February 2013 - Heroes of Faith

Heroes of Faith.  Week 5.  David
1 Samuel 16 to 1 Kings 2, with many parallels in 1 Chronicles 11 to 29

King David is a well-known Old Testament figure.  We come across him often, maybe in association with others - David and Goliath, David and Jonathan, David and Bathsheba or perhaps individually as the author of many Psalms or subject of our hymns, “Hail to the Lord’s anointed, great David’s greater Son!” or “Once in royal David’s city”.  The New Testament even opens with the words, “A record of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  But who was David, and what makes him, of all the kings of Israel, so significant?

The background
For a long time Israel didn’t have any king.  During the time of Samson and Gideon, who have already featured as two of our “Heroes of Faith”, the Israelites were led by a series of judges who administered justice within the nation.  However, this was a very unsettled time that was characterised by chaos, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judges 17:6 and 21:25)
Things finally came to a head when Samuel, a judge, appointed his sons as his successors.  They were dishonest and greedy, and the elders of Israel petitioned Samuel, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (1 Samuel 8:5)  This request was a double-edged sword.  It revealed that the Israelites had rejected God as their king (1 Samuel 8:7).   Faced with corruption at the top of their society, their greatest concern was to impose a human solution rather than to submit to God and seek his way forward.
However, even though their hearts were far from God, the appointment of a king nevertheless had great potential to help Israel grow as God’s special people.  In fact, years before, when they had come out of slavery in Egypt, God had foreseen this moment and given guidance through Moses about how to handle it.  We find the key to this in Deuteronomy 17:14-15, “When … you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses.”  Later in the same chapter we discover that if God’s chosen king will revere the Lord and follow all his commands he will reign for a long time.
And so, Samuel appointed Israel’s first king, Saul.  You can read about him in 1 Samuel chapters 9 to 31.  Suffice to say that he did not follow the pattern God had set for his king, so that we read God’s words in 1 Samuel 15:11 “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.”  Saul failed to revere God and keep his commands, and so God rejected him as king.
A surprise beginning
God then sent Samuel to anoint a new king to succeed Saul.  At this point (1 Samuel 16), David entered the frame as the son of Jesse, a man from Bethlehem.  He was the youngest of eight brothers and, when Samuel sought God’s guidance as to which brother was to be anointed, his father didn’t even bother to put David forward! He was left out in the field tending the sheep.  However “the Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)  God has chosen David and, once he had come in from the fields, it was David whom Samuel anointed as the future king.

  • “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
    • Does this verse encourage or concern you?  Why?
    • How can we help each other to stop worrying so much about our outward appearance and face up to the reality of our heart problems?
    • How can we learn to look at others with God’s eyes?
  • In worldly terms, David was the least likely person for God to choose.
    • How can we apply the lessons of 1 Samuel 16 as we seek to discern God’s will for our own lives?
    • How does this passage help us develop our expectations of Christian leaders?

An unlikely victory
1 Samuel 17 tells one of the best known stories in the Bible.  The young David, still some way from taking the throne himself, went out to where God’s people faced a great enemy.  Goliath was such an imposing figure that all the armies of Israel ran in fear when they saw him (v24).  Despite opposition from his brother (v28) and doubt from the king (v33) David knew that he could face Goliath.  His confidence was not placed in himself, but in his experience of God’s mighty power at work in his everyday life (v34-37).
As David moved out onto the battlefield he turned down the offer of armour and weapons (v38-39) and approached Goliath with nothing more than his staff, a slingshot and five smooth stones in his bag (v40).  Here we see so clearly the enormous faith that David had:  he knew that there was no way he could beat this giant in his own strength, but he was certain that “this day the Lord will hand you over to me.” (v46).  He didn’t need the armour or weaponry because “it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s” (v47)  And David’s faith was vindicated as he slung a stone at Goliath and struck him down dead.
In this encounter we not only learn about David’s faith, we also see how God works for the good of his people.  When the Israelites face an insurmountable problem, one with which they cannot deal alone, God sends his chosen, faithful servant to fight for them.  In human terms, God’s servant is weak, but in God’s hands he is more powerful than could ever be imagined – “the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).  And as God’s chosen servant goes out in God’s power, God uses him to bring an amazing victory and freedom for his people.

  • The people of Israel were powerless to deal with the problem Goliath presented.
    • All too often we are left feeling exactly like the Israelites: situations or personal battles can leave us feeling utterly out of control.  In what ways can you identify with those emotions? 
    • The Israelites needed a hero, and David sets the pattern that is fully realised in Jesus Christ.  How could our knowledge of his victory on the cross help us deal with the situations in which we feel helpless?
    • As a group, how could we support and encourage one another more effectively in these areas?
  • David was confident in the face of enormous opposition because he was confident of God’s involvement in his everyday life.
    • How often do you stop to consider the day-to-day blessings you have received?
    • How could we help one another to be more aware of how God is at work even in the mundane things of everyday life?
    • If you are facing particular trials at the moment, can you look back on your past experience of God’s involvement in your life and find encouragement for today?

