Dare to be a David?

So it’s bugging me again, as I near the end of preaching through the life of David: Why does it seem that on one hand David is presented as a “type” of Christ (no attempt here to use that term with absolute precision), while on the other hand he is presented as an all-too-human example of the saints (who are, most assuredly, not Christ)? How can he be simultaneously a larger-than-life progenitor of the Messiah (the giant-slayer par excellence) and also an ordinary guy in whom we recognize ourselves and whose faith we are called to follow? To put it even more starkly, how can we hold together what is inimitable about David (his foreshadowing of Messiah) with what is imitable (and must, indeed, be imitated).

These difficult questions affect our whole method of interpreting the Old Testament. If we want to take seriously Jesus’ statements that the OT is about Him (Luke 24:25–27, 44–47), if we want to avoid the gross moralizing of the “dare to be a Daniel (or David)” approach that many of us learned in Sunday school, then we must affirm that various OT characters (especially anointed ones) foreshadow Christ to come. Some would even argue that to read the OT any other way – to make it in any sense about character rather than about Christ – is to read it legalistically and turn it into a sourcebook for works-righteousness.

Yet, on the other hand, if we want to take seriously the apostle’s statements that the OT is about us (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11), we need to be careful not to draw lines from the OT to Christ in a way that blurs the lines from the OT to us, the saints of God. We need to be careful lest a fear of moralizing keep us from drawing any “morals” (i.e., instruction in how our God would have us live). We need to beware, for example, lest speaking of David as an anointed one eclipse speaking of him as a Spirit-filled worker for God’s kingdom, very much like ourselves.

It is not true that finding human examples in the OT leads necessarily to moralism, perhaps even threatening the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It is not true, conversely, that finding Christ in the OT leads to a kind of “drifting” over the text, with no ability to draw applications or imperatives from it. The reason is that the OT saints are examples to us, above all, of faith (see Hebrews 11) – they show us how to live by faith, how to walk with God by faith, how to please God by faith. They themselves looked forward to the very Messiah whom, in various cases, they typified. To see David is to see Christ in shadowy form; but it is also to see ourselves, our sins, and the victories of a faith that overcomes the world. The OT anticipates the Christ in whom the obedience of the people of God is fulfilled; it also anticipates the obedience of the new people of God in Christ – which is always the obedience of faith.

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