David the Better Man

Today we are going to continue looking into Israel’s history of kings, in particular David and the emphasis that the biblical text put upon him as a standard bearer of sorts. We have already seen in previous posts the differences between Saul (1st king of Israel) and David (2nd king of Israel). As I have already noted I believe that there is a strong case one can make that supports the thesis that Saul was the people’s choice and David was the Lord’s choice as king. When we are diligent and take the time, we find that there are notable differences in character between Saul and David. Which is just another way of saying the distinction between the two men is a matter of the heart; identifying one as a believer and the other as a non-believer.

What do we find looking at Saul?

Saul’s primary concern, appears to be his own self-image; which, continually comes to the forefront in his life’s story in the book of 1Samuel. He worries that the people are not going to follow him, he worries that the people are going to think higher of another, and so he takes great effort on his part to make sure that this does not happen.

  • The armies are about to leave, and so rather than waiting on the priestly prophet of God (Samuel) he steps in and offers sacrifices on his own, which is a clear violation of civil versus ecclesiastical categories (see 1Sam 13.8-14).
  • He enjoys many victories over his enemies, and rather than praise God for those victories acknowledging that it is God who fights and gives the victory, Saul built himself a monument for the people to adore (see 1Sam 15. 12). This is an example of exalting the image of the man instead of exalting the image of God. Saul wants to be the first thing that the people of Israel look to (cf. 1Sam 15.8-9).
  • God appointed him to fight for the people of Israel (1Sam 9.16; 10.1), but resisting to put his own life in the gap for the Lord’s people—acting sacrificially—he offers to pay another to do the deed, and put their life at risk (1Sam 17.25)
  • He desired the people of Israel to fear his word and his judgment rather than God’s as seen in the rash vow he made to his army (1Sam 14.24; 28-33). So full of himself was he that he deemed it righteous to take the life of his own son Jonathan for dare having a bite of honeycomb (1Sam 14.27-30, 45), even though God condemned child sacrifice calling it an abomination (cf. Lev 18.21; 20.3-5). One of many abominations for which the Canaanites were to be expelled from the land (Lev 18.25, 28; 20.22). This is also seen in the slaughtering of 80 of God’s priests, for not bending to his will rather than God’s (1Sam 22).
  • He hated God’s man and wanted to kill him. If this is not apparent in the slaughtering of God’s priests in 1Sam 22, then the time he spent in the later years of his kingship hunting an innocent man—David—ought to make this clear. (This attitude may be seen starting in 1Sam 18.8-9 and then throughout the remainder of his life).
  • His life ends on a sour note that truly defines the totality of his life. He seeks counsel from a witch in Endor (1Sam 28.7), and then when he is defeated in battle, he throws himself on his servants sword out of fear of what will become of him being killed by an uncircumcised Philistine (1Sam 31.4; i.e. an unbeliever), but fear of what God will do with him afterward is not apparent (cf. Matt 10.28).

Now of David it is said that he is “a better man” (1Sam 15.28) than Saul, because unlike Saul, he was “a man after [the Lord’s] own heart” (1Sam 13.14; cf. Acts 13.22).

What do those statements of David mean? Why was he a better man? Why was his heart desirous of the Lord’s own? Was David wiser and more knowledgeable than Saul? If so, then how?

As you can imagine those questions require more than a study of 1Samuel. Some of the differences between Saul and David are highlighted in this historic text, but others are drawn from the rest of Scripture (see: Biblical Doctrines: Purpose of Proof-Texting and Properly Weighing all of Scripture). That is, they are theological conclusions one draws from the larger biblical narrative. Even if we only possessed the writings that David possibly had access to at the time, we would still be able to pull form those resources the underpinnings for why David was wiser and more knowledgeable than Saul, or why he desired the Lord’s heart as if it were his own.

Now, we do not have to limit ourselves to this because we have the completed canon of Scripture. However, I do think it is incumbent upon us to know that the spiritual ideas that are spelled out (perhaps more) clearly in other sections of the Bible due to the nature of progressive revelation are actually first conceived in the earlier portions. I will limit myself to one example, so as not to deter from the argument presented in this article.

David as a better man; a man after God’s heart…

Why is David called a better man? Why is David identified as a man after God’s own heart? Well, we could point to some historical instances that highlight this fact to us. I would imagine that when people think of David there are perhaps two events in his life that set him in our minds. What are they? The one we have spoken about—the killing of Goliath. The other we have not—the adulterous affair with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite.

When we look at David in 1Sam 17 courageously waging war on the giant and slaying him in battle, the idea of David being a better man might be readily received; especially, if one compares it with the cowardice of Saul (as I have previously done). However, when the events that surround his torrid affair with Bathsheba come to light, it is normal for people to struggle with and question the statement about David being a man after God’s own heart (see 2Sam 11).

