I was chatting to a Hindu man today (above is a pic of some offerings inside a Hindu temple here in Singapore). I asked him what he thought of Jesus, and he said, “Jesus is like the opposite of Charles Darwin.” I was intrigued, and asked him to explain. “Well,” he explained, “Darwin was on about survival of the fittest. Jesus was the opposite of that.”
I’m in Singapore with a group from college… This is across the road from the house where I’m staying – very different to suburban Australia!
I’ve been working on 1 Samuel 17 (David and Goliath) this week, and I’ve noticed the way in which Goliath is repeatedly referred to as ‘the Philistine.’
Perhaps this feature of this story marks it as open to typological reading: After this feature is repeated numerous times, the hearer senses that we are encountering ‘types’ or ‘categories’ here; not just individuals: ‘the Philistine’ and ‘the shepherd.’ This is further heightened as we find that the narrator shows both opponents making appeal to their gods at the near-climactic moment: this is, in fact, not just a battle between David and the Philistine, but between the LORD and the Philistine gods.
It seems then that this Former Prophet opens itself to typological significance. Such a reading of the text is not just foisted on a completely unsuspecting text by later pre-critical Christian interests. Francis Watson makes a good point – cited in Hamilton, ‘The Typology of David’s Rise to Power,’ SBJT 16.2 (2012): 4-25; 4:
What is proposed is not an anachronistic return to pre-critical exegesis but a radicalization of the modern theological and exegetical concern to identify ever more precisely those characteristics that are peculiar to the biblical texts.
I would suggest that typological pregnancy is indeed a characteristic of biblical texts. Goliath, in Scripture, was never just Goliath. He was symbolic of a category – a category that might grow and evolve as the Scriptures themselves develop.
Chrysostom is not to be scoffed at then, as he reaches a peculiarly Christian reading of the chapter, with the stone in the shepherd-bag typifying Christ himself:
Therefore, let us take in our hands that stone, I mean the cornerstone, the spiritual rock. If Paul could think in these terms of the rock in the desert, no one will in any way feel resentment against me if I understand David’s stone in the same sense. (ACCS, p. 274)
The stone was always pregnant with possibility; and Chrysostom now suggests that Christian readers can perceive it to have been pregnant with Christ.
I’m still working my way through NT Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, and I have realised that in some ways, reading Wright is like reading Plato: he assumes that you are with him in the argument that he’s building; and if you find yourself unconvinced by a premise, there’s not much you can do but leave it to one side and continue with him in his argument. And then the problem is that you become hazy about when and where you were unconvinced, and you get swept up in the excitement of the argument with just a vague consciousness that there were some premises that troubled you.
So anyway, mainly for the benefit of my own memory, I’m registering a question at this point – which may prove to be answered further along in the book, or may prove to be one of those elements that goes on to be assumed without further argument. Here’s the question: why does Wright consider the key issues of first century Judaism to be monotheism, election, and eschatology? Why those three? What about, for example, land, temple, and Torah? Aren’t those three just as fundamental?
Anyway, we’ll see how things progress, but I didn’t want to forget that question…
As I’ve been teaching a unit on 1-2 Samuel, I’ve included Robert Chisholm’s volume in the Teach the Text series in my resources. A feature of this series that I really like is the section called ‘Theological Insights.’ But before I comment directly on that, let me explain how the commentary works: it’s aimed (unsurprisingly) at those who will be teaching the text in the context of Christian ministry. So it attempts to be accessible to those who are preparing weekly sermons, without dumbing things down. For each stretch of text, there is an analysis of context, historical & cultural backgrounds, verse-by-verse interpretive insights, theological insights, teaching points, and illustration suggestions.
While I am not really the sort to make much use of the teaching points and illustration suggestions, I find that the ‘Theological Insights’ do an excellent job of reflecting on what is at the heart of the text. In fact I’d say that this feature is something that other commentary series could learn from. Sometimes the most technical verse-by-verse commentaries fail to spend time considering the ‘big picture’ impact of the broader section. In other words, it’s important not just to know the intricacies of 1 Samuel 8:7; but to fit this sort of probing into the wider question: What is 1 Samuel 8 doing as a whole? Is God for or against kingship? Why?
Here is a quote from Chisholm’s very helpful consideration of these bigger questions:
They are not asking for a king in place of God, but they do want to see tangible evidence of their military strength, able to be called upon immediately in a crisis and serve as a deterrent to foreign attack. But the Lord demands radical faith on Israel’s part that is counter to the cultural norm and expectation. The typical arrangement can too easily cause people to trust in the tangible, rather than in the God behind it. (Chisholm, 53)
Even without the subsequent teaching points and illustration suggestions, one is better equipped, upon seeing the issues approached theologically in this way, to move from the text to teaching.