David, an adulterer and murderer, yet, a man after God's own heart.
If you had the task of choosing a person after your own heart for some assignment, what criteria would you follow? Obviously, it would have to be someone who shares your attitudes, feelings, character and aim. Someone who could be your alter ego, someone who would represent you, and stand in for you. You would not designate someone of a disreputable character.
Isn't it surprising that God who is utterly holy chose David to be the one who would bear that title? David committed adultery and murder, yet was considered by God to be after God's own heart. No doubt, that was His opinion before David had committed these heinous crimes (1 Sam.13:14); but, remarkably long after his sins were discovered and condemned, God's Word still described him as the man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). If God had said that about Joseph, who safeguarded his purity, in spite of all the troubles heaped on him, or about Daniel, whose courage sustained his life of devotion to the Lord in spite of threats and dangers, it would have been understandable. But choosing David doesn't make sense. You and I wouldn't want David for the job of representing us lest we should be tarred by the same brush that paints him. How could God choose such a man and proclaim him to be one after God's own heart?
It does tell us something about the wonder of God's grace. There is no comprehending grace. Grace is grace-undeserved, unmerited. It is offered without strings attached. We need to find out how David responded to God's overture of grace rendering him one after God's heart.
We first encounter David as the one missing at an important family event. Imagine the President comes to your home for supper, and you are out running an errand for your Dad. That's what David was up to on the day when Prophet Samuel came visiting his family. David's father had given him the job of looking after the sheep. He did not complain that he was being left out of something as important as the prophet's visit to their home. It was not an everyday event that he was missing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Samuel knew that he was to choose a new king from David's family. No one in the family knew the reason for the visit. They imagined that, by some strange turn of fortune, they were just being honoured as the family the prophet would dine with, when he visited in their neighbourhood.
David's father, Jesse, introduced his sons to the prophet. When Samuel saw the firstborn, who was well-built, he thought that Eliab was the one God intended to choose as king, in place of Saul. But God said, "Looks aren't everything. Don't be impressed with his looks and stature. I have already eliminated him. GOD judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; GOD looks into the heart" (1 Sam.16:7, TM).
Right at the beginning, God knew that David's heart was the one that matched His heart.
David is best known for his fight with Goliath. We learn about this unequal fight and of the conquering hero right from our days in Sunday school. Too often we miss the point that it was David's faith in God's power to rescue him from all danger, and not young David's prowess in fighting, that won the victory over Goliath.
The Israelites were warring with the Philistines. But the war was not progressing. A huge giant of a Philistine had announced that he was the champion of his country. He challenged the Israelite army to send just one man to fight their cause. If their man won, the Philistines would be Israel's slaves. But if he, Goliath, won, Israelites would be slaves to Philistines.
When David heard the challenge, he was appalled that there was no one from God's people who would go against the ungodly Philistine. He heard that King Saul was offering his daughter in marriage and tax exemption for the champion's family. David was interested. But when his eldest brother found him talking to people about fighting Goliath, he was angry, accusing David of leaving the sheep untended. Eliab was probably just envious that David was the one anointed to be king.
What David was saying reached Saul's ears and he sent for him. Saul thought it was sheer bravado for David to imagine that he could fight Goliath, who had been a trained fighter from his youth. David's response was that he had experienced the Lord's protection when wild animals tried to attack his flock of sheep. David went after them and recovered his sheep from them. The Philistine had dared to defy God, and the Lord would deal with him while saving David.
Saul tried to dress David in battle armour, but David found it too cumbersome. He went just with a sling, five stones, and his shepherd's staff. Goliath taunted David whether he thought he was just going to fight a stray dog. Goliath cursed David and swore that he would feed him to carnivorous birds and animals. David replied that the Philistine had only his armour, but he had the Lord's name as his defence. Goliath had defied the Lord and the Lord would be the One conquering him.
"The whole world will know that there is a God…! And everyone will know that the LORD does not need weapons to rescue His people. It is His battle, not ours. The LORD will give you to us!" (1 Sam. 17: 46-47, NLT).
Peaceful, Patient Subordinate
When the populace praised David for killing Goliath and attributed the victory over Philistines to him, instead of Saul, the latter became jealous and angry. God allowed an evil spirit to possess the man (18: 10), who had once been possessed by the Spirit of the Lord and had been empowered to prophesy in the name of the Lord (10:5-10). Saul became aware that David was the one chosen by God to replace him. He recognised that while God had left him, God was with David. He sent David on military campaigns in the hope that he would be killed in battle by Israel's enemies. Saul had not kept his promise to give his older daughter in marriage to the one who killed the giant Goliath, but promised to give his daughter, Michal, to David, if he brought evidence of killing one hundred Philistines. David killed 200 and Michal fell in love with David. Then Saul became even more afraid because he saw it as a case of David consolidating his position as the one to take the throne after Saul. Saul became David's sworn enemy (18:12-29).
Saul gave orders to his son, Jonathan, to kill David, but Jonathan and David were friends (19: 1). Warned by Jonathan and abetted by Michal (vv.11-17), David escaped from Saul's court.
Twice David had chances to kill Saul. While pursuing David to kill him, circumstances placed Saul close to David twice without any soldier near him to guard him (24:1-22; 26:1-25). David could have easily killed Saul and felt justified in doing so: he was God's anointed and Saul was unjustly attempting to kill him. But David refused to lift his hand against "the Lord's anointed."
