“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” (Psalms 51:1).
(Scripture citations from the American Standard Version)
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David’s life is an amazing allegory of the Church class. Larger pictures and detailed events alike carry a wealth of meaning and symbols. Our Lord himself quoted Psalm 22 on the cross, which shows us the unique way that God used David in prophecy. The parallels between David’s life and the history of the Church class have long been a source of study and inspiration for students of the Bible. In spite of this, it can be challenging for a Christian to see David as a personal example. David became a warrior king who ruled with authority. Unlike Daniel, Job, or Joshua, he had a number of high profile failures. The honest Christian is hard pressed to answer how a murderer, an adulterer, a bad parent, and a man of war can be a man after God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14). How could Jesus consider him a standard of human greatness (Mark 12:35‑37)? Considering this question may be both humbling and liberating. David was a courageous man, a fierce warrior, a great general and a strong leader. His victories made him famous from an early age. He defeated Goliath when no one in Saul’s army was willing to risk their own life. He led countless expeditions into enemy territories and cloaked himself in military glory. Though he was accustomed to winning, he constantly credited God for victory. Thus, it might seem surprising that God would seem to rebuke David for being a man of war. “David the king … said… It was in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, and for the footstool of our God; and I had made ready for the building. But God said unto me, Thou shalt not build a house for my name, because thou art a man of war, and hast shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28:2‑3). The answer is subtle and yet powerful. God did not rebuke David for being a man of war, He simply acknowledged it. The work of building the Temple was symbolic and had to be associated with peace and new beginnings. David had spilled blood, and though wars may have been necessary at the time, his participation in them disqualified him as the builder of God’s temple. The message conveyed in that decision is that God is a God of peace. In fact, His son Jesus is “The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). David was allowed to formulate the building plans and gather building materials, but his name was not to be associated with the actual construction.
Guilty of Sin
Like David, we too are guilty of sins. We are born in iniquity (Psalm 51:5). We do well to remember that God builds His spiritual temple. It is not accomplished by our own achievements. By grace, we are blessed with the undeserved privilege of having insights into God’s plan and sharing in the harvest work, pictured by David gathering the building material for the temple. A number of events in David’s life reveal his human weaknesses. For example, he took a census of the people even after Joab reminded him that it was forbidden by God. His willingness to accept God’s punishment was correct, but the price was very high. Seventy thousand men died as a result (2 Samuel 24:1‑ 7). David was also a poor father. Though he loved his children, he was unable to raise all of them to love God. He failed to act properly when one of his sons raped his half‑sister, and that incident eventually festered into murder and a civil war led by his other son, Absalom. David, his family, and Israel, all paid a high price for his shortcomings. Even on his deathbed, David left Solomon with a list of people to kill if he wanted to consolidate his kingship. This included his lifelong friend Joab, and Shimei,1 whom he swore he would not kill for his sin (2 Samuel 19:23, 1 Kings 2:5‑9). Though those events carry symbolism, it is challenging for a Christian to associate “a man after God’s heart” with this type of behavior. Examining the failures of David should bring humility and watchfulness to our minds and hearts. David’s anointing set him apart, but it also began a journey filled with temptations to turn away from God. After all, Saul also was anointed when he was a humble young man, yet he did not live the rest of his life as a man after God’s heart. Sadly, he is remembered as an unfaithful king. David’s sins are also a present danger for any Christian. At times, just as in David’s life, the reality of our lives is marred by sins that too easily beset us, for our flesh is weak and is always ready to fail. “The works of the flesh are … these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you … that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19‑21). “Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5:27‑28). “Ye adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
(1) Joab had slain two generals, and then David’s rebellious son Absalom, all contrary to David’s expressed will. Then he conspired in Adonijah’s usurpation of the throne, and a clear threat to the life of Solomon. David swore that he (David) would not have Shimei killed. But 1 Kings 2:8,9 suggests there had been no further evidence of Shimei’s repentance. Both men were threats to King Solomon’s life, as shown by subsequent events in 1 Kings 2. — Editor Which one of us is without sin and can be the first to cast a stone at David’s memory and label him as an adulterer, a murderer, and a sinner? (John 8:7, 1 John 1:10). We would be wrong to judge David by those actions alone, just as we are often wrong to judge each other too harshly by the failures that we notice. We would be as rash as Shimei was in the following passage: “There came … a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera … and cursed still as he came. And he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of King David: and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And Thus said Shimei when he cursed, Begone, begone, thou man of blood, and base fellow: Jehovah hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and Jehovah hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son; and, behold, thou art taken in thine own mischief, because thou art a man of blood” (2 Samuel 16:5‑8).
