5 Smooth Stones

“Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.”  (1 Samuel 17:40)

Nothing is written in the Christian Bible in vacuity. Emmanuel Swedenborg once determined that the relationship between the literal and spiritual meanings in scripture always point to something significant in every statement, word and number used. If so, what is the symbology of the five smooth stones, and the significance of their number in the myth of David and Goliath?

The stones chosen by David were smooth because they came from the stream meandering through the long, shallow Valley of Elah where the armies of Israel and Philistia met a mere sixteen miles from Jerusalem. The obvious point is that smooth stones were chosen asprojectiles because they travel much faster through the air than rough stones which can also get snagged in a sling. On another level, these rough stones had gradually been smoothed by nature over many hundreds if not thousands of years in readiness for that very moment. For David, too, his time had come since he was ready to leave the hills and his father's flock to become the champion of Israel. Time had smoothed over both stones and a young man.

David, however, knew what he was doing. As a shepherd he had become an expert peltast and used his sling to frighten away or kill predators nearing his flock. In much the same way he was now defending Israel and protecting Jerusalem against altogether more dangerous predators. However, the choice of the number of stones resonates a much deeper meaning with correspondence in the world of spirit. Thus, the story of David and Goliath is an episode containing profound allegorical and mystical significance far beyond its literal interpretation. 

If we consider the Hebrew word for “stream” – nachal - we find that it also means “to inherit” or “to receive from source”. The word for “stone” is eben, and its etymology are the Hebrew words “father” (av) and “son” (ben). The five stones are therefore an inheritance. The setting of the story in the Valley of Elah is no coincidence either. Elah translates from Hebrew as “God is in the terebinth tree”. It follows that the site of the confrontation between David and Goliath was a sacred place. Thus, we easily see how some seemingly innocuous references in the scriptures are loaded with occult value.

Why five stones? Why not one, two or ten? In the Bible there is always a reason for references to number. It is never a random choice because numbers are a ‘bridge' between the clarity of higher celestial and lower terrestrial thought. If the speech of angels filters down into the world of human thought then, as Swedenborg observed, “it falls into rhythms of various different counts.” In gematria the Hebrew letter He also represents the number five and is used to indicate possession of something belonging to—or connected with—someone. It can also relate to a period of five thousand years. The smoothed stones are therefore symbolic of patient preparation for a chosen moment in time. Indeed, time is the key principle to which they allude, since it was on the fifth day of creation when life was made to populate the habitations designed on the second and third days. This interpretation is reinforced by two and three becoming five by addition. Thus, everything is prepared by God in time - just as those five stones were ready to be plucked from the stream. The number five is therefore symbolic of God's omniscience, and of David as an archetypal man chosen to fulfil his destiny.

The other items carried by David into battle were his rod, bag and sling. These represent the authority granted by God over the elements of earth, water and air. Elemental fire features earlier in the story, when Goliath is described as wearing a bronze helmet, breastplates, greaves and a javelin slung on his back. His spear shaft also has a shiny iron point. Fire is represented by the furnaces and casting processes for the armour, and by its reflection in the sun. Aware of what he is up against, David is offered the bronze armour and helmet cast by King Saul's artisans, but which do not fit him. Besides, as a shepherd with no military training David cannot use the armour and chooses to go into battle with no metal on his person. Upon his approach Goliath mocked this lack of weaponry and taunted David by declaring:

“'Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?' And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. ‘Come here, and I'll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals.'”

David knocked Goliath out by casting just one of the smoothed stones - and then killed him with the giant's bronze sword before beheading him:

“David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine's sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.” (1 Sam. 17:51)

The composition date for 1 Samuel was between 630 BC - 540 BC, the time of the Babylonian expansion with a mid-point occurring at about the fall of Jerusalem to King Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. The Babylonians invested a lot of effort into mastering an understanding of alchemy, and they recognised five elements: wind, fire, earth, water and sky. The sky occupied what the ancient Greeks identified with the “aether” (or “quintessence”, by virtue of its being the fifth element). The following diagram represents these five elements:


The five stones chosen by David represent these five elements. Yet only one of them was required to slay Goliath. This is to say it did not matter which one he picked, since that stone was always going to represent the element of Spirit symbolizing God's power over the four lesser ones. In much the same way, Goliath's four limbs and head can be represented by the form of a pentagram. It is only by disabling Goliath's higher part—his head—that David achieves victory.

In this hypothesis the rod carried by David may be said to represent God's Spirit innate in the terebinth tree. The staff is both spirit and fire in one physical object (just as Moses' shepherd  staff was transformed by God at the Burning Bush). David is thereby also identified with the epic figure of Moses and his struggle with the terrestrial power of Egypt.

In 1 Samuel 17:17-18 David is tasked by Jesse to take provisions to his three brothers and the Israelite commander:

“Now Jesse said to his son David, ‘Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them.'”

