David is mentioned more times in the Bible than any other Biblical character. His name to many of us is immediately associated with the time when he confronted Goliath the giant. The Bible also records many other events in the life of David. A careful study of David’s life will leave us with many lessons which we can apply to our lives today.
David had faults. He committed sin. He was guilty of great offenses. But unlike King Saul, David was not rebellious and disobedient. David was quick to repent. Because of this willingness to repent, Paul says that David was a man whose heart was inclined toward God. In Acts 13:22, we read, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, who shall fulfil all my will.”
There are many spiritual lessons which we can learn from the life of David. As we review the last half of 1 Samuel and all of 2 Samuel, we will try and glean some reasons why David is called “a man after God’s own heart.”
1. David as a Shepherd Boy (1 Samuel 16-19)
One incident in David’s boyhood days plainly denotes his character. While he was keeping his father’s sheep, a lion came and took a lamb. David went out after the lion, and got the lamb out of the lion’s mouth. The lion arose against him, and he caught the lion by the beard and slew it! This account shows David’s great courage.
Notice that the loss of one poor lamb was the occasion that prompted David’s bravery. Many shepherds would have considered the loss of one tiny lamb far too trifling to endanger their own lives. But not David! It was his love for that lamb and his faithfulness to the charge given him (the duty of tending his father’s sheep) which moved him to act. David was faithful in small things, and later he was given larger duties to perform.
David was a lad who longed to know God in deeper dimensions. He wrote that he couldn’t sleep until God found a place in his heart. When he was in the pastures of Bethlehem Ephratah, he was concerned for God’s glory (See Psalms 132:4-6).
1 Samuel 16 then tells how Samuel was told to find and anoint a new king. Samuel went to the house of Jesse, and one by one the sons of Jesse came out before Samuel. But the prophet knew that Israel’s future king was not among them. Then David, the youngest of the sons, who had been out keeping the sheep, was brought before Samuel. The prophet anointed him and consecrated him as the next king of Israel. 1 Samuel 16:13 says, “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.”
Even though God had rejected Saul as king, He still allowed Saul to rule for 20 or more years. During this time, David served King Saul in his royal court. David played the harp for Saul during the King’s periods of depression. When he wasn’t at the court, David continued to help his father with shepherding the sheep.
David came into public notice as a result of his victory over Goliath, the Philistine giant. Goliath was over 9 feet tall. He wore 125 pounds of armor. David went before Goliath with a sling and 5 smooth stones (the same instrument he used to protect his father’s sheep). In an unguarded moment—quick as a flash—before the Philistine knew what happened, the stone from David’s sling pierced the giant’s forehead, and Goliath crashed to the ground. Large numbers of people praised David, and chanted, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7).
2. David as a Fugitive From King Saul (1 Samuel 20-31)
King Saul could not bear to see David praised for his achievements. He became bitterly jealous of David after the experience with Goliath. Twice Saul lifted his spear and cast it at David. But on both occasions, David managed to slip away unharmed. On another occasion, Saul offered his daughter in marriage to David on the condition that David slay 100 Philistines. Saul hoped that David would lose his life in the attempt (1 Samuel 18:17). Finally, David felt it wasn’t safe to remain in Saul’s court. So he fled to Adullam, wandering about in the deserts of Judea for several years. But Saul hunted him down and repeatedly tried to kill him. Saul plotted time and time again to trip David, but each time he escaped from Saul’s traps.
During the years when David was wandering about in the desert with Saul seeking to take his life, he had several unusual opportunities to take Saul’s life. However, David returned love for Saul’s hatred. David had suffered injustice and ill treatment at the hands of King Saul for many years. On two occasions David had opportunity to get even with Saul (and even to take his life). But David said, “The Lord forbid that I should (harm) my master, the Lord’s anointed.” So David let Saul escape twice.
The first time was at a place called “Engedi.” The word “Engedi” means “rocks of the wild goats.” It is a place along the Dead Sea where there are lots of caves and caverns. 1 Samuel 24 tells how Saul went into a cave at Engedi to rest. Saul and his soldiers were unaware that David and his men were hiding in the inner recesses of that very cave. David’s men wanted to kill Saul, but David merely cut off the edge of Saul’s robe. He could have just as easily cut off Saul’s head.
The second opportunity David could have used to kill Saul was when Saul was camped in the wilderness of Ziph, by the side of the road. While Saul and his armies were sleeping, David went down under the cover of darkness and took away Saul’s spear and water jar.
Injustice is one of the most difficult things for any of us to bear. One type of reaction toward those who treat us unjustly is to retaliate. However, retaliation is unwise, and un-Christlike.
David demonstrated great patience and love toward King Saul—even though Saul was consistently trying to take David’s life. David went the second mile. He turned the other cheek. This is the attitude taught by Jesus in the New Testament.
3. David’s Reign as King of Israel (2 Samuel 1-10)
When King Saul was killed, David tore his clothes, and wept and mourned and fasted until evening. David respected Saul as the anointed king even though Saul had severely mistreated him. David did not hold a grudge.
David had known for many years that he was chosen to be the next king of Israel. He had already been anointed by Samuel, while still a lad in Bethlehem. At first David became king only over the tribe of Judah. Later he was declared king over all of Israel. 2 Samuel 5:4 says David reigned over Israel for 40 years. He greatly extended the borders of Israel, and established peace throughout much of the land. But not everything went smoothly for David.
