Leap Over a Wall, Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians by Eugene Peterson. HarperCollins, 1997. Available here.
Likely the name Eugene Peterson is recognized, as he authored many Christian books, but perhaps he is best know as the translator of The Message.
Leap Over a Wall (a phrase from 2 Samuel and a Psalm) is a book about King David. Each chapter looks at a different passage of Scripture about an incident in the life of David. If you know the life of David fairly well, you could just pick this book up and read it. But if you don’t know David’s life that well, I’d either suggest reading 1st and 2nd Samuel first, or at least reading the passage of Scripture before reading the chapter.
I actually first utilized this book when preparing a sermon on 1 Samuel 16, and found the first chapter, with introductory thoughts about David connecting him to Jesus, to be very helpful. Peterson emphasizes that the David story anticipates the Jesus story. I quoted this in my sermon:
“Jesus, revealing God to us, doesn’t arrive on the scene out of the blue, unprecedented…The revelation of Jesus Christ is foreshadowed and foretold, anticipated and prepared for, prophesied and promised throughout nearly 2,000 years of Hebrew history. Paul refers to this centuries long ‘pregnancy’ in his arresting phrase ‘when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman (Gal 4:4).’” (page 7)
Peterson points out that the David story is the most extensively narrated single story within the larger story of God’s revelation of himself through Jesus. We know more about David than any other person in Scripture. Hmmm. If that is the case, it seems David is someone that we should be particularly familiar with!
Yet David can be disconcerting to us. He’s proclaimed a man after God’s own heart, but he was also a fierce warrior that killed many people, he arranged a murder, and behaved in other troubling ways.
While looking at 1 Samuel 21-22, Peterson states:
“This is perhaps the place to note that the story of David isn’t set before us as a moral model to copy. David isn’t a person whose actions we’re inspired to imitate. In the company of David we don’t feel inadequate because we know we would never do it that well. Just the opposite: in the company of David we find someone who does it as badly as, or worse than, we do, but who in the process doesn’t quit, doesn’t withdraw from God. David’s isn’t an ideal life but an actual life. We enter the company of David not to improve our morals but to deepen our sense of human reality.” (page 62)
David’s life immerses us in reality. We see David fighting, praying, worshiping, loving, sinning. We observe David angry, devious, generous, mourning.
Notice the subtitle of the book: earthy spirituality for everyday Christians. This book is indeed down-to-earth, doesn’t try to explain away tough incidents, and provides practical, spiritual insight for our everyday lives.
In an incident that happens in 1 Samuel 27, Peterson notes that “commentators on this text commonly do one of two things: they moralize or they secularize.” (page 97) But Peterson takes a different approach, taking the text in its context, and letting the story interpret itself to us. “The storyteller doesn’t say that this is the right thing to do, simply that this is what David does. And in precisely these conditions, God works out his purposes.” (page 98)
Aren’t you thankful that God is always at work? Just like in David’s time, we can trust that God is at work in the moral, social, political, and cultural conditions that we wake up to each morning in the 21st century.
I found myself highlighting content or bracketing off paragraphs throughout the book where there was challenging, thoughtful commentary. I highly recommend this book to you. Use it as a devotional. Use it as a study aid for 1st and 2nd Samuel. In close, here are some random quotes from the book, which may perhaps motivate you to get the book!
[Both David and Jesus spent time in the wilderness.] “In the Jesus wilderness story our Lord learned to discern between religion that uses God and spirituality that enters into what God does, and he was thereby prepared to be our Savior, not merely our helper or advisor or entertainer.” (page 75)
“Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God…our self-importance is so insidiously relentless that if we don’t deliberately interrupt ourselves regularly, we have no chance of attending to him at all.” (page 152)
“Modern Christians are characteristically much afraid of being caught out doing too little for God, let alone nothing. But there are moments, far more frequent than we suppose, when doing nothing is precisely the gospel thing to do…Wrong headed teachers emerge from time to time telling us that since God does everything, we must train ourselves to do nothing, cultivating a kind of pious sloth: the less we do, the more God can do for us. Others counsel stoic resignation to whatever happens, since all that happens is ‘the will of God.’ …But biblical not-doing is neither sloth nor stoicism; it’s a strategy.” (page 164)
“There is great danger in getting so caught up in our God-plans that we forget all about God.” (page 165)
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