The final literary device used by the writer of narratives that needs to be appreciated by the interpreter and preacher of narratives is dialogue.
The importance of dialogue is stated by Alter: “Narration is thus often relegated to the role of confirming assertions made in dialogue–occasionally, as here, with an explanatory gloss” (Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 65). The narration of narratives prepares the reader for the dialogue of the characters.
Often, as Alter observes, the first words spoken in a narrative communicate the theme of the story. “In any given narrative event, and especially, at the beginning of any new story, the point at which dialogue first emerges will be worthy of special attention, and in most instances, the initial words spoken by a personage will be revelatory, perhaps more in manner than in matter, constituting an important moment in the exposition of character” (Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 74).
In 1 Samuel 17, the contest is not between David and Goliath as much as it is between David, the newly anointed king, and Saul, the rejected king of Israel. The author is proving that David is the king who can lead God’s people to victory since God’s Spirit has departed from king Saul because of his repeated disobedience (1 Sam.16:14). The first words of the story come from the mouth of Goliath who states the theme of the story: “Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me” (1 Sam. 17:8). Again, Goliath in the dialogue unknowingly communicates the theme: “Give me a man” (1 Sam.17:10). Earlier Samuel had warned Saul with these words: “But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee” (1 Sam. 13:14).
The first words in 1 Samuel 1 are spoken by Elkanah and also communicate the theme of the story. “Hannah, why weepest thou? And why eatest thou not? And why is thy heart grieved? Am not I better to thee than ten sons?” The conflict that must be resolved in the narrative is Hannah’s barrenness.
What the characters say is so important that even a character’s thoughts are presented in monologue. “And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.”
The recognition of these literary conventions will equip the preacher or teacher of narratives to identify the boundaries of a narrative which will be the boundaries of the narrative sermon. The theme of the narrative will more easily be found as well as how the theme is developed by a knowledge of the literary techniques used by the author of the story. Also, the identification of the scenes will help form the points or movements of the narrative sermon. Now the exegetical study of the narrative will yield even more fruit for the expositor of the narrative.