We can see that Jesse's gifts of ten loaves and ten cheeses are not a random number selection, not least because their equal division between the three brothers cannot be achieved. These items require to be understood within the context of the eight items carried by David into battle, of which the five stones also equate to the five elements. As we have seen, David is not unprepared. The types and number of items carried by him after he delivered the twenty-one items to the Israelite army camp were eight in number, and they form the shape of a binary cross:

1 rod:                                                                1

5 smoothed stones:                             1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1

1 pouch:                                                           1

1 sling:                                                              1

This cross, comprised of four vertical and five horizontal digits, by numerical addition becomes 4+5 = 9. Interestingly, an ephah being four hundred and thirty-two eggs also equates to 4+3+2 = 9, the same number of digits contained in the binary cross representing the items carried by David into battle.

So, we may conclude that the intention is to highlight a state of movement or change from one state of being to another. In short, the passage tells us that David and the items he takes going out from Jesse and those he takes entering battle correspond with archetypes, and that he is himself a type of man working with a divine code to gain a safe and successful return.

This code finds expression in numerous ways. One of the most interesting of which is geometry, expressed by Plato as a tool to illustrate the correspondences with perfect “forms” found in Heaven. Can the story of David and Goliath be expressed geometrically?

A fascinating idea, and the answer must be yes if the letters, words and numbers convey deeper correspondences with forms to be found in the spirit realm. Thus, if we have eight separate objects of four different types, then these can be represented geometrically as an octahedron:


Moreover, the octahedron is the Platonic solid representing air, through which David's stone must fly. It is also the element closest to that of spirit.

Let us also consider the geometric significance of the five smoothed stones. Five can be represented by a square five-sided pyramid:

                                                          Author selling Books on Rosicrucianism and Books on Secret Traditions

This appears as “half” the shape of the octahedron, albeit in reality it has a greater number of sides, although it will be recalled that David only cast one of the four stones at Goliath.

Returning to Jesse's ephah of grain, ten loaves and ten cheeses, by numerical reduction we have 1+10+10 = 3 items. An ephah was a dry measure equating to about twenty-two modern litres or just under six gallons today, but in ancient Israel an ephah was the equivalent of three sehah or four hundred and thirty-two eggs. Adding in David's items for battle we have 10 loaves +10 cheeses +5 stones +5 elements +8 items = 20 or 2.

Even if we only add together the items expressly stated in the passage, namely 1 ephah + 10 loaves + 10 cheeses + 5 stones + 1 rod + 1 satchel + 1 sling = 2.

The gematria of “David” (DVD) in Hebrew is ten, 4+6+4 = 10. So, by adding his name we have David 10 + 10 loaves +10 cheeses +5 stones +5 elements +8 items = 3. The numbers two and three may refer to the corresponding days of creation and the fifth day of their realisation, but it may also codify the binary conflict between David and Goliath as an allegory of chaos and order, good and evil, light and darkness, balance and imbalance etc., and David's triumph with one stone signifying the outcome of that the struggle and restoration of balance.

What we end up with is in fact inexpressible as a geometrical solid, it is a 2 and 1 (three) or 2 and 3 (five or twenty-three) configuration, represented by the pentacle or the cross outlined above

The name David suggests that the character may even be an allegory for God expressed through the story itself. If so, it will be remembered that Jesse had four sons, three of whom were in the Israelite army but David was the only one who actually fought anyone. Therefore, the four brothers might be allegories of the Quaternary Thought, Will, Action and Outcome or overall Unity. Indeed, four by numerical reduction becomes one. This might be the true meaning of the myth of David's clash with Goliath, as an allegory of the forces of God overcoming and expelling the rebellious energy of Lucifer symbolised by Goliath and his army.

The scene set out in 1 Samuel chapter 17 contains much to make us query what we understand of the knowledge developed by later occult schools, since “embedded” or hidden in texts written as long ago as the sixth century BC are stories that are essentially Kabbalistic. The two contrasting “pillars” of mercy and severity are represented by David and Goliath. The outcome of David's victory is a symbolic expression of a third pillar – the completion achieving balance.

There is sufficient merit in the claim that the Old Testament conveys knowledge of the Kabbalah and that its secrets are much older than many understand them to be. A.E. Waite wrote in The Holy Kabbalah (1924):

“it is that which believes in the perpetuation of a secret tradition from an early period of human history, and this is not manifestly an absurd or unwarrantable consequence to draw.”

Neither is it only Kabbalistic, since the Tanakh preserves a numerological and metaphysical code that preserves the secret theosophy of ancient Judaism just as well as Pythagoras achieved for the Greeks. Nor can we disregard the Rosicrucian and Masonic coincidences of the man who enters the fray without any metal on his person defeating his enemy with one smoothed stone. We cannot but wonder at what secrets are preserved in such a tradition.

M.R. Osborne

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