Book Review

"Leap Over A Wall: Earthy Spirituality For Everyday Christians"
By Eugene Peterson
New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1997
A Reflective Review By: Pang Hee Hung, Director, Ezra Resources

Eugene Peterson's "devotional" commentary on the life of David, based on 1 Samuel to 1 Kings, spans from David's teenage years to his deathbed. In so doing, Eugene captures key turning points of David's life and provides fresh perspectives for living for every age in our lifetime. This book speaks volumes to my life as Eugene presents the theme of David's story as "becoming human" (p. 39 ). "The David story immerses us in a reality that embraces the entire range of humanity" (p. 5). However, there is one caveat.

When I was a younger Christian, I wanted to be a man after God's heart like David (1 Sam 13:14). So I saw David as a model to emulate. However, Eugene rightly points out that "A common, maybe the most common, error in our quest to live well is to set up a model that we then attempt to emulate" (p. 5; p. 62). Actually the David story "presents us not with a polished ideal … but with a rough-edged actuality in which we see humanity being formed" (p. 5).

The author - drawing from the life of David - answers the question "What does it mean to be human?" To Eugene, to be human is to be "simultaneously earthy and godly" (p. 5) for "we can't be human without God" (p. 6). In other words, to be truly human is to be a godly person - imaging Christ.

Eugene demonstrates how David was becoming human - even in his stumbling ways. He participates in every day living (his earthiness) - yet turning sin to godly singing (becoming more godly). We can see God directing the beginnings of kingship. Although not a prime candidate (p. 16), he was "chosen not for what anybody saw in him … but because of what God saw in him" (p. 17). Once chosen, David needed to allow God's purposes be accomplished through David's kingwork or true work (p. 31). Kingwork is work that edifies - like God's creative work - and work that does not tear down. To do true work or godly work and to be a true human, David needs God-dominated imagination (p. 39) (I prefer to call it God-directed imagination). To be in touch with God is to be in touch with true reality. In the battle against Goliath, the "only fully human person" that day to be fully "in touch with reality" was David (p. 44).

Relevant Life Issues

As I reflected on the twenty chapters, I found that Eugene has managed to translate David's life issues (ca 1000 B.C.) from three thousand years ago to present everyday life issues. Perhaps the most touching chapter for me at this point in my life is that of David at the Brook Besor (Chapter 10). Two hundred of David's six hundred men did not fight the Amalekites to rescue their families. The four hundred went on to defeat the Amalekites. The climax, however, was not the defeat of the Amalekites (p. 109). At the Brook of Besor after the defeat of the Amalekites, David declared that all his men would share the spoil alike (1 Sam 30:24). This to Eugene - and I concur with him - is the climax to the story. Companies are tempted to forced rank all workers based on their value to the organization and then firing the bottom ten percent. Variable bonuses from the under performers may be channeled to be paid to the higher performers. However as Christians, even though David is far from perfect, we can see the humanness in him. David, in contrast, did not ask his bottom less-contributing thirty percent to leave. What is more astounding is that they all had the same share of the plunder.

Other Earthly Spirituality Issues

Perhaps one important issue of earthly spirituality we can learn from David's life, which is not developed by Eugene, is the sovereign outworking of God even in a demotion. We all struggle when our career plateaus. Worse still if we are demoted. David experienced a "demotion." He was given a high rank in the army (1 Sam 18:5) and was in the presence of the king. But he was forced to flee from the king's court and be a leader of a mere four hundred outcasts (1 Sam 22:2). If I were in David's position, I will ask, "Where is God? Why this demotion? Why this downgrade in lifestyle?" But David neither sought revenge on Saul nor reject God. He could even call Saul - God's anointed (1 Sam 24:6; 26:9,11; 2 Sam 1:14). David continued to keep faith and to inquire of the Lord for spiritual direction.

This leads me on to another important issue - that of the spirituality of a leader. God chose David to shepherd God's people and to be their ruler (2 Sam 5:2). There are a few key factors that will contribute to a godly kingship. One factor highlighted by Eugene is David's generous heart as evidenced by the Brook of Besor incident. Another key ingredient to spiritual leadership, which is not highlighted, is the recurring phrase "he inquired of the Lord" (1 Sam 23:2,4; 30:8; 2 Sam 2:1; 5:19, 23). David sought for God's spiritual direction - whether to save Keilah from the Philistines (1 Sam 23:2-4), whether to go to Judah after Saul's death (2 Sam 2:1), even whether to rescue his own wives and his men's families and possessions from the Amalekites (1 Sam 30:8). We tend to focus on David's empire or a leader's results. But the results were attained because one seeks spiritual direction.

In the powerful chapter of "Sin - David and Bathsheba," we sometimes miss the unfortunate husband, Uriah. Uriah was one of David's thirty mighty and fiercely loyal men (2 Sam 23:39). He was so loyal to his soldiers and David's cause that he would not go to be with his wife when his soldiers were in the midst of a battle. Yet David dealt a vile double blow by not only betraying Uriah by forcing himself upon Uriah's wife - but also murdering him. There is a dilemma here when we want to be loyal to an anointed leader but who has flaws. I term it the Uriah Dilemma.


Only by living with earthy spirituality can David sing "By my God I can leap over a wall!" (Ps 18:29; p. 10). Without this spirituality, one would end up like Saul, - the character being contrasted with David - hitting a wall. I want to leap over the wall too - Not hit the wall!

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