A number of David's Psalms show us what his heart was like. He trusted God to see him through his crisis, refusing to match evil with evil. Psalm 18 is a good example. David said God reached down to pick him up from deep trouble (v.16) and brought him to a large place that did not confine him (v.19). David was confident that he could fight a large army and jump over a high wall (v.29). David sang, You give me your shield of victory, and Your right hand sustains me; You stoop down to make me great (v.35).
While Jonathan had befriended David, the rest of Saul's entourage were against David. They wanted Saul's dynasty to continue. They had selfish reasons; their own rise to power and position depended on Saul's favour. Those who were on Saul's side fought against David even after Saul's death (2 Sam.2:8-4:7). Sometimes friends forget friends and the debts they owe their friends. In David's case, his friend was himself dead and every one of his friend's family and group had been busy opposing David's kingship. David could have easily regarded his debt of friendship cancelled by the animosity that he was subjected to by Jonathan's family. Instead, David kept his promise to his friend even though it had been a promise made in secret, his friend who knew of it was dead, there was no one to hold him to his promise, and he had cause to retaliate eye for eye, tooth for tooth.
David said that those who would ascend to the Lord's presence would be those who kept their word even when it hurt to keep it (Psa.15:4). In a day when any remnant of an earlier dynasty was suspected as a likely rallying point for rebels, David kept his promise to Jonathan and honoured his lame son Mephibosheth by giving him a place beside him without a care that he could be risking his kingdom (2 Sam.9:3-13).
David was regarded by Jewish historians to be the hallmark for just rule. The performance of all later kings was measured against the standard left by David.
This will no doubt come as a surprise to those who recall that David stole the affections of a man's wife, while he was away at the warfront, and, to cover his misdeed, had the man killed by the enemy by having his fellow soldiers withdraw their support and deserting him so that he was exposed to attacks that got him in the end. A soldier's loyalty had been repaid with betrayal (2 Sam.11:1-27).
That definitely was not an example of just rule. Yet the sacred historians consistently held him up as the paragon of justice. David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah, was an aberration in his character. That was not his entire way of life. He could well have lived life that way. After all, he was king and kings in those days believed they had the right to grab property, possess people and get rid of anyone whose existence challenged their sovereignty (1 Sam. 8:11-17; 1 Kgs. 21:6-16).
The sum of David's rule was described as one of "doing what was just and right for all his people" (2 Sam. 8:15). The Psalmist Asaph eulogised his rule with these words: "And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilful hands he led them" (Psa. 78:71-72).
David did think that he had covered his sins of adultery and murder well. If he had to contend only with human assessment, that was true. But the Lord, who looks at hearts, had chosen him as a person after His own heart and would not let the hidden sin remain hidden and undiscovered. He sent his prophet Nathan to confront David.
Everyone confronted by the Lord does not automatically feel sorrowful about sin. Kings were especially notorious. Many of them even got rid of the Lord's messengers, as if getting rid of prophets was enough to cover their sins.
David was immediately repentant. He did not try to deny his sin, make excuses for himself or justify his conduct. He humbled himself without considering that his royal position would be diminished and he could be the butt of taunts. All that mattered was that he had sinned against God and he needed to get right with God. Psalm 51 captures how he felt about his sin and prayed for mercy without any thought that he deserved to be forgiven. His only plea was that God's love was unfailing (v.1). He said that his sin confronted him all day and all night (v.3). David said that he was aware that his sin was against God and God alone (v.4-because he was king, no one would charge him with sin for what he had done). He wanted his joy back (vv.8, 12). He asked God for a clean heart. He asked God not to take the Holy Spirit from his life (vv.10-11). David said he wouldn't try to pay for God's forgiveness with offerings, but just bring his broken self to God (vv.16-17).
Psalm 32 reflects the lessons he learnt when he went from the state of being unforgiven while hiding his sin (v.3) to that of being disciplined by the hand of God and finding relief when forgiven (vv.4-6). He discovered that the Lord did not regard or treat him like an animal to be forced (v.9), but was in a face-to-face relationship and guiding David with His eye (v.8).
Some years later, when Absalom, his son, rebelled against him, instead of being a ruthless king safeguarding his throne against all challengers, David ran away rather than stay and fight his son (2 Sam.15:1-17:29). David was a master-warrior, while his son was not. David could have easily put down the rebellion. He pleaded with his army to be gentle toward his son (18:5).
Psalm 3 tells of David's feelings about that episode. He was taunted mercilessly (vv.1-2), but David held on to God as his shield (v.3) and left the matter of his rescue and the punishment of his foes entirely to God (vv.4-8).
David wanted to build a temple to honour God (2 Sam.7:1-3), but he was denied the privilege (1 Chro.22:7-9).
A lesser man would have sulked and ensured that his successor would not succeed where he had failed. Instead, he made plans for the temple, he would never get to build and he made preparations by storing materials that would be needed for the building (vv.1-5, 14-16).
David also wrote a song (Psa. 30) that was sung at the dedication of the temple he never even got to see. He praised God for rescuing him from enemies and restoring his health (vv1-3). David said that God's anger was momentary, but His favour was everlasting (v.5), turning mourning into dancing (v.11) and he would refuse to be silent when it came to praising God (v.12). His wife Michal had despised his public display of exultation (singing and dancing) in bringing the altar into Jerusalem (2 Sam.6:16-22).
The true visionary does not care who gets the job done. He or she cares only that the job is done. That is how David felt. A lesson there for all of us! Let us ensure that the one who comes after us will go further and do more than us.