As a friend remarked as he read through the Bible, “There’s a lot about David!”
David is the subject of 1 Samuel through to 2 Kings 2 and from 1 Chronicles 11 through to the end of the book. That is 76 chapters! Add the Psalms attributed to David and you reach over 150 chapters. That is roughly one sixth of the whole Old Testament. His name comes in the Old Testament about 835 times – compared to 158 times for Abraham and 715 for Moses. By any measure he is a towering figure. He is the Prophet-Priest-King (2 Sam. 23:1-5; 24:18-25); the one above all whom God fixes his heart on to use, bless, confirm and exalt (1 Sam. 13:14). The one who plans, provides for a commissions the great Temple of the LORD (1 Chron. 22-29) which Solomon merely executes.
Even before the account of David there is quite a build up to him. Notice the pattern of the Priest-King who can subdue the animals (Gen. 1:28; 2:15), the appearance of a Priest-King from Jerusalem, the language of the Shepherd-Saviour (Gen. 48:15; 49:24; Ex. 3:1; Num. 27:17), the promise of a coming of a king from Judah (Gen. 49:10) who becomes the focus of the serpent-crusher expectation (Gen. 3:15 cf. Num. 24:17), the anticipation of Jerusalem as central (Deut. 12) and the pattern of good kingship (Deut. 17), the crying need for such a king in the Book of Judges, the surprising story of God’s preparation for the birth of David in the Book of Ruth.
Then following on from the actual account of the life of David, continuing into the Books of Kings and Chronicles, the name of David comes up again and again as the subsequent kings of Judah are compared to David while judgment is restrained ‘for the sake of David.’ The Song of Songs paints a picture of a bridegroom who is not only Solomon-like but also David-like – a shepherd king. Then the Prophets repeat and add to the great promise of 2 Sam. 7, telling of one who will reign on David’s throne (Isa. 9:7), another kingly Son of Jesse (Isa. 11:1), the Second David (Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Hosea 3:5).
Finally we come to the Anointed One (Mark 1:1), declared to be the royal Son (Mark 1:11 cf. Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam. 7:14), one who announces the Kingdom (Mark 1:15), who gathers sinners around him (Mark 2:15 cf. 1 Sam. 22:2), who assumes the prerogatives of David (Mark 2:25), who can overcome the strong man (Mark 3:27), who has an inner circle of 3 (Mark 5:37; 9:2 cf. 2 Sam. 23:8), the one who is greeted as the Son of David and brings in the kingdom of David (Mark 10:47-48; 11:10), who is resisted by the authorities and betrayed by a the one he shares bread with (Mark 14:20 cf. Ps. 41:9), who goes sorrowing out across the Kidron Valley and up the Mt of Olives (John 18:1; Mk. 14:26 cf. 2 Sam. 15:23, 30) and is then, as all the Gospel writers emphasise, crowned and ‘enthroned’ (paradoxically on the Cross) as King.
This is the one who came to sit on the throne of David (Luke 1:32). Even though the Kingdom has been bitterly divided for a thousand years and the northern tribes lost, this king will reign over all Jacob’s descendants and fulfil the promise of the forever king (Luke 1:33). John the Baptist, as Tim Chester has observed, reminds us not only of Elijah but also of Samuel – a Levite, born to a barren woman, the prophet to go before the Davidic king (Luke 1:69, 76), receiving the Word of the LORD for the first time after a long famine of the Word (Luke 3:2 cf. 1 Sam. 3), the one who identifies the King and officiates over his ‘anointing’ (the baptism). The theme of Jesus’ table fellowship with the unworthy in Luke’s Gospel also resonates wonderfully with the story of Mephibosheth.
Matthew, in his account of the gospel, is perhaps the strongest of all – introducing Jesus as the Messiah, the son of David, reminding us of the promise of a Shepherd from Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1-7) and highlighting the conflict with the other King of the Jews (Matt. 2:7-18). The whole Gospel is heavy in emphasis on the in-breaking of the Kingdom and the King.
So just as the account of the life and trials and triumphs of David dominates the Old Testament – being by far the longest narrative focused on one character – so the account of the life and trials and triumph of Jesus dominates the New Testament (950 mentions of the name of Jesus in the NT).
Then we could pursue the significance of the David theme on into the rest of the New Testament – e.g. how Paul interestingly chooses to summarise his gospel with reference to David (Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8) – but this post is already getting too long.
What difference does seeing the significance of David and the parallels with Jesus practically make:
- For one thing it should make us very cautious to jump into the shoes of David when we’re reading the stories of his life. In the same was as we are not Jesus stilling the storm or raising the dead, so we are not David defeating his enemies. More often we should identify ourselves more with his enemies and persecutors or his feeble friends. Our first application will often be to look to the Second David and only in a secondary sense to draw exemplary lessons from David’s life (in the same way as Jesus is first our substitute and only secondarily our example).
- Another thing I’ve found helpful in looking again at the stories of David is how the language and terms of those stories flow into the New Testament in subtle ways. For example, the whole idea of a King and a Kingdom or of Conquest or Battle imagery in the NT takes on a new meaning when you’ve just read the stories of David’s (often bloody and unexpected) exploits and rule. Also the language of ‘my lord’ and ‘your servant’ comes extremely commonly in David’s narrative. ‘Lord’ is how you address the king with respect and fear and submission and loyalty (often in a battle context or where loyalties are uncertain). ‘Servant’ is how you refer to yourself, again expressing respect, fear, submission, dependence and loyalty to the king. Interesting to think how that flows into the use of ‘servant’ and ‘lord’ in Paul’s letters for example.
- Finally, seeing the incredibly strong significance of David in Biblical theology opens up the Psalms of David as Psalms of Christ – the song book or prayer book of Jesus – written ahead of time.