Here in my study, I have a well-used copy of William Bennett’s best-seller The Book of Virtues. I have often included its stories in sermons and lessons. When I was teaching in a Christian school several years ago, for example, I liked to use The Fisherman and His Wife by the Brothers Grimm to illustrate the tenth commandment (“You shalt not covet”). Timeless stories such as these are invaluable in driving home moral lessons.
Are the stories of the Bible any different? Unfortunately, we who profess to believe the Bible to be God’s Word sometimes treat the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) as little more than an ancient Book of Virtues. How often have we been admonished to “dare to be a Daniel” or to “be brave like Esther”? These are worthy sentiments, to be sure, but the Biblical narratives are more than morality tales.
When it comes to Sunday school moralizing using Old Testament narratives, the character of David has to be the king. For example, it is safe to say that all of us have listened to sermons about David’s victory over Goliath, sermons in which we have been asked the infamous question, “What are the giants in your life?” Whenever I hear this kind of application, I am reminded of a scene in the movie The Three Amigos, in which Steve Martin is trying to rally a Mexican village to rise up against the villain, “El Guapo.” Martin’s character tries to encourage the citizens by saying: “All of us must face our own ‘El Guapos’ in our lives. For some, shyness may be their ‘El Guapo.’ For others, a lack of education may be their ‘El Guapo.’” I cannot help but wonder whether the screenwriter had sat through one Sunday school class too many!
If we confess with the historic church that the Bible is the revelation of God, there must be more to it. The Bible is God’s book, not just man’s book of good, useful stories. Therefore, we must begin reading it as unique revelation from God. In other words, we must be prepared for these narratives to tell us things that only God can tell us, things that we cannot find in mere human literature.
Fortunately, God is merciful: He doesn’t make us attempt to divine this meaning for ourselves. Instead, He tells us quite plainly what this unique revelation is.
In Luke 24, after the Resurrection, Jesus appears to two of His followers on the road to Emmaus. In verse 27 we read, “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Again, in verse 44, Jesus tells these disciples, “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” Christ here refers to the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible and says that all of it points to Him.
So what should we expect to find in the stories of 1 and 2 Samuel, beyond moral examples? The better question is, Whom should we expect to find? The answer, according to Jesus, is Jesus. This means that, in applying 1 and 2 Samuel, I should seek to point my listeners to Christ, because this is what Christ did when expounding and applying the Scriptures.
With this in mind, let’s take another look at our example of David’s battle with Goliath.
In the narrative preceding the David and Goliath story, God tells Samuel to anoint one of the sons of Jesse, saying, “I have provided Myself a king among [Jesse’s] sons” (16:1). The event is significant, not only because it signals David’s selection as the next king, but because “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” (16:13). David is the Lord’s anointed (Hebrew moshiach, or messiah). Furthermore, we read in the next scene that “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him” (16:14). From this point on, David takes center stage as the Lord’s messiah. This account anticipates the day on which a Son of David is publicly acknowledged to be the Lord’s Messiah, only then it is with the outpouring of water rather than oil, and the voice of the Almighty is heard to proclaim, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).
Following this inauguration, we come to the battle between the Lord’s anointed and the enemy of Israel, a battle that was prefigured in Genesis 3:15 (in which God promised that the Seed of the woman would crush the enemy’s head) and which ultimately will be won by the One who is both David’s Son and David’s Lord (Ps. 110:1; Luke 20:44). We read here of the enemy’s unnatural size and strength, and of his terrible armor. It seems certain that the Israelites will be enslaved by this enemy forever. No one will go out to fight him.
No one but David. Why? David gives us the answer in 17:47: “The battle is the Lord’s.” It is a battle that only the Lord‘s anointed can wage. David is victorious, not because he has more chutzpah than anyone else, but because he is he Lord’s anointed. Verse 54 tells us that “David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem.” Tradition holds that he buried that giant skull in a hill just outside Jerusalem. Over the years, that hill’s name was shortened from “Goliath of Gath” to “Golgotha.” This “Place of a Skull”—Goliath’s skull—was the site of that definitive battle between the Lord’s anointed and the enemy, only this time it wasn’t just an overgrown Philistine’s skull that was crushed.
Great stories can inspire us and even encourage us to be better people, but they cannot bring us directly into the presence of the living Christ. God’s Word alone can do that. All of God’s Word (including 1 and 2 Samuel) does that. Prepare to encounter the Lord’s Moshiach on every page of these books.