Heroes of Faith: King David
Picture “David shows Saul he spared his life” from Dore Bible Illustrations—Used with Permission.
David is one of the most endearing, enraging, magnificent, pathetic and intriguing characters in Hebrew scripture. He is also one of the most interesting men ever to walk the face of the earth. If David were suddenly translated by time machine into our era, and forced to make a new life for himself, he would have a number of really attractive choices.
David could be a musician. According to 1st Samuel 16:23 when an evil spirit from the Lord visited Saul, David played upon his lyre, comforting Saul until the evil spirit departed.
David could become a hymnist, or perhaps a poet. In times past more than half of the 150 Psalms have been attributed to David. Few poets or hymnists have ever equaled the beauty of Psalm 23, the confidence of Psalm 139, or the pathos of Psalms 51, all of which were a part of our responsive reading this morning.
David could become a dancer. David once leaped and danced with joy before the Ark of the Lord with such vigor that his performance has become a permanent part of Israel’s history. According to the text of 2nd Samuel 6 David started out wearing a linen ephod, but he must have had an equipment failure. After his dance, David returned to his house, and his wife, Michal, the daughter of Saul, greeted him with displeasure. She told him that in her eyes the King of Israel had dishonored himself, uncovering himself before the eyes of the young women “as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself.” (Footnote 1) I am reminded of a story about a certain cast member in the rock musical “Hair.” After seeing the play his mother said to him, “I knew I would see you in the play, son, I just did not know that I would see so much of you.”
David could become a hunter. In the Golden Age of White Hunters in Africa, fearless hunters faced down charging lions with powerful, double-barreled rifles, shooting slugs weighing a quarter pound or more. By contrast the Masai often hunted lions armed only with a spear. David did even the Masai one better. When he was just a boy, watching over his father’s sheep, he killed lions and bears with a primitive sling, that he twirled around his head before loosing a stone with great velocity and accuracy.
Likewise, David could become a soldier. When he was not yet out of his teens, David refused the loan of Saul’s armor and armed himself with only his sling and five smooth stones he carefully selected from the bed of a stream. He then killed Goliath of Gath, the champion of the Philistines. David did not stop at single combat. He went on to become a great General, so that he quickly eclipsed the record of his predecessor, King Saul. The people said, “Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands.” (1st Samuel 18:7)
There aren’t many monarchs left in our world, but, certainly, David would make some nation a great king. And if David should somehow be translated across the centuries to America either party would be proud to place him at the top of their ticket. The Republicans once boasted that not even Santa Claus could defeat General Dwight D. Eisenhower for the presidency. Eisenhower was the architect of the allied victory in Europe, and the last General to serve the United States as President. Eisenhower was elected twice and served eight years. David ruled over Israel for more than forty years.
Of course, I may be over optimistic about David’s ability to be elected. His family life was the stuff of major scandal. His problem with Michal was perpetual. His children were equally difficult. David’s son, Amnon, raped his half-sister, Tamar, and then despised her for it. The text says that “he hated her with a hatred that was greater than the love he once had for her.” (2nd Samuel 13:15) Another of David’s sons, Absalom, heard of what Amnon had done to his sister, waited two years, and then had Amnon murdered. Absalom cut quite a figure. He had long flowing locks, and was regarded as the most handsome man in the kingdom. He was a popular favorite with the people. Ultimately, he tried to usurp his father David’s throne. Civil war broke out, and it lasted until the death of Absalom. He was killed the battle of Ephraim’s Wood when his long hair got caught in the limbs of a mighty oak. (Footnote 2) “That’s not all, folks”. That is just a sampling of David’s tragedy.
Obviously, there are ways in which David is a poor role model for us, and for our children, and for our children’s children. Yet, in other ways, David is one of the greatest roll models of all time.
1. David could be quite chivalrous, and unlike some of us, he never tried to force the hand of God.
Once when King Saul was pursing David, and intent upon killing him, Saul went into a cave to relieve himself. David and his men were hiding in the back of the cave. David’s men urged David to kill Saul, saying that God had delivered him into David’s hand. David slipped up on Saul in the darkness of a cave, and he cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe, but that was all he did. Despite the urging of his men, and despite that Samuel had anointed David in Saul’s stead, David refused to put out his hand against the Lord and his anointed.
2. David also had a model friendship with Jonathan, the son of Saul.
Perhaps you have heard that, “Marriage is two souls living in one body, whereas friendship is “two bodies sharing a single soul.” The first part of that statement was inspired by Genesis 1, wherein we read, “a man shall leave his mother and his father, and cleave unto his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The second part of that statement was inspired by 1st Samuel 18:1 wherein we read, “the soul of Jonathan was knitted to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved David as his own soul.” David returned Jonathan’s love and friendship. When Jonathan was finally killed in battle, alongside his father, Saul, David sang a lament:
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
Greatly beloved were you to me;
Your love to me was wonderful,
Passing the love of women.
3. David possessed great faith, and he always had total confidence in God, despite the odds against him.
David was just a boy when he went out to meet Goliath of Gath. The text declares that Goliath stood over nine feet tall, and that his spear was thicker than a weaver’s beam. David faced this formidable foe and said:
You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 1st Samuel 17:45
It has been rightly said that one man, one woman, plus God is a majority in any situation. Few people in the history of our planet illustrate this truth better than David.
