David: The Man and His God
The biography of a man’s life can be written chronologically, by subject or by events that trace the course of that life. We can study his background, upbringing, marriage, family and even his death. Yet we may still not really know him.
Such is the case with David. When we read of his life, his marriages, his children and their rebellion, we are left wondering about him spiritually. When we watch him stoop to adultery and even murder, it becomes difficult to understand how God in His Word can call him “a man after mine own heart” (Acts 13:22). But we don’t have the mind of the Lord. Many things are not known about the inner man. Probably the best way to understand that part of David is through his thought life which is often expressed in his poetry. Through a study of these poems, we hope to catch a little glimpse of this man and his God.
To understand the inner thought life of David, it is probably best to divide his poetry into two main areas. The first is that which is included in the narrative of his life as recorded in Samuel and Chronicles. He wrote five poems in this portion of the Word. Secondly, he wrote almost one-half of the 150 Psalms of the Bible. For our purposes in understanding the man, we will break these Psalms into several different categories.
THE POETRY INCLUDED IN THE NARRATIVE OF HIS LIFE
A. A Tender Heart – David’s Lamentation at the Death of Saul (2 Sam. 1:17-27)
Two days after David returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, a young man came into Zildag with word that Saul and Jonathan were dead. Even though Saul had pursued David for years, trying to trap and kill him, at the news of the death of the king and his son, David and his men mourned and wept over this loss. His heart was so moved that he wrote a lamentation expressing his tender feelings:
Thy glory, O Israel, is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!. .. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! … How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished! (2 Sam. 1:19, 25, 27).
First, David recognized the military leadership of Saul and Jonathan and what they had done for the nation of Israel. David had not yet experienced many of his own great victories, but he knew how Saul and Jonathan had fought They were valiant men! The king was dead and David led the nation in mourning (v. 24).
Secondly, he did not want the news published in the cities of the enemy, for he wanted to give them no cause to rejoice. Furthermore, he cried for the dew to cease falling on Gilboa in recognition that mighty warriors had fallen.
With all the problems David had with Saul, he was definitely gracious in saying that Saul and Jonathan were lovely and tender in their lives. What a statement to make after all Saul had put him through!
Finally, David could not forget his good friend Jonathan. He extolled his battle prowess in verse 23. Then he really poured out his heart in verse 26: I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant hast thou been unto me. Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. What a wonderful tribute to his friend.
We must learn from this lamentation of David. This young man, already destined to be Israel’s next king, was a man with a tender heart Even when another’s death would ultimately lead to his promotion, he did not gloat. We begin to catch a little glimpse of that which was behind the
tough hide — a tender heart. This part of David only the Lord could fully know, but we can begin to comprehend it through his poetry.
B. A Broken Heart – David’s Lament over Abner (2 Sam. 3:33-34)
This is a very short poem composed by David. Abner, a general in the army of Saul who had fought against David, had deserted his former leader and made a league with David. David’s general, Joab, seized the opportunity and slew Abner. He sought to get revenge for the slaying of his brother Asahel, as well as to protect his own military prestige. David’s heart was again moved. He commanded Joab and all the people to go into mourning because of Abner’s death. David s heart was so touched that he personally followed the funeral bier (2 Sam. 3:31).
David’s poetic lamentation in verses 33 and 34 showed all the people that he had not ordered the murder of Abner. This brutal crime had been committed in Hebron, a city of refuge. David knew that in such a city you could not slay a murderer without a trial (Num. 35:22-25). Joab had violated the very basic laws of Israel. David was truly penitent, not seeking to gain power by devious means such as intrigue or murder. He had Joab slain for his outrageous offense.
Again we see David, the mighty warrior, but this tune he was brokenhearted over the death of Abner. What a difference in attitude between David and Saul.
C. A Grateful Heart — David’s Song When Delivered from His Enemies (2 Sam, 22:1-51)
Chapter 21 gives us an account of the execution of the sons of Saul, followed by a summation of the victories of Israel over the Philistines. The setting of this psalm is near the end of David’s life, and, with a grateful heart, the king expresses his thanksgiving to the Lord for His deliverance. To summarize, he writes of his problems, his deliverance and God s just dealings with him throughout his entire life. The song, also recorded in Psalm 18, clearly depicts the joys and frustrations of being king!
The key verses are as follows:
The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his ordinances were before me; and as for his statutes, I did not depart from them. I was also upright before him, and have kept myself from mine iniquity. Therefore, the Lord hath recompensed me according to my righteousness; according to my cleanness in his eyesight (2 Sam. 22:21-25).
David spoke of his hands being clean. He claimed not to have departed from God. He was upright before the Almighty. He purports to have kept himself from iniquity, and the Lord rewarded him accordingly.
How can we resolve this with his sins of adultery and murder? How can this man claim he was upright? How can he say he did not depart from the statutes of the Lord? Did he look at himself through rose-colored glasses?
