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David: A Man after God’s Own Heart

6 min

Have your failures and sins prohibited you from enjoying a loving relationship with the Lord? In the pages of Scripture, we find the example of a man who sinned grievously, yet repented sincerely. The mercy of God through Jesus Christ gives hope to any man. In Isaiah 55:3, the Lord offers cleansing and pardon, pointing us to consider “the sure mercies of David.”

The many failures and sins of King David are easy to see. He committed adultery with Bathsheba (see II Samuel 11:3–4). He plotted the death of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah (see II Samuel 11:15). King David failed to govern his household (see II Samuel 13:1–39). His heart was lifted up with pride when he assessed the military strength of his kingdom (see II Samuel 24:9–10). David foolishly multiplied wives (see I Samuel 25:43), disobeying God’s command.

Notwithstanding these many sins, God called King David “a man after mine own heart” (Acts 13:22). Perhaps David’s life testimony can be summed up by the opening lines of Psalm 18: “I will love thee, O LORD, my strength.” For all his failures, David still obeyed the greatest commandment in the Law: he loved the LORD his God with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might.

How did David become a man that God would call “a man after mine own heart”? David grew up as the eighth and youngest son of his father, Jesse. His father was a shepherd in the hill country of Judea near the village of Bethlehem. David followed in his father’s footsteps early on, watching over his father’s herds. On two separate occasions as a youth, David delivered his father’s flock from danger. One time was from the attack of a lion, and the other occasion was his protecting the sheep from a marauding bear. In both victories, young David gave the Lord the credit for his victories.

While still dwelling in his father’s home, David was anointed by the prophet Samuel. Few people would have envisioned a champion in the ruddy, young shepherd boy, but the Lord reminded the anointing prophet that “the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7). Following the anointing by Samuel, David returned to keeping his father’s sheep. Perhaps while keeping his father’s sheep in the fields around Bethlehem, David composed the beloved Psalm 23, which begins “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

David’s skill on the harp was recognized while he was young (see I Samuel 16:17–18). King Saul suffered from depression; whenever the king was in a sullen mood, David was called upon to play the harp as a minstrel boy in the court of the king of Israel.

At one point while he was still shepherding for his father, David was sent to the camp of Israel to deliver gifts from his father to his brothers who were serving in the Israelite army. The young man was appalled at the enemy’s taunting of Israel’s God. Armed only with his sling and his absolute faith in God, David went forth to confront the Philistine champion, Goliath.

David advanced alone against Goliath. With words of confidence, he stated: “This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (I Samuel 17:46).

After expertly using his sling to sink a smooth stone into the giant’s forehead and then severing the head of Goliath, David’s name became a household word throughout Israel. He was exalted to be a commander in Israel’s army, and David soon proved himself on the battlefield as a brilliant leader of men. Catapulted to national fame and glory, David, however, incurred the jealousy and hatred of King Saul, even as he won the hearts of Saul’s daughter, Michal, and of Saul’s son, Jonathan.

Saul’s jealousy would tolerate no rivals, and the dour king on several occasions sought to kill David, forcing him to flee for safety into the wilderness. A small band of loyal men recognized David’s qualities as a leader and as a servant of Jehovah, and they joined themselves with him. This band would gradually grow to include 600 brave warriors led by a cadre of officers known as David’s “mighty men” (II Samuel 23:8–9).

Over the course of several years, David took refuge in wilderness strongholds like the Cave of Adullam, the oasis at Engedi, and the rocky fortress of Masada. David wrote several psalms during this time of fleeing from Saul. One was Psalm 59, which begins “Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God.” In Psalm 69, the Bible records how David faced unjust persecution and false accusations from his countrymen.

On two distinct occasions, David had the opportunity to kill King Saul. Once, Saul entered into the cave at Engedi where David and his mighty men were hiding! On another occasion, David and his nephew, Abishai, crept into Saul’s camp and found the king sleeping on the ground. But David refused to raise his hand “against the LORD’s anointed” (I Samuel 26:9).

Finally, the fearful, rebellious King Saul was mortally wounded at Mount Gilboa while in battle against the Philistines. He deliberately fell upon his own sword in a cowardly attempt at suicide. Meanwhile, David had won a victory against the Amalekites in the Negev Desert, and he emerged from the desert to be publicly recognized as king by the elders of Judah.

David inherited a kingdom in shambles, torn by internal disputes, wasted by heavy taxation, oppressed by foreign invaders, plundered by the Philistines, and weakened by the absence of a central place of public worship. He reigned in Hebron for seven years, gradually strengthening his hold on the heartland of Judah and embroiled in a civil war with the northern tribes who still held allegiance to Saul’s son, Ishbosheth.

The civil war finally ended. Ishbosheth was killed, and the military and political leaders of the northern tribes gave their allegiance to David as the Lord’s chosen ruler of Israel. David and his mighty men took the Jebusite stronghold of Zion and established Jerusalem as the kingdom’s capital. David lost no time in bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem with singing, dancing, the blowing of trumpets, and the offering of a multitude of sacrifices.

From his new stronghold at Mount Zion, David went to war on the enemies of Israel on all fronts, soundly crushing in succession the armies of the Philistines in the west, the Moabites in the east, the Syrians in the north, the Edomites in the south, and then the Ammonites directly west of the Jordan River. In Psalm 60:12, he exults in the LORD, tracing the victories he had achieved by the Lord’s outstretched hand: “Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.”

Under the blessing of Almighty God, David more than doubled the size of the territory controlled by Israel, ruling over a realm that stretched from the Euphrates River in the north deep into the Negev Desert to the south. Having conquered the Philistines, David ruled from the Mediterranean in the west all the way to the Arabian Desert in the east. David dedicated the spoils of these victories to the Lord for the future Temple to be built at Mount Zion (see II Samuel 8:10–12).

David loved the Lord with all his heart, and although he sinned greatly, he repented humbly and earnestly. He wrote beloved, inspired penitential psalms, such as Psalms 32 and 51—psalms that have comforted the hearts of many repentant sinners through the ages.

When the Lord established His covenant with David and promised that through the Messiah the kingdom of David would be an everlasting kingdom, the aging King David humbly acknowledged God as the source of all his blessings. “Who am I, O Lord GOD? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And this was yet a small thing in thy sight, O Lord GOD; but thou hast spoken also of thy servant’s house for a great while to come” (II Samuel 7:18–19).

David continued in the same prayer to say, “Wherefore thou art great, O LORD God: for there is none like thee, neither is there any God beside thee” (II Samuel 7:22). David loved the Lord, the Lord’s anointed, the Lord’s holy hill of Zion, and the glory of God’s name with all his heart, soul, and might.

May God give each of us the grace to also love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and might. As a personal practice, take David’s prayers in the Book of Psalms and make them your own. When repentance is needed in your own life, follow David’s example. Rejoice in God’s forgiveness, praise the Lord for His mercy, and you too can become a “man after God’s own heart.”

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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