February 4, 2023 - David

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Today we’re going to take a look at David, a man who was both a hero of faith and a man of many faults. Some of David’s faults make me so angry at him, that the only reason I can believe him to be a hero of faith is because the Bible tells me so, and I take God at God’s word. God’s ultimate evaluation of David proves to me that God can see David’s heart better than I can, and God’s opinion is the only one that counts.

Yet some are officially convinced by their religion that David is eternally excluded from God’s highest kingdom and is condemned to suffer forever in a lower kingdom, all because of his role in the death of Uriah. The Bible clearly rejects this verdict on David. So what are David’s redeeming qualities that lead God to show mercy to this man who had hideous faults, and to even give him a place in God’s Hall of Fame? What does God see in David?

One factor in play here is that we know more about David than about anyone else in the Hebrew Bible. Not only do we have the Psalms (many of which were composed by him), we also have a large section of 1-2 Samuel that scholars call the “Court History of David.” This whole section seems to have been composed by an eyewitness who tells David’s story with amazing honesty (one scholar calls it “unlaundered history”). The whole account seems to have been written to defend David against misleading accusations from his enemies.

David’s enemies accused him of killing Saul and every other obstacle to his power. The Bible historian is constantly proving these claims to be false. Why does David go over to the Philistines? Because Saul never quits trying to kill him! So where was David when the Philistines slay Saul and his sons in battle? David was 3 days away after the Philistine army kicks him out. David proves he had nothing to do with the deaths of Saul, Absalom, or any of his rivals. Twice David refuses to seize the perfect chance to kill Saul. And if David wanted to steal the throne, then why was David such bosom-buddies with Jonathan, the heir to the throne? The writer of God’s word defends David against a lot of mistaken appearances.

When Saul proves to be unworthy of his throne, the prophet Samuel declares that “the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has appointed him to be ruler over his people.” That man proves to be a Bethlehem youth named David, the last-born of 8 brothers. (How many great leaders were last-born children? Not many!)

So God says that the next king will be a man after God’s own heart. Why does God find David to be a man after God’s own heart? David proves to be capable of extraordinary faith, and that faith gives him above-average courage. David’s faith and courage prove to be the qualities that outshine the flaws in his future track record.

As a shepherd boy, David fights and kills both lions and bears that try to steal his flock. So when the army of Israel needs someone to fight and defeat Goliath, the champion of the enemy army (the biggest guy on the battlefield), David is not scared off by his size. David has experienced God’s power and protection in the past, which gives him confidence here in this battle. But David can’t believe that no one has come forward to put this guy in his place. He asks, “Who is this guy, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

David's faith shines through in what he says to Goliath before he defeats him. David predicts that God will bring down Goliath for 2 reasons: 1. “so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,” and 2. “so that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear.” Here we can see why David, despite some serious sins along the way, proves to be a man after God’s own heart. That is why David beats a giant that no one else has dared to fight. David's faith is entirely in God, and not in his own strength or weapons.

David the shepherd-boy from Bethlehem proves to be a world-class warrior, who (unlike Samson) can also lead an army to be successful warriors. A warrior like David is exactly who God can use to deliver Israel from an enemy whom no one but Egypt has been able to beat. A warrior like David is the only good explanation how a tiny collection of tribes temporarily becomes an empire that stretches all the way to the Euphrates. After David delivers the knockout blow to the Philistines, the Bible says, “The Lord gave victory to David wherever he went.”

All of this required faith and courage. No one else had won such a string of victories before, not even when Joshua conquered Canaan! It was the perfect time for David to rise to power. Faced with a power vacuum in the ancient Near East around 1000 BC, David had the faith to seize the opportunity and defeat all of the surrounding threats to his people’s security. But this achievement required a lot of killing, so much killing that God wouldn’t let David build God’s Temple, because he had shed so much blood in war.

David’s success as a warrior quickly makes him a threat in the eyes of his boss. David did his job too well, to where the women would cheer, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his 10,000’s!” (You never want to make your boss jealous, which David probably had no intention to do, but when you work for a mentally unstable king, you can’t win.) David ends up on the run from Saul all the way until age 30, when Saul dies at the hands of the Philistines.

