I recently received a question from a friend who told me that another individual had told him that he had learned why David chose five smooth stones when he prepared to fight Goliath. The individual went on to tell my friend an interesting story that was alleged to answer why David did such. My friend commented to me that he could find no support for the story he was told, but wanted to know if I could tell him whether or not there was any theological significance regarding David’s selection.
My observation through the years is that there are a lot of people who seek to explain every detail in Scripture with a novel interpretation or explanation that will somehow make those details seem to be theologically significant. I don’t deny that when the Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, every word was inspired and included for a reason. However, I do not believe that there is some grandiose explanation for each of those details.
Let me explain. There is a lot of speculation over why David chose five stones. Some of the explanations defy any reason or logic. For example, one writer says they stand for faith, obedience, service, prayer, and the Holy Spirit. The writer argues that the stones represent those characteristics because David displayed those traits in his life. Hogwash! David may have displayed such characteristics, but to state that the stones represent those characteristics is an exotic view and stretches the rules of biblical interpretation to the breaking point.
A far more common explanation (which might be considered the traditional explanation) is an anecdotal story based on 1 Samuel 21:18-22, which makes an assumption that David knew Goliath had four brothers and was prepared to fight them once he defeated Goliath. However, the problem with that assumption is that there is absolutely NOTHING in the story of David and Goliath found in 1 Samuel 17 that tells us that David knew Goliath had four brothers. In fact, the details of the story seem to argue that David knew nothing about Goliath except that he was challenging and insulting the God of Israel and David was indignant that anyone would do such. As one reads the story, David is seen asking questions to learn what is going on and what the plans are to deal with Goliath. Remember, David was the youngest son who was left at home to tend the sheep while his older brothers went to war. His father sent him to see his brothers to take food to them and determine how they were doing. So David would have had no idea about Goliath or his family history at the time he arrived on the scene.
I think that rather than trying to find novel explanations for vague details such as the five stones, we need to notice the big contrast between David’s display of complete trust in Yahweh to defeat Israel’s enemy, and Saul’s dismay and complete lack of trust in God to deliver Israel. There is also contrast of David choosing to trust God to give victory by using a shepherd’s sling, a weapon which no one would have ever considered the appropriate weapon to fight a giant, rather than trusting in man’s wisdom and methods, as seen in Saul’s offer to David to wear his armor. That is a key point in the story—David’s trust in Yahweh rather than man’s wisdom.
When I attended seminary, I encountered many other guys who were always seeking to find novel explanations for such details in stories, but unless it is possible to back up an explanation with Scripture that is clear and unequivocal, we need to be very careful about being dogmatic about such explanations. Many people do the same thing with types in the Old Testament. Some people will see a type of Christ in every event and story in the Old Testament, but to do so they have to abandon the literal-historical-grammatical method of biblical interpretation for an allegorical method of interpretation which is speculative at best. So my position is that unless a type is clear and unequivocal, supported by Scripture and the overwhelming body of orthodox, historical theology, I do not give them much credence.
My advice is that when you are dealing with narrative passages in the Bible, particularly those in the Old Testament, don’t bother yourself with concerns about highly speculative, exotic explanations for details such as the five smooth stones, but rather focus on those details of which the meaning is clearly evident.
So why did David choose five smooth stones? Perhaps the simplest explanation is the best. He was prepared and ready to reload again and again and again. If he missed, he would run while reloading and fire again. David was simply going into the fight with Goliath as prepared as possible, using the skills God had given him with a shepherd’s sling. David was righteously indignant at Goliath’s insults against the name of Yahweh and was willing to defend that Name at any cost. He demonstrated his complete trust and reliance upon God for victory, and God demonstrated that David’s faith and trust in Him was well-founded.