Sunday, September 11, 2011

David, the Giant

One of the defining moments of David’s early life was the fateful day that he battled and defeated the Philistine warrior Goliath in the Valley of Elah. David’s triumph over the champion from Gath has been immortalized in countless works of art, but none of them are as famous as the sculpture of David depicted by the High Renaissance master, Michelangelo. This, friends, is a masterpiece.

On our second day in Florence, we walked in the golden light of the late afternoon sun to the Galleria dell'Accademia, where David has stood since 1873. As you enter the museum and turn the corner, you find yourself at the beginning of a long hallway with the sculpture waiting for you at the end. I can't imagine anyone's response being less than a jaw-drop, a breathy “wow,” and complete awe. I have never been so moved by a work of art in my life.

Ironically, Florentines actually refer to David as "The Giant." Michelangelo’s monumental sculpture was the first nude to be carved on such a colossal scale since antiquity. Seriously, the most startling aspect of the sculpture was its towering size! David stands seventeen feet tall, which is eight feet taller than Goliath's height is recorded in the Bible (he was said to be six cubits and a span, which is near 9’9” tall)!

Michelangelo chose to depict David before the battle. His protruding muscles and swollen veins are taut and tense, as though adrenaline is starting to pump power through his restless body. His flexed torso, sturdy limbs, and oversized hands and feet reveal the strength we are to expect from him. He seriously looked so real, I could have sworn I saw him breathing. Hayley and I actually joked that we were waiting for him to move, and maybe wink at us...

A cool thing about Michelangelo's David is that it's not a self-contained composition; David’s head is abruptly turned and he seems to be emotionally connected to a presence that we do not see. And if you stand in the right spot, you can find yourself between David and his foe. He is not a static, relaxed figure; there is anxiety in his alert eyes, and he is standing casually to disguise his fear. He is ready to face the killer who had slayed every Israelite who had previously been sent into battle. Sometimes it's easy to forget that David was just a vulnerable adolescent who had no business slaying a giant! He had never been in battle, never carried a sword, never worn the uniform of the Israeli army...clearly, his success in battle was not a testament to his brutish strength or superior intelligence, but to his faith in God. In Psalm 108, David wrote “With God we will gain the victory…” What a great reminder to always acknowledge that it is God who brings victory, not our own strength or determination.

God also reminds us through David’s life that he judges his followers by their character and not their appearance. The Lord said to Samuel, “ looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Michelangelo was commissioned by the city of Florence to create this sculpture from a poorly blocked out slab of marble that had been abandoned a generation earlier because of a dangerous flaw in the marble. Michelangelo was to “make, carry through and complete” it. He saw David in the marble and set him free. God also sees who we are below the “marble” that we try to cover ourselves and identify ourselves with, be it success, wealth, power, or fame. God looks at the heart.

David is such a popular subject in art history--why? He's complex. He's a paradox--the beautiful sculptures and paintings throughout history that depict his likeness reveal a hero, but a follower of Christ who has read about his life in the Old Testament also understands how broken and flawed he was, and that it was his faith in God that made him truly great. Charles Swindoll wrote that “Our world is desperately in need of models worth following. Authentic heroes. People of integrity, whose lives inspire us to do better, to climb higher, to stand taller.” David is just that—an authentic hero. The Bible does not make any pretenses about his failures and does not hide them; he's recognized as a flawed human, one who has made poor decisions in his life and suffered the consequences for them--something everyone can relate to. Yet, he is respected and remembered as a godly hero, and followers of Christ look to him as an example of how to cry out to God and how to rely on him continually in the midst of desperate circumstances.

The toughest situations that David found himself in were some of the most important moments of his life. In 2 Samuel 22: 2-3, he wrote “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my rock in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge…” David recognized that the living God was his security and support. These verses encourage me when I am exhausted and enduring my own battles to acknowledge the active God in my life the way that David did.

David had giant faith in the Lord and reminds us that in our weakness, in our times of confusion and uncertainty, we can take refuge in him. I love this sculpture with all my heart. It's not just stunningly beautiful to look at. It reminds me of David's character, and that his humility, integrity, and authenticity are what I want God to grow me in today.

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