The Typology of David’s Rise to Power: Messianic Patterns in the Book of Samuel

What is Typology? How do the biblical authors develop typological connections?

Can we read the Bible the way the biblical authors did?

These are some of the questions I seek to address in an essay that has just appeared in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Thanks to the generosity of the editor, Steve Wellum (author of, with Peter Gentry, Kingdom through Covenant) and SBTS, I have permission to post a PDF of the essay here:

The Typology of David’s Rise to Power: Messianic Patterns in the Book of Samuel,” SBJT 16.2 (2012): 4–25.

This essay has a history that I want to record. I can remember teaching the book of Acts in Sunday School at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville when I was a PhD student at SBTS. This was around 2002–2003. I needed the categories and language of typology, but I had neither. Over and over I felt that I could see Luke doing what I would now describe as typology, but I was at a loss to describe it well. It’s really wonderful what knowing the right word for the right thing will enable you to say.

In 2005 I began to work on a project that was eventually published as “The Virgin Will Conceive: Typological Fulfillment in Matthew 1:18–23,” pages 228–47 in Built upon the Rock: Studies in the Gospel of Matthew, ed. John Nolland and Dan Gurtner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008). As I was working on what Matthew meant when he claimed fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:18–23, I found my way into the field of typology, and what really introduced me to it was E. Earle Ellis’s Foreword to Leonhard Goppelt’s book Typos.

It was my privilege to preach through 1–2 Samuel at Baptist Church of the Redeemer from July 2006 to January of 2008, and as I worked through Samuel I saw many places where NT authors seemed to have been influenced by the patterns in the book of Samuel. In late January or early February of 2008, while teaching at SWBTS Houston, I was invited to present a Julius Brown Gay lecture at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. I decided to use my acquaintance with the book of Samuel gained from preaching the book and do more exploration in the field of typology, so I wrote the essay that is the subject of this post at that time. I presented it as a Julius Brown Gay lecture at Southern Seminary on March 13, 2008. The audio of that presentation (which is me basically reading most of this essay) is here. I was then invited to join the faculty of SBTS, which I was honored to do in August of 2008.

That winter Steve Wellum, editor of SBJT, wanted to publish “The Typology of David’s Rise” with a response from Robert Yarbrough. There was a mixup of communication (for which I’m happy to claim responsibility), and instead of giving Dr. Wellum this essay I wrote another one, “Was Joseph a Type of the Messiah? Tracing the Typological Identification between Joseph, David, and Jesus,” SBJT 12.4 (2008), 52–77. I’m sorry for the mixup in communication, but I’m grateful that I had an opportunity to explore these typological connections further. Writing “Was Joseph a Type?” certainly clarified my own thinking.

Writing is perhaps the best way to learn. Nothing clarifies a concept or thought process in your own mind like the challenge of thinking out exactly what you are trying to say and how to say it.

Because of the way that Earle Ellis introduced me to the subject of typology through his preface to Goppelt’s book and his many other writings, and in gratitude for the kindness he showed me when I was his junior colleague on the SWBTS faculty, I dedicated the lecture, now published as an essay, to him. He died on March 2, 2010.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be one of the faculty on SWBTS’s Oxford Study Tour in the summer of 2005, and Dr. Ellis led our tour of the British Museum. Jason Duesing took this photo of us at that time.

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  1. All very interesting, but I fear this misses the point of why the exilic and post-exilic authors gathered and edited and wrote the documents we Christians call the Old Testament. While much of the material is of earlier origins, it all reflects the hand and the issues of the exile – why did Israel disappear and why did Judah fall? I fear the typology quest turns the Old Testament into a playground where Christians dig around to find images, stories, whatever, to suit our own theological interests, while ignoring the historical matters so painfully explored. Clearly, when the disciples ask Jesus, “Will you now restore the kingdom?” they were in hopes that Jesus would reverse their history, end the exile, so to speak, and reclaim the glory of David. That Jesus rewrites the history of his own people is vital to understanding the gospels, the crucifixion and resurrection and what Paul was truly getting at. Typology may be fun,and though used selectively by NT authors with an eye to the larger issues of how Jesus is rewriting the story, it’s hardly productive of how we need to be reading either the Old Testament or the New. in order to truly understand Jesus as the Son of David, it’s terribly important that we understand David and, in spite of his faith, how the entire kingship story of Israel/Judah failed because of war and violence and idolatry.

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