Slings and Stones

Slings and Stones

Most of us are familiar with the adage "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." In case we're uncertain of the meaning of this proverb, we find the following: 

The proverb “sticks and stones may break my bones” means a fact that if you are attacked by someone, you will only go through physical pain. Eventually, you can be healed and the body becomes whole, but it will not affect your personality or bravery. On the contrary, the damage done by verbal abuse and hurtful words is always irreparable. The phrase is also used to encourage anyone to think of hurtful words as sticks and stones.[1]

Indeed, the body can mend: bruises fade; bones reset; gashes scar over, etc. Words do make lasting imprints in our minds. But is it true that words have more of an effect than physical brutality? Our Rabbi told us not to fear what men can do to the body, but rather beware of the one who is able to destroy both body and soul (life entirely) in Gehenna fire.[2] He also tells us not to concern ourselves with what people say about us.[3] Jesus, of course, endured both, providing for us an example of what to expect as his followers. But the effects of "sticks and stones" and words do actually endure. We'll see at the end.

A different proverb

Recently, I read the following Hebrew proverb. I'll provide the translations from some of the most popular translations:[4]
  • New International Version - Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honor to a fool.
  • New Living Translation - Honoring a fool is as foolish as tying a stone to a slingshot.
  • English Standard Version - Like one who binds the stone in the sling is one who gives honor to a fool.
  • Berean Standard Bible - Like binding a stone into a sling is the giving of honor to a fool.
  • King James Bible - As he that bindeth a stone in a sling, so is he that giveth honour to a fool.
  • New King James Version - Like one who binds a stone in a sling Is he who gives honor to a fool.
  • New American Standard Bible - Like one who binds a stone in a sling, So is one who gives honor to a fool. 
If you read the Amplified Version, you read something a bit suggestive and drastically different from the plain reading provided by other translations. It reads, "Like one who [absurdly] binds a stone in a sling [making it impossible to throw], So is he who [absurdly] gives honor to a fool." Other translations are more pointed and clear, such as the Aramaic Bible in Plain English: "Like a stone in a sling, so is he that praises a fool." But why does this matter?

Commentaries will vary, but the ideas we leave with after reading the proverb might depend on what word we emphasize in our analysis. The Hebrew word for "bindeth" in the KJV, means the following:

Like binding
כִּצְר֣וֹר (kiṣ·rō·wr)
Preposition-k | Verb - Qal - Infinitive construct
Strong's 6887: To bind, tie up, be restricted, narrow, scant, or cramped

If we take it simply, the Proverb is saying"He that puts a stone in a sling is like one who gives honor to a fool" like what the majority of translations render it to mean; if we emphasize the word "bindeth," we get the idea it's saying something like the Amplified Version. The different implications are, in my view, drastic.

Different interpretations, different implications

The implication of saying the stone is fixed so that it can't be slung implies there's nothing wrong with binding the stone in a sling in the first place--it's a matter of how it's bound. This poor binding is compared to giving honor to a fool. The conclusion of this interpretation based on this particular translation is that both are futile and useless in their desired purposes.

Admittedly, the "standard" interpretation allows room for this conclusion, but we have another possible interpretation, and that's the interpretation I'll give now.

Another interpretation is that putting a stone in a sling is like giving honor to a fool: futile and useless. This is, of course, the plain reading of the text; the implication is far more practical for Kingdom-minded believers.

My analysis

A stone and sling are instruments used for hunting game and warfare. The obvious, classic recollection is David and Goliath.[5] David not only used his stones and sling to protect his flock, but he also used the same thing to kill a massive opponent in combat. In this Proverb, I think we find a scathing commentary on the classic "underdog" tale--if we look through a Gospel lense.

You see, I believe the simplest explanation is the most obvious and practical. Weapons of warfare (obviously symbolized by the stone and sling) are dangerous things that can harm others in the same way trusting in a fool is. In the scriptures, a fool is someone who doesn't believe in the Creator, has no scruples when committing sin and debauchery; they lack discernment and love. A fool is even described as someone with great wealth and power many times who is oblivious to the plights they subject others to. To me, this describes the rulers, kings, priests, and politicians in the world who dominate others in their political conquests. 

This essentially defines the system of things: the fools we've given honor to in one way or another convince the plebians that stones and slings are all that's necessary to maintain social order. This explains why they fear the idea of Anarchy, suggesting anything else is a total descent into lawless chaos. Typically, the mass of people participating in the systems that honor fools are willing to sling stones when called to, even against the most decent, peaceful persons you could meet. This has defined the experience of Jesus and his true followers ever since the very first prophet. As Jesus himself said,

Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.[6] 

We see clearly that from the time of Abel until now, the blood of the righteous has been shed by evil men of avarice; the ones who seek power over others. All in the name of "god." We see the invention of warfare began with the most basic of things found in nature--a rock--and has evolved to the most sophisticated technology man could ever imagine. We've become decadent in our means of destruction, yet we've never been more primitive.


Sticks, stones, words--it matters not. Men can have evil intentions and outcomes with even the most banal things. We have a knowledge of good and evil, yet what we do with this knowledge tends mostly toward evil; ultimately, behind every evil word spoken or stone slung is a fool; and fools give honor to fools. Let's humble ourselves and cease honoring those who conspire against The Almighty and his anointed;[7] let's not devise evil against ourselves and our neighbors. As it says in another Proverb, "It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling."[8]

[2] Matthew 10:28

[3] Matthew 9:25

[4] Proverbs 26:8

[5] The Unheard Story of David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell offers another perspective on the beloved story. See how it might change your understanding of what took place and what other lessons we can learn from it. 

[6] Matthew 23:28-36, KJV

[7] Psalm 2:2

[8] Proverb 20:3