By Mark Mayberry
David was the second ruler of the United Kingdom of Israel, ancestor of Jesus Christ, and author of numerous Psalms. The record of his life is found in 1 Samuel 16-31; 2 Samuel 1-24; 1 Kings 1-2 and 1 Chronicles 10-29. He is described as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22; cf. 1 Sam. 13:13-14). No higher compliment could be given to a child of God. What caused the Lord to view David in this light? How is he an example to us?
David lived about 1000 years before Christ. His Hebrew name means “beloved” or possibly “chieftain.” His youth was spent in Bethlehem, situated about five miles south of Jerusalem in the district known as Ephrathah in Judah. The youngest of eight brothers (1 Sam. 16:10- 11; 17:12-14), David was the son of Jesse, a respected inhabitant of the city. His mother, tenderly remembered for her godliness, was described as the Lord’s “handmaid” (Psa. 86:15-16). As the youngest son, David kept his father’s sheep, leading them to pasture, providing for their needs, protecting them from danger.
As a result of his rebellion and disobedience, King Saul had forfeited God’s favor (1 Sam. 15:22-23). Afterwards the prophet Samuel went to Bethlehem to anoint David as the future king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:1-13). No public pronouncement was made of this event. Many years passed before David would assume the throne. After facing many trials and tribulations, David ascended to power his thirtieth year and reigned for forty years (2 Sam. 5:4). In retrospect, this would be remembered as a golden age, the greatest period in the history of Israel.
God’s choice of David as the successor to King Saul was not based upon physical characteristics. Saul was a towering figure, head and shoulders above the average man (1 Sam. 10:22-23). Although he was beautiful of eyes and handsome in appearance (1 Sam. 16:12), God chose David because of his attitude of heart and mind (1 Sam. 16:6-7). We live in an age that emphasizes externals, but the Bible stresses the importance of the inner man (Psa. 51:6-7; Eph. 3:14-19).
Forsaken by God and troubled by an evil spirit, King Saul was subject to depression and periodic insanity. His attendants advised him to secure a harpist, whose music might soothe his spirit. Because he displayed outstanding musical talent with the harp, David was recommended for this task, and thus entered the service of Saul (1 Sam. 16:14-18, 23).
Despite having been anointed by Samuel as the future king of Israel, David did not develop a haughty attitude. As opportunity allowed, he continued to tend his father’s sheep (1 Sam. 17:15). When needed, he would play the harp for Saul, thus refreshing the troubled king’s spirit. Nevertheless, there was no boasting on his part. Rather, he viewed himself as a servant of the King (1 Sam. 17:32) and of God (Psa. 116:16). We should manifest the same humble attitude (Matt. 20:25-28; 1 Cor. 10:24; Phil. 2:3-4).
During this period, the Philistines were a continuing threat to Israel. On one occasion they invaded the hill country of Palestine, encamping 15 miles west of Bethlehem. Saul led the Israelite army to meet the enemy. Three of David’s brothers were in Saul’s army, and Jesse sent David to the battlefield to inquire about their welfare. Upon his arrival, David heard Goliath, champion of the Philistines, mocking the army of Israel (1 Sam. 17:8-10). The army of Israel was terrified and dismayed by Goliath, but not young David, who had complete confidence in the Lord (1 Sam. 17:26, 34-37).
Weighted with heavy armor, Goliath was equipped to engage in close-range combat. David’s strategy was to fight him at a distance. Taking five smooth stones from a brook, David faced Goliath with only a sling and his unflinching faith in God. Goliath fell, struck by a stone from David’s sling. His victory over the giant made him a national hero. We should manifest similar courage in serving God (Psa. 27:14; 31:23-24; 1 Cor. 16:13-14).
After the returning from the slaughter of the Philistines, the women of Israel met Saul with singing and dancing, saying “Saul has killed his thousands and David his ten-thousands.” This greatly displeased King Saul, kindling a growing sense of jealousy and hostility toward David (1 Sam. 18:6-9).
Saul had promised to make the victor his son-in-law, presenting one of his daughters as his wife, agreeing to free the victor’s family from taxation. But after the battle, David was no longer allowed to return to his father’s house, but remained continually at the palace. On two occasions, Saul tried to kill David with a spear; he also gave his daughter, whom he had promised as David’s wife, to another man. As David’s popularity grew, Saul’s paranoia increased, until David was forced to flee from his murderous master.
David gathered a band of fugitives as his followers and fled from Saul. David waited patiently for God to carry out His purpose. On at least two occasions, David could have killed Saul while the king slept, but he refused to do so (1 Sam. 24:2-12; 26:6-25). He did not try to take matters into his own hands, even though he knew that so long as Saul was living, he could not be king. Rather, he believed that God would handle things in His own time and way. Disciples of Christ should manifest a similar attitude (Psa. 37:7-9; Lam. 3:26; Heb. 10:36-39).
