Part of the reason there are so many different interpretations of the Bible is because there are so many different ways of reading the Bible. The questions we bring to the biblical text often determine what we take away from the text. In this column today, I want to discuss two ways of reading the Bible. My hope is that through this we will become better readers of the Bible.
The two approaches to biblical interpretation I will discuss today can be illustrated in the well-known story of David and Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17). In this narrative, the Israeli army faced their enemies, the Philistines, in a forty-day standoff. Day after day, Goliath, a man who is vividly portrayed as the most fearsome soldier in the Philistine army, taunted the armies of Israel. Goliath challenged that if any Israelite could defeat him, the Philistines would become their servants. Unfortunately, the king and soldiers of Israel were terrified so that no one was willing to fight Goliath.
David was perhaps too young to fight in Israel’s army. He had come to Israel’s camp to bring supplies for his three older brothers who were enlisted in Israel’s army. During his visit, David heard the way Goliath mocked the army of Israel. David therefore determined to fight Goliath, trusting that God would give him victory. Although King Saul of Israel offered David his armor and sword, all of this weaponry was too large and cumbersome for David to use. David cast off the armor and approached Goliath with a very non-formidable sling and stone. Ultimately, and ironically, it was in this way that Goliath was defeated.
So one way to read this passage is to come to it asking, what does God want us to do? This is often times the way this passage is read and taught. Here, we look at David as an example. David is a man of courage because he trusted God to overcome this seemingly insurmountable obstacle. When everyone else was afraid and faithless, David trusted God. So perhaps for us, we need to be a little more like David. Maybe God wants to help us to overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in our own lives. We need to be like David! If we will only trust God to do the impossible, we too will experience amazing things in our lives.
Now, this is one way to read the Bible. And there is some truth there. However, all of this having been said, this isn’t really the point of the story.
A more helpful and biblical way to read the Bible is to come asking what it reveals to us about the God whom it makes known. The Bible is fundamentally God’s revelation of himself to us. More than presenting us with a list of things to do, the Bible calls us to faithfulness by evoking awe for the God whose nature and character produce worship in the hearts of those in whom he is at work.
In the end, it isn’t David who killed Goliath. God killed Goliath. This story should lead us to worship by showing us the breathtaking power of the God who defeated the entire Philistine army, starting with their fiercest warrior, using nothing more than a young man with a sling and a stone. God possesses unfathomably great strength. He is not the type of God who needs our armies or our technology. He doesn’t need swords or spears or armor or mighty men. The God of the Bible is so spectacularly glorious in his infinite power that he can do the seemingly impossible with the most ill-equipped and unlikely person available. The stunning glory of the way God delivers his people is utterly unmatched.
If we only look at the characters of the Bible and try to embody the positive character qualities we sometimes find in them, we will ultimately fail. The examples and commands God provides for us in Scripture do not by themselves have the power to transform our lives. If, however, we read the Bible in a way that presents God as the hero who leads us to awe and worship, then we will experience greater faithfulness and obedience in the Christian life. It is only the awe wrought by the life-transforming power of God himself that sells us on obedience.