let this become a factor, since the apostolic instruction and admonition are at stake. (Knight, The Pastoral Epistles (New International Greek Testament Commentary), 205)
Timothy must not only avoid falling prey to the criticism, he cannot believe it to be true. He cannot allow people tell him that he cannot do something which God has called him to do. Youth is not only not worthy of criticism, it is also no excuse for being for being ineffective.

George T. Montague (b. 1929) presumes:

Timothy is to command and teach these things [I Timothy 4:11]. Conforming to the style of the advice-giving letter of elder to younger (like Pseudo-Isocrates to Demonicus), Paul repeats advice given before. It is likely that Timothy needs the boldness that comes from assurance of his authority. In light of his youth [I Timothy 4:12], he may well be intimidated by the older men in the community. (Montague, First and Second Timothy, Titus (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture), 99)
Anthony B. Robinson (b. 1948) and Robert W. Wall (b. 1947) supplement:
Sometimes, but not always, such tentativeness is amplified by a particular personal characteristic that flies in the face of culturally established patterns of authority, where age (as in Timothy’s case [I Timothy 4:12]) or gender (in the case of some women in ministry). Such culturally established markers, Paul indicates, are not to be heeded, because the work and the way of life of the pastoral leader are what matters. (Robinson and Wall, Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day, 121)
E. Glenn Hinson (b. 1931) pronounces:
Timothy, now in his thirties, should stop hiding behind the excuse, “I’m too young.” He should be an example of believers in all dimensions of Christian life—speech, conduct, faith or faithfulness and sexual purity [I Timothy 4:12]. A weighty expectation! (Watson E. Mills [b. 1939], Mercer Commentary on the New Testament, 1256)
Thomas C. Oden (b. 1931) advises:
The importance of the office of teaching is so great that the youthful pastor must learn rightly to resist those who might undercut or demean them solely on the basis of their younger age or limited experience (I Timothy 4:12). When thirty-year old pastors are called upon to guide and teach elders twice their age, they must keep in mind the firmness of their authorization [I Timothy 4:11]. The youth of pastors “will not be despised if they do not by youthful vanities and follies make themselves despicable (Matthew Henry [1662-1714], p. 821). (Oden, First and Second Timothy and Titus (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 126)
The criticism against Timothy is especially problematic as the issue cannot be immediately resolved. Barring the magic of Hollywood as seen in movies like Big (1988) or 13 Going on 30 (2004), Timothy simply cannot age instantaneously. There are, however, ways in which Timothy can compensate for his youthfulness.

Paul not only acknowledges the problem but also provides some advice as to how to solve it by counteracting the criticism (I Timothy 4:12). The solution is not in words, through public confrontation, but via deeds, providing a good example. Timothy should live a life above reproach.

Timothy, like all pastors, is to be an “example” (ESV, CEV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) or “ensample” (ASV) to his flock (I Timothy 4:12). He is to practice what he preaches. Paul appeals to character which transcends age and credentialing.

William D. Mounce (b. 1953) evaluates:

