December 2012 - Vol.  64

King David - Jesse Tree, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

David: Prototype of Christ

.“by Damasus Winzen

The youngest among his brothers, David was called from shepherding his father’s flock on Bethlehem’s fields to be anointed by Samuel. “And the Spirit of the Lord seized upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:11-13)...

David is the figure of the messianic king of whom Isaiah says: “A shoot shall spring from the stump of Jesse [David’s father, 1 Samuel 16:1], and a sprout from his root will bear fruit, and the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him” (Isaiah 11:1). This prophecy found its fulfillment in the Son of David whom the Spirit descended upon as a dove . . . (Matthew 3:17).

There are many other traits in the life of young David which show him to be the prototype of Christ, especially his fight with Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Faith and spirit had left the Israelites and their king Saul. They did not dare to answer the giant’s blasphemies. Then David jumped into the breach, without armor, a true soldier of his God, knowing that “not with sword or spear does the Lord deliver, for the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:47). With a sling, a stone and a stick, David overcomes all the most up-to-date might of Goliath (17:5). Who would not be reminded of Christ, the one who jumped into the breach to give his life for the whole people and conquered the power of Satan with the cross on his shoulder?

Another beautiful sign of the love of Christ prefigured in the life of young David is the friendship between him and Jonathan (1 Samuel, chapters 18–20). Jonathan, who as a son of Saul was heir to the kingdom, prefers to be excommunicated by his father rather than to give up David, “whom he loved as his own life” (18:3). He takes off his royal cloak, his sword, his bow and his girdle and gives them to David. By this act he renounces his natural right to the throne in favor of David. He entrusts his own life and that of his family completely to the good graces of his friend: “O may you, if I am still alive, O may you show me the kindness of the Lord!” (20:14). In doing this he represents that portion of Israel which at the time of Christ will prefer to be banned by their own people rather than leave the Son of David, who through his incarnation had received the royal garment of Israel. It was this Jonathan-group among the Jews, the apostles, to whom Christ revealed the secret of his friendship: “Greater love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends” (John 15:13-14). The friendship between David and Jonathan was fulfilled in Christ who did more for his friends than David ever did. He laid down his life for them.

David’s friendship with Jonathan marks the beginning of those long years of trial which make him still more a figure of Christ (1 Samuel, chapters 21–29). The desert becomes David’s refuge. Abandoned by all, without arms, without food, he receives from the priest the holy bread of the Lord, which was always kept in the sanctuary (21:3-6), and the sword of Goliath which also had been preserved in the tabernacle. At every turn God shows that David is his anointed one, the man according to his heart. David himself could not have given better witness to the love of God working in his heart than he did by answering Saul’s incessant persecution by sparing his life (24:6; 26:9). . . . 

David himself was the “Christ,” the “anointed one” of the Lord (Psalm 132:17). His name—David, the beloved one (see Matthew 3:17)—his birthplace Bethlehem (see Luke 2:11), his youth as a shepherd (1 Samuel 17:34-37), his beauty (16:12): really everything in his life foreshadows the Messiah. He won the hearts of his fellow-countrymen through his kindness, and the bond thus established between him and his people points to the new covenant of love between Christ and his Church. Indeed, what the tribes of Israel said to David the day he was proclaimed their king: “We are bones of your bones and flesh of your flesh” (2 Samuel 5:1), gives us the first inkling of the great mystery of the mystical body of Christ which St. Paul was later to reveal. David’s wars and victories have also a messianic character. “It is God that girds me with strength, that teaches my hands to war” (Psalm 18:32, 34). It is God that lights David’s candle in darkness, by whom he leaps over the wall (Psalm 18:28). His victories are anticipations of the great victory which the “Son of David” won at his resurrection. The “sure mercies of David” of which Isaiah speaks (55:3) are fulfilled in Jesus, the Son of David, who did not see corruption, because God raised him from the dead (Acts 13:34-37).

[This article is excerpted from Pathways in Scripture: A book-by-book guide to the spiritual riches of the Bible, by Damasus Winzen. The Pathways in Holy Scripture was written in the late 1940s when Father Winzen was chaplain to the Benedictine nuns of Regina Laudis Monastery in Connecticut. They were printed one by one, following the liturgical seasons, and distributed to subscribers. The book was brought up to date and republished in 1976 by Servant Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan. A new edition was published in 2003 by Saint Anthony Messenger Press & Franciscan Communications for the The St. Paul Center Studies in Biblical Theology and Spirituality.]

Fr. Damasus Winzen, OSB (1901-1971), became a Benedictine monk at the German Abbey of Maria Laach. one of the frist centers of Catholic liturgical renewal. He came to the United States before World War II to escape Nazi persecution. In 1951 he founded Mount Savior Monastery near Elmira, New York. He lived there until his death in 1971. A monk and scholar, Winzen served as associate editor of Orate Fratres and editor of Pathways in Holy Scripture. He was a prime mover in the organization of the Benedictine Liturgical Conference (later known as the National Liturgical Conference).
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