4. David was intimately acquainted with the depths of sin, and with the heights of God’s grace.
Perhaps you remember the details of that affair between David and Bathsheba. How David was standing on the roof of his palace when he saw Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop, and he desired her. Acting on his desire, he wooed her, and bedded her. She became pregnant with his child. David feared discovery. He summoned Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, back from the battle under a pretense, and then sent him home so that Uriah might have sex with Bathsheba, and be fooled into thinking that the child she carried was his own. But Uriah slept outside the door of David’s house. He refused even to sleep in the same house with his wife when his men were still at war and in harm’s way. David then acted despicably; he sacrificed one of his best soldiers, sending Uriah to the forefront of the battle, so that he might be killed. It was after the death of Uriah that David took Bathsheba to himself.
Yet this sordid tale was far from over. God sent the prophet Nathan to David to pronouncement judgment on David. Nathan began with a story. He said:
1 There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat (from his plate)(Footnote 3), and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it for the man who had come to him. 2nd Samuel 12:1-4
Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan:
5 As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. Bring the man before me and I will kill him. 2nd Samuel 12:5-6
Nathan then said to David, “You are the man!” And it was then that Nathan pronounced God’s sentence upon David. Acting in secret, David had stolen Bathsheba from her husband, Uriah, and destroyed Uriah by the sword of the Amorites. God would spare David’s life, but God would publicly bring calamity after calamity upon him. Ultimately, David suffered the death of three of his children, and the loss of several of his wives. To David’s credit, he immediately confessed his sin to Nathan saying, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to him, “Put away your sin that you may not die.”
Many scholars believe that Psalm 32 reflects this difficult period in David’s life. Therein he writes:
3 When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
And I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
And then you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
One of the most hopeful lines in scripture is found in Matthew 1:6 There, in the midst of Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, we read that “…David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” No text of scripture is more honest nor more grace filled than that! It is honest about David’s failure. Yet it declares that David’s failure did not prevent him from carring out the tasks God had assigned to him. Thus it was said that David was “a man after God’s won heart.” (Acts 13:22)
5. David was no summer soldier or sunshine believer. When the Dark days came, and there were many, he continued to trust God.
When his son by Bathsheba lay ill, David fasted and lay all night on the ground. He went like that for seven days. Then David learned that the child had died. It was every parent’s worst nightmare. Yet David did not quit. He did not close up shop. He did not throw in the towel. He did not abdicate his throne. He did not abandon faith in God. He arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD, and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he asked for food to be set before him, and he ate. When his servants called him out for his radical change in behavior, saying, “When the child lived, you fasted. Now the child is dead, and you eat.” David responded:
“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” 2nd Samuel 12:22-23
I do not think this little vignette from his life tells the whole story of David’s loss. I am quite sure David grieved the loss of the child for the rest of his life; but he did understand that life has to be lived forward, not backward. David knew that his life would never again be the same, but he had the confidence that it could still be good, and he lived for the good that was left. We must do likewise. No one who lives to old age does so without experiencing great loss. If, after a loss or a disappointment, we try to live in the past, we become no good to anyone, especially ourselves. Consider the case of Lot’s wife. When, at God’s direction, Lot led his family out of Sodom, Lot’s wife looked back to her pleasant life in that place, and she considered her present unhappiness, and she turned into a pillar of salt. Take this literally if you want, but do not miss the lesson it for all of us. Every time we look back, we risk becoming equally lifeless. When we look back we risk isolating ourselves from the people we love and all the good that still remains to us. We live in the present, as we anticipate the future that comes to us from God.
6. Finally, we should note that David was the most famous king of Israel. Because of this Christians have always regarded David as the ancestor and prototype of Jesus Christ. Note this comparison.
In 1st Samuel 16:13 we read that, at God’s direction, the prophet Samuel took a horn of oil, and anointed David King over Israel in the presence of his brothers, and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily from that day forward. In Mark 1:10-11 we read Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, and when he came up out of the water he saw the heavens torn open, and the Spirit of God descending upon him like a dove, and he heard the voice of God saying, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
God promised David that he would never lack a son to sit upon the throne of Israel. (2nd Samuel 7:16) That promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus did some very un-messiah like things, like getting himself crucified. The New Testament declares, “He died for our sins.” A sign was placed over his cross that said, “The King of the Jews.” That sign was intended to be ironic; it was anything but. Jesus was crucified, killed and buried, but on the third day God raised him from death, and seated him at his right hand, that he might make his enemies a stool for his feet. Jesus reigns as King forever. He wants to rule over us. It is to our advantage. He can help us overcome our mistakes, and mend us at the broken places, and put us on the path back to God.
Let me leave you with a riddle. Jesus asked the question and did not answer it, so neither shall I. In Mark 12 we read that as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put your enemies under your feet.’ David himself calls him Lord; so how is he his son?” If you can answer that, you are well on your way to becoming a Christian theologian. Let me give you a hint: Read John 1. The Christology of Mark is very nearly as high as the Christology of John.
Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.
1) 2nd Samuel 6:20 And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” David rebuked Michal, told her that God had made him king, and that he would make merry before the Lord as he pleased. The Scripture records that, “Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.” 2nd Samuel 6:23
20) David’s general Joab thrust three “darts” into his heart while he was still alive in the oak. Ten soldiers then surrounded Absalom and killed him.
3) Literally, “eat of his morsel.”