“Let no one treat you contemptuously because of your youth, but be an example for the faithful in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” [I Timothy 4:12]. Charles J. Ellicott [1819-1905] translates: “Let the gravity of thy age supply the want of years” (61)...On the one hand, Timothy should not allow himself to be despised (cf. similar injunction in I Corinthians 16:11) while, at the same time, he must be a good example. Both sides of the coin are necessary for successful ministry. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 257)
Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) informs:
Timothy is called to be a typos, a “type” or “example” of faith in words, behavior, love, faithfulness and purity [I Timothy 4:12]. In short, he, like Paul...is to be a moral and theological exemplar of the gospel that he preaches, an embodiment of it. (Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians, Volume 1: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, 258)
Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) educates:
To overcome any liabilities associated with youth, Paul urges Timothy to become “an example for the believers” (Titus 2:7). The task of “modeling” was intrinsic both to formal and informal ancient education. Paul assumed this role in relation to Timothy (I Corinthians 4:17) and within the churches (Philippians 3:17; I Thessalonians 1:7; II Thessalonians 3:9), and in these letters to delegates, Timothy and Titus were to do the same (Titus 2:7). Elsewhere it was a responsibility to be taken up by believers in general (e.g., I Thessalonians 1:7), and expected of church leaders (I Peter 5:3). To be a model or set an example meant more than simply presenting a pattern that others were to mimic: “The more life is moulded by the word, the more it becomes typos, a model or mould.” It was a case of living out life as faith in the gospel had shaped it. (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 314-15)
In doing so, Timothy is to do as his mentor, Paul, has done. J.N.D. Kelly (1909-1997) associates:
To offset the handicap of youth, Timothy is invited to be an example to believers [I Timothy 4:12]. This is a truly Pauline touch; the apostle expected the Christian leader to be a model to others (Philippians 3:7; II Thessalonians 3:9). (Kelly, The Pastoral Epistles (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 104)
Aida Besançon Spencer (b. 1947) details:
The manner of responding to negative opinions of his youth was not by speech (reprimanding such views) but by example [I Timothy 4:12]. A typos was a pattern or model “in conformity to which a thing must be made,” an archetype. Paul had already referred to himself as an “example” or prototype (hypotypōsis) of a sinner saved from punishment by Christ Jesus showing compassion toward him by forgiving him [I Timothy 1:16]. Paul has used Timothy as a model in other letters: with himself, of believers who persevere despite suffering and who work [Philippians 1:1, 3:11-19; II Thessalonians 3:7-12]. Paul had sent Timothy to Corinth as a model of someone who shares in Christ’s sufferings [I Corinthians 4:10-17]. (Spencer, 1 Timothy (New Covenant Commentary), 113)
In the process of modeling right behavior, Timothy will prove his critics wrong. William D. Mounce (b. 1953) follows:
On the one hand, Timothy is to let no one despise him because of his youth [I Timothy 4:12]. The parallel imperative (I Timothy 4:12b) suggests that the way to do this is to be such a good example that accusations have no credence. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 258)
Benjamin Fiore (b. 1943) bolsters:
Timothy can avoid scorn for his youth by not giving occasion for such scorn. Thus he is to demonstrate personal excellence and be exemplary in his ministry (I Timothy 4:12-16). He is also expected to avoid youthful passions (II Timothy 2:22), unsubstantiated accusations against elders (I Timothy 5:19), prejudice (I Timothy 5:21), and an imprudent selection of leaders (I Timothy 5:22). This advice to a young leader parallels that found in Isocrates [436-338 BCE], Ad Nicocem and Demonicus and in the kingship treatises of Plutarch [45-120] and Dio Chrysostom [40-120] . (Fiore, The Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus (Sacra Pagina), 94)
William Barclay (1907-1978) approves:
The advice given to Timothy is the hardest to follow, and yet it was the only possible advice. It was that he must silence criticism by conduct. Plato [427-347 BCE] was once falsely accused of dishonourable conduct. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘we must live in such a way that all men will see that the charge is false.’ Verbal defences may not silence criticism; conduct will. (Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (New Daily Study Bible), 110)
Paul’s instruction still holds true; it is best to answer criticism with actions. Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) affirms:
Nothing bridges the generation gap in the church like the spiritual maturity of the younger. At a more important level, nothing proves the veracity of the gospel as well as evidence of its life-changing power. (Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus (IVP New Testament Commentary), 109)
Paul is not just content to relay that Timothy ought be an example; he also lists five areas of emphasis (I Timothy 4:12). Philip H. Towner (b. 1953) inventories:
Paul depicts this life by attaching a string of five short prepositional phrases enumerating five of its elements [I Timothy 4:12]. The first phrase, “in speech,” is thought by some to refer to the specific kind of speech involved in preaching or teaching (e.g., I Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:9). But while this might be included in the sense of what one professes, alongside of “conduct,” the broader sense of “speech” is more likely. “Conduct,” that is, manner of life, how one lives, was a natural counterpart to “speech” in Greek and Jewish moral teaching. Together they encompassed most of the observable life, and especially for the teacher, the manner of life was to correspond to what was proposed. In Timothy’s case, coherence of speech and behavior was to command the respect of one assigned to represent the apostle and his teaching in the community...The next two qualities in effect repeat the more widely used “speech/conduct” model specifically in terms of Christian maturity. Paul frequently summed up authentic spirituality in terms of “faith” (=belief in God)...and “love” (=the outworking of faith in service.)...Added to this pair is the fifth phrase, “impurity.” In this context, the reference is either to the sexual purity (chastity) required especially of young men (I Timothy 5:2), or to purity of motives. Given the concern that Timothy not give grounds for his youth to be criticized, emphasis on the need for sexual probity is most fitting...Paul calls Timothy to display a balanced and authentic Christian lifestyle. It will not only bear the traditional marks of consistency (speech/conduct), but also the stamp of spiritual coherence (faith/love) from which the opponents had deviated in their teaching and behavior. Any lingering questions related to Timothy’s relative youth were finally to be laid to rest by his refusal to slip into unchaste tendencies of speech, conduct, or inappropriate interaction with members of the opposite sex [I Timothy 4:12]. (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament), 315-16)
Luke Timothy Johnson (b. 1943) scrutinizes:
If anastrophē [“conduct”] denotes behavior or way of life in general, these terms specify the qualities that Paul particularly wants to be modeled to the community [I Timothy 4:12]. We are not in the least surprised to find pistis [“faith”] and agapē [“love”], for these attitudes are the “goal of the commandment” that Timothy is to proclaim (I Timothy 4:5). More startling is the inclusion of “purity” (hagneia), which in the moral literature is frequently narrowed to sexual purity, or chastity (e.g., Philo [20 BCE-50 CE], On Abraham 98; On the Contemplative Life 68; Josephus [37-100], Antiquities 19:331). In Polycarp [69-155]’s Philippians 5:3, hagneia is among the first responsibilities of the young men. Is this another possible allusion to Timothy’s youth? (Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy (Anchor Bible), 252)
Bruce J. Malina (b. 1933) and John J. Pilch (b. 1936) correlate:
The five specific areas in which the leader is to set an example [I Timothy 4:12] correspond to the three symbolic body zones that characterize biblical perception of the human person: speech (mouth-ears), conduct (hands-feet), love (heart-eyes), faith (heart-eyes); and purity (hands-feet). Three-Zone Personality. When all three symbolic zones are mentioned, the author intends to describe a total, complete picture. In this instance, Timothy, that is, the local Jesus-group leader is to be totally perfect in all dimensions of human life and behavior. In this regard, Timothy represents an ideal rather than a real figure, the ideal leader. (Malina and Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Deutero-Pauline Letters, 129)
This list is not intended to be exhaustive but does highlight issues that would be especially relevant to a youth. Donald Guthrie (1915-1992) discusses:
The qualities in which Timothy is to excel are those in which youth is so often deficient [I Timothy 4:12]. Yet for that reason they would stand out more strikingly. It would become evident to the Christian believers that authority in the community is contingent on character, not on age. Every young man called to the ministry or any position of authority would do well to heed Paul’s five-fold enumeration here. The first two, speech and life (i.e. manner of life, or behaviour) apply to Timothy’s public life, while the other three are concerned with inner qualities (love, faith and purity) which nevertheless have a public manifestation. (Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 109)
The issues Paul addresses are critical to the rest of the letter. Timothy is being asked to do what his older congregants have failed to do. William D. Mounce (b. 1953) diagnoses:
While in I Timothy 4:6-16 Paul is speaking directly to Timothy, the historical situation at Ephesus is never far in the background; between the lines can be seen a constant comparison between what the Ephesian church was doing wrong and what Timothy should do correctly. Every one of the five qualities enumerated in this verse [I Timothy 4:12] is missing from the lives of the opponents. (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (Word Biblical Commentary), 257-58)
In short, Timothy must live better than his adversaries, not stooping to their level.

There are many benefits to this strategy. For one, Paul’s approach incorporates responding positively, not negatively, to criticism. D. Edmond Hiebert (1910-1995) observes:

“But be thou an ensample to them that believe” [I Timothy 4:12]. This positive injunction balances the previous negative. His life is to be such as will such every such adverse reaction about his youth. (Hiebert, First Timothy (Everyman’s Bible Commentary), 85)
Paul’s prescription is often counterintuitive. R. Kent Hughes (b. 1942) and Bryan Chapell (b. 1954) confess:
The natural inclination when our leadership is challenged is not godliness but the opposite—to become defensive and respond with sarcasm or a putdown or to pull rank and become “presidential” (“I’m the chief here!” “Ever hear of the cloth?”) or to become coldly above it all, aloof, or grieved (“How could you ever question me?”). Any young believer (and some old ones too) can easily succumb to such responses. But ministry is thus diminished. (Hughes and Chappell, 1–2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit (Preaching the Word, 122)
Paul’s proposal also focuses Timothy inward, not outward. Timothy cannot control others’ prejudice or their response to his ministry. The only thing Timothy can control is his own behavior. Youth is often the time in life when others’ opinions matter most. Yet Timothy cannot regulate public opinion. He must respond by affecting the only thing he can: his own conduct.

Anthony B. Robinson (b. 1948) and Robert W. Wall (b. 1947) inspect:

“Let no one despise your youth, but until I arrive set a pattern for believers in speech, in public conduct, in love, faith, and purity [I Timothy 4:12].” In other words, pay attention to yourself and to your own way of being in the world. Again, Paul’s emphasis is on self-management, self-awareness, and Timothy’s controlling what he has control over — that is, his own behavior. Sometimes we clergy members get wrapped around the axle concerning the behavior of others. We can point it out. We can offer sound teaching. But we can’t often change other people’s behavior, at least not directly. But what we can change and pay attention to is our own behavior. And sometimes that is our very best point of leverage for supporting change in the congregation: taking responsibility for our own behavior, setting “a pattern for believers in speech, in public conduct, in love, faith, and purity [I Timothy 4:12].” (Robinson and Wall, Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day, 121)
Paul’s words kill two birds with one stone: he simultaneously affirms Timothy while rebuking the congregation (I Timothy 4:12). It must not be forgotten that in writing, Paul publicly endorses his protégé.

