Archive for the ‘Exegetical Studies’ Category



In Part I, we argued that when David flees to Philistia in I Samuel 27 and 29, he is not backsliding in faith, but rather doing what he can to serve God faithfully in difficult circumstances.  We argued this for five different reasons:

1) The literary structure of I Samuel 21-29 shows David growing in godliness, not backsliding, except his confessed sin in chapter 25.
2) Psalm 56, a Psalm of distress, may well have been written in this period.
3) The text nowhere describes David’s actions as sinful.
4) Practically, treachery to Israel would have undermined his ascension to the throne.
5) Most importantly, the results of David’s venture are positive, and thus reveal his true motives.

We turn now to the positive fruit that the text indicates results from this episode in David’s life.  And once again, we find five.

1) David ends Israel’s civil war.  We read in I Samuel 27:4 that Saul no longer pursued David.  Indeed, the last word Saul exchanges with David is when he gives him his blessing in 26:25, sincerely or not.  But it is David’s flight to Philistia that leads to peace in Israel.  As he could not in godliness either fight or kill Saul, David had no other option but to flee.  And that brings unity, of a sort, to God’s people.  In this, David reflects the mind of Christ, who prayed that His people may be one, as He and the Father are one (John 17:21).  A true King, such as David, always seeks the peace of God’s people, even at great personal sacrifice.  In this, David demonstrates the wisdom that is from above, reaping a harvest of righteousness and peace by his flight (James 3:13-18).

2) David repossesses part of the Promised Land without any bloodshed.  The narrator reveals this remarkable fact in I Samuel 27: 6: “So Achish gave (David) Ziklag that day; therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day.”  David wanted to live away from the Philistine regional capital of Gath in order to remain elusive, as we will see below.  But as a practical result, he ends up annexing part of Philistia back for Israel.  So the Kingdom of God (which at this era of redemptive history maintained actual borders) expands into Philistia, all without any blood being shed.  This is part of David’s deceptive strategy to do what he could to defeat the Philistines even though he had only six hundred men at his command.  It also is a foreshadow and type of Christ who now expands His Kingdom throughout the world through the ministry of the Church, all without bloodshed, a Kingdom of grace without earthly borders (cf., Matthew 28:18-20).

3) David continues to fight Israel’s Holy War as their King in exile.  In I Samuel 27:8ff, we read of David’s raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amelekites.  We do not know much about the first two groups, other than that the text tells us that they “were inhabitants of the land from ancient times.”  But we know that the Amelekites were to be the subjects of Israel’s holy war, and were to have been wiped out in the initial conquest.   This is not the place to go into the details and propriety of holy war in the Old Testament, but David appears to be engaging in a form of it.  He does indeed take plunder, which is forbidden in holy war, cf., Deuteronomy 20, but he appears to do so in order to trick Achish into thinking that David’s raids were actually against the people of Israel.

What then of David’s lying to Achish?  In my judgment, this is a lawful use of wartime deception, a way to remain within Philistia while yet carrying out his duties as Israel’s king.  There is no clear parallel today since the Church is never to use the sword, but a rough equivalent may be the propriety of a German Christian lying to local Nazi officials about Jews hidden in her basement.

The point is that David is continuing to act as Israel’s true king by defending them, even in exile.  Most kings who go into exile do so in great luxury, and only to protect their own hides.  Not so David.  David continues to risk his life by conducting a holy war against the original inhabitants of the Promised Land.  These are hardly the actions of a rebel or backslider, but of a man devoted to his God, in season and out of season.

4) David evangelizes the Philistines.  This may be one of the most unexpected results, and yet one clearly hinted at in the text.  In I Samuel 29:6, while defending David against the (probably accurate) fears of the other Philistine lords, Achish says to David: “As the LORD (Yahweh) lives, you have been upright, and your going out and your coming in with me in the army are pleasing in my sight.”  Commentators consider it significant that Achish the Philistine uses the covenantal name of God, though most think he retains his polytheism in doing so.  (He is after all, on his way to attack Israel.)  Nonetheless, David’s venture into Philistia made the name of God known in pagan lands.

Likewise, Achish’s wording is striking when he describes David as “an angel of God” to him in verse 9.  Achish describes David as bringing him a message from God.  Whether successful or not, and notwithstanding the fact that Jew and Philistine were still primarily enemies, here we have a brief foreshadow of the gospel going to all nations.  After all, it is in the Old Testament in which we read that “everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved” (Joel 2:32).  Jonah was sent to Ninevah, Israel’s greatest enemy at that time.  Why shouldn’t David proclaim God’s mercy to the Philistines, even as he recognizes that he must in part deceive them as Israel’s earthly enemies?  It is a complicated situation to be sure, but Achish’s wording in I Samuel 29 is intriguing to say the least.  One result from David’s flight is that Yahweh’s name is proclaimed among the Gentiles.

