I have been reading C.J. Mahaney’s book The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing over the past few days, and one thing he says has really stuck with me: the Bible is God’s story, not ours, and that should be a guiding factor in the principles we gather from the Word.
His example is David and Goliath. There’s a spectrum of approaches you can take to the passage (I’m broadening this beyond Mahaney, by the way):
Secularistic:The story of David and Goliath shows us that it isn’t always the strongest that win. A little boy with stones can fell a giant with a sword. Therefore, we should never give up or despair, and if we’re the “big guy” we should be careful not to be over-proud because all it might take is a slingshot to bring us down.
Middle:The story of David and Goliath shows us that anything is possible when God is on our side. We shouldn’t be afraid of facing off against giants, because if God is with us, we’ll win the battle! Similarly, we see that Goliath was trusting in human power alone and so failed.
Gospel-centered:The story of David and Goliath shows us that we are utterly hopeless without God. David was totally set up to lose; he couldn’t possibly have beaten a mighty foe like Goliath on his own. But God in His sovereignty is able to use a wretch like David to bring down the mighty. We can also see a parallel to the cross in this story. Like David, we’re in a battle against sin and our flesh that we can’t possibly hope to win. We’re lost causes. But just as God brought David to victory, He brings us to victory in Christ!
Subtle differences, but very profound. From a certain viewpoint, all of these interpretations are valid. You can draw from the text the first implication against overconfidence. You can draw the second implication that with God all things are possible–Philippians 4:13 and Romans 8:31 back up this interpretation very thoroughly. And, of course, you can draw the final implication, that the story shows God’s sovereignty and our weakness.
On the one hand, it seems like the latter interpretation is “forced” on the text. The passage doesn’t talk about Christ, or the redemptive power of the cross. It doesn’t even talk about God’s sovereignty. David doesn’t sit down and compose a psalm of praise when Goliath hits the ground. But. What do we know about God? We know that in Him there is “no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). God’s was doing the same thing and working from the same principles in David’s time as He was when Jesus went to the cross. God’s been “preaching” the Gospel to His people from the moment Adam and Eve stepped out of Eden. And the Gospel as it’s written throughout Scripture is that man is utterly lost without God, but that God is a God of love and salvation so praise Him! And that message is very clear in the story of David and Goliath. David tells Goliath (1 Samuel 17:45-47, ESV):
You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.
So why did this exchange between a shepherd boy and a giant even happen? That “all the earth” (!) would see God, and that everyone who witnessed the exchange would learn that the Lord saves, not with human implements and might but by His sovereign power. He had dominion over the battle.
And here we come to a clearer reason why this is God’s story, not David’s. I have heard, so many times, that God “prepared” David for the fight with Goliath through using the fight with the lion and the bear. Like David’s a shepherd boy, sure, but he’s some kind of superhero shepherd. Yet that’s not what the passage is saying at all. David told Saul about those fights as part of his “qualifications,” yes, but he wasn’t saying, look, I fought off a lion and a bear, so I think I can handle a giant. No. David was saying, look, My God delivered me from a lion and a bear, and My God is going to deliver me from your giant. The story of David and Goliath has been about the sovereignty of God all along.
In conclusion, then, I’ve been deeply challenged by Mahaney’s book that when I read Scripture, I should be looking for the Gospel. I should be looking for the good news. Every passage should make me exalt God and abase self; to make me more aware of my helplessness without Him and more aware of His infinite power to save. If we’re reading stories like David and Goliath and coming away with only an interpretation like the middle one above–if we’re only seeing what God can do for us without simultaneously seeing how utterly helpless we are by ourselves–then we’re missing the Gospel, we’re missing the heart; we’re missing the whole point. We’re missing the opportunity to savor the beauty of the cross.