February 17, 2014

David, Goliath, and How to Read the Old Testament

Every little Sunday School boy loves the story of David and Goliath, doesn’t he? There seems to be something in them all that wants to slay the giant villain, slice off his head, and be the hero! And that’s not a bad thing (so long as they learn that their sisters are not the villains!). The story of the young lad standing tall against the brutal giant does teach us a great deal about how God’s men – and God’s people in general – ought to be courageous, and bold, and unafraid to stand for the name and reputation of God. And the story does teach us, of course, about how God is strong even when we are weak. He can win great victories through little people! These are the lessons that many of us learned in Sunday School … and imitated with our play swords when we got back home after church!

But as I have grown up – physically, and in my understanding of the Bible – I have realized that these lessons from David’s victory over Goliath are not all there is to glean from that great chapter in the book of 1 Samuel. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that bravery, and standing for the Lord, and God winning victories through such courageous little people are not even the most important lessons to be gleaned from David and Goliath’s clash. God was doing something more in 1 Samuel 17 – and throughout the Old Testament – than merely giving us real-life parables of godly behavior. Through the events, objects, ceremonies, and people of the Old Testament, He was also piecing together a mosaic portrait of His Son! And that is true – not just of the goats and rams and other temple sacrifices – but of the Old Testament’s great heroes as well!

Moses, for instance, was given to Israel like a slice of mosaic tile – to help them begin to piece together a picture of their coming Messiah. So were the prophets Hosea and Jonah. So even was that great woman Esther. Think about each of those biblical characters for a few moments, and see if you can tell how each of them points forward to Jesus; how each of them adds detail to the Old Testament portrayal of His life and work. And then do the same with David, the king. It is clear that his life, in many ways, was to be a kind of foreshadowing of the Messiah’s. And that is signally the case when we consider his defeat of Goliath!

Think about it. Here is the army of Israel huddled together and facing a terrifying foe. And the drama is drawn up such that one man (David) stands against that foe on behalf of his entire nation. If this one man succeeds, the entire nation will be victorious with him. If he fails, they are condemned to a life of slavery at the hands of their enemies. And the fate of them all, I say, rests on the shoulders of one, single, solitary man – born in Bethlehem, of the tribe of Judah, and destined someday to reign as king. Does that sound familiar? It is meant to! That story happened the way it did – not just to teach us lessons about godly courage (though it does do that); and not just because Israel needed rescuing – but because the way in which Israel was rescued by one man was meant to be a portrait for the ages of how God’s church would be rescued from the enemy of sin in just the same way: by the heroism of just one man – "Jesus the Messiah, the son of David"!

And that’s how we are to read the Old Testament – not only looking for lessons in faith and conduct (though they are there, and must be learned); but looking even more intently for all the assorted pieces of colored tile that fit together to teach us about Jesus and His church. David, Moses, Esther, and Joseph were all a part of that larger picture. So were the bulls, rams, priests, and tabernacle. So even was the nation of Israel herself, along with her great city and temple. These great things and people all fit together to create a mosaic portrait of the even greater realities of Christ, His church, and the glories of eternal salvation. So learn to read Genesis through Malachi in that way – yes, looking for the lessons of faith and conduct to be gleaned from its heroes; but digging especially hard to turn up the many little gems that piece together that marvelous mosaic of our Savior and our salvation that is the Old Testament.

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