When you mention King David to someone the image they have in their head may vary greatly depending on who they are. A child is going to think of one of the greatest children’s stories, David and Goliath. They picture David as a young boy with great bravery and faith in God.
An adult on the other hand is likely to picture David as a man of God – someone who was said to be a man after God’s own heart. Or they might acknowledge David’s greatness while also acknowledging that he had some major shortcomings in his life, most notable being his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.
If you’re a Jew, when King David is mention, you long for the days when David was king. Even though it has been 3000 years since David ruled Israel, his reign is still considered to be the pinnacle of the nation of Israel and the Jews still long for a return to days like when David ruled.
King David is such a central figure of the Bible and there is so much written about him, it almost feels as if he must have lived three lives to fit it all in. He is probably as complex of a figure as there is in the Bible.
David’s two most well known stories are mentioned above; his triumph over Goliath and his fall with Bathsheba. In between are a ton of stories and there is even plenty of significance before and after. David was already a hero of sorts before he met Goliath. He was a man of bravery before as he fended off wild beasts in order to protect his sheep.
After David killed Goliath there is a lot of overlooked action that takes place. David is God’s anointed choice to become king but Saul is currently king. This is the type of awkward situation that comedies are based upon but of course this is anything but a comedy.
David becomes a military leader and fights against the enemies of Israel. The people sing David’s praises by saying “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.” This obviously inspires jealousy by Saul.
David’s relationship with Saul is complicated by his son Jonathan who becomes David’s best friend. Saul becomes tormented by an evil spirit but David plays his harp to soothe the king. Nevertheless Saul seeks to kill David and he spends years on the run in fear for his life. Some of our greatest Psalms were written by David as he fled for his life.
Despite the fact that David is God’s anointed to sit on the throne following Saul, and despite the fact that Saul is trying to kill him, David never seeks to kill Saul. David has multiple opportunities to do so but does not act. His reasoning is that God has appointed Saul as king and it is not his decision to make as to when Saul is to be removed.
Saul will fall in battle which of leaves the throne open for David. Jonathan is also killed in battle which eliminates any possible thought of succession. The man who delivers the good news to David thinks that he will earn favor with him by saying that he was responsible for killing David’s enemy – a lie. Instead, David has the man executed, not for lying but for having the audacity to kill the man whom God had first anointed as king.
All of these events come before David ever becomes king. It is already a lifetime of battles but also faith and relying on God. When David becomes king the battles don’t end however. He continues to lead a nation at war. Despite being at war, the nation of Israel is at the height of its power while led by David.
One can’t give an honest account of David’s life without mentioning his sin with Bathsheba. The story is a good demonstration of how sin can snowball into something bigger and quickly grow out of control. When David witnesses Bathsheba bathing the entire mess could have been avoided if he had just averted his eyes once he knew what was happening. Some try to lay blame on Bathsheba but bathing on a roof was common practice at the time and she did no wrong in that and was not trying to seduce the king. While there’s no indication that Bathsheba was forced into the relationship, David is the driving force behind this sin.
After Bathsheba discovers that she is pregnant, King David tries to trick Uriah into going home and sleeping with his wife. If Uriah had been willing to leave his men and spend a night of comfort at home with his wife, the proceeding mess could be avoided. But instead Uriah is a righteous man who won’t rest while the rest of his men are not given the same comfort. It is an ugly juxtaposition to David who has taken what doesn’t belong to him from one of the men who was fighting for him. Others are making great sacrifices while David remains at home in luxury.
When Uriah is unwilling to go home and sleep with his wife, it is obvious that David will be unable to fool the man into believing the child that Bathsheba is carrying belongs to Uriah. The king could admit what a terrible thing he had done but he is not willing to come clean. So instead he places Uriah in a position where he is virtually guaranteed to die at the enemies’ hand. Even though the enemy does the killing, David is responsible for the murder.
Finally Nathan the prophet confronted David in 2 Samuel 12. Even though David had sinned in secret and worked hard to cover up the sin, God knew and there would be consequences. Verses 10-14 describe the punishment that is inflicted upon David.
10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
God forgave David but there were severe consequences for his sin. While David had been a man of war, he would continue to be a man of war. Because David took the wife of another in secret, his wives will be taken from him in public. This is fulfilled in 2 Samuel 16 by his son Absalom. Finally, the child from the union of David and Bathsheba will die.
These are three brutal punishments that David must bear but one can hardly argue that they don’t fit the crimes that David committed. Nevertheless, God also blesses David. Despite his sin, David is still a man after God’s own heart. He is not upset that he was caught in sin the way most are, rather he is crushed that he committed the sin in the first place. Psalm 51 was specifically written after Nathan confronted David and it shows what a truly repentant heart looks like.
God forgives David and he and Bathsheba have another son named Solomon. Of course this son goes on to be king following David. And interestingly enough Bathsheba ends up in the lineage of Christ as well. God never blesses sin but He can take terrible things and make good come from them.
Although there are many instances which show David’s love and respect of the Lord, perhaps none is more to the point than what is recorded in 2 Samuel 6. When the ark of the Lord is returned to Jerusalem, David rejoices and dances to the point that essentially his clothes fall off and he is left dancing in his underwear – an ephod as it is called in the passage. This displeases his wife Michal and she confronts him about this but David is unconcerned about her displeasure. Verses 20-22 tells the story:
20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord.22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”
In short, David was unconcerned about what anyone else thought of Him. He was going to worship before the Lord and if that left him humiliated in others’ eyes it was better that than to be humiliated in God’s eyes.
Despite David’s great reverence for the Lord and a desire to build a temple for God, the Lord won’t allow it. It is because he is a man of war who has blood on his hands. One could easily argue that David was only fighting the battles that God had him fight and that would be true. I don’t believe that David sought out the battles that he fought. But nevertheless this disqualifies David from the task in God’s eyes.
From a practical standpoint, it probably would have been difficult for David to fight off oppressing nations and do the building of the temple justice. From a theological standpoint though, the temple should be built from the riches that God blessed the nation with and not spoils of war.
Solomon will be the one to build the temple and God promises peace in his day in order to accomplish that. Nevertheless, David does much of the planning for the temple and prepares many of the materials that will be needed for its construction. While David doesn’t get to witness the actual temple, he is at least able to see in his mind what it should look like once his son Solomon completes the work.
This has only scratched the surface of David’s complex life. He was a complex man who had some very human faults. But he is a man who loved the Lord and he didn’t just pay lip service when it came to repentance. When he realized he had hurt the Lord with his sins, he hurt too. This is perhaps the best definition that we have of what it means to be a man or woman of God.