King David Playing the Harp, 1611, Gerrit van Honthorst
David was Israel’s greatest king. The nation reached the heights of its power under David’s son Solomon. But Solomon also sowed the seeds of the nation’s destruction, and within a generation after Solomon died it had been divided and devastated by civil war. David, however, inherited a troubled and weak collection of separate tribes, and built a nation.
Three hundred years after David died, the prophet Isaiah (55:3) was still talking about the everlasting covenant God made with the people for the sake of David. God said he made David the leader and commander that he was, and that because of him, Israel would be a witness to all the peoples of the earth. That prophecy was fulfilled in a descendant of David, Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, called the ‘city of David’ because it was his own birthplace and childhood home. For centuries, a descendant of David ruled over Israel. From the birth of Jesus and onward for all eternity, that divine descendant of David would rule over all heaven and earth.
David’s courage, nobility, and faith is as great as that of anyone in the Bible; but also great were his sins of revenge, adultery, and even murder. His leadership as the head of an army and as the king of a nation was incredible and a nearly complete success. But in his leadership in his family and in his authority over his own children, he was a huge failure. His virtues were extraordinary and his vices were outrageous. David would get an A in politics, but a D– in family values.
David’s life is a testimony to God’s goodness. God indeed made him what he was, bringing him out of nowhere, giving him blessing upon blessing, and even blessing the nation through him and because of him. And when David failed, we get a clear lesson in the greatness of God’s mercy and grace and forgiveness and patience. Anyone despairing over their own moral failures can look at David’s life and see how great God’s forgiveness can be and how much God is willing to forgive one who will repent of their sins.
The story of David began with God sending the prophet Samuel to Jesse, a farmer in Bethlehem. God had told Samuel to anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be the next king of Israel, and that God would guide Samuel to the right one. God had rejected King Saul so completely that he said the throne would not pass on the king’s son in the usual way, but that someone else would be found. So Jesse brought out seven sons, from the oldest to the youngest, and each was shown to Samuel. Each time, Jesse assumes ‘this must be the one,’ and each one is passed over by Samuel. Samuel had to ask if there are any more sons, and only then did Jesse mention the baby of he family, David. Even then Jesse hesitated, saying the boy was out tending sheep, as if there would be no need to bother with that little runt. Samuel had to insist, and only then was the next king of Israel brought forward, chosen, and anointed– even though still a boy. Samuel said to a surprised Jesse, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Being anointed to be the next king did not yet put one on the throne. A king was king for life, no matter how bad he was, and King Saul was still very much alive. So the future King David went back to tending his father’s sheep. Along with being a shepherd, David had learned to play the harp. He would at times be called on to play for King Saul to calm his troubled nerves. Saul knew nothing of the anointing.
Sometime later, King Saul and his army were at war with the army of the Philistines. The two armies were in a stalemate, in position on either side of a valley, each unwilling to attack the other. On the side of the Philistines was the nine foot tall soldier, Goliath. Each day, Goliath would come out and taunt the army of Israel. He would offer to fight any one of the Israeli warriors, and winner would take all– the entire army of the losing side in the duel would surrender. But what normal soldier could ever hope to have a chance against such a giant?
Three of David’s older brothers were in Saul’s army, and Jesse’s farm was not very far from the front lines. Jesse was concerned about his sons getting enough to eat, and would send David to them with extra provisions. One time when David was there, he heard Goliath’s challenge.
It angered David that no one was willing to trust God and accept the challenge, so he said he would. His older brothers were irritated with what seemed to be David’s arrogant foolishness. But David was soon to show that it was not foolishness and it was not arrogance. Rather, it was true courage, based on a solid faith in God. (continued…)
Isaiah 55:3 — Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.
I Samuel 16:7 — The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height… The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Luke 2:11 — Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
PSALM 25:1-2, 4-5, 16-18, 20…21 (a Psalm of David):
In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.
I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me…
Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.
Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.
Guard my life and rescue me… My hope, Lord, is in you.