David’s triumph over the Philistine giant Goliath is one of the most famous Bible stories and the quintessential picture of the victorious underdog (I Samuel 17). The soldier Goliath brings a litany of armory to battle (I Samuel 17:5-7) while the shepherd David carries a humble arsenal.
“He [David] 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, NASBAfter testing king Saul’s armor (I Samuel 17:38-39), David adopts a less is more approach and goes with what he knows as battle is not a time for experimentation. He carries only the tools of his trade - a staff, perhaps a decoy to falsely suggest that it would be used to cudgel a sword, and a sling (I Samuel 17:40).
David is very selective in picking his ammo. He waits until reaching a brook to draw the smooth polished rocks that lay in its valley. Smooth stones make superior slingshot pellets as they produce more predictable trajectories and are less apt to get caught on the cradle.
The Bible specifies that David chose five smooth stones (I Samuel 17:40). This proved an excess of four as David needed only one to fell the Philistine giant (I Samuel 17:49).
Why do you think David selected five stones?
No reason is given in Scripture for the spare rocks though many theories have been postulated. The simplest is that of the pragmatist. David could not have carried many stones and the extras provided a contingency plan in the event he missed. Likewise, carrying more than five would be pointless as had he missed five times, he would have already been defeated. Proponents of this explanation laud David for being responsible and not limiting God to a single result. This does not seem to fit the text as lacking confidence is not part of this story (I Samuel 17:26, 32-37). In the terms of today’s youth, David had to have some serious stones to undertake this mission in the first place.
Others speculate that David was preparing for retribution from Goliath’s four brothers. 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). This conjecture also does not fit the context because even if Goliath did have four brothers, it is doubtful that David would have known. David is depicted as shocked by Goliath’s challenge and is seen asking questions about the situation (I Samuel 17:26, 29).
A more likely supposition is that David planned complete obliteration of the enemy. The Philistines controlled five strongholds 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 their five cities.
There are also many metaphorical interpretations. 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.
None of these hypotheses is wholly satisfying (especially the metaphorical). What is clear is that regardless of how many stones David took into battle, he would have appeared defenseless and overmatched in this contest. David takes a radical alternative and chooses not to play the game by Goliath’s rules. David was the proverbial man taking a knife to a gun fight.
What can Christians use today in handling the challenges they face? What do you take into battle with you?
David takes only five smooth stones and faith to battle a giant. They were enough.