Robert H. Gundry (b. 1932) perceives:

As implied by the plural “you” in I Timothy 6:21, the Ephesian Christians will here this letter read to them though it’s addressed to Timothy. So the command, “No one I to be despising your youthfulness,” is indirectly addressed to them [I Timothy 4:12]. (Gundry, Commentary on First and Second Timothy, Titus)
Thomas D. Lea (b. 1938) grants:
These words [I Timothy 4:12] produced encouragement in Timothy himself, but they could also set in order some dissident, fault-finding elements of the congregations. After all, Paul was bestowing his full blessing on Timothy, and he wanted the Ephesians to learn from what the young disciple did. (Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, Jr. [b. 1947], 1, 2 Timothy, Titus (New American Commentary), 137)
Gordon D. Fee (b. 1934) expounds:
We now discover what is probably a hidden agenda that made it necessary for Paul to write this letter—Timothy’s youthfulness [I Timothy 4:12]. To say, don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, is very likely two edged. It is first of all a word of encouragement to Timothy, because he was in fact a younger man...and perhaps timid (cf. I Corinthians 16:10-11; II Timothy 1:6ff)...But for the same reasons, it is likewise a word to the community, to let them know that, despite his youth, he has Paul’s own authority to command and teach these things (I Timothy 4:11)...On the contrary, not only are they not to look down on him because he is young, but they are to “look up” to him. He is to set (literally, “become”) an example for the believers. That the people of God are to learn Christian ethics by modeling after the apostolic example is a thoroughgoing, and crucial, Pauline concept (see I Thessalonians 1:6; II Thessalonians 3:7, 9; I Corinthians 4:6, 11:1; Philippians 3:17; cf. II Timothy 1:13). (Fee, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (Understanding the Bible), 106-07)
Had Timothy verbally defended himself it might have added fuel to the fire and, at least in his critics’ minds, served to prove their point. Instead, Paul, who has seniority over all involved, defends his younger charge.

All Timothy can do is live well and the situation in which he finds himself is one of the hardest times to do so. In the face of criticism, Timothy is hard pressed to behave in a Christian manner. How Timothy responds is part of the modeling that he is called to demonstrate for his congregation (I Timothy 4:12). His actions in these moments will speak volumes.

Is Paul’s interjection into the situation, as a “father” to Timothy (I Timothy 1:2), indicative of Timothy’s being too young for his position? When has someone publicly endorsed you? What young person can you be encouraging? When have you seen someone refuted by compliments bestowed on their opponent? Were you Timothy, how would you handle this unwarranted criticism? How do your typically respond to judgment, positively or negatively? How would the solution be different with another demographic; e.g. how would one respond to the claim of being too old? When are the young an example to all? When do you try to set an example? Is it ever better to respond to criticism with words than deeds?

“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” - John Locke (1632-1704), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, p. 24

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Five Smooth Stones (I Samuel 17:40)

How many smooth stones did David pick up when he prepared to fight Goliath? Five (I Samuel 17:40)

David’s victory over Goliath is one of the Bible’s most famous stories (I Samuel 17:1-54). While relaying provisions to his three older brothers (I Samuel 17:12-23), David, then a young shepherd, learns that the mammoth Philistine has laid down the gauntlet to engage any Israelite in single combat (I Samuel 17:8-10). Enraged that none of his compatriots has accepted the challenge, David agrees to battle the giant (I Samuel 17:26, 31-32).

The text does a great job of promoting this fight, spending 40 verses on the pre-fight build up (I Samuel 17:1-40) as compared to nine on the battle itself (I Samuel 17:41-49) and another nine on the post-fight analysis (I Samuel 17:50-58). Like a tale of the tape before a championship prize fight, the Bible carefully relates the armor of both contestants. It describes Goliath’s immense armor (I Samuel 17:5-7), whose mass is as impressive as its owner’s (I Samuel 17:4). In contrast, King Saul attempts to fit David with his own armor (I Samuel 17:38-39). Instead David adopts a less is more approach choosing the more familiar garb of a shepherd (I Samuel 17:40). The battle is not the time for experimentation.

David’s meager arsenal consists of a stick, some stones and a sling (I Samuel 17:40):

He took his stick in his hand and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in the shepherd’s bag which he had, even in his pouch, and his sling was in his hand; and he approached the Philistine. (I Samuel 17:40 NASB)
Eugene H. Merrill (b. 1934) recaps:
David armed only with his confidence in God, a sling, and five smooth stones, slew Goliath and brought back his severed head in triumph (I Samuel 17:33-51). (John F. Walvoord [1910-2002] and Roy B. Zuck [1932-2013], The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, 448)
The verse has rhetorical elements in Hebrew that are lost in translation (I Samuel 17:40). J.P. Fokkelman (b. 1940) reveals:
The verse regarding David’s weaponry has a virtuoso style [I Samuel 17:40]. Two very short lines with the rhyme beyaādō...surround two long lines, so that I Samuel 17:40abcd is a series ABB'A'. The middle lines I Samuel 17:40bc concern the smooth stones from the brook (I Samuel17:40b, look for, I Samuel 17:40c put away) an their length reflects the care and precision which David devotes to the hard core of his equipment. They start with “he chose” and end in “in the shepherd’s bag”, and that is a splendid find in Hebrew: the roots of yibhar and yalqūt are very close semantically and the substantive yalqūt looks like an imperfect. The pair is accompanied by the rhyme . The density of phonetic means continues however, and is impressive...The alliteration is exceptionally rich: h (5x), m (7x), q (5x), l (8x), and it has a special centre. The qof and the lamed, in fact, occur together in all four “weapons” (mql, hlq, ylqt, ql‘), nota bene in an alternation which respects and strengthens the pattern ABB'A', and this means that Israel’s secret weapon (the youth’s shepherd’s gear) is the motor of the sound patterns. Note that Goliath a little later on complains about the stick (mql) and breaks into curses (qll!!) [I Samuel 17:43], but will be tamed by the three weapons that he does not mention. By continuing with the alliteration with q and l he unwittingly digs his own grave. The abuse he utters [I Samuel 17:43-44], the last we hear from him himself, becomes a swansong which contributes to the power of Israel’s secret weapon. (Fokkelman, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel, Volume 2, 178)
David brings his “staff” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) or “stick” (CEV, NASB) (I Samuel 17:40). Since he will not use the staff when facing Goliath, this “weapon” may have been a diversionary tactic.

Robert Alter (b. 1935) considers:

He took his stick [I Samuel 17:40]. That is, his shepherd’s staff, which he is used to carrying. David evidently does this as a decoy, encouraging Goliath to imagine he will use cudgel against sword (compare I Samuel 17:43) and thus camouflaging the lethal slingshot. (Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 108)
If the staff is intended to conceal David’s game plan it works. Goliath takes note of the stick as evidenced by his taunts (I Samuel 17:43).

