How can it be?
Think about it. A King who committed adultery and murder! A man who was ruthless at times - so much so that God forbade him to build the temple because of his violence. And the Biblical record bears testimony to the serious relationship issues he faced as a father to his children.
Yet God describes David as a man ‘after my own heart’. A bewildering paradox and apparent contradiction of the ‘God Who Is’.
To add fuel to the fire David was anointed to be God’s chosen king by the prophet Samuel during his teenage years, and the Holy Spirit was with him throughout his life. God saw something in David’s heart and character which had the makings of a future king, when he was but a young boy.
Let’s get closer to responding to some of these perplexing questions as we discover how David boldly and unequivocally opens up his life to us in the Psalms. More has been written about David than any other character in the Old Testament; 66 chapters in the Old Testament and there are 59 references to him in the New Testament. In addition, 73 Psalms are attributed to David.
David loved the Lord with a full heart, affectionately, deeply and fervently. He articulates this throughout the Psalms in prose, poetry, music and song. He says in Psalm 18:1 “I love you, Lord my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
David’s relationship with the Lord was spontaneous, natural and exuberant. He was a larger than life personality who had ‘no worries’ about dancing before the Lord, despite what the people thought. God was the love of David’s life in good times and bad.
David’s inspirational leadership was anchored in a strong resilient faith and implicit trust in God. He says in Psalm 27:1 “The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?” Nowhere in Scripture is this point better illustrated than in 1 Samuel 17 where David as a young shepherd boy fearlessly slew the Philistine, Goliath.
A Powerful Lesson
David was fully aware of God’s presence in his life, and he had faith that God would deliver him from impending danger. How else would he have the courage to venture into a potentially fatal situation with calm and confidence? Shortly before his duel with Goliath David says, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” A powerful lesson on how faith and courage are mutually inclusive. The Lord grants the faith and courage to serve in His strength.
David repeatedly declared how much he loved God’s perfect Word. We find a beautiful example of this in Psalm 119:47-48 “For I delight in your commands because I love them. I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees.”
David consistently praised God and showed appreciation to the Lord no matter what the circumstances. He declares in Psalm 26:6-7 “O Lord, I proclaim aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds.” David’s life was marked by seasons of great peace and prosperity as well as times of fear and despair. But through all of the seasons in his life, he never forgot to thank the Lord for the blessings of life and living.
Nevertheless, David was also a card carrying member of the human race as we all are, filled with inherent strengths and weaknesses dating back to the fall of humankind in the Garden of Eden. And as such he too was vulnerable to temptation and sin. This is vividly highlighted in 2 Samuel 11:2-5 “It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is not this Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’ So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant’” (English Standard Version).
The mighty fall hard, and David was no exception. He succumbed to temptation resulting in a series of deadly consequences. He quickly found himself embroiled in a web of deceit, denial and self-justification as he attempted to rationalise his fall into adultery and later murder.
He somehow tried to convince himself of the critical need to send his most valiant warrior, Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, to the frontline…knowing the chances of Uriah coming out alive was slim. True enough Uriah was killed in battle and David was now free to marry Bathsheba.
David allowed his position of power to get the better of him so that he could take what he should not have. His denial and self-deceit continued for several months until he was confronted by Nathan the prophet, after which he became painfully aware of the heinous nature of his sins. He then responds sorrowfully with a deeply repentant heart. This is dramatically portrayed in Psalm 51:1-2,10-11,17 “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! Create in me a pure heart, O God and renew a steadfast heart within me…My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you will not despise. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”
You shall not die
And Nathan said to David in 2 Samuel 12:13 “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. In reality David deserved the death penalty. Yet the Triune God was gracious and merciful to David as he is to each and every one of us. Our sins, past, present and future are forgiven in Christ who bore our transgressions on the cross. David lost his child from Bathsheba, though he prayed and fasted for seven days, crying out to God to intervene. He had to face up to the harsh reality that forgiveness and mercy does not mean one will not suffer the consequences of sin.
David learned from his sin and God restored within him a pure heart. His life matured and deepened spiritually through the adversity caused by sin. His soul was touched by the truth and he was unafraid to admit his transgressions. A lesson for us as we feel the pain our sins brings upon ourselves and others.
What David did about his transgressions when confronted with the cruel reality of his actions is what made all the difference, notwithstanding the horrifying nature of his deeds (2 Sam. 12:13). David’s repentance led to a deeper transformation of his heart, mind and soul. The early twentieth-century evangelist and teacher Oswald Chambers said: “If God allows you to be stripped of the exterior portions of your life, he means for you to cultivate the interior.”
A faithful struggle
Even the Scottish writer, philosopher and historian, Thomas Carlyle, a bitter critic of organized Christianity, described David’s life in complimentary terms. He wrote: “All earnest souls will discern in the book of Psalms the faithful struggle of an earnest human soul towards what is good and best. Struggle often baffled – sore baffled – driven as into an entire wreck; yet a struggle never ended, ever with tears, repentance, true unconquerable purpose begun anew.”
This brief glimpse into David’s life may give some clues as to why God called him a ‘man after my own heart’. David loved the Lord with a full heart, yet his life somehow encapsulates the vulnerable side of our humanity. The Triune God loves and forgives even in our moments of weakness.
We serve a loving God who seeks to enjoy a heart relationship with each and every one of us. A high priest who understands our failings and lifts us out of our sin, as He did with David. The New Testament contextualises this in Hebrews 4:14-16 “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”