5) David plans to wreak havoc in the Philistine rear as they march against Israel.  It seems clear that David intended to do just what the Philistine lords feared – to stab them in the back in the middle of battle against Israel.  Such feats are not unknown in history, such as what occurred at the Battle of Leipzig when many of Napoleon’s German allies changed sides in the middle of battle, joining the multi-national army arrayed against him.

There appear to be three main reasons to think this was David’s plan.  First, the Philistine lords clearly state that is what they believe will happen.  Second, the inconceivable idea that David would actually fight with the Philistines against Israel, whose king he is.  Third, David gives ambiguous and almost humorous answers to Achish concerning his plans.  In 28:2, David merely says to Achish, “You will see what your servant can do.”   In 29:8, David says, “May I not go fight against the enemies of my lord the king?,” without ever specifying exactly who his lord and king were.

For all these reasons, I am convinced that David intended to attempt the dangerous tactic of handing victory to Israel by turning against the Philistines in the middle of the battle, and then somehow from there escaping Saul’s clutch after victory was attained.  If that seems unlikely, keep in mind that David had been walking this kind of razor’s edge for years as Israel’s inaugurated but not yet consummated king. In any case, the text tells us that in God’s providence, David is spared such a dangerous tactic, because the Philistines refuse to bring him along.

And then we know the rest of the story.  It is this battle that brings about the end of Saul’s life and reign.  God’s time for Saul’s end and David’s ascension had finally come.  And so the lessons for us are indeed to trust God’s providential care in times of plenty and in times of want.  To serve Him in season and out of season.  To seek the peace of Jerusalem, God’s people.  And to do our small part to see God’s Kingdom spread to all peoples, even our enemies.   I find this to be a far more satisfying, encouraging and faithful reading of I Samuel 27 and 29 than the more common approach to this text.   David is an example of faith, and a type of Christ, our ultimate King in exile.

This article was first published on the Aquila Report and is based on a sermon I preached on June 21, 2015.


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David’s escape to Philistia in I Samuel 27 & 29 is one of the more perplexing episodes in David’s life. We can certainly understand his desperation as Saul continues to pursue David despite his having spared Saul’s life twice. But surely, we think, David had no cause to flee to Philistia, or worse, to serve these sworn enemies of Israel, going so far as to line up in the Philistine order of battle on the way to attack Israel (I Samuel 28:1-2; 29:1-2).

Indeed, the majority report is that these sixteen months in Philistia mark a grave backsliding on the part of David, a low point in his walk of faith. The general idea is that David is a flawed hero, and the Bible honestly reports his failures as well as his triumphs.  This then is considered one of his great failures. The fact that the Bible honestly records the sins of its greatest heroes is certainly true. The question is whether the episode in I Samuel 27 and 29 constitutes one of these failures.  In the contemporary Reformed world at least, it appears to be beyond question.  Take, for example, this list of sermon titles on I Samuel 27 found on mongergism.org (some preached by heroes of mine):

If this majority report is correct, then the lessons for us are obvious: namely, don’t backslide. Trust God to protect you and do not resort to your own wisdom.  Don’t lie for selfish and fearful reasons. Well, obviously, these are all excellent admonitions.  The question is whether they can be found in this text.

Rather, I argue for a minority report:  that David was doing what he could to serve God in desperate circumstances.  And in doing so, he continues to act as a type of Christ.  In this story then, David is the king in exile with nowhere to lay his head.  He is an alien king, a stranger to his own land – one already inaugurated as king, but whose kingship is not yet fully consummated.  In this, he models the ministry of Christ, who also lived among us as an alien and exile, rejected by His own, and received by Gentiles.