David has his weapon on hand but no ammunition so he carefully selects five smooth stones (I Samuel 17:40). Rachelle Gilmour comments:

He [David] prepares himself for battle in I Samuel 17:40 by selecting five smooth stones and placing them in his pouch. He does not rush into battle like Saul [I Samuel 11:1-16]...but pauses to give Goliath a rather lengthy theological statement on the victory that is about to take place (I Samuel 17:45-47). David’s self-control after he receives the spirit is further highlighted by the contrast with Saul in I Samuel 16:14-23 who has now received an evil spirit. Saul is tormented and only the skillful lyre playing of David provides calm. (Gilmour, Representing the Past: A Literary Analysis of Narrative Historiography in the Book of Samuel, 123)
David’s attentiveness to his weaponry demonstrates that the shepherd has had time to think about the decision he is making. Marshall Ganz (b. 1943) suggests:
Plainly, David is courageous. But it takes more than courage to defeat Goliath. David wins the battle because he thinks about it differently. At first, he accepts the shield, sword, and helmet that conventional wisdom deems necessary [I Samuel 17:38-39]. He then realizes, however, that he cannot use these weapons effectively against a master of them. Instead, he conceives a plan of battle—a strategy—based on the five stones he notices in a creek bed, his skill with a slingshot, and the giant’s underestimation of him [I Samuel 17:40]. (Ganz, Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement)
David secures the stones in a shepherd’s “bag” (ASV, CEV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NKJV, NLT, RSV), “pouch” (ESV, NIV, NRSV) or “pack” (MSG), which he has brought with him (I Samuel 17:40). It likely serves the same function as a contemporary fanny pack.

The Hebrew vocabulary used for the receptacle is obscure (I Samuel 17:40). Ralph W. Klein (b.1936) informs:

The word ילקוט is a hapax legomenon. An ancient gloss was placed before it, identifying it as a shepherd’s bag (cf. I Samuel 17:40 and Julius Wellhausen [1844-1918]). (Klein, 1 Samuel (Word Biblical Commentary), 179)
The future king procures the stones from the “brook” (ASV, CEV, ESV, KJV, MSG, NASB, NKJV, RSV), “stream” (NIV, NLT) or “wadi” (HCSB, NRSV) (I Samuel 17:40).

David Toshio Tsumura (b. 1944) defines:

Wadi (hannahal) is the dry riverbed (see Genesis 26:17) of the Valley of Elah [I Samuel 17:2, 19]. (Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 459)
Specifically, David finds “five smooth stones” (ASV, CEV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) (I Samuel 17:40). The literal Hebrew is “smooth ones” with virtually all translations supplying the necessary noun.

A. Graeme Auld (b. 1941) describes:

An adjective used as a noun: “smooth ones.” The form is unique: B’s teleious is a mistaken correction of the literal leious (“smooth”). (Auld, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 206)
Bruce K. Waltke (b. 1930) and Michael O’Connor (1950-2007) explain:
Because the boundary between adjectives and substantives is not fixed or rigid, it is common to find nouns that are most often used as adjectives in substantive slots...Adjectives may occur as constructs, usually with a superlative force [Isaiah 19:11, Ezekiel 7:24; II Chronicles 21:7; I Samuel 17:40]. (Waltke and O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, 261)
These stones are hardly pebbles. Ronald F. Youngblood (b. 1931) depicts:
Such stones were part of the normal repertoire of weapons in the ancient world (cf. II Chronicles 26:14), usually balls two or three inches in diameter and manufactured from flint (Ovid R. Sellers [1885-1975], “Sling Stones in Biblical Times,” Biblical Archaeologist 2/4 [1939]: 41-42,45). David, however, had a ready supply of naturally spherical stones of the right size at hand. (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], 1 Samuel ~ 2 Kings (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary), 183)
The archaeological record attests to such weaponry. Stephen J. Andrews (b. 1954) and Robert B. Bergen (b. 1954) document:
Excavations in Israel have revealed hundreds of sling stones at many fortified sites. They are typically the size of tennis balls and weigh about a pound each. An accomplished warrior could sling a stone this size at a rate of 100 to 150 miles an hour, making it a very lethal weapon. It is most likely that David chose stones from the dry stream bed of this size and weight. (Andrews and Bergen, I & II Samuel (Holman Old Testament Commentary), 127)
Robert B. Bergen (b. 1954) adds:
Examples of ancient Near Eastern slingstones are on display in the Lachish exhibit at the British Museum. Photographs of slingstones from Middle Eastern cultural sites can be seen in The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, editor James B. Pritchard [1909-1997] (London: Princeton: 1958, plate 101; and New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, editor Eprhaim Stern [b. 1934] (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 2:463. A Middle Eastern slingstone from the private collection of David A. Dorsey [b. 1949] at the Evangelical School of Theology weighs approximately 450 grams, very much in line with those on display elsewhere. (Bergen, 1,2 Samuel (New American Commentary), 194)
The stone’s smoothness is essential for their purpose (I Samuel 17:40). Smooth stones make superior slingshot pellets as they produce more predictable trajectories and are less apt to get caught on the cradle.

Phil Farver (b. 1956) praises:

Picking smooth stones showed wisdom on David’s part [I Samuel 17:40]. He demonstrated that he knew the weapons he chose, how to use them and what they could accomplish. The smoothness showed that the stones had gone through a refining process by being tumbled around, tossed to and fro, in the stream and polished, ready to be used. The smoothness also guaranteed a faster, straighter flight from sling to target, generating more force against that intended target. Odd shaped stones or stones with jagged edges were not reliable and very difficult to control. (Farver, Five Smooth Stones: Proven Steps for Positive Success, 27-28)
Thomas D. Logie (b. 1951) compares:
Modern rifling to impart a spiral would not have been available to David. For the same reason as a baseball pitcher wants a seam in a baseball to make it break, David wanted to avoid seams or similar irregularities because he needed to throw hard and straight. So David learned to use smooth stones as his ammunition. I Samuel 17:40 reflects accurate science; if David had to use his slingshot in an emergency, the last thing he needed was to throw a knuckleball. (Logie, Meditations on Holiness)
These stones are selected for their compatibility to a sling (I Samuel 17:40, 50). David Toshio Tsumura (b. 1944) identifies:
Sling (qela‘) is a military weapon, common in the ancient Near East; Egyptian evidence goes back to the beginning of the second millennium B.C. Note the slingers, wearing iron helmets and coats of mail, depicted on the reliefs in the royal palaces at Nineveh and Nimrud. Hebrew usages support this meaning, though the Ugaritic counterpart of ql‘ could mean “shield” on the basis of Akkadian kabābu (ga-ba-bu in Die Keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit 4.63:24, etc.) “shield.” (Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 460)
W.E. Nunnally (b. 1955) describes:
A weapon consisting of two thongs made of rushes, animal sinews, leather, cloth, or hair attached to a wider pocket that held the projectile. The projectile was placed in the pocket and swung above the head one to three times. When the desired centrifugal force had been generated, one thong was released, discharging the missile. The sling was inexpensively manufactured and required little technical know-how to produce. Optimum accuracy (Judges 20:16) was achieved only by years of practice. Stones were carried into battle in a bag (I Samuel 17:40). During a siege they were piled at the slinger’s feet. The average slingstone was slightly smaller than a tennis ball. (David Noel Freedman [1922-2008], “Sling”, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 1233)
V. Philips Long (b. 1951) clarifies:
One is not to think of a forked stick with an elastic catapult stretched between it, which is a modern invention, but of a leather or cloth pouch to which two cords were attached. A slingstone, either crafted by hand or, as in the present instance, rounded by water action, was placed in the pouch and then, after swinging the sling overhead or to the side to gain momentum, was released at great speed by letting go of one of the cords. Slings were affordable but effective weapons used, for instance, by shepherds to drive off predators. David’s background as a shepherd would have afforded him opportunity to develop considerable skill in the use of a sling. In time, slings became (along with bows and arrows) a regular part of the long-range arsenal of ancient Near Eastern armies. (John H. Walton [b. 1952], Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 351)
The birth of the sling represented an important military development in the ancient world. Richard A. Gabriel (b. 1942) traces:
An important innovation was the sling. Evidence of its existence appears at Catal Hüyük between 5500 and 4500 B.C. Most likely the early sling fired stones selected for their small size and smoothness. David, prior to his battle with Goliath, selected just such stones in preparing for battle. At Catal Hüyük we see the first evidence of shot made from sunbaked clay, man’s first foray into making a specific type of expendable ammunition. The sling represented a giant leap in the range of killing technology. (Gabriel, The Culture of War: Invention and Early Development, 28)
Ralph W. Klein (b.1936) supports:
Assyrian slingers wearing copper helmets and coats of mail, are depicted in Sennacherib’s palace (7th century, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary 1, 115). The slingstone was held in a pouch with cords attached at opposite ends. The sling was whirled over the head until one end was suddenly released. While I Samuel 17 apparently understands the sling as a shepherd’s weapon, it could also be used by organized armies, and with amazing accuracy as the Benjamites demonstrated (Judges 20:16; cf. also I Samuel 25:29; I Chronicles 12:2 and II Chronicles 26:14). (Klein, 1 Samuel (Word Biblical Commentary), 179)
The sling could be highly destructive in the hands of a skilled user. Robert P. Gordon (b. 1945) assesses:
In a skilled hand the sling could be a deadly weapon. According to Judges 20:16 the tribe of Benjamin could at one time count on the services of seven hundred left-handed slingers every one of whom ‘could sling a stone at a hair, and not miss’. Compare also the ambidextrous Benjamites mentioned in I Chronicles 12:2. The sling was commonly deployed in near eastern armies, the evidence in the case of Egypt going back to the beginning of the second millennium BC. (Gordon, I & II Samuel: A Commentary, 157)
Malcolm Gladwell (b. 1963) appreciates:
Slinging took an extraordinary amount of skill and practice. But in experienced hands, the sling was a devastating weapon. Paintings from medieval times show slingers hitting birds in midflight. Irish slingers were said to be able to hit a coin from as far away as they could see it, and in the Old Testament Book of Judges, slingers are described as being accurate within a “hair’s breadth” [Judges 20:16] An experienced slinger could kill or seriously injure a target at a distance of up to two hundred yards. The Romans even had a special set of tongs made just to remove stones that had been embedded in some poor soldier’s body by a sling. Imagine standing in front of a Major League Baseball pitcher as he aims a baseball at your head. That’s what facing a slinger was like—only what was being thrown was not a ball of cork and leather but a solid rock. (Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, 9-10)
The sling is especially emphasized in the story of David and Goliath (I Samuel 17:1-58). The Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Imagery observes:
Perhaps the most famous sling is the one carried by David and used to fell Goliath. This particular weapon is not just mentioned in the narrative (I Samuel 17:40) but assumes a rhetorical role in the summary: “So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him” (I Samuel 17:50). As it turns out, this weapon choice has something to say about Israel’s up-an-coming king. First, it says that David was smart. When we consider the list of weapons carried by Goliath (I Samuel 17:4-7), we can see that he intended to engage his Israelite competitor in close-range combat. While David had briefly considered the use of a sword (I Samuel 17:39), he quickly abandoned it in favor of the sling. In doing so David betrayed his intentions; he was not planning to get anywhere near the Philistine fighting machine but rather to dispatch him from a distance. While this reveals his thoughtful intelligence, it also says something about this faith in the Lord. David took only one weapon into the fight, counting on the Lord to guide his aim and the stone toward his bellicose target. Thus the author of I Samuel directs us to the sling because it was the smart choice and because it was the choice that marked David as a leader after God’s own heart [I Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22]. (John A. Beck [b. 1956], “Sling”, Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Imagery)
George B. Caird (1917-1984) notices:
It is curious that although both sources agree on David’s use of the sling on this occasion [I Samuel 17:40, 50], we never hear of it again in any of his subsequent battles. (George Arthur Buttrick [1892-1980], Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel (Interpreter’s Bible), 978)
The use of the sling is part of David’s presenting himself as he truly is: as a shepherd (I Samuel 16:11, 19, 17:15, 20, 28, 34). The sling is a shepherd’s tool. James E. Smith (b. 1939) imagines:
David chose to arm himself with what he knew best. He took his staff in one hand. He selected five smooth stones from the stream nearby and out them into the pouch of his shepherd’s bag, i.e., something akin to a knapsack. With his sling in his hand he went out to confront the Philistine. Obviously David was skilled in the use of the sling, having practiced endless hours with it while guarding the sheep. (Smith, I & II Samuel (College Press NIV Commentary), 228)
Shawn Easton connects:
We see in I Samuel 17:40 David taking the staff that he used to fend off wild beasts while tending to the sheep. He also took five smooth stones out of the brook and put them in a shepherd’s bag. There we see a reference to David’s experience as a shepherd. We see David taking something out of his victorious past (the shepherd bag and staff) and combining it with something from the present (five smooth stones) to deal with the future (the Philistine Goliath. (Easton, Divine Connections: The Key to Unlocking the Purpose in the Kingdom, 89-90)
While there is a rationale to David selecting stones, there is question as to why the Bible specifically references the number five (I Samuel 17:40). Keith Bodner (b. 1967) asks:
Does the reader have any clues as to why David chose five stones? Did he lack confidence in his swinging ability? Or is the head of Goliath a rather big target that may require more than one rock to penetrate? (Bodner, National Insecurity: A Primer on the First Book of Samuel, 130)
There are many metaphorical interpretations associated with the number five. Five appears in Biblical expressions relating to being hopelessly outnumbered (Leviticus 26:8; I Corinthians 14:19). Biblical numerologists cite five as the number of the Bible and suggest that David’s selection represents his using the very word of God to defeat Goliath. In charismatic circles it has been said that five represents the “five fold ministry” of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher.

