The imagination is a remarkable gift from God. Enabling us to envision wonderful landscapes of color and scenes of magnificent splendor, the imagination takes us places our eyes cannot. As we read the stories of sacred Scripture, our minds are lifted to lands of long ago, and our hearts are made to pause at every word. And the story of David, filled with intrigue, is the imagination’s playground. Throughout the books of Samuel, we learn of David’s character and observe his actions. It is too often the case, however, that we perceive David merely as the one who killed the uncircumcised Philistine. But the beautifully detailed life and character of David take us far beyond the slaying of the giant.
In the Academy Gallery in Florence, Italy, Michelangelo’s David stands tall, representing the majestic power of early sixteenth-century Florence and the despicable humanism of the Renaissance. But the question has been raised: Does Michelangelo’s statue of an uncircumcised Hebrew with a slingshot upon his left shoulder appropriately portray the David of Scripture?
Reading David’s history, we observe that he was indeed a fierce warrior, yet he was also a skilled poet, shepherd, and musician. With the same hands he killed giants and made music.
In 1 Samuel 19, we come to the point where Saul begins to pursue David. David has returned from battle, having struck the Philistines with a “mighty blow” (v. 8). Saul “sat in his house with his spear in his hand” while David “was playing music with his hand.” In this vivid description of the setting, we observe the author’s use of literary contrast: In the hand of Saul is a spear, while music fills the air on account of David’s hand.
Saul’s jealousy burned as he “sought to pin David to the wall with the spear.” However, David “slipped away from Saul’s presence” as Saul “drove the spear into the wall.” David then “fled” from Saul just as the Philistines “fled” from David. Again, the author’s literary device helps us grasp the attributed distinctions between these two men. The one, a shepherd chosen by God from whom the enemy fled; the other, a king chosen by men from whom the innocent fled.
Though an artistic masterpiece indeed, Michelangelo’s David is but a dim imagination of this shepherd who became God’s chosen king. “For man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7b).