In a contest for the best king of Israel, David would surely win. Though not without flaws, he was an incredible leader, and a very impressive man. However, God had taken him through a grueling regime to prepare him to be king. Not just any king, but a king worthy of becoming a foreshadow of the Messiah.
God spoke a word through the prophet Samuel, declaring David’s destiny. And then he seemed to be pulling David deliberately backwards away from that goal. Great tension was created as the gap between the spoken promise and the apparent reality seemed to grow wider and wider…
Read these words again, and you will see that I am describing an archer, pulling back his arrows, ready to shoot further, harder, and with more power when it hits the target.
God, the master archer, had identified the throne as David’s destiny, but pulled him back in the opposite direction for years. Instead of banquets, gold and luxury, David was surviving out in the wilderness with a bunch of misfits, even feigning insanity to save his own skin. Instead of honor and prestige, he was hunted like a dog. The Psalms give us a window into the distress he endured, the great number of tears he shed, and the despair he felt. But it was during those times that he would learn the great faithfulness and mighty power of God. He would learn that he was greatly loved and treasured, and ultimately completely safe in the arms of his Heavenly Father. He learned these lessons well.
No other king went through this training regime, and no other king was quite as good as David.
Being king goes to people’s heads. Power corrupts, as they say, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Kings and queens throughout history have been famous for impulsively chopping off the heads of those who get on their nerves, and their own sense of grandeur can be amazingly destructive. However, David was different. Take a look at this incident described in 2 Samuel:
When King David arrived at Bahurim, behold, just coming out from there was a man of the family of the house of Saul—his name was Shimei son of Gera. As he came out, he kept on cursing and flinging stones at David and at all King David’s servants, while all the people and all the mighty men were at his right hand and on his left. Thus Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out! The man of bloodshed, the good-for-nothing! Adonai has returned on you all the blood of Saul’s house, in whose place you’ve reigned. Adonai has handed the kingdom over to your son Absalom—so see, your own evil has overtaken you, because you are a man of bloodshed.”
The impertinence! It’s astonishing that Shimei didn’t get his head removed right there and then. Certainly, the king’s companions were wondering why he was putting up with it.
Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why let this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now and take off his head!”
But the king said, “What have I to do with you, sons of Zeruiah? If he curses, it’s because Adonai has said to him, ‘Curse David!’ So who should say, ‘Why did you do so?’”
Then David said to Abishai and to all his officials, “Look, my son who came from my own body is seeking my life—how much more this Benjamite? Leave him alone and let him curse, since Adonai has told him. Perhaps Adonai will look on my affliction and return good to me for his cursing this day.”
So David and his men continued on the way, while Shimei kept walking alongside the hill parallel with him, cursing as he walked, casting stones at him and throwing dirt.
Shimei sounds like a bit of a nutcase, but isn’t David’s reaction remarkable?
How can David stay so calm and unruffled in the face of such an assault to his honor?
Because he had learned two things:
1. God’s will is more important than his ego.
2. His honor, worth, and security are all safe in God’s hands.
If this fellow was mistaken in his cursing, David was confident that God would settle the score and repay him with blessing. If it turned out that Shimei was right though, David does not want to find himself opposing the will of God. In short, he is fully persuaded that God is in control, and he doesn’t have to worry about it. He knows God had got his back. David was so supremely confident of these things that he could remain at peace even as this “dead dog” cursed and insulted him. So great is his trust in God that he sees no need to take action – he knows it will be taken care of. He doesn’t even respond at all, knowing that he cannot lose!
We see such complete confidence in God’s justice, action, and righteousness. He knows that God gives to us freely when we do not grasp and take for ourselves. He is also not afraid of being found to be wrong. He is not defensive, but supremely secure.
David’s security was not in his title and power as king, but it was very firmly rooted in God’s goodness and justice, to an extraordinary degree.
God had proved himself faithful time and time again in the past, and now David’s confidence in God was unshakable.
Later we learn that David’s son Absalom led a rebellion against David and was in cahoots with the king’s trusted counsellor, Ahithophel. Devastating news. How does David react?
So David prayed, “Adonai, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” Then David went on until he reached the summit—where God was worshiped. (2 Samuel 15:31-32)
David’s first, immediate reaction is prayer and worship. Not anger, not panic, but prayer. He knew exactly who to turn to and how this could be sorted out. In the most dire situations, God had always been his ever-ready help in times of trouble. He knew God’s supernatural power to intervene and to fix the problem at the source. This leads to a very light touch on the ground from David himself. No raging, no cursing, no bloodthirsty sword swinging or calls for revenge. David had learned well the almighty power of God, and that was his number one go-to solution in times of crisis. Just one upward glance – a few pertinent words directed at heaven. Here again, he took no action, but left it to God who could go right into the situation and sort it out directly.
The Bible is full of such examples of David’s restraint, justice, and kindness. He honored others, was unscrupulously fair and remarkably gentle for a seasoned warrior. He counted on God’s help as naturally as he breathed oxygen.
The training ground
David had been anointed king at the tender age of 17, but only sat on the throne at the age of 30. That is a long gap. As a teenager, he had been given a promise. A bonafide prophet had come along, snubbed each and every one of his brothers, and been instructed by God, no less, to declare that he would be king. Sacred oil was poured over him to testify to the fact. Little did little David know, it would be many long years before that day would come, and the time in between was going to be very, very tough. It was during those years that David learned how to handle a crisis, how to love his enemies, honor authority, do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with his God.
It seemed terrible, endless, disastrous, tragic and scary for those thirteen years of bootcamp, but those hard times were exactly what made David so great during his forty year reign.
You might remember that there was in fact a point at which the opportunity to grasp the crown from unworthy King Saul had fallen right into David’s hands. 1 Samuel 24 tells us of the moment that Saul was vulnerable to attack, and his friends urged David,
“This is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.'”
They all knew the promises David was carrying, and longed for their fulfillment. But David holds back Avishai and guards God’s anointed. He chooses to do the right thing and waits for God to act on his behalf, in His time.
God keeps His promises but He often keeps us waiting
When we look at the life of David, there are many nuggets we can draw upon to sustain us