Likely the most famous allegorical use comes from Augustine (354-430). Ferdinand Lot (1866-1952) chronicles:

Saint Augustine [354-430] himself, while protesting against the dangerous neglect into which the literal significance of the Holy Scriptures had fallen, is thoroughly imbued with the method. For example, here is the analysis of his sermon on David and Goliath, preached at Hippo:—“David pre-figures Christ, and Goliath the Devil. David takes five stones from the brook and puts them in the vessel used for milking his sheep; then, armed, he marches against the enemy. The five stones are an image of the five books of the law of Moses. The Law, in its turn, contains ten precepts; that is why David fights with five stones and sings to an instrument with ten strings. Observe that he does not sling five stones but only one, which is the Unity that fulfils the Law, namely Charity. (Lot, The End of the Ancient World, 375-76)
Edward A. Gosselin (b. 1943) interprets:
Augustine [354-430]’s abandonment of the Old Testament event for the New Testament reading may be seen in the following, rather typical example. In explicating, Psalm 43, Augustine points out that the historical event which prompted the psalm’s composition was the battle between David and Goliath. Quickly shedding the Old Testament ambience, Augustine explains that David is really Christ, Goliath Satan; that the five stones with which David armed himself were the Pentateuch, while the one stone which David hurled at Goliath was the New Testament. Thus, says Augustine, the Law of Moses was made efficacious by the grace of the New Testament, which killed Satan and sin. (Raymond-Jean Frontain [b. 1951] and Jan Wojcik [b. 1944], “Two Views of the Evangelical David: Lefèvre d’Etaples [1455-1536] and Theodore Beza [1519-1605]”, The David Myth in Western Literature, 57)
Some more recent homileticians have also tried to connect David and Jesus using the five smooth stones (I Samuel 17:40). Fulton J. Sheen (1885-1979) preaches:
A new David arose to slay the Goliath of evil, not with five stones but with five wounds—hideous scars on hands, feet, and side; and the battle was fought not with armor glistening under a noonday sun, but with flesh torn away so the bones could be numbered. The Artist had put the last touch in his masterpiece, and with the joy of the strong He uttered the song of triumph that His work was completed. (Sheen, Life of Christ, 559)
Pseudo-Philo adapts the number of stones to better fit a less literal reading. Frederick J. Murphy (1949-2011) notes:
In I Samuel 17:40, David chooses five smooth stones for his sling. They become seven in Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum 61:5 and on them David writes the names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, himself, and God. This symbolic act underlines Israel’s very identity. Israel’s relationship with its God is its very core. (Murphy, Pseudo-Philo : Rewriting the Bible: Rewriting the Bible, 210-11)
Other interpreters have attempted to link the number five to Goliath himself. The five stones may in some way correlate to Goliath making five boasts in his mocking challenge to the Israelites (I Samuel 17:8, 9, 10, 43, 44). If there is a connection here, it is an editorial insertion after the battle as only three of Goliath’s insults occur before David selects the rocks (I Samuel 17:8, 9, 10).

More commonly, David’s selection of the five smooth stones is presented as the shepherd preparing for retribution from Goliath’s four relatives. This is based upon II Samuel 21:15-22 and a parallel passage in I Chronicles 20:5. Though the Bible does not specifically state that Goliath had four brothers, he had at least one (II Samuel 21:19).

J. Vernon McGee (1904-1988) typifies:

Some people believe that David chose five smooth stones so that if he missed his first shot, he could use one or all of the others. David did not intend to miss, friend. Then why did he select five stones? The answer is found in II Samuel 21:22: “These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.” Goliath had four sons, and David was sure they would come out when he killed their father. This is why David picked five stones. That was the number he needed. (McGee, First and Second Samuel (Thru the Bible), 98)
This conjecture does not fit the context because even if Goliath did have four brothers, it is doubtful that David would have been aware of this fact. David is portrayed as being shocked by Goliath’s challenge and is seen asking questions about the situation (I Samuel 17:26, 29).

Phil Farver (b. 1956) situates:

Why five smooth stones [I Samuel 17:40]? Why not one? Why not ten?...I have heard preachers explain that since Goliath had four brothers, David took with him the number of stones he would need: one each for Goliath and his brothers. I researched the story and I don’t believe that David knew that Goliath had four brothers. According to what is written David came into the camp without any prior knowledge of what was happening at the time, other than the fact that Israel was involved in a military battle with the Philistines. In fact, it seems he was taken by surprise by what he observed when he entered the camp [I Samuel 17:26, 29]. (Farver, Five Smooth Stones: Proven Steps for Positive Success, 27)
That the four remaining stones are not connected to Goliath’s family is supported by the fact that David does not slay any other giants. Further, he is facing a huge obstacle and for optimum results, his sole focus should be on Goliath, the giant at hand.

A more likely yet no more substantiated supposition is that David planned complete obliteration of the enemy. The Philistines controlled five cities each led by a lord (Joshua 13:3; I Samuel 6:16, 17, 18). Goliath was the representative of Gath (I Samuel 17:4, 23), one of the five Philistine strongholds.

The simplest explanation to David’s rationale is that the shepherd is being pragmatic (I Samuel 17:40). He could not have carried many stones and the extras provide a contingency plan in the event he misses or one blow is not adequate to fell the giant. Likewise, carrying more than five would be pointless as had five shots been unequal to the task, he would likely have already been defeated. From this perspective, David is not placing all of his eggs in one basket. Proponents of this explanation laud David for being responsible and not limiting God to a single result.

The debate over the meaning of the five stones rages as it pertains to whether or not David exhibits complete trust in God. Many have viewed a pragmatic David as hedging his bets. A deficit in faith does not seem to fit the context as a lack of confidence is not part of this story (I Samuel 17:26, 32-37). In the parlance of today’s youth, David had to have some serious stones to undertake this mission in the first place.

Some have even seen the five smooth stones as evidence of doubt (I Samuel 17:40). Jentezen Franklin (b. 1962) assures:

Do you know why I think David picked up four more stones than he needed? I think it was afraid he might miss. It doesn’t take a lot of faith; it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed [Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6]— just a little faith. You don’t have to have great faith, just a little faith. (Craig Groeschel [b. 1967], “God is Able” What Is God Really Like?, 87)
David does not violate any command when selecting the five stones (I Samuel 17:40). He is not told that one shot will slay the giant and it is quite possible that one stone may not be enough.

Clark Strand (b. 1957) considers:

In the end, it isn’t a matter of how much or how little faith David has that God will help him defeat the giant. He still doesn’t know how many stones it will take. He still doesn’t know how much, or for how long, God expects him to fight...Once the conversation with God is underway, we will be told everything we need to know, as we need to know it. And if we need to know...That is what is so beautiful about the moment in the story when David stoops down at the brook to gather five stones for his scrip [I Samuel 17:40]. How long will he have to fight? He doesn’t know. How much of the outcome will be determined by his skill with the sling and how much by God? There is no way to separate the two...Even when the story is over and the giant lies dead at his feet, there is no clear line dividing David from the one he calls “the Living God” [I Samuel 17:26, 36]. (Strand, How to Believe in God: Whether You Believe in Religion or Not, 89-90)
Instead of doubt, perhaps David exhibits humility and prudence.

The same God who guides David against Goliath provides not one but five suitable rocks in the brook (I Samuel 17:40). As is often the case, God presents more than is necessary (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Wess Stafford (b. 1949) reflects:

The bit about David choosing five smooth stones from the stream (I Samuel 17:40) made perfect sense to my little band of marksmen. No, not because of the elaborate conjecture I’ve since heard from Bible expositors about Goliath having four fierce relatives to be killed, and so this was some great symbolism for the future. When you live and die by the slings as we did, you’re always walking around with one eye on the ground looking for the next perfect stone. Round rocks are hard to come by and can make all the difference in the world. If one has a little bump on a side, the rock can veer off in flight. Flat rocks? Forget about it? You’re not going to hit anything...I’m pretty sure David picked up five smooth stones simply because they were right in front of him. All us boys knew he should need only one to take care of Goliath, but why pass up the other four? (Stafford, Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most, 29)
Perhaps David picks up the rocks simply because they are there. He could always use the other four later; they can be saved for a rainy day.