When the Philistines battled Saul and his army at Gilboa, they were victorious, slaying Saul and his son, Jonathan, whom David loved as a dear friend. Hearing this sad news, he mourned their fate. He slew the Amalekite messenger who foolishly and falsely claimed to have killed King Saul (2 Sam. 1:6-27). Years later, David again manifested a tender, forgiving spirit toward his rebellious son, Absalom, who attempted to seize the throne (2 Sam. 18:33). We should have the same forgiving spirit toward those who would do us wrong (Mark 11:25; Luke 23:33-34; Eph. 4:31-32).
At Saul’s death the tribe of Judah, to whom David belonged, elected him as king of Judah and placed him on the throne in Hebron. The rest of the tribes of Israel set up Ishbosheth, Saul’s surviving son, as king at Mahanaim. For the next two years civil war raged between these two factions. It ended in the assassination of Ishbosheth, an event which saddened David.
After the death of Ishbosheth, David was elected king over all the people of Israel. He immediately began work to establish a United Kingdom. One of his first acts was to capture the fortified city of Jebus. Although the inhabitants boasted it was safe from capture, David and his army took it by storm. He then made it the capital city of his kingdom and erected his palace there. Afterwards known as Jerusalem, the new capital stood on the border of the southern tribe of Judah and the other tribal territories to the north. This location tended to calm the jealousies between the north and the south, contributing greatly to the unity of the kingdom.
Afterwards, David proceeded to re-establish and strengthen the worship of God. He moved the Ark of the Covenant from Kirjath-jearim and placed it within a tabernacle which he pitched in Jerusalem. Next, he organized the worship of Israel, especially regarding songs of praise, and began plans to build a house of worship. But God brought a halt to his plans, informing David that the task of constructing the Temple would be entrusted to his successor (2 Sam. 7:1-16; 1 Kings 8:18-21; 1 Chron. 22:7-10). David accepted this without question, and began gathering materials that Solomon would one day use to build the temple. As David endeavored to keep God’s precepts, we must also obey His commandments (Psa. 19:7-14; John 15:10; 1 Tim. 4:11-16).
To say that David was “a man after God’s own heart” does not mean that he was perfect. Although he was a righteous king, David was subject to sin, just like other human beings. His unlawful manner of transporting the ark of the covenant resulted in the tragic death of Uzzah (2 Sam. 6). He yielded to sinful desire, committing adultery with Bathsheba, and attempting to cover-up his transgression, David ordered the murder of her husband (cf. 2 Sam. 11-12). Afterwards, he disobeyed God by numbering Israel and Judah (cf. 2 Sam. 24; 1 Chron. 21).
The Bible does not gloss over human weakness; instead, it presents its subjects accurately and honestly, a mixture of strength and weakness. David was confronted by the prophet Nathan, who courageously exposed his wrongdoing. Faced with his sin, David freely confessed, demonstrating genuine penitence (Psa. 32:1-7; 51:1-4). We also should evidence similar penitence (Prov. 28:13; Matt. 5:4; 1 John 1:8-9).
Although David committed deep sin, he still was known as a man who sought God’s will. He was willing to repent of his wrongdoing and rededicate himself to serving God. His influence for good in the life of his nation was great, since every king after David was compared to the standard which he established.
God forgave David of his shameful actions, the consequences of the sin continued to plague him. The child born to David and Bathsheba died. The example he set as a father was a bad influence on his sons. One son, Amnon, raped and humiliated his half-sister. Another son, Absalom, rebelled against David and tried to take away his kingdom by force. Forgiveness does not necessarily eliminate consequences. One can pull nails out of a board, but the scars remain.
David died when he was 71 years old, having been king for a total of over 40 years, including both his reign in Hebron and his kingship over the United Kingdom.
A capable musician, David unquestionably gave great encouragement to this fine art in the life of his people. As a warrior and military man, he was resourceful and courageous. As a king, David was without equal in the life of his nation. As a religious leader, he was exceptional. His psalms continue to be the favorite devotional literature for honest souls who seek a closer walk with God.
The Jewish historian Josephus praised David by saying, “This man was of an excellent character, and was endowed with all the virtues that were desirable in a king.” But even higher praise came from God Himself through the speech of Stephen in the Book of Acts. Stephen quoted the Lord as declaring, “I have found David the son of Jesse a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22).
Do these characteristics describe your life? Are you spiritually-minded, humble, courageous and faithful, patient, forgiving, obedient and penitent? If these qualities are present in your life, you too can be a person after God’s own heart.
Sources: Donald P. Ames, “A Man After God’s Own Heart,” Preach The Word, ed. Earl E. Robertson, (Fairmount, IN: Guardian of Truth Foundation, 1981), p. 1-3. Extensively Revised. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Herbert Lockyer, Sr. (Seattle, WA: BibleSoft & Nashville: TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986), s.v. “David.”