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.
[1 Samuel 17:40 ESV]
David goes off to meet the Philistine with his sling in his hand and fiveÂ â€¦ smooth â€¦ stones â€¦ from a brook â€¦ placed in his shepherdâ€™s pouch.
This is a story we all know so well â€“ a story perhaps from our childhood â€“ a story we may have drawn or acted, read or been told many times. It is a vivid dramatic story with some really nasty parts to it which tells of good triumphing over evil.
But for all our immersion in the story, have we taken it to heart and applied it to our own lives? Or has it remained just a story, out there â€¦ rather than a dramatic picture of what needs to take place within us as we seek to grow spiritually?
Church people are encouraged at every age to learn and understand more and more about the things that the Lord teaches us in his Word. We can build up a vast, even gigantic, store of knowledge of what is true and how we should live our lives. If we apply the truth we have learned then our lives and the lives of those around us will be transformed.
But, if we fail to do this, if we simply delight in the building up of a store of spiritual knowledge for its own sake and not for the sake of the good we can do with it, then we will have allowed Goliath to dominate our lives. And Goliath, the idea that knowing what is true is all important, will rampage through our spiritual lives destroying any genuine good there may be.
Goliath needs to be destroyed.
The shepherd boy David now comes into the picture. But remember this scene is taking place within each one of us. We may have a Goliath within us dominating our spiritual lives but the Lord will provide a David to come along and rescue us.
Perhaps the most important thing about David is that he is a young shepherd boy. David may be young but he has already learnt to care for and protect his sheep, to look out for those that might have gone astray, to help those in difficulty. He may not be fully mature yet but he already has great affection for his sheep.
David does not just know the facts about looking after sheep he has affection for them and a desire to use what he knows to care for them properly.
And so a battle takes place between Goliath and David â€“ just as an inner battle takes place within us between our Goliath and our David.
On the one hand we have our big, well developed and dominating approach to life that knowing what is true is all important and on the other hand we have our small, immature, but growing affection for putting what we know to be true into caring action for others.
How is David going to win this seemingly impossible battle?
First of all David goes to a nearby brook or stream. The Hebrew word involved can mean a brook, a stream, a river, a flood of water or even the valley where water may be found.
But I am sure you can picture it. Water gently flowing over rocks and hard ground, bright and bubbly in the sunshine, full of air as it washes over all sorts of pebbles and stones. It is the sort of scene we often love to sit by and just watch the water flow.
And it is a delightful picture of the Word of God full of all the truth we need to live a good life. The prophet Isaiah uses these words to describe how the Word is given for our use:
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
Now we can approach the Word of God in two ways.
We can approach it in a â€˜Goliathâ€™ state â€“ just to absorb as much knowledge of the truth as we can without any thought as to its use in our lives. In reality any â€˜truthâ€™ we store away with this attitude will not be truth at all, because it will have no heart in it.
Or, we can approach the Word of God in a â€˜Davidâ€™ state â€“ with a desire to use to use the truth we find to transform our lives and fight against our bad desires and ambitions. Such truth will be alive in us because it will be linked to what we love. It will have our heart in it.
Five Smooth Stones
What David finds in the brook are five smooth stones.
Stones come in all shapes and sizes, even in a brook or stream and represent truths in all their forms. Often stones can be rough with hard edges and sometimes broken into pieces. But David seeks out stones that are smooth â€“ stones where any rough edges have been slowly washed away by the flow of water to produce smooth, polished and glass like stones.
The stones that David picks are smooth because they describe truth that has been made smooth by the flow of the water of life â€“ they have been used in living, to bring love and goodness to others.
We can assume that David was well practiced in using his sling â€“ throwing stones at a distance to frighten away wild animals from his flock. He could have just picked up a handful and put them in his pouch to pursue Goliath but instead he chose 5 smooth stones.
The number 5 in the Word, such as in the story of the feeding of the 5000 with 5 loaves of bread, represents what is little or few, and at the same time what is enough.
What we may gain from this is that we donâ€™t need to have taken a great number of truths to heart to defeat our inner Goliath we just need a few and they will be enough.
But 5 also refers to remains. From our earliest childhood onwards the Lord builds up within us remains or remnants of goodness and truth from our experience of being loved and loving others.
So I think two things are being shown to us by the use of 5 smooth stones.
Firstly there is the lesson that if we approach the Word of God with the aim of using the truth we find there to do good for others then just a little will be enough for us to overcome even gigantic self-obsessions.
Secondly there is the possibility that in the conflicts that need to take place within us the Lord will bring to the surface of our minds just the right truths and ideas from the remains deep within us that are needed to tackle even the biggest problem we face.
Or is it perhaps a combination of both these things that actually takes place within us. Perhaps in seeking in the Word for the truth that will lead to the good of life we actually allow and enable the Lord to bring our remains to the surface and so transform us.
With five smooth stones in his shepherdâ€™s bag or pouch David set out and defeated Goliath.
Shepherdâ€™s bag or pouch
David carried the stones in his bag or pouch. We carry the truth around with us in the way we apply it in daily living. In a sense we all have a personal shepherdâ€™s bag or pouch, our way of loving and caring and doing good for others â€“ how we put truth into action in life. Whatever the shape and form of our personal shepherdâ€™s bag or pouch it is in applying truth from the Word in our daily life of care for others that we will defeat the Goliath within us and destroy the idea that knowing what is true is all important.