||1 Chronicles 16|
The apostle Paul speaking in the Antioch synagogue on his first missionary journey, recounts a short history of Israel’s relationship with God, from the exodus to the resurrection of Christ. He points out the fact that God, as promised, had raised up ‘of David’s seed’ a savior, who was Christ. In Luke we read of Gabriel who appeared to Mary prior to Christ’s birth, pronouncing he would be great—son of the Highest—and that God would give him the throne of his father David. This interesting point which emphasizes Jesus’ humanity has its inception when David was anointed by Samuel, and the spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward (1 Sam 16. 13). Literally understood, David was like any other man, of the same nature and constitution.
A novice reading David’s life story in the books of Samuel and Chronicles is appalled, however, at what he reads there. A man chosen of God, yet David is depicted as a cruel man, uncouth and vengeful. After all, he was king, and when he desired Bathsheba, took her, and afterward arranged for her husband to be killed in battle (2 Sam 11). In yet another event, to avenge the Gibeonites, David delivered the seven sons of Saul into their hands, and they were all hanged together—with his assent (2 Sam 21). On the surface these two events appear to have had God’s tacit approval. David’s power was awful and great, but he was not above being punished for his evil deeds; he suffered inconsolably for the death of his child with Bathsheba. At this point we are almost compelled to think that the Old Testament God is a stranger to us—and so He is. We are only made night to Him by the blood of Christ. The God we know, the God of love, still has much of the character of the God we do not understand. The times we read about in Samuel, 1,000 years before Christ, when human life was not so precious, are far removed from today. Under the Mosaic dispensation there was a certain lack of grace, where the rule was ‘an eye for an eye’, and where the sins of the fathers were visited upon the sons. Indeed, many of David’s Psalms do not seem appropriate to us, where David often prays for the destruction of his enemies and invokes their ruthless annihilation.
But Jesus came to save sinners; Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Of what use then are all these Old Testament horror stories? One thing they do is point up the need for Christ, coupled with the doctrine of brotherly love. But there is more to be learned than this. It is evident that David was a man after God’s own heart. The reason that Paul gives is that David fulfilled His will, even more than Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And what was the will of God? That Israel be always mindful of God’s covenant with them: the word which He commanded a thousand generations (1 Chron 16. 15), a command in which David played a noteworthy role.
David was thirty years of age when he became king, but it was the boy David that I most admire, before he became king and prior to the time he used his guile on Saul. One of a close family he was the youngest son of Jesse (mentioned in the line of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1. 6). He was a shepherd, a sensitive musician and poet; fair and rosy cheeked, and of a kind easily admired. He learned from his brothers about Goliath of Gath, the Philistine who defied Israel at the battle, who cried for Israel to choose a man to ‘come and fight me’. David stepped forward and answered the threat, Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God? (1 Sam 17. 26). He then slew the giant with a sling and with a stone (v. 50). His fearless faith seems only possible in youth—no hesitancy, no guile. We seem to lose this headstrong power as we age and grow cynical, with diminished enthusiasm.
This faith demonstrates what Jesus meant when he said that, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (God), (Matthew 18. 3). There was always a great eagerness to do the will of God with David, and we see it displayed in his strength of character. Though it was often necessary for him to be ruthless, he did not become hardened. We see this characteristic in his compassion for Saul. Although a victim of his inordinate jealousy, David would not allow himself to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed. We see this in his care for Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son, whom he brought to always eat at the king’s table, and treated as one of his own sons. We see his pity, when against the wishes of his soldiers, he chose to share and share alike the booty seized in the Amalekite war with those soldiers who had been too weak to participate in the action. David realized that the honor of the victory belonged to God, not men (1 Sam 30. 23). We see his humanity, taking the blame for his apparently headstrong decision to take a census, and for it received God’s punishment of a terrible pestilence. He prayed that God would spare the people and said, I pray Thee, be against me and against my father’s house (2Sam 24. 17). David never lost the common touch. The power he was given did not corrupt him. David never turned against God, even in his deep grief over his traitorous son, Absalom. He never forgot the source of his great strength. To the end he did the will of his father, not in the way of Jesus, but he did what he was required to do. And God pronounced David to succeed Saul as king saying, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will (Acts 13. 22). And so he did. His last words were of God and the everlasting covenant they shared, ordered and sure. For this was all his salvation and desire.