Samuel said “The Lord sees not as a man sees: the Lord looks on the heart” 1 Sam.16:7
When he was anointed as a youth, David was a shepherd boy of good family, the youngest of eight sons. He “had beautiful eyes and was handsome” (16:12). As a shepherd he fought lions and bears to defend his father’s sheep (17:36) and he must have had plenty of time for prayer and for lute practice. Samuel the prophet risked his life anointing David. The Spirit of God was upon David from the moment he was anointed (16:13). As a youth David then worked for Saul as a court musician. Then there was the matter of the encounter with Goliath (ch. 17). After that, of course, David’s stock at court rose considerably. He was able to marry the king’s daughter Michal. He became close friends with the kings son Jonathan. And everywhere David went, in everything he did, he met with success. This was because God was with him (18:14). Saul became jealous, even as David became more and more esteemed by the people (18:16). They fell out and Saul tried to kill David several times (18:11, 19:1).
David fled, aided by his close friend Jonathan. He became the leader of a band of rebels and adventurers (22:1). He sent his parents into exile in Moab to protect them (22:3). David prayed to, and enquired of, the Lord (23:4 etc). Saul’s attempts to kill him continued, interrupted by war with the Philistines. But in all of this conflict, David was careful never to let Saul be harmed or raise a hand against Saul.
Eventually he could take it no longer and fled to work for one of the kings of the Philistines (chapter 27.) But war broke out again between Israel and the Philistines. The Philistine generals didn’t trust David at all and sent him away (29:9). David and his band trudged back to their base at Ziklag, but when they got there, they found it burnt and raided by desert raiders, and their families kidnapped (30:1). David was at rock bottom here. He was “greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him…but he strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” (30:6). His prayers were answered in full. They recovered their families and property, and even got loads of plunder from the raiders. (30:18-19).
Meanwhile, in the war with the Philistines, King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle. You might think David would rejoice at this, as his enemy was finally dead. But no – they mourned deeply (2 Sam. 1:11). David sang: “The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!” 2 Sam. 1:19
After Saul’s death, David became king over the Tribe of Judah, based at Hebron, for seven years. During this time there was civil war between his party and that of Saul. Abner, the leading politician of Saul’s party, defects to David, and delivers the other tribes into his hands. Three of David’s nephews – the sons of his sister Zeruiah – are introduced to us. David’s complex and stormy relationship with them persists to his deathbed – and theirs. Abner kills one of them, and in return, the two remaining brothers kill Abner. But David is astute: he positions himself well, carefully avoiding getting the blame for this killing, and he remains popular with the people. David is diplomatic and sure-footed, and sometimes acts in a counter-cultural way to do what he sees as right. He was crowned king over all Israel aged 37, and reigned for 33 years.
His first act as king of Israel was to attack and win the fortress of the Jebusites, the city called Jerusalem. He lived in it subsequently and it became known as the “City of David” (5:9). God was with David (5:10). He had military success, and became more and more powerful.
His second act was to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. Initially, he acted impetuously, and he did not do it God’s way. A man died as a result (6:7). But, David learned the lesson: doing it God’s way is costly. (6:13). He worshipped with all his heart, mind, soul and body. If you were to read just ONE chapter about God, about David, and about what we can learn from his life, it should be 2 Samuel 6.
He decided to build a temple, and it was made clear to him that he should not do so – it would be for his son after him, to do that. But God made a covenant with David, that his kingdom, his house, would endure for ever. This is why Jesus is sometimes referred to as the “Son of David”, as he fulfils this promise.
David went from strength to strength (8) – everything he turned his hand to went well. Then came the matter of Bathsheba. Nathan the prophet was told by God what had happened, and brought God’s terrible punishment down on David’s family. But the Lord took away his sin. (11:13). Later David showed his remarkable ability to change his heart and mind – to repent, in effect – that is in my view a key to his being a “man after God’s own heart”. (11:15-23).
David for all his greatness as a warrior-king, statesman etc, was no father. His sons were a mess; spoilt and arrogant sons of privilege. His beautiful son Absalom killed one of his own brothers, and later conspired against his own father. David had to flee for his life. Even then David could see no wrong in him and mourned when his enemy, his son, was killed – stabbed when he was caught in a tree by his long hair. His prime minister, his very able nephew Joab, told the mournful king to put his house in order, wash his face, and face the people – and again, David repented and moved forward.
Things started to fall apart: there was rebellion after rebellion. There was famine, and endless war with the Philistines – God’s promise to David that blood would follow him after the matter of Bathsheba, was coming true. But in the midst of all this, a startling song of praise in chapter 22 (which is also Psalm 18). David was a man of contradictions.
One of the last things David did was to buy a threshing floor, with his own money (24:24) in order to build an altar. It was a significant threshing floor, because on that very site, David’s son Solomon built the Temple.
David’s life and greatness dribbled away into old age. His final act was to install his son Solomon (rather than another of his sons) on the throne, as a shrewd means to avoid more civil war. On his deathbed, he encouraged Solomon to exact revenge over Joab, his nephew. (1 Kings 1:5-6). But in spite of all that…
God testified concerning David: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ Acts 13:22