None of these theories regarding David’s five smooth stones is wholly satisfying (I Samuel 17:40). What is clear is that regardless of how many stones David takes into battle, he appears overmatched in this contest. David’s strategy is clearly offensive minded, which offends Goliath (I Samuel 17:43). In bringing no protective gear, the shepherd is quite literally defenseless. In choosing not to play by Goliath’s rules, David becomes the proverbial man taking a knife to a gun fight.

Walter Brueggeman (b. 1933) comments:

David proposes a radical alternative, only five smooth stones (I Samuel 17:40). David must have appeared to Saul (and to all the others) to be unarmed and defenseless. David’s alternative must have seemed to be no viable alternative at all. The narrator, however, permits no protest or reservation against David by Saul. David’s refusal of Saul’s armor is let stand as the last word [I Samuel 17:39]. David’s confidence is in the “living God,” who has delivered and who will deliver [I Samuel 17:26, 36]. Such faith is David’s alternative to conventional modes of self-defense. (Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 131)

Five proves to be an excess of four as David needs only one smooth stone to fell the Philistine giant (I Samuel 17:49). After the fact, five stones may seem like overkill or an abundance (I Samuel 17:40). But going into battle David’s arsenal likely seem quite insufficient. The difference in perspective pertains to hindsight. It often does.

Why does David procure precisely five stones in preparation to face Goliath (I Samuel 17:40)? Is there any reason why David would not take all of the adequate ammunition which presented itself? Does having enough ammo to take multiple shots represent a lack of faith or prudence? Does David’s taking more than one stone into battle in any way diminish his triumph; is it indicative of doubt? Do the four unused stones provide any benefits? Why does the Bible include David’s selection of exactly five smooth stones (I Samuel 17:40); what, if anything, does this detail add to the story? Were you David, would you have picked up the “extra” stones? When have you presumed you had too little only to find later that you actually had a surplus?

There are many contrasts to be made between David’s armor and that of the other two primary figures in the story, Goliath and Saul (I Samuel 17:5-7, 38-39). Notably, David respectfully declines his king’s offer of armor (I Samuel 17:39). Many have noted the shepherd’s wisdom in not donning his king’s bulky gear.

Jerry Sutton (b. 1951) approves:

David could not, did not, and would not use Saul’s armor and weapons [I Samuel 17:39]. His assessment, was, “These are untested.” So what did he do? He went to war with the familiar: a sling, a pouch with five smooth stones, and perhaps a staff [I Samuel 17:40]. He played to his strengths, trusting for God’s intervention, and walked away a hero. (Sutton, A Primer on Biblical Preaching, 14)
This observation is ancient. John Cassian (360-435) apprises:
We sometimes see a bad example drawn from good things. For if someone presumes to do the same things but not with the same disposition and orientation or with unlike virtue, he easily falls into the snares of deception and death on account of those very things form which others acquire the fruits of eternal life. That brave boy who was set against the most warlike giant in a contest of arms would certainly have experienced this if he had put on Saul’s manly and heavy armor, with which a person of more robust age would have laid low whole troops of the enemy. This would undoubtedly have imperiled the boy, except that with wise discretion he chose the kind of weapon that was appropriate for his youth and armed himself against the dreadful foe not with the breastplate and shield that he saw others outfitted with but with the projectiles that he himself was able to fight with [I Samuel 17:40]. Conference 24.8.1-2. (John R. Franke [b. 1961], Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 272)
Eugene H. Peterson (b. 1932) applies:
The offer of bronze helmet and coat of mail was well intentioned [I Samuel 17:38]. But to accept it would have been disastrous. David needed what was authentic to him. Even as I do. For even though the weaponry urged upon me by my culture in the form of science and knowledge is formidable I cannot work effectively with what is imposed from the outside. Metallic forms hung on my frame will give me, perhaps, an imposing an aspect but will not help me do my proper work. (Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, 240)
Kenneth L. Chafin (1926-2001) concurs:
Saul’s effort to help David has been copied by many since then [[I Samuel 17:38]. Nothing comes more naturally to people than trying yo get someone to fight our battles the way we would were we fighting them. Through the centuries that Christians have been reading this story they have been moved by the wisdom of David for not trying to do battle with someone else’s armor. People need to have confidence in their own gifts, experiences, and abilities if they are to face the giants in their lives. (Chafin, 1, 2 Samuel (Mastering the Old Testament, 145)
John R. Bisagno (b. 1934) concludes:
David was faithful to hone those skills that came naturally to him. Our Lord only expects the employment of the natural gifts He has placed within our hands. God’s question is always, “What are you going to do with what you’ve got?” Whether it is a staff, a lunch, an empty net or a sling, God doesn’t ask for very much at all. He just asks for all of you. Five smooth stones will do just fine. (Bisagno, Principle Preaching: How to Create and Deliver Purpose Driven Sermons for Life Application, 88)
David is also outfitted entirely differently from his opponent, Goliath. A. Graeme Auld (b. 1941) contrasts:
The pieces of armed protection provided by Saul correspond strikingly to the elements of Goliath’s armor (I Samuel 17:5-7). They are not said to be heavy, but David is unable to walk, and what else could a bronze helmet be but heavy? Nor are David’s own weapons of choice called “light.” But the name of everything he does select (I Samuel 17:40) plays on and hints at qal, the Hebrew adjective for “light” and “fast”: most obviously his “stick” (mql) and “sling” (ql’), but also (with the key consonants reversed) the “smooth” [stones] (hlqy) and his “pouch” (ylqwt)—with this young champion in the making, words and reality are in perfect fit. (Auld, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (Old Testament Library), 211)
David does not just reject the king’s armor he rejects armor in general (I Samuel 17:38-40). This further underscores the disparity between David and Goliath. Robert B. Bergen (b. 1954) juxtaposes:
The weapons David gathered for use against Goliath—the stick and the stones [I Samuel 17:40]—were not products of human artifice; rather, they were shaped by God. As such the author may have included these details as a counterpoint to I Samuel 13:19-22; the Philistines feared and relied on weapons pulled from human forges, but David would conquer them with divinely manufactured weapons. Armed with these provisions, David “approached the Philistine” [I Samuel 17:40]. (Bergen, 1,2 Samuel (New American Commentary), 194-95)
David Jobling (b. 1941) bolsters:
Goliath, decked out for battle in a massive weight of “bronze” and “iron” (I Samuel 17:5-7) contrasts starkly with David, who refuses any armor at all (I Samuel 17:38-39) and fights with stones, natural objects (I Samuel 17:40). Goliath’s grotesquely metallic appearance may be lined with the Philistine monopoly on iron (I Samuel 13:19-22)—he is a fantasized version of Philistine technological superiority. (Jobling, 1 Samuel (Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry), 220)
Walter Brueggeman (b. 1933) critiques:
Saul does not understand anything. He has uttered Yahweh’s name. But he wants to outdo Goliath on Goliath’s term in I Samuel 17:38-39. so he offers armor, helmet, coat of mail, sword—David “tried in vain to go” with such encumbrance. David’s contrast is with both Saul and Goliath. Unlike them, he goes unencumbered (“I am not used to them” [I Samuel 17:39]). Both of them—the one a braggart, the other a coward—trust in arms. But David does not trust in arms because of who he is and who his people are: people who have learned that the others always have a monopoly on arms. The tribe must fight in another way. David takes five smooth stones and his sling. They are enough [I Samuel 17:40]. (Brueggemann, David’s Truth in Israel’s Imagination and Memory, 25)
The most puzzling piece of the story remains why the Bible sees fit to include the detail about David’s five smooth stones (I Samuel 17:40). Preachers have often used David’s arsenal as sermon fodder.