Of course, this is not to argue that David was sinless in these chapters.  But it does argue that we should read this text in a different way than as a warning against backsliding.  Instead, I believe that it serves more as a positive example for us of man exercising faith in desperate times, and a pointer to great David’s greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

I believe this minority reading of the text is correct for at least five reasons.  Perhaps no one of these reasons is sufficient of itself to overturn the majority report, but taken together, I think they make a strong case that David was faithfully serving God throughout his time in Philistia.  Here then are five reasons for this minority viewpoint:

1) The literary structure of I Samuel 21-29. There appears to be a clear structure to chapters 21-29 consisting of three literary triads, lining up approximately as follows:

21           David flees to the Philistines and tricks them
22           Saul sins by slaughtering the priests
23           David “rescued” by the Philistines who attack Saul

24           David spares Saul’s life
25           Abigail spares David from sinning
26           David spares Saul’s life

27           David flees to the Philistines and tricks them
28           Saul sins by consulting a medium
29           David “rescued” by the Philistines who attack Saul

At the very least, it is remarkable that David twice flees to the Philistines and tricks them both times.  This is followed by the Philistines attacking Saul, which in effect serves to rescue David from Saul both times.  Even more remarkable is how both of these episodes are interrupted by chapters 22 and 28, each describing Saul’s great sins and forfeiture of his kingly duty.  In this, it is important to note that chapter 28 is out of chronological order, which does not occur until the night before Saul’s death.  The author of I Samuel deliberately interrupts David’s story with this example of Saul’s faithlessness as king.

The purpose of this structure then appears obvious:  to provide a contrast between Saul, the faithless king, and David, Israel’s true king since I Samuel 16. This is reinforced by the middle segment, chapters 24-26. This section serves as the climax of this period in David’s life, his great training to be a king of mercy through the sparing of Saul’s life, not once, but twice.  But note that in between these two tests David passes so handily, he at first fails another similar test.  In chapter 25, David is offended by a man named Nabal, and responds by strapping on his sword with the intent of killing him and every man in his household.  David is becoming a tyrant like Saul, who just a few chapters earlier slaughtered the priests at Nob.

The difference is that God spoke to David through Abigail the Wise, and David listened to her in great humility and repentance.  And so in the end, David passes this test as well and thus becomes a king of mercy rather than of vengeance.  This is the great climax of David’s training as king in I Samuel.  It would seem strange then that the second trip to Philistia amounts to a backsliding of faith, given the parallel to the earlier account in chapters 21-23.  Is it spiritually possible?  Yes.  But I think the structure, along with the following arguments, suggests otherwise.  The author is contrasting David with Saul in chapters 27-29, not comparing them as equally backslidden.

2) Psalm 56 may have been written during this episode.  This is probably the weakest of the arguments, but still helps to set the tone of this period in David’s life.  The title to Psalm 56 reads in part: A Mikhtam of David when the Philistines seized him in Gath.  Now, this may well have occurred in David’s first venture in Philistia recorded in I Samuel 21.  He is not actually seized in either account, so the word here may mean he was there against his will, forced there by Saul’s relentless pursuit.  But if the argument about I Samuel’s structure above is correct, then both accounts serve as parallels with each other, describing David’s desperate plight.  And both Psalm 56 and Psalm 34 bear this out.  They are the poems of a man in distress, not a man cunning against his own people and surrendered to worldliness.

3) The text nowhere describes David’s actions as sinful.  This may be the most compelling argument.  It is true that narrative portions of Scripture do not always point out the obvious and that some sins speak for themselves.  But is that the case here?

It is not as though the author of I and II Samuel is hesitant to point out David’s sins.  In fact, David himself is not shy about confessing them!  Just read Psalm 32 or 51.  In I Samuel David has already admitted at least two great sins.  One instance is in chapter 25 as mentioned above, when he was too ready to use the sword.  The other is his failure to use the sword to protect the priests at Nob from Saul’s slaughter (I Samuel 22:22).  And of course, there is the great sin with Bathsheba of II Samuel 11-12. In all these cases, once confronted with his failure, David quickly repents and admits his sins.

But nowhere does David or the narrator indicate that what David did in Philistia was wrong.  And since he is arguably the ultimate type of Christ in the Old Testament, David should be given the benefit of the doubt as a man after God’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14), unless the text indicates otherwise.

4) It would undermine David’s quest to be recognized as king.  Practically, if David did indeed plan to betray Israel, it is hard to imagine how he ever would ascend to the throne in Jerusalem.  Imagine if Benedict Arnold returned from England to run against George Washington for president in 1792.  It is unthinkable. So then, how could David win Israel over if in fact he became known as a traitor? No, David’s actions show what his true motives were, as we will see below.

5) Most importantly, the results of David’s venture reveal his true motives.  Here we come to the heart of the argument.  If David was faithfully following the LORD as best he could in this period of his life, one would expect to see good fruit.  And that is exactly what the text goes out of its way to describe.  Thus, a natural reading of this text should tell us that these good results are most likely a confirmation of David’s essentially good motives in his flight to Philistia.  Of course, it is possible these good results come about despite David’s motives (cf., Romans 8:28) but in that case, one would expect the narrator to explain that clearly, as Joseph does in Genesis 50:20, for instance.