The answer lies within the heart of David. None of us is perfect. We all cause our Lord a great amount of grief. The secret of David’s marvelous relationship with God is that, when he had done wrong, his heart was genuinely broken. He truly confessed and repented of his sins and begged the Lord’s deliverance. Then, having accomplished that, he got up from his knees and went on with his Lord, never letting past sins and failures keep him from pressing on.
D. A Concerned Heart – David’s Last Song (2 Sam. 23:1-7)
The fourth bit of poetry in the narrative of the king also comes at the close of his life. This is not to be regarded as a deathbed narrative but perhaps his last formal utterance — the last psalm he composed.
Verse 2 is an amazing one: “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and his word was in my tongue.” This phraseology is commonly used to speak of a direct message from God through His prophets.
First of all, David had a concerned heart for the coming Messiah (v, 3-4). He would be a just Messiah, ruling in the fear of God with absolute justice. He would be the light of the morning after the darkness of mankind. Like tender grass, He would bring a harvest of blessings.
Secondly, David had a concerned heart for his family. He recognized their weaknesses and was ashamed of them. His heart was broken with sorrow over them (v. 5).
Finally, he had a concerned heart over the wickedness of Satan, his angels and men. David went to his grave with these concerns upon his heart (vv. 6-7).
E. A Rejoicing Heart – David’s Song When the Ark Was Brought to Jerusalem 1 Chr. 16:7-36)
Though this is the last song in order of sequence in the Bible, it is not the last song in the life of David. It was a day of great significance when, in accordance with God’s will, the ark of the covenant was brought into Jerusalem. David was overwhelmed with spiritual, political and practical implications of this event. So thrilling was this to the king that he danced before the Lord, in spite of the vehement protests of his wife Michal.
This day was one of praise. While offerings were made, bread and wine were distributed to the people amidst music and rejoicing. Then David delivered to his brethren his song of thanksgiving to the Lord. The people of Israel were told to rejoice and give praise for the way the Lord had led them. He was a faithful God, always to be remembered.
David not only had a tender heart, a broken heart, a grateful heart and a concerned heart, but he also had a heart full of rejoicing that knew how to give praise and thanksgiving to the Lord.
THE POETRY OF DAVID IN THE PSALMS
The majority of David’s poetry is not included in the narrative of his life. It is recorded in the Psalms. Seventy-three of the 150 Psalms of the Bible bear his name. As you read them, you catch the heartbeat of the shepherd-king for his God. Space will not allow us to develop any of these Psalms, but perhaps something of the division of them will further indicate David’s character.
A. Psalms of Prayer
David was a man of prayer. At least 31 of his psalms were written as prayers. These prayers cover a wide range of subjects, including prayers of confident trust in God when things weren’t going too well, or when he was being harassed by his enemies. There are at least eleven prayers asking for protection from enemies who were pursuing him. Five of these prayer poems are in the form of a plea for the Lord to deal with the wicked.
He prayed for the peace of Jerusalem, for deliverance and to be led to the Rock higher than he. Probably the highlight of these psalms of prayer are those written when the heart of the king cried out for mercy, forgiveness and cleansing. Psalms 32 and 51 are classic illustrations of what was in the inner recesses of David’s heart. With a broken and contrite heart, he confessed his deep sin and acknowledged God’s gracious forgiveness. David knew how to get hold of God in prayer in times of trouble as well as when he experienced victory.
B. Psalms of Praise
Nineteen of the psalmist’s poems are devoted primarily to praise. Not only did David cry out in his need, but he was also grateful to God for who He was and what He had done for him. His poetry often expressed deep gratitude to the Lord when no problems were pressing. He knew how to meditate on the Lord in thanksgiving. Too often this is a lost art among God’s people today. We know how to ask but not how to thank Him.
C. Psalms of Hope
Interwoven among the precious songs of David are the psalms of hope. These are often called the Messianic Psalms. Each one usually had its own theme. For example, Psalm 22 portrays a Messiah who will suffer. Psalm 2 pictures a Messiah-King to be worshipped, while others portray His deity (Ps. 45 and 110). In these poems, hope was given to Israel. In Psalm 16 he declared the hope of the resurrection. David had not only taken his present burdens and heartaches before the Lord, but he also committed his future to Him.
We see that David was a great man of prayer. No matter what the circumstances, he knew how to lay that situation before God. David was a man who walked close to the Lord.
GOD’S VIEW OF DAVID
For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David, his father …. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David, his father (1 Ki. 11:4, 6).
The Scriptures set David forth as an example. He is declared as a man who truly followed the Lord. Repeatedly in the books of Kings and Chronicles, the kings of Judah are compared and contrasted with King David. In this way, David becomes a type of the ideal Messiah/King fulfilled in the great “Son of David,” the Lord Jesus.
Whatever faults David had, he never got involved in idolatry. He remained true to the Lord, as the Bible makes perfectly clear. David was great in his sin, but he was greater in his repentance. He had learned when he sinned to cry out unto the Lord for forgiveness and to have broken fellowship restored. He knew how to praise Him and to have hope in Him. His heart was right with God— he was a heinous sinner but a sincere penitent. Would to God we had men today like David, of whom the Lord could say, “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, who shall fulfill all my will” (Acts 13:22).