The above passage provides a meaningful insight into David’s heart. In his younger days, he might have killed Shimei, the way he had wanted to kill Nabal (1 Samuel 25:22). At this point in his life, however, David humbly accepted the circumstances as a lesson from above and waited on God’s deliverance, even in the heat of trial. This is in stark contrast to Shimei, who claimed to know God’s final judgment. This is also an important lesson for the Christian. “David said to Abishai, and to all his servants, Behold, my son, who came forth from my bowels, seeketh my life: how much more may this Benjamite now do it? Let him alone, and let him curse; for Jehovah hath bidden him. It may be that Jehovah will look on the wrong done unto me, and that Jehovah will requite me good for his cursing of me this day” (2 Samuel 16:11‑12). For a man of war, seasoned in many battles, David showed tremendous restraint. There are many such examples throughout his life when he reflected God’s merciful character and refused to raise his hand against his fellow Hebrews. As fierce as he was when fighting against the odds, David was also mindful of not misusing military superiority or strength when he was presented with it. He did not kill Saul and Shimei when he could have, and wept when Abner and Absalom were killed against his wishes (2 Samuel 3:31‑39, 18:33). Indeed, his attitude reminds us of Jesus’ words that we also strive to follow: “Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you” (Matthew 5:43‑44). One of David’s most amazing qualities throughout his life was his awareness of who he really was and his full dependence upon God. David’s willingness to be changed by God is evident throughout his life. As a young shepherd, he had had confidence in God and fought against Goliath to defend God’s character. As a wanted man, he respected the Lord’s timetable and refused to kill Saul, who was still God’s anointed king. He understood the difference between the letter and the spirit of the law when he ate of the holy bread while on the run (1 Samuel 21:6). As a king, he humbled himself in front of God and Israel by dancing in front of the ark girded with a linen ephod. He was not ashamed to give praise to God as the true savior of Israel and willingly shed all earthly honors. Unlike the Church class, David did not benefit from having the example of Jesus, who emptied himself, and took the form of a servant (Philippians 2:5‑7). But we recognize his example to us. “David said unto Michal, It was before Jehovah, who chose me above thy father, and above all his house, to appoint me prince over the people of Jehovah, over Israel: therefore will I play [celebrate] before Jehovah” (1 Samuel 6:21).
David was loved by his people, especially by those who fought by his side. He considered his friends as a gift from God, something we should do as well: “The three brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David: but David would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto Jehovah, and said, My God forbid it me, that I should do this: shall I drink the blood of these men that have put their lives in jeopardy? for with the jeopardy of their lives they brought it. Therefore he would not drink it” (1 Chronicles 11:18‑19). When David was a shepherd, he behaved like a king. When he was crowned as king, David continued to exhibit the spirit of a shepherd. “David did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah, and turned not aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5). Unlike Saul before him, David understood that obedience is better than sacrifice and that the true offerings God requires are a broken spirit and a contrite heart. He knew the importance of maintaining a heart that God could cleanse and that having a standing with God was a gift, not based on merit. He asked God to hide His face from his sins and blot out all of his iniquities. He knew that God was the source of wisdom and that He provided the joy of salvation. David truly understood that he was a pot of clay in the Master’s hand and therefore fully submitted himself to God (Psalm 51). We are urged to do the same. “Hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” (Romans 9:21). It took a lot of work by David to stay true to his anointing, and even more so for God. This is illustrated in one of David’s darkest hours, the events that culminated with the killing of Uriah the Hittite. Unfortunately, David’s sin was not just a moment of weakness. It was planned and willful. David first committed adultery with Bathsheba, then he tried to hide his sin by putting Uriah together with his wife. He eventually had his lifelong friend killed in an intricate scheme that left others with blood on their hands as well. It is hard to grasp that he thought he had gotten away with it (2 Samuel 11).
God’s way of dealing with this situation shows how precious David was in His sight and how willing God was to help him turn from his sins. He sent Nathan the prophet who told the king a story about a shepherd, his lamb, and a greedy rich man. David was so blind to his sin that God needed to remind him who he was when God chose him: a shepherd boy who cared deeply about his sheep. David wrote Psalm 51 with this occasion in mind. It indicates his acceptance of guilt, remorse, and need of God’s direct intervention in his life: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; And my sin is ever before me. … Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:1‑3,7). Psalm 51 is a key to properly understanding the heart of David, and also provides a roadmap for the Christian. Words cannot adequately describe the awesomeness of God’s mercy and redemption to an aging and weak David. God then chose Solomon, David’s second son from Bathsheba, to follow as king, dedicate the temple, and his reign became a symbol of the kingdom of God.
David is more than just a role model for the Christian. His life vividly portrays the constant struggle between the Spirit and the flesh. Though his shortcomings are described in Chronicles and Kings, his depth of consecration and purity of heart inspire us through his writings in the book of Psalms. He wrote about clear life principles (Psalm 15), hymns of praise (Psalm 33), prayers for help (Psalm 28), the hope for salvation (Psalm 16), and many more pillars of living a godly life. By reading and re-reading the Psalms we discover a deep relationship between David and God and realize that this wisdom was gained by living a life of struggling to implement the principles of righteousness. By understanding and accepting David’s sins as a part of his life, we learn to trust that God is both able and willing to fulfill the same work in us using our life experiences, successes and failures alike. Then, just like David, we may find the confidence to shout from the depth of our beings: “I love thee, O Jehovah, my strength!” (Psalm 18:1).