**Unless of course you are a militant atheist that rips off a diatribe like Richard Dawkins in the God Delusion. In that case you probably see the God of the Bible (probably O.T.) as a wicked, hateful being who full of wrath at poor little innocent humanity.

What David did with Bathsheba was horrible. Uriah was one of his best soldiers, one of the mighty men of David (1Chro 11.11, 41), who broke bread with his king and fought to protect his liege with his very life. And David stole his wife in a fit of uncontrolled lust. He knocks her up and when he could not get Uriah drunk enough to give up his duty as a soldier in the Lord’s army (2Sam 11.12-13), he secretly orders for the man to be abandoned in the heat of battle on the front lines (2Sam 14-15). Not only is David responsible for the murder of Uriah, but also all those men who were with him caught in the crossfire when Joab pulled back (2Sam 11.16).

How in the world? Understanding the Nature of the Man

“How can that be a man after God’s heart!” you exclaim. “Look at how evil he is at this period in his life! Surely this cannot be a man after God’s own heart!” you cry out in disbelief.  I would agree that at this moment in David’s life he is doing everything but exuding the Name of God in his life. God’s heart of holiness and righteousness and goodness and love is nowhere to be seen in this episode. But sinners’ sin.

David, like the rest of humanity is a sinner. The Bible does not say that he is sinless. If you took the time you would find that this is not the only sin David commits in his life. He has episodes of pride, of doubt which means faithlessness, disobedient to the Word of God on quite a number of occasions some of which we might highlight as examples of a man who does not seem to desire God’s heart at all (e.g. marries multiple women, refuses to discipline his children, leads the nation into sin).

Differences that Make the Distinction…

What marks David as a man after God’s own heart is found in his response to the Lord. He desires to honor God, to magnify His Name above all others. We see this in 1Sam 17, but also in his excited worship before the nation when the ark is being brought into the city of Jerusalem (2Sam 6.12-15). We see it in his love for his enemy, his own father-in-law who sought to take his life and hunted him like a dog for years, but David sought to make peace with him (1Sam 24.8-13; 26.18-24). We see it in his response to the unbeliever who bragged in killing the Lord’s anointed (2Sam 1.1-16). We see it in his desire to build God a temple, as a focal point of worship (2Sam 7.1-2). We see it in his adoption of Saul’s grandson, a cripple who is given seat at the kings table for the remainder of his days and all the land which his family line previously owned (2Sam 9.3-7).

Most important of all, we see it in David’s response to the Word of God. He not only sought it to lead his life (see Psa 19), but also was humbled by it when confronted with his own sin.

When David sinned, he did not make excuses. He did not point the finger at others, for he readily confessed:

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” (Psa 51.4).

He cried out in his guilt and anguish:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!… Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have broken rejoice. Hid your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities” (Psa 51.1-2, 7-10; italics added).

You see, David knew something that Saul did not. He knew it not only through what he had been taught, but also by what he had experienced at the hand of God.

David knew that God is…

“justified in [His] words and blameless in [His] judgment” (Psa 51.4b).

David also knew that God…

“delight[s] in truth in the inward being, and…” He is the one that “teach[es]…wisdom in the secret heart” (Psa 51.6). Because this is what God creates (gives to) in His people “a clean heart…and a steadfast spirit…” (Psa 51.10).

How did David know this? Time to Wrap it up

Because, he knew the Word that God had spoken through Moses. He understood that circumcision, which was a physical sign of the covenant between Abraham’s offspring and the Holy One, Creator of Heavens and earth, was also a spiritual sign. For the cutting off of the flesh was symbolic of what was truly required: “a circumcision of the heart” (Deut 10.16; Jer 4.4). What this means from human experience is that our hearts are to be cut-off from the world and totally devoted to the Lord. Him alone are we commanded to love with all our heart. However, while this is true and necessary, for no one who is uncircumcised in their heart can enter God’s presence (cf. Ezek 44.9), the person who does the heart surgery is none other than the Lord above:

“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut 30.6).

We are not heart surgeons, but we do bear evidence of having had a heart surgery preformed upon us by our Creator, when we act towards him with “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart” (Psa 51.17). David knew this to be true and he wrote about it. He knew he was not responsible for this change in his inner being (Psa 51.5; cf. Gen 8.21; Job 15.14-16), but he also knew he was responsible for looking to the One who was. This is how God could say that David was a man after His own heart…He gave it to him. The evidence that it was accurate assessment on God’s part is not found in David’s faults as a sinner, but in His response to the Word of God as God’s child.