The faithfulness of King David – a man after God’s own heart

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From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 4 –  The meaning and importance of faithfulness

God rejected King Saul, as we have seen, and looked for a man He could rely on to be faithful and who would be ‘a man after God’s own heart‘:

13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you; for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14But now your kingdom shall not continue; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart; and the LORD has appointed him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.”

1 Samuel 13:13-14 (RSV)

God commanded the prophet Samuel, to appoint a new King to replace Saul and He told Samuel where to find him:

1The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”

1 Samuel 16:1 (RSV)

Jesse had eight sons. All of them were impressive men, especially the older ones. But the one God had chosen was the youngest, David. He was still only a teenager, probably about 16 or 17. God made it clear to Samuel that He was looking for a man with the right kind of heart, as opposed to talent, ability or strength. That is because faithfulness is an attitude of the heart, not a skill or ability:

6When they came, he looked on Eli’ab and thought, “Surely the LORD’S anointed is before him.” 7But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abin’adab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” 10And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he comes here.”

1 Samuel 16:6-11 (RSV)

So, David was chosen and then secretly anointed by Samuel to be the next King of Israel. Saul was not told about it because he would have killed David if he had known. David then ended up making a name for himself when he volunteered to fight a giant called Goliath in one to one combat. Goliath was a Philistine soldier who had been challenging Israel’s army to select a man to fight him. He was also mocking the Israelite army, because nobody volunteered. Nobody but David was brave enough, or had enough faith, to fight him. He therefore told King Saul that he wanted to fight Goliath, despite being only about 17 years old:

32And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.”

1 Samuel 17:32 (RSV)

The duel took place and, contrary to what some people imagine, David went into it fully expecting to win. He trusted God and believed He would help him. But he also felt outraged at the way that the heathen Goliath had been defying God and insulting His chosen people, Israel. David’s heart was so intensely loyal to God that he could not bear to hear such things. He wanted to vindicate God and to uphold His honour. He was therefore willing to face Goliath and to stop him:

41And the Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42And when the Philistine looked, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, ruddy and comely in appearance. 43And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”

1 Samuel 17:41-44 (RSV)

Goliath had been insulting God’s people, Israel. Now he was insulting David and making very intimidating threats. But David’s loyalty to God made him willing to take this great risk for the sake of God’s Name. David showed great courage that day. That is true of all people who are faithful to God. Faithfulness will inevitably lead us into situations of danger, where we have to put at risk our reputation, finances, status, or even our own lives. The courage we show at such times is a key indicator of our faithfulness. Look how much courage David showed and with such boldness:

45Then David said to the Philistine, “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. 46This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD’S and he will give you into our hand.” 48When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone, and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

1 Samuel 17:45-49 (RSV)

Once David had become famous, following his spectacular victory over Goliath, King Saul began to envy him. He became suspicious and paranoid. He saw David as a threat and tried to kill him. He sent men to hunt David down and so he had to go on the run for several years, hiding in the wilderness to get away from Saul’s men. Nevertheless, even during this period on the run, David never did anything to undermine King Saul. He recognised that Saul was still the legitimate King of Israel and that, although Samuel had anointed him, his own time as King had not yet begun

Thus David refused to seize the throne, either by force or manipulation. He was sorely tested on one occasion when he was hiding in a cave from Saul’s men and Saul came in to relieve himself. David had the perfect chance to kill Saul. His men urged him to do so, saying that it was obviously a God-given opportunity. But David refused. He stayed faithful to King Saul and chose, instead, to wait until God made him King, rather than grab power for himself:

1When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of En-ge’di.” 2Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. 3And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. 4And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the LORD said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.'” Then David arose and stealthily cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe. 5And afterward David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt. 6He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’S anointed, to put forth my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’S anointed.” 7So David persuaded his men with these words, and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave, and went upon his way.

1 Samuel 24:1-7 (RSV)

What a difficult test that was for David. We are unlikely ever to face one as severe as that. But note his extreme faithfulness to God, and also to King Saul himself, who was still the rightful King. David felt that as God had appointed Saul, he had a solemn duty to be loyal to the King, even though Saul was seeking to have him killed. David came out of the cave afterwards and shouted to Saul so that he could realise what had happened and that David had done him no harm:

8Afterward David also arose, and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth, and did obeisance. 9And David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your hurt’? 10Lo, this day your eyes have seen how the LORD gave you today into my hand in the cave; and some bade me kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not put forth my hand against my lord; for he is the LORD’S anointed.’ 11See, my father, see the skirt of your robe in my hand; for by the fact that I cut off the skirt of your robe, and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. 12May the LORD judge between me and you, may the LORD avenge me upon you; but my hand shall not be against you.

1 Samuel 24:8-12 (RSV)

When Saul heard this he was convicted, He knew that he was acting wrongly and that David was a much more faithful man than himself:

16When David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17He said to David, “You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. 18And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the LORD put me into your hands. 19For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the LORD reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. 20And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. 21Swear to me therefore by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not destroy my name out of my father’s house.” 22And David swore this to Saul. Then Saul went home; but David and his men went up to the stronghold.

1 Samuel 24:16-22 (RSV)

However, although Saul really was convicted, and knew he was sinning, he still did not repent. He continued, even after this, to pursue David, and to attempt to kill him. Thus, he was still seeking to do to David something which he had asked David to swear not to do to him. Saul was thus unfaithful to David, and to God and he was also a hypocrite.

By contrast, David was totally faithful, both to Saul and to God. Therefore his strength gradually rose. More and more men came to join David in the wilderness and became his followers. In the end, the whole kingdom became his and he reigned over it all with justice and equity:

15So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and equity to all his people.

2 Samuel 8:15 (RSV)

One of the main reasons why David’s reign was so successful was that he had entered into it well. He refused to grab the throne, which is what probably 99.9% of other men would have done. Instead, he waited many years to be given Saul’s place as King. He was also totally faithful to his predecessor, despite grievous ongoing provocation. Thus he reaped a good harvest from that faithfulness. The law of sowing and reaping was at work in David’s life. (See later books in this series for a full discussion of that law and how it operates in all our lives).

However, the main reason for his success was that he was so faithful to God, to his people, and to the men who served under him. There were a few spectacular exceptions when David sinned badly, but he always repented for those. Overall, he was unusually faithful, and God viewed him as “a man after my (own) heart, who will do all my will”:

21 Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king; of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’

Acts 13:21-22 (RSV)

Consequently, God viewed David as the best King Israel ever had. God also set out His assessment of the other Kings of both Israel and Judah. The Bible records each reign, whether good or bad. When it does, it focuses not on the abilities or successes of each King, but on the degree to which they were faithful. That was always the crucial thing in God’s eyes, not their achievements.

That is where God’s view of things is so very different to ours. We tend to assess other people on all the wrong criteria, such as their looks, fame, wealth, power and achievements. But God’s view is so unlike ours. He considers to be successful very many men and women whom the world regards as failures. He also regards as failures many people whom most of us would admire as great successes.

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