King David Comes to Canada

One of my great joys at Heritage is teaching preaching.  Right now our homiletics course is focused on how to preach and teach the narrative passages in the Bible.  Narratives are the “stories” in the Bible that easily capture our attention. However, they can be challenging to preach or teach.

Last summer I wrote a magazine article dealing with how to preach from narrative passages.  The article focused on three challenges that come with preaching narratives:

  1. How do I discover the main message in the story?
  2. How do I apply the story to a contemporary audience?
  3. How do I point people to Christ from the story?

In the next three posts, I’ll present the sections of the article that seek to help answer these three important questions.


David 2The stories of David, recorded in 1 and 2 Samuel are some of the most riveting in the entire Bible. David and Goliath. David and Saul. David and Jonathan. David and Bathsheba. God’s Word shows us the good, the bad and the ugly in David’s life. Triumph is mingled with tragedy and presented in vivid, colourful detail.

David’s life, like much of Scripture, comes to us as a story. In more technical terms, David’s story is presented in a genre of writing called narrative literature. The Bible contains a variety of literary genres: epistle, poetry and wisdom—to name a few. However, the largest genre category is narrative. Roughly 40% of the Bible can be classified as narrative.

Preaching or teaching on the life of David involves knowing how to accurately and effectively handle narrative literature in the Bible. For many of us—especially those more comfortable with New Testament epistles—teaching narrative literature presents some unique challenges. Here are three that I’ve faced while preaching narrative passages, including stories from David’s life.

  1. How do I discover the main message in the story?
  2. How do I apply the story to a contemporary audience?
  3. How do I point people to Christ from the story?

Let’s consider these one at a time.

Discovering the Main Message of the Story

The stories in 1 and 2 Samuel faithfully record events from David’s life. We see inspiring examples of David’s trust in God as he faces Goliath, refuses to attack Saul and looks after Mephibosheth. We also see David making a mess of things as he sins with Bathsheba, overlooks Joab’s violent behaviour and orders a national census.

All these episodes in David’s life are recorded in Scripture not just to capture our attention (which they do!) but to change our lives. As the apostle Paul indicates,      “. . . everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

So as we prepare to teach a portion of David’s story, we must discern the message God wants us to learn from what was “written in the past.”   Here’s where we hit the first challenge: how do we discover the main message in a narrative passage? After all, rarely does the biblical author finish a narrative section with the words: “and the point of is story is . . . .”

When seeking to discover the main message of a narrative, I’ve found it helpful to remember that David’s story, like all narratives in Scripture, contains both common ground and holy ground.

common groundBy common ground I mean aspects of the story that are common to all people. Human nature has remained basically the same over the centuries. As a result, we have a lot in common with David and the other men and women in Scripture. The needs, desires, frailties and failings we see in David and other biblical characters are often the same ones we see in ourselves. The temptations and struggles they faced are “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:31). This common ground is what Bryan Chapell calls the “Fallen Condition Focus” of the passage: “The Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) is the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those for or by whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage to manifest God’s glory in his people.”[1]

To discover the common ground in the passage, I ask this question: “What human needs or problems are surfaced in the passage?

Holy groundIn addition to having common ground, biblical narratives also contain what we can call holy ground. Here I am talking about ways God reveals Himself in the midst of our fallen human condition. Wherever God reveals Himself, we find holy ground—think of the burning bush in Exodus 3.

To find the holy ground in a narrative I ask, “What do I learn about God in this story? How does God show His truth and grace in a way that addresses our fallen condition?”

The main message of the passage is often found where common ground meets holy ground. Where God’s grace intersects our fallen condition.

For example, in the account of David’s anointing by Samuel in 1 Samuel 16, we find common ground in the natural tendency of Jesse and Samuel to evaluate by external standards. When Samuel sees Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son, he thinks to himself, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord” (16:6). Eliab was the eldest son, a tall and impressive young man. Samuel was sure Eliab would make a great replacement for King Saul. Had we been there, we probably would have made a similar judgment. That’s the common ground.

The holy ground in the story is seen as God corrects Samuel’s thinking: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (16:7). God is revealing important truth about Himself and about us. This truth points to the main message of the passage: When choosing people for ministry, God sees past the externals and goes for the heart.

[1] Bryan Chapell, The Fallen Condition Focus and the Purpose of the Passage, on Accessed June 13, 2015.

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