Consider the well-known story in 1 Samuel 17 in which David faces and defeats Goliath. Let me give two possible approaches to preaching or teaching this text. Neither sees it as simply an account of a border skirmish in ancient history. Both approaches understand the Bible as authoritative.
In the first approach, the character of Goliath becomes a metaphor for the challenges faced in daily life. Hearers are encouraged to identify the "Goliaths" in their own life—low self-esteem, financial challenges, or a family problem. David becomes a model of the underdog who dares to step up to his own inner "giants" and "challenges." The Bible is the answer book, showing us the way to face challenges in our personal life: visualize a positive outcome like David (17:36), act with confidence in the face of a challenge (17:37), and take risks (17:48-9). In this way, the Bible helps us solve our problems. Who is the hero of this rendering of the story? David—more specifically, his courageous human will. David's faith in God may be noted, but it is David's faith that is highlighted. The living God is not a major character in this reading of the text.
In contrast, a theological interpretation of Scripture tries to understand the text as part of a God-centered drama. In this approach, God's saving action is at the center of the narrative. While the mighty Goliath can taunt the people of Israel, David confesses, "The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine" (17:37). Rather than seeing David as the self-actualized hero, the emphasis here is on the saving action of the almighty God, whom David actively trusts. For as the text repeatedly notes, it was not a "sword" of David that brings deliverance from the Philistines, for "the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's and he will give you into our hand" (17:47; cf. 17:37; 17:50). Although David appears to be ill-prepared to encounter Goliath, David acts with covenantal trust in God that "The Lord … will save me from the hand of this Philistine" (17:37).
Thus, we are invited to actively trust in this same God—the God of Israel who finally reveals the nature of his victory over his enemies in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the 1 Samuel narrative shows how God's surprising way of working contrasts with worldly appearances of power. Paul reflects on this mystery as it culminates in Christ crucified: "God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God" (1 Cor. 1:27b-30). As disciples of Jesus, we are called through the David and Goliath narrative to renew our trust in God's deliverance, acting in confidence as we love God and neighbor and witness to God's power in Christ crucified. Our confidence is in the Lord (not our faith or our commitment), for it is the Lord who uses even those who appear weak and lowly to accomplish his purposes.
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