Those years in the desert on the run from Saul required faith. Survival in the desert is difficult enough, without your king trying to kill you. Several of David’s psalms come from this time period where David must cry to God for deliverance from his enemies. In the desert, David has to rely on God’s guidance for where to go and what to do. While David is hiding out in the cave at Adullam, a gang of 400 desperados gathers around him. David is able to turn this unruly gang from losers and outlaws into winners. David earns their respect and even their loyalty.

Once, when they are surrounded by Philistines, David wishes, “If only someone would bring me water from the well at Bethlehem!” Three of his men take him seriously! They break though enemy lines, draw the water, break through enemy lines again, and bring the water to David. David is blown away by his men’s devotion. He pours out the water as an offering to God, saying, “How can I drink the blood of these men, who went at risk to their lives?”

At times, David shows a remarkable capacity to love his enemies. Twice David refuses to kill Saul when he has the perfect chance to do so, the guy who has been trying to kill him all this time. When David mourns the death of Absalom after Absalom’s coup against him, David’s general Joab complains, “What’s the matter with you? You seem to hate those who love you, and love those who hate you!” David also forgives a man named Shimei for trashing David and pronouncing a curse on him when he was fleeing from Absalom. David leaves it in the hands of God. He says maybe he deserves those curses, but if he doesn’t, God will work it out.

But on one occasion, David almost loses his cool when a desert rancher named Nabal refuses to invite him to his sheep-shearing banquet. David’s men have been guarding Nabal’s men and their flocks, keeping out predators and robbers, and now David asks for hospitality. Nabal says no, and gets pretty nasty about it. David is furious. After swearing a pretty vulgar oath to kill every last man on the ranch, how lucky for everyone for David to be met by a woman! Nabal’s wife Abigail rescues Nabal and his ranch by bringing take-out dinner for 600 men, and rescues David from bringing horrendous bloodguilt on himself. But Abigail doesn’t tell her husband what she did until the next day. When he hears how much food Abigail gave away, Nabal has a stroke. And when Nabal dies, David takes Abigail as his wife.

David takes more wives than God intended for him. David ignores the Law of Moses, which says a king must not multiply wives for himself. When Saul takes away his first wife, Princess Michal, David marries Nabal’s widow, Abigail. He also marries Ahinoam of Jezreel (we aren’t sure who he married first). Then when he becomes king, David takes at least 4 more wives. But in the transfer of power, David demands to get his first wife Michal back from her new husband, who follows her weeping all the way until General Abner commands him to go home. But then David gets angry at Princess Michal, and he puts her on the shelf, never to have children. Taking her back hardly seems to have been about love.

I am also not pleased with what David does when Absalom lies with 10 of David’s concubines when he tries to become king. When David comes back to his palace, David puts the victimized women under guard, provides for them, but leaves them to live the rest of their lives as in widowhood. What kind of love is this?

For most of us, the height of David’s sin is his adultery with Bathsheba and his killing of her husband Uriah. For those who make too much out of David’s comment that Jonathan’s love for him was “wonderful, surpassing the love of women,” here is a case where David’s desire for the opposite sex boils over. Aren’t at least 7 wives and 10 concubines enough? Why must you steal the only wife of one of your most loyal soldiers (a foreigner, at that)? And why must you cover it up by arranging for him to be slain in battle by the sword of an enemy army?

But here, David reacts differently than any other king in his day would have done. When the prophet Nathan confronts David with his sin, David doesn’t make excuses, or ignore him, or put Nathan to death. Kings back then could pretend to be above the law. But not David! David cries, “I have sinned against the Lord!” In his sorrow over his sin, David prays words that become what we know as Psalm 51. And Nathan the prophet declares that God has put away his sin. Even at his worst, David seems to be a guy who is truly passionate about God.

Contrary to those who claim that David will never be saved because he murdered Uriah with the sword of the Ammonites, the prophet says that God has put away his sin. Nevertheless, David pays a terrible earthly price for what he did. First, the child he conceived with Bathsheba dies (David’s advisors feared that he might harm himself if the child died). Next, his firstborn son Amnon sexually assaults his half-sister Tamar, and her brother Absalom takes vengeance by killing him for doing so. Next, Absalom ends up staging a coup against David, and ravishes 10 of his concubines. David’s family turns out to be a mess, partly from the logistics of having more than one wife, and partly because of his clear violations of God’s law.