Soon after David had conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites and made Jerusalem his capital city, David ordered the Ark of the Covenant brought from the house of Abinadab up to the City of Jerusalem. The Ark of the Covenant was one of the six sacred pieces of furniture which belonged in the Jewish house of worship, the Tabernacle. The Ark of the Covenant was a chest made of wood overlaid with gold, in which were kept the Ten Commandments. The Ark of the Covenant was to be kept in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle. Human hands were never to touch the Ark of the Lord (Numbers 4:15).
God had given clear instructions telling how the Ark should be transported from place to place. It was to be carried on poles by the Levites. But when David decided to move the sacred chest, he had the Ark of the Covenant hauled up to Jerusalem on a cart. At one point the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah put out his hand to steady the Ark. Immediately he died (2 Samuel 6:6-7). God punished disobedience at once. It is always dangerous to tamper with sacred things. Even doing good things by methods not sanctioned in the Scriptures is unwise.
During the time that David ruled over Israel, he demonstrated great wisdom and justice in dealing with people. David stood out as one of the greatest political and spiritual leaders in Old Testament history.
4. David’s Sin With Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-20)
One evening while David was walking out on the roof of his palace, he noticed a beautiful woman bathing on a nearby rooftop. David quickly responded to what he saw, even though he knew she was the wife of Uriah. A few months later he received word that Bathsheba had conceived a child as a result of his adulterous relationship with her that night.
Instead of confessing his transgression, David immediately began a frantic effort to cover up his sin. First of all, in order to cover up the scandal, David sent for Uriah and brought him home from the battle front. David hoped to make it seem that Uriah was the father of Bathsheba’s unborn child. David possibly thought to himself that no one would ever know the child was his (2 Samuel 11:6-9). But Uriah was so loyal to David and to his fellow soldiers who were camping in the open battlefield, that he refused to allow himself the indulgence of staying in the comforts of his own home and enjoying the favors of his wife.
David’s next scheme was to blur Uriah’s thinking by making him drunk. He thought that perhaps Uriah would stumble home, and in his drunken stupor forget his military responsibilities for at least one evening. But David’s plan just didn’t work. So he decided to have Uriah killed. The commanding officer was to expose Uriah to the most concentrated enemy attack that “he may be smitten, and die.” When David later learned that indeed Uriah was killed in a savage attack waged by the Ammonites, David sent this message to Joab (his commanding officer): “Let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devoureth one as well as another.” David was saying that Joab was doing a good job. He wasn’t to worry just because Uriah was killed. But those words from David have a mighty hollow sound.
There are some lessons to be learned from this dark period in David’s life:
- 1. Beware of idleness.
- 2. Beware of exposing nakedness.
- 3. Beware of letting the eyes and mind dwell on sinful things.
- 4. Never think that unconfessed sin can be covered up.
- 5. Beware of thinking, “It can’t happen to me.”
Even the strongest person can easily slip. At any moment, at any hour, any Christian anywhere can be caught off guard and can fail God miserably.
David, after being confronted by the prophet Nathan, acknowledged his sin, and his sin was forgiven. But David reaped what he sowed. The wages of that sin continued to pay bitter dividends for many years. The child born to Bathsheba died. David’s oldest son, Amnon, fell into shameful immorality with his half-sister Tamar. Another son, Absalom, led a rebellion against his father’s kingdom. Absalom was a young man with a magnetism that attracted people. Soon he stirred up a widespread rebellion against David, and David had to flee from the city of Jerusalem in disgrace.
To continue living in sin will bring dreadful consequences. True, the sin can be forgiven. But the Bible doesn’t create the impression that people get away with their sin, or that God approves of it. 2 Samuel 11:27 says, “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”
5. Lessons From David’s Life
There are three concluding observations that are evident in the life of David, the “man after God’s own heart.”
a. David was not without faults.
Even though David was a powerful king over Israel for 40 years and his heart was definitely inclined Godward, he was not without faults. For example, David sinned in placing confidence in human strength (2 Samuel 24:9-10), and he manifested weakness as a father, whose sons brought him shame (2 Samuel 13:21; 14:28). Yet God used him! Thus David’s life is a prime example in the Scriptures of how God works through weak and frail and sinful persons, like you and me, to accomplish His purposes.
b. David was not without troubles.
One of the basic fallacies which many Christians secretly hold is the idea that when you are right with God, you ought to have nothing but good fortune. But David had his share of troubles. He brought some of them upon himself because of his sin with Bathsheba and his lack of discipline over his children—but it’s also clear that David faced many troubles for which he was not responsible.
Adversity and trouble are not always punishment for evil which we have done. It’s certainly proper for us to examine ourselves and to confess our sins frequently, but when hard places do come it will not always be possible to put our finger on something we have done. We will not always have an immediate explanation as to why we have been dealt with so harshly. Many times God does what He does simply because He is who He is and offers no explanation, as it was in the case of Job.
c. David was not without limitations.
David needed a power outside himself and he wasn’t too proud to admit it. He said one time, “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God:” (Psalm 42:2). On another occasion, he said, “The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). David was a man after God’s own heart. He had faults and troubles and limitations. But one of the beautiful things about his life is that he wasn’t too proud to hold out his hand for help.
David is mentioned in the “heroes-of-faith” chapter (Hebrews 11). Beginning at verse 32, we read: “And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” (Hebrews 11:32-34). These men of faith were divinely enabled to perform remarkable deeds beyond their own natural abilities.
Apply these lessons from the life of David to your life. Seek to avoid the mistakes which David made. Let each of us resolve to press toward higher goals starting today.