Sometimes, finding Christ in the Old Testament is an exact science. Other times, it is an art.
In recent weeks, I’ve sat under preaching through the life of David, and have myself tried to practice the science (or art) of Christocentric hermeneutics. We have all heard moral examples pulled from biblical narratives, exhorting us to be more or less like David, Noah, Moses, or Methuselah. Yet nothing is more thrilling than finding in these snapshots of history a set of fresh portraits of Christ revealing him from new and different angles.
What follows are a few of my observations, which I pray lead more of us to stand in awe of Christ, the true and better David.
1. Jesus is the merciful Heir to the throne.
When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. (1 Samuel 24:1-7)
Like David, a significant waiting period intervened between Christ’s initial anointing and his official inauguration as king over God’s people (see 1 Samuel 16). Just as David had to patiently await the death of Saul, even at risk to his own life, so Christ — though he was already the rightful the Heir of the throne — was born under the dominion of the law (Galatians 4:4) and was only to receive his kingdom from the Father (Daniel 7:13-14) after his work was finished, in the fullness of time.
David, whose kingship was expressly ordained and designed by God as a shadow of the better things to come, didn’t pry the throne from Saul’s hands. He didn’t draw attention to himself or assume the royal mantle on his own authority. In like manner, Christ patiently waited —enduring the death of the cross — before the Father, by sheer divine prerogative, turned the kingdom over to him.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:2-3)
And, best of all, David shows us a glimpse of a better king who also spared his enemies — good news for those of us who were once enemies of Christ, now offered terms of peace in the gospel (Romans 5:10).
2. Jesus is the King exalted for the good of others.
And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him. And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, also carpenters and masons who built David a house. And David knew that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel. (2 Samuel 5:10-12)
When David assumed office, God quickly began to bless his reign. He conquered Jerusalem, gained international fame, and brought peace and prosperity to the people.
Why did God choose to magnify a man? Because he was inherently worthy, or because God is always committed to materially blessing those who believe? Hardly. God “had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:12). David wasn’t blessed merely for his own sake but to be the fountainhead of blessing for all God’s people.
Generally, as contemporary evangelicals, our collective memory of Jesus’ life general gets fuzzy after the resurrection. But the New Testament is abundantly clear: Christ is no longer in his humiliation. He ascended with all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18) and has been exalted as a sign of judgment and grace for all the world to see (Acts 17:31). The King is in session at the Father’s right hand.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many,and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)
Why has Christ been exalted? “For the sake of his people.” He is interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25), putting his enemies under his feet and ours (Ephesians 1:22), and assuring our perseverance (Romans 8:34). God raised up and honored Christ for our good, so that in him we could enjoy “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).
3. Jesus is the Leader who brings the presence of God to his people.
And it was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. And when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.
As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart.
The ark, the vessel containing some of the covenant documents, functioned as the very seat of God’s manifest presence under the old covenant. It is no small thing that David received the high honor of being the ruler who, by divine providence, was able to usher this object back into the land. The priestly nature of this feat is signified by David’s possession of the ephod.
Yet Christ is the perfect priest-king who brings back God’s presence to his people permanently. He himself is the vessel containing a new and better covenant, written not in stone but on human hearts (Jeremiah 31:33, 2 Corinthians 3:3). We who live under Christ’s rule can rejoice in knowing that God’s presence resides in our very midst — indeed, in our very hearts.
4. Jesus is the House where God dwells.
Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling…
Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…
And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:1-6, 11c-13, 16)
In response to David’s desire to build him a house, or temple, God makes two incredible statements:
First, he would not build the house, but his son would. This is immediately fulfilled in Solomon.
Second, God reverses the discussion and says he will build David a “house” — a dynasty! And as the Old Testament documents, this exact thing happened.
Yet in Christ, these two “houses” converge. Whereas Solomon built a temple of brick and mortar (which was destroyed and, when rebuild, never matched its original glory), Jesus is the better temple (John 2:19). His very body, crucified and risen, is the one meeting house where we can encounter God by faith.
And as for the “house” of David, the ultimate, chosen offspring from his royal line was none other than Christ. David had wanted to build the Lord a physical temple, but from his own loins came the true temple of God-incarnate. And in the church, which is Christ’s body, the tent of David is being rebuilt (Acts 15:16-17).
The point? When Jesus exegeted the Old Testament, he “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27b). Let us do likewise and stand in awe at the many portraits of him we’ll find.