What are the results of David’s flight that appear to reveal his true motives?  At least five surface in the text.  We will take those up in Part II.

This article was first published on The Aquila Report and is based on a sermon I preached  on June 21, 2015.

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“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith…. became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight…. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. ~ Hebrews 11:32-34; 12:1-2

David as Example

In Part 1, we found Jesus all through the story of David and Goliath.  And yet is that all?   Is the only application of this story a call to come to Christ for justification?  Does David set no example for us to follow at all?  Well, I believe he does.  Why else would the author of Hebrews remind us of the great company of Old Testament saints and exhort us to emulate their faith (cf. Hebrews 11:32 – 12:2 above)?

But as Hebrews 11 makes plain, what we are to emulate is not so much David’s courage or skill or office, but his faith.  And faith looks different in different situations.  None of us will literally be called to single combat as a champion of God’s people.  But there are aspects of how David displays his faith that we can imitate.  In other words, David is not just a type of Christ, but is also one of us – a saved sinner struggling to live by faith, not sight.  And so we must be like him where he succeeds and avoid his example where he fails.

At the same time, where we see David succeed, he is imitating Jesus – not so much as a unique type, but rather as a redeemed sinner, just like us.   Thus, as we imitate David’s faith, we imitate Christ.   It is exactly as Paul says in I Corinthians 11:1: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

So how do we see David display his faith in this story?   I believe in at least five ways, which also serve as examples for us.   Let us consider each one briefly:

1) David went first as a servant.

And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper and took the provisions and went, as Jesse had commanded him   (I Samuel 17:20).

We saw this first in chapter 16 when David used his musical talents to comfort Saul, even though David knew that he was in fact the true King of Israel, having been anointed by Samuel earlier.  But David was patient, waiting for God to elevate him in His time (cf. Luke 14:7-11).  This took faith.  So before David was a champion in battle, he was a table server.  So it is with Christ and so it is to be with us, as Jesus Himself tells us:  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).  We must imitate David as someone who was first a servant; for such a life is what flows from believing the Gospel.

2) David was motivated by God’s glory alone.

And David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (I Samuel 17:20; see also David’s confession of faith in verses 45-47).

David’s first motive was not to promote himself or even to defend Israel.  There was an army for that which Saul was allegedly leading.  What motivated him to take on Goliath was a defense of God’s name and glory.  And since no one else was stepping up, he had to, knowing that he had been anointed for that very purpose one chapter earlier.  (This is important; we must know our own office and to what tasks God calls each one of us.)  But in the face of such a formidable enemy, this took faith.  So it was with Jesus.   When He first overturned the money changers’ tables in the Temple, practically sealing his arrest three years later, his disciples recalled that it was written of Him, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:17).  So it should be with us, even in the difficult areas of Christian freedom:  “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God  (I Corinthians 10:31).  To be motivated by God’s glory alone takes living by faith, not sight, since living in such a way has no certain earthly reward.

3) David was undeterred by worldly discouragement. 

Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.”  And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” (I Samuel 17:28-29).

This also took faith.  Few things are more stressful or discouraging than having your own family members turn against you.  Now Christians are those who are open to criticism and correction as a host of Proverbs make plain.  But in this case, Eliab was clearly making an ad hominem attack against David, which likely arose out of pride and jealousy.  And it took faith for David to brush it aside and get on with the work at hand for God’s glory, embracing the way of the Cross.

So it is with Christ, and so it must be with us:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’  But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’  Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:21-24).

Resisting worldly discouragement is not moralism; it is living by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us (cf. Galatians 2:20).   It is siding with the Gospel of God’s goodness over against Satanic suggestions and accusations.

4) David resisted worldly means.

“Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.’ So David put them off” (I Samuel 17:38-39).

This example is a bit harder to apply to us, but I still think there is something here.  It was not wrong for David to try on Saul’s armor and sword; after all, he was going into combat.  The problem was that he was not trained in them and so he quickly realized that they “just weren’t him.”   So in order to trust God in this situation, he needed to be the man whom God had made him and not try to be someone else.  To compare himself with other warriors and to try to look like something he was not would be a form of worldliness, showing a lack of faith.  Rather, David trusted that if God was calling him to this battle, he should fight in the way he already knew – with the sling and staff.

