By the Rev. Justin Clemente
Who is at the center of the Bible – us or God? The answer seems obvious enough: the ferocious, loving, holy, triune God is at the center of Scripture. It’s his story, his unfolding narrative of redemption. And yet, we can be tempted to interpret Scripture in a way that subtly and mistakenly inserts ourselves at the center of what’s going on.
Case and point is the story of David and Goliath, found in 1 Samuel 17. Maybe you know where I’m going with this. In the story, the Philistine army gathers for battle against Israel, and one man (one HUGE man) basically calls them all out. Verse 10 reads, “And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.”
Who is found to answer the call? A mighty warrior? No. Rather, it’s the Lord’s anointed servant, David, a mere shepherd, who strikes down Goliah of Gath with a single stone. THWAP! Villain felled.
How do we usually interpret the story? Well, we definitely tend to moralize the meaning. In his excellent book Bible Study, Jon Nielson explains that,
“This is, basically, looking at a passage and making a merely moral application. If you’re studying David and Goliath, for example, you might say, “David was brave, so we should be brave like David.” Often what this mistake really consists of is taking a subtheme from the story and making it the main theme. It’s true that we should be brave like David, but there’s something more that we need to get from that story, especially in the context of the entire Bible.” (Pgs. 78-79)
In the same vein, often our takeaway from the story of David and Goliath is that God will help us to overcome the “giants” in our lives. Again, there’s some truth to that, but who does that make us in the story? It makes us David. And a David we are not.
More likely we would have been on the sideline, whimpering, and sucking our thumb in the fetal position. The text actually suggests this. Rewind to verse 11: “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.”
God’s people were up against a wall – and so were God’s promises to them. They needed salvation. They needed a savior. They needed someone who was precisely not like them. In context, David represents not us, but the triune God at work, because this is what God does for his people and this is who God is. Listen to David’s words in verses 45 to 47:
45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord‘s, and he will give you into our hand.”
This is what faith in the triune God looks like – standing on the sideline, seeing God accomplish the miraculous on our behalf and in our stead. David the king, shepherd, and anointed one, foreshadows Jesus, great David’s greater Son.
According to Peter, David was also a prophet, and his life pointed beyond his own. Listen to how he interpreted one of David’s psalms:
“29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.” (Acts 2:29-31)
In the end, even David would fail God’s people, but there would be Another. “Robed in flesh, our great high priest,” he would come to do battle against a greater Goliath, and the outcome would be unanimous and unparalleled: salvation won, villain felled.
The good news is that while the story of David and Goliath may not be about us it is intensely for us. Just like the rest of the Bible, it ultimately points to the work of God on our behalf, stirring our hearts to the love and praise and worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Amen!