Seeing Christ in 1 and 2 Samuel

This article highlights some of the tension in reading too much Jesus into the bible. It's a struggle that every preacher and teacher should wrestle with. 

In our preaching fellowship, we've been discussing how to discover Christ in the Old Testament while honoring the authorial intent of the human writer. How definitively can one say that any particular Old Testament passage points to Jesus? What kind of criteria can we use?

On one hand, I can't overestimate the centrality of Christ as the overriding message of the scriptures. Though the bible is 80% law, the show piece of scripture is the grace of God revealed in Christ Jesus. On the road to Emmaus, the post-resurrection Jesus told his companions, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." In light of this statement and others, I view the Old Testament through the lens of the New.

On the other hand, it's very tempting to read Old Testament passages allegorically and see Jesus in every nook and cranny. It feels clumsy, forced and is disrespectful to the intent of the earthly authors. Can we really claim Messianic foreshadowing if the writer had no clue nor intention to do so?

For Tim Keller, it seems no matter the text, Christ is the better, older brother. And I'm uncomfortable with this approach when the better, older brother doesn't show up in the text. Ray Stedman and Ligon Duncan are much more restrained in their exegesis. And yet I feel they could be a little more flexible and creative in making connections with a macro understanding of scripture.

But the devil Christ is in the details. So let's take 1 and 2 Samuel as an example of how this works in our church's latest preaching series.


In hermeneutics, the macro perspective is primary. How one interprets the larger context of a book will inform how one reads its component passages. And any Christ connection in a particular passage must somehow connect with the grander theme of the book.

1 and 2 Samuel concern the king and his kingdom. The books concern Israel's quest for the ultimate ruler who will lead the nation in battle and execute justice and mercy on behalf of its citizens. The narrative arc follows the rise and fall of king and is a transitional book for all future kings of Israel. The peaks and valleys include: the rise of Samuel (Hannah), fall of Eli and his sons, rise and fall of Saul, rise and fall of David, and the subsequent triumph of David.

Each ruler in 1 and 2 Samuel foreshadows the ultimate king. Eli, his sons, Saul, Absalom, Joab, and even David negatively contrast with Jesus. Yet only This type of symbolism is called typology and is the most common and therefore abused form of Christ connection in the Old testament.

David is the destined king after God's own heart. He is a type of the king to come whose reign is eternal. He is the warrior king who defeats the enemies of the kingdom. He is the ruler who executes justice on behalf of his citizens. He is the obedient and gracious priest king who instead of taking vengeance gives grace and makes offerings on behalf of his people.

Unlikely Hannah gives birth to the subversive prophet, Samuel. Her story parallels Christ's birth and her song matches the humble-prideful motif in Mary's song. The story ends with climatic battle imagery of a king triumphing over spiritual forces of darkness (2 Samuel 22) and beautifully parallels the darkness and quaking during Christ's crucifixion (Matthew 27:45;51-54).

- Some of these make sense without much explanation like Mary's song vs. Hannah's song described above.
- Eli and his sons parallel the Pharisees, temple merchants, and corrupt modern-day religious leaders.
- I love 1 Samuel 5 - it's one of the few sections of the bible where the hero and point-of-view is that of an inanimate object.
- Spirit of God does amazing things in Saul, even though he's a fearful and reactive people pleaser.
- The point of David vs. Goliath is not so much that we can defeat the giants but that we have a champion in Christ, our warrior king, who fights our battles.
- The true king does not grasp for power or take vengeance in the same way that David spares the house of Nabal, sandwiched by two passed up opportunities to kill Saul.
- Climax of 1 and 2 Samuel is chapter 7 and its Davidic Covenant. Jesus is the fulfillment of this covenant. The gospels of Matthew and Luke mention David 30 times, not counting the numerous instances David's words are quoted or referenced by Jesus. If you can't get to Jesus from here, I'm afraid I can't help you.


But Jesus is not everywhere. In particular:

- Just because someone dies, doesn't mean that person is martyr in the manner of Christ. For example, Uriah, Abner, and Amasa are killed in stealthy under-handed ways but they are not Christ-types. There was no intentionality in their death nor did their death save anyone.
- Just because an offering is made, doesn't necessarily point to Christ. For example, Saul inappropriately offers a burnt offering in 1 Samuel 13. He is a foil for David and his offering is a direct contradiction to Samuel's instructions. The only Christ parallel might be as a contrast with how Jesus, our high priest and warrior king would behave.

In the end, as my friend Brian Hui puts it, we focus on "good honest exegesis" before jumping to Jesus.


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