Likewise, Jesus resisted worldly means.   He trusted His father to deliver Him after His work of redemption was done, rejecting the temptations of both devil and man to forsake the cross (Matthew 4:1-11; 27:39-44).  He resisted the worldly means of power and prestige.  And so must we, particularly resisting the suggestions of others that God has not been faithful to us and that we must somehow reinvent our lives or be more than He has made us.   For whatever God calls us to, He equips us: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).  We must only do the good works God has prepared for us, and no others.  That takes faith in the God who saves us by His grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).   We do not need to justify ourselves, for in Christ we already have all the power and prestige we need (Ephesians 2:4-7).

5) David did not presume but used the means God did provide.

“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….  And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.  So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him” (I Samuel 17:40, 49-50a). 

David was certain that God would deliver him from Goliath (I Samuel 17:37).  And he must have known the stories of how God used unlikely weapons in the past, such as Shamgar’s oxgoad and Samson’s jawbone (Judges 3:31; 15:15-17).  But those were weapons nonetheless, and so David did not presume upon a supernatural miracle but relied in the training and weapons God has provided him.  (And by the way, a Jewish sling armed with a smooth stone was nothing to scoff at.)  At the same time, it was not the glorious Greek weaponry with which Goliath was armed. And so David uses all his skill and strength to fell Goliath. But what killed Goliath was his own sword, as the text goes on to make clear:

“There was no sword in the hand of David.  Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it” (I Samuel 17:50b-51).

This was so that Goliath should fall by his own glory, his pride; a pattern we see repeated throughout Scripture (cf. Luke 14:11).

So it took faith for David to first resist what would have been worldly means for him (Saul’s armor), and then secondly, to use the means which God had provided him.  It would have been folly and perhaps even cowardly to go out empty handed, calling on God to do it all apart from the means of David’s efforts.  So Jesus used the means of grace available to Him as a true man, even as divine.  He learned the Scriptures, prayed, and created a community called the Church.  And so must we, if we are to live by faith, trust the means God provides to us.  He gives us His Word, He gives us prayer and He gives us His sacraments as seals of His promises.  If faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1), then we must live that way.  To grow in faith, we must trust that God knew what He was doing when He gave us these simple means of grace.  To live by faith, not sight.

And so following David in this, as well as all the examples he sets for us is neither to embrace moralism nor legalism, but an effort to grow in our faith – to look to God to save us and work through even as David did.  Insofar as David demonstrates the spirit of Christ, he sets an example for us to follow; for to follow David in these things is to follow Christ.  And to follow Christ means simply this: to rest and receive Him as our Savior, our Captain, our Friend. Then when we do that, He gives us further tests and tasks that will cause us to trust Him all the more.

And so we preach David and Goliath, both to see Jesus in the text and to find application that we might love and serve Him more, as those saved solely by His grace:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:1-3).   Amen.

First Published on The Aquila Report on January 23, 2014

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“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith… became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight…. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. ~ Hebrews 11:32-34; 12:1-2a

In the past couple of decades, there has been a helpful return to an emphasis of finding Christ in all of the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament.  The idea is to make sure we are preaching the Gospel from each text, and not reducing our messages to mere moralism.  Much has been written advocating this approach, and more has been written pointing out some of this approach’s potential overreach and imbalances.   For example, David Murray, in his recent book, Jesus on Every Page, presents an excellent balanced approach in his chapter on discovering Jesus in Old Testament characters.

I do not have the expertise or the zeal to address the question as a whole.  However, I believe that a simple case study can do some good in showing this balanced approach to preaching from the Old Testament.  Let us consider the famous story of David and Goliath and different ways we might approach this text (I Samuel 17).

It has been said that the “old” approach to this story was to preach David as an example of courage; that each of us must find the “giants” in our lives, equip ourselves with “five smooth stones” of some sort and then go into battle in the name of the Lord to conquer our giant.  I suppose such sermons have been preached; a sort of “dare to be a David” approach.

The answer, it is said, is to find Jesus in the story.  And clearly then, David is a type of Christ in that he is the King of Israel who conquers Israel’s enemy in single combat just as Jesus conquered the devil.  Surely, this is correct.  But does that mean there is no application in the story, no sense in which David serves as an example for us?  Why can it not be both?  And moreover, why must we see Jesus only in David?  Is He not present elsewhere?

And so I want to take up this text as a case study to demonstrate two things:  1) where we might find Jesus in this story, so as to approach it in a gospel-centered way; and 2) in what ways David serves as proper example for us to emulate in a manner that is not moralistic.

Finding Jesus in the Story

So, first, where do we see Jesus in this story?   I want to suggest we see Him in at least three ways, not just the one mentioned above.

1) A Community of Types.  We do not just see the spirit of Christ in David, but in others in the story as well, notably in Samuel, the prophet of God; and in Jonathan, who, in the wake of David’s triumph, cheerfully surrendered his claim to the throne in favor of David:  “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.  And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt” (I Samuel 18:3-4).

Now, I suppose one could argue that Jonathan here represents the Church and her love for Christ, but that comes close to allegorizing the story in my view.   But what we clearly see in Jonathan is the attitude of Jesus as Paul describes in Philippians 2:  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.   And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  And in fact, Jonathan not only surrenders the throne, but later risks his life for the sake of his friend and for righteousness, exactly after the spirit of Christ.  Then he dies in battle, never seeing the full fruit of his love.  And so we must see Jesus in Samuel and Jonathan as well as David.

Why is this important?  Because no one man can fulfill all of Christ’s offices or reflect all of His character except Jesus Himself.  In Genesis 22, we see Jesus in Abraham, in Isaac and in the ram caught in the tree.  In the Exodus, we see Jesus in Moses, Aaron and Joshua.  This is perhaps why almost all of Paul’s letters are from a small team of men and not just Paul himself.  That is why we see a community of apostles, some of whom got things wrong at times (e.g. doubting Thomas in John 20; and exclusivist Peter in Galatians 2).  So, with David.  In I Samuel 25, it is Abigail, more than David, who at first displays the wisdom of Christ.

And so if we insist on seeing Jesus only in David, then we promote an unhealthy “hero” approach to the Christian life, rather than embrace the doctrine that the Body of Christ on earth is always a community, each part with various strengths and weaknesses as I Corinthians 12 describes so well.

2) Jesus as Victor.  This is the most obvious example, the one we mentioned at the beginning.  It therefore does not need much elaboration.  But clearly, as Israel’s first real king, David serves as a clear type of Christ as Scripture makes plain in abundance.  And as David acts as the singular champion to defeat the Philistine champion (which was itself an Ionian tradition the Philistines had imported with them from Greece), so Jesus acts as the singular Champion who Alone defeats our enemies.

Therefore, the main point of the text is not so much for us to be as brave as David, but to flee to Jesus who will fight and win for us, as Paul states: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11, understanding that the armor of Ephesians 6 is that of the Messiah, cf. Isaiah 11, etc.).  We perhaps find ourselves not so much in David then perhaps, but in his doubting and scoffing brothers; precisely those who need a Savior.

3) Jesus as Sacrifice.  And yet, how does Jesus conquer the devil?   Is it by might alone?   We know that it was precisely the opposite – that is was by the Cross, by dying in humiliation as a common criminal.   So then, is it proper to see Jesus only as Victor in this text?  After all, who dies?   We perhaps have a small hint of this in I Samuel 17:54 (as suggested by Gordon Hugenberger):  “And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his tent.”  For reasons too involved to explain here, I take this tent to mean the tabernacle as a way for David to honor God.  But why did David take Goliath’s head to Jerusalem which had not fully been conquered by the Israelites yet?  It therefore must have been placed “outside the gates,” likely on a stake on a hill; perhaps a hill that became known as the Place of the Skull, Golgotha.

After all, where is Christ later in David’s life, during Absalom’s rebellion, as David’s son is surrounded and killed by Joab’s men?  Is Christ with David, who cried out, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (II Samuel 18:33)?  Absolutely.  But who actually did die, surrounded and humiliated, caught in a tree by his hair?  Cursed indeed is everyone who dies upon a tree.  Christ is also found in Absalom, as He dies in our place as if He were the rebel deserving death.

And so with David and Goliath, it is not David who dies as a substitute, but Goliath.   Dare we find Jesus in Goliath as well as in David?  If not, I suggest that we may not understand the depth of the substitutionary atonement, of how for our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (II Corinthians 5:21).  Perhaps then, in the story of David and Goliath, Jesus is not only found in David, the victorious King, but in Goliath, the blasphemer deserving of death.   What grace this is that Jesus should die in our place!

And so we clearly see Jesus foreshadowed in this dramatic story in a multitude of ways.  That alone will preach.  But there is yet more.  In Part II, we shall see what it means that David serves not only as a type of Christ, but also as an example of faith for us to imitate.

~ First published on The Aquila Report, January 19, 2014

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