On one occasion, instead of trusting God to protect him, David caves in to lack of faith. He tells a string of lies to save his own skin, lies that end up costing the lives of 85 priests. When David flees from Saul in 1 Samuel 21, he runs first to God’s sanctuary at Nob, 3 miles from the Jebusite city of Jerusalem. The priests can tell something’s not right; they ask, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” David lies: “I’m on a secret mission, and the king sent me out in such a hurry that I didn’t have time to grab food or a weapon.”

The priests give David leftover holy bread and the sword of Goliath. They honestly believe that David is following Saul’s orders. They have no idea that he is on the run from Saul, or that Saul would think that they were helping an enemy escape. When Saul finds out that they helped David, he declares that the priests shall die, and when Saul’s men refuse to kill them, Saul turns to Doeg the Edomite, the guy who ratted on the priests to Saul. Doeg puts the entire city of Nob to the sword. Only a priest named Abiathar survives, and David admits that he has caused the death of Abiathar’s entire extended family. If only David had trusted God like he did when he was younger, instead of lying to protect himself!

One more problem I have with David is the way he treats the Moabites after he conquers them. When David was on the run from Saul, David asks the king of Moab to take in his mother and father for protection. Once David conquers Moab, however, David makes the Moabite army lay down on the ground, and puts 2 lines of them to death, while letting only one line live. I’m not sure exactly how many soldiers were involved, but what kind of gratitude is this, after what Moab did for David, when they took David’s parents as refugees when they needed protection?

It is easy for me to find fault with David, but only God knows what was in David’s heart. Despite his glaring misdeeds, God found David to be a more faithful leader of God’s people than Saul was. Plus, we must say that it is unfair for us to judge David by standards of a different age. No one in David’s day would have found fault with his lies, or his cruelty toward the Moabites, or his taking of multiple wives. Compared to others in his day, David is remarkable for his love for God, his faith in God when facing incredible odds, and his mercy toward enemies.

David is like the born-again racist who does not even realize that his attitudes are sinful, because no one has ever shown him why he is wrong. Faith does not always automatically straighten out our lives in every area. But once God brings such sin to our attention, then we become responsible for whether we continue in sin or seek to forsake our sin. If David had the teaching of Jesus, David would have had much less excuse for his sin. Most of the time, David did the best he knew how in the age in which he lived.

David is hardly what we would call a saint. David needed God’s mercy as much as we do. And David proclaims the riches of God’s mercy in Psalm 32, where he sings, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! Blessed is the one to whom God will not reckon sin!” Paul points to the words of David in Romans 4 as proof that God puts people right with God, not by their own good deeds, but by faith.

The story of David forces us to think harder about the question: Are we saved by our works, or are we saved by faith alone? James says we are “justified” by our works, by our obedience. But Paul says we are “justified” by faith alone. How do we put James and Paul together? James and Paul must both be taken together. James corrects any misunderstanding of Paul where Paul says we are “justified by faith without the deeds of the Law”. And Paul corrects any misunderstanding of James where James says we are justified by works. If you missed this program last year, we’ll talk about James and what he has to say about the relationship between faith and obedience next time on Biblical Words and World!

We’re down to our final 3 broadcasts on Biblical Words and World. After next time’s program on James, we’ll be having a brand new look at Heaven (what exactly do we know about it, and what will we do there?), followed by a final broadcast where I’ll be sharing my testimony and where we’ll be recapping all that we have talked about in our time together.

It has been a joy to do here on KUTR what I always thought God was calling me to do from a Western pulpit. There have only been 2 disadvantages to this ministry: 1. I’m 1300 miles away. (I love the state of Utah; I wish I was there living in your midst.) 2. I have almost no idea who you are. Who has been listening? Local pastors know their people, inside and outside the church. I’d love to find out who you are (no last names needed) and where you listen from, and I’d love to know what faith you identify with (or none at all). Send me an email at g.thomas.hobson@gmail.com, or find the email links at either of my 2 websites, biblicalethic.org or historicaljoseph.org. I promise I won’t put you on a mailing list.

All I know is that we’ve had an average of 700 downloads each week from our Radio Archives. By the way, those radio archives will stay there for as long as I keep those websites, so you should be able to access our programs for years to come. Who knows? Someday God may call me to do this radio program again. But right now, starting this past January 1, God has called me to be interim pastor of a Presbyterian church in my denomination, about a 2-hour drive from where I live. It’s a temporary call, but it is a call that requires my full concentration.