For instance, in his best selling book, Facing Your Giants, Max Lucado (b. 1955) writes:

David took five stones [I Samuel 17:40]. He made five decisions. Do likewise. Past. Prayer. Priority. Passion. And persistence...Next time Goliath wakes you up, reach for a stone. Odds are, he’ll be out of the room before you can load your sling. (Lucado, Facing Your Giants: A David and Goliath Story for Everyday People, 159)
Though this sermonic technique can be effective, it can often defeat the purpose of the story. Richard D. Phillips (b. 1960) evaluates:
The story of David’s victory over Goliath has launched many five-point sermons, one point for each of the smooth stones that David took from the brook and put into his pouch [I Samuel 17:40]. Usually these sermons list principles or behaviors by which even the skinniest Christian can take down the brawniest spiritual enemy...David’s victory, however, was anything but the triumph of an “everyman.” David was not just anyone in Israel, but the one man whom God had especially anointed to lead and deliver his people, for which God had equipped him with the Holy Spirit (see I Samuel 16:3). (Phillips, 1 Samuel (Reformed Expository Commentary), 304)
Wayne Grudem (b. 1948) advises:
Asking what the original author intended the original readers to understand will help the interpreter avoid fanciful allegories that improperly interpret the text. For instance, an interpreter who doesn’t follow this procedure might find all sorts of fanciful interpretations of the “five smooth stones” that David took to fight Goliath (I Samuel 17:40). A modern charismatic interpreter, given to allegorizing, might say that these five smooth stones are the fivefold manifestations of the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 4:11. “But no,” a Calvinistic interpreter might answer. He would say that it’s obvious that the “five smooth stones’ represent the famous “five points of Calvinism.” Then a third allegorical interpreter, an ethics professor, might say that they were both wrong because David is going forth to war against Goliath, and therefore the “five smooth stones” obviously represent the five sides of the Pentagon building in Washington, DC, and they therefore give support to the “just war” theory!...Unless we first anchor our interpretation in what the original author wanted the original readers to understand, there will be no limit to the variety of such incorrect interpretations that have nothing to do with the actual meaning of the text. (Leland Ryken [b.1942] and Todd Wilson [b. 1976], “Right and Wrong Interpretation of the Bible: Some Suggestions for Pastors and Bible Teachers”, Preach the Word: Essays on Expository Preaching: In Honor of R. Kent Hughes [b. 1942], 67)
John H. Walton (b. 1952) and Kim E. Walton (b. 1954) refocus:
David is not the hero—God is. To paint David as the hero runs exactly opposite to David’s own perspective and what the narrator wanted to emphasize. Furthermore, just because God brought down David’s enemies does not mean that he will give us victory over all our enemies. We cannot extrapolate the work of God to everyone’s situation at any given time. Resist using the “lesson by metaphor.” We should not be asking, “What giant in your life does God need to overcome?” or “What are the five stones that you have in your bag?” These do not get to the authority of the teaching of the text, clever as they may be. (Walton and Walton, The Bible Story Handbook: A Resource for Teaching 175 Stories from the Bible, 165)
The most important contrast in the story is not between David and Goliath or even David and Saul; instead it is the apposition of David’s giant God and the giant Philistine.

Technically, though David credits God for his success (I Samuel 17:37, 45-47), the narrator never explicitly does so. Peter D. Miscall (b. 1943) acknowledges:

We cannot automatically assume that success or failure indicates that good or evil, in whatever sense, has preceded. For example, David’s killing of Goliath [I Samuel 17:1-58] can be explained in a variety of ways, including an element of chance, i.e. David gambles and wins. Throughout the remainder of I Samuel, David will generally succeed, but we can only ask, and then again, why? Is his success due to the Lord’s intervention, and, if so, does this have anything to do with David’s character or behavior? Or is it due to his own ability and sagacity, to Saul’s incompetence, to the help of others, or to just plain luck? The same applies to Saul’s failure. (Miscall, 1 Samuel: A Literary Reading, 123)
There can be little doubt that the Bible assumes God’s agency in David’s victory. Gnana Robinson (b. 1935) supplants:
He [David] merely takes his shepherd’s weapons — a staff, a sling, and “five smooth stones” (I Samuel 17:40). The emphasis here is that it is not so much David who is going to fight, but the LORD (I Samuel 17:37; cf. I Samuel 17:45-47). (Robinson, 1 & 2 Samuel: Let Us be Like the Nations (International Theological Commentary), 101)
Frank Johnson (b. 1943) presumes:
Clearly David’s inexperience and inadequate equipment mandate divine assistance. But David is convinced that God will deliver him and aid him, just as before [I Samuel 17:37, 45-47]. He is not afraid. (Johnson, First and Second Samuel (Basic Bible Commentary), 64)
Richard D. Phillips (b. 1960) expounds:
Divested of Saul’s armor [I Samuel 17:38-39], David turned to face the Philistine giant: “Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine” (I Samuel 17:40). But it was not with these only that David went forth to fight Goliath: “He went to the conflict with a blazing concern for the honour of God, with confidence in the certainty of his promises and with the power of the Spirit of God.” David advanced against the Philistine not in the armor and identity of “a king...like all the nations,” which Saul was (I Samuel 8:5), relying on nothing really different from the armor and weaponry of evil Goliath, but as a shepherd-servant of the Lord, defending God’s honor and protecting God’s people in the power of the Lord himself. In this way, whether he realized it or not, David identified with God’s great champions of prior years, shepherd-leaders such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, men of spiritual valor who lived and fought by faith in the promises of God. (Phillips, 1 Samuel (Reformed Expository Commentary), 299)
Elizabeth Achtemeier (1926-2002) contends:
What a hero! No, David slays Goliath “that all the earth may now that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s (I Samuel 17:46-47). It is God who wins the victory...God chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong (I Corinthians 1:27). It is always thus in God’s working in this world. (Achtemeier, Preaching and Reading the Old Testament Lessons: With an Eye to the New, Cycle B, 156)
David takes only five smooth stones and faith to face a giant (I Samuel 17:40). Yet they are enough. Equipment and armament do not decide the battle. Nor do David’s skill and courage. It is God who assures the shepherd’s victory. David’s triumph over Goliath echoes throughout history as a reminder that God is indeed sufficient.

What do you take into battle with you? On which are you more reliant, God or technology? Do you credit God with your successes? If so, how? Do the “extra” stones in any way detract from God’s miracle? Do you, like David, have confidence in God’s sufficiency?

“The greatest need of our age and of every age, the greatest need of every human heart, is to know the resources and sufficiency of God.” - A.B. Simpson (1843-1919), But God, Preface