The Sling—Ancient but Effective Weapon
By “Awake!” correspondent in South Africa
“THEN David thrust his hand into his bag and took a stone from there and slung it, so that he struck the Philistine in his forehead and the stone sank into his forehead, and he went falling upon his face to the earth.” (1 Sam. 17:49) This famous exploit, one of the most dramatic incidents recorded in the Bible, well illustrates the power of the sling. With one stone, young David felled the giant Goliath, powerful champion of the Philistines.
The outcome of that renowned fight depended, not on weapon superiority or skill, but upon Jehovah God, who supported young David. Before the encounter, David said: “I am coming to you with the name of Jehovah of armies, . . . whom you have taunted. . . . And all this congregation will know that neither with sword nor with spear does Jehovah save, because to Jehovah belongs the battle.” Doubtless the stone from David’s sling was guided and given unusual force by God. It sank into Goliath’s forehead, striking down the giant. Thereafter, David “definitely put him to death” by means of Goliath’s own sword.—1 Sam. 17:45-51.
Even though David had God’s help in this conflict, the sling certainly played a significant part. Why was it so effective? Exactly what is a sling? And how is it used?
The Sling and Its Use
Among the early settlers of southern Africa, stone slinging was a competitive sport. The sling was also used for hunting small game, both in the Transvaal and in Rhodesia. It was a simple, easily made weapon. The center part (or “hollow of the sling” [1 Sam. 25:29]) consisted of a piece of leather approximately nine inches (23 centimeters) long and three to three and a half inches (7.5 to 9 centimeters) wide in the middle, tapering off at both ends. Leather thongs were attached to each end of the center part. Or, the whole sling could be cut out of the same piece of leather.
How was a sling used? A right-handed person would loop the end of one of the thongs around a finger of his right hand, or would tie it to his right wrist, with the thong passing over the palm of the hand. The end of the other thong would be doubled back and held in the same hand.
The slinger would place a stone in the center part of the sling. With his left hand stretched forward, he would hold the stone in position. Then, letting go with his left hand, he would swing his right hand downward counterclockwise. As the sling came to a level behind him, he would swing it forward horizontally, also counterclockwise, in a full circle above his head. At just the right moment, he would release the unattached thong, thus slinging the stone forward. Some slingers often do not swing the sling overhead, but throw simply with a powerful downward swing of the arm.
Great Force and Range
With the length of the slinger’s arm and the thongs to give it momentum, the stone can be hurled with tremendous force. In fact, a stone slung in this manner can penetrate the door of an automobile! But it requires much practice and perfect timing to use the sling accurately.
Smooth stones are usually used as missiles. David chose this type when he went to meet Goliath. (1 Sam. 17:40) Stones about two and a half inches (6.3 centimeters) in diameter are the most suitable. But slingstones can vary considerably in size.
Being such a simple weapon and with ready-made ammunition, it is not surprising that the sling has continued to be used from very early times. Says the Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh Edition, Vol. 25, p. 242): “The sling as a weapon is probably the earliest form of device known to mankind by which an increase force and range was given to the arm of a thrower of missiles.”
For example, the writer of an article in the Scientific American of October 1973, said: “I asked some young men in eastern Turkey to sling ordinary pebbles for me. In five out of 11 trials the pebbles struck beyond a mark placed 200 meters [656 feet] away, and the three best casts fell between 230 and 240 meters [755 and 787 feet] away. None of the young men appeared to be a skilled slinger; at least none had a sling in his possession at the time. Moreover, the missiles were pebbles selected at random rather than the carefully shaped stone, clay or lead missiles launched by slingers in Greek and Roman times. On the basis of Xenophon’s comment alone it seems probable that a slinger casting lead missiles could attain a range in excess of 400 meters [1,312 feet].”
Since the sling was a weapon of such range and force, it was used in warfare by the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and others. Slingers also occupied a place in the armies of Israel and Judah. (2 Ki. 3:25; 2 Chron. 26:14) Speaking of a company of seven hundred left-handed Benjaminites, the Bible says: “Every one of these was a slinger of stones to a hairbreadth and would not miss.” (Judg. 20:15, 16) According to the Jewish historian Josephus, slingers fought in the Jewish armies against Rome as late as the first century of our Common Era.
Today, of course, men possess missiles infinitely more powerful and devastating. But how comforting it is to know that soon, under the reign of the Prince of Peace, all weapons—whether slings or military rockets—will be things of the past and earth’s inhabitants will learn war no more!—Isa. 2:4; 9:6.