A massive failure
Some time later, after David had been crowned king and had ruled in Jerusalem for a while, we come to one of the darkest events of his life (2 Samuel chapters 11-12).  Briefly, he got another man’s wife pregnant, then arranged for her husband to be abandoned in battle and killed so that no-one would ever find out.  It is an horrific tale, but it demonstrates clearly the truth about David.  For all his faithfulness and trust in the Lord, for all that God chose and used him in amazing ways, David was ultimately a weak and sinful person.
In the story we see clearly that what David does matters to God.  Although God is not mentioned until the very last sentence of chapter 11, when we get there we discover that “the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”  God may sometimes seem silent, and we may choose to live our lives without reference to him, but he is always there.  David found that out with a shock when God sent Nathan to ram home the harsh truth about David’s guilt (2 Samuel 12:1-14).
It is not easy to grapple with the results of David’s sin, especially the death of his son (2 Samuel 12:14-19).  When we wander from the creator’s blueprint, we should expect there to be consequences.  God’s way of life is always the best way of life.  But we must not fall into the trap of thinking that there is always a causal link between personal sin and the bad things that happen to us.  Jesus simply will not let us think that way (see, for example, Luke 13:1-5 or John 9:1-3).  Some of our bad experiences are the result of living in a world that is generally marred by sin, and we will not be free from those troubles until there is a new creation in which “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  (Revelation 21:4)
In this episode we find one of the hardest passages in the Old Testament.  But we also find some of the clearest signs of God’s grace.  Even in the midst of this dark situation, David finds forgiveness (2 Samuel 12:13).  God is displeased with David’s sin, he confronts him in it, and brings him to his knees in the realisation of what he has done.  But just as he feels he can sink no lower, David hears God’s gracious words through Nathan, “The Lord has taken away your sin.”  In the darkest situation, those words bring hope for all of us.

  • There are no easy answers to some of the questions raised by this episode.
    • How can we helpfully approach those situations in which we struggle to understand what God is doing?
    • Do you think David deserved God’s grace?  How does it make you feel that he was forgiven?
    • What would be the implications for us if God didn’t show grace to people like David?
    • In a world marred by sin, how can we help one another to keep sight of the reality of God’s grace?
  • David seemed to be blissfully unaware of God’s constant presence and interest in his life.
    • Does your life ever reflect a similar lack of awareness?  Are you ever tempted to relegate God to a “church box” or to split your life into the spiritual bits and the secular bits?
    • Can you share anything that has helped you to maintain an awareness of God throughout every area of your life?

An amazing promise
David lived a pretty packed life, but our final episode is perhaps the most significant.  In 2 Samuel 7 we read of an exchange between David and God (who again speaks through the prophet Nathan).  Having settled in the palace in Jerusalem, David determined to build a temple for the ark in order to glorify God.  Although Nathan initially encouraged him, God soon made it clear that this was not what he had planned for David to do.  Whilst David wanted to build a house for God, God was determined to build a house (or a family line) for David.
2 Samuel 7:8-16 tells one of the great biblical promises.  It is very reminiscent of the original promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, and it is worth comparing the two.  God recalls what he has already done for David (v8-9a) and then promises to make his name great (v9b), to provide a place for his people (v10) and to give them rest (or peace, v11a).  David’s family line will continue (v11b-12) and it is his descendant who will build a house for God (v13).
It’s an amazing promise, made all the more astounding by the way in which God emphasises that nothing can derail it – opposition from wicked people cannot stop it (v10), David’s death will not annul the promise which will continue through his family line (v12), David’s descendant will have a throne that lasts forever (v13) and even the sinfulness of David’s descendants will not cause God to abandon this promise, although he won’t simply turn a blind eye to iniquity (v14-15).  David’s family line, his kingdom and his throne will all be established forever, and nothing can change that (v16).
No wonder this promise was so important to the people of Israel.  As the years went by, they saw partial fulfilment of the promise in the line of Davidic kings, starting with Solomon, who built a temple for the Lord.  But it was not until centuries later when a unique king was born in the Davidic line that this promise was realised in its entirety.  This king was the sinless descendant who marked the end of the Davidic line – not because it died with him but because death could not hold him.  Jesus was the ultimate descendant of David in whom all these promises are fulfilled – his is the one whose throne lasts forever, the perfect Son of God who brings everlasting rest for the people of God.
David placed his trust in God’s promises and was commended for his faith.  Despite his flawed humanity, God chose to give him a pivotal role in the story of redemption.  What greater encouragement could there be for us as we consider how God can use us, warts and all?
Possible reflection:

  • Why not read Psalm 145 together as you reflect on the God who “is faithful to all his promises”? (v13)
  • Alternatively, you could sing or listen to “The Lord is gracious and compassionate” on Come, now is the time to worship (Vineyard Records), which is based on v8-9 of the Psalm
  • How does our faithful God want to use you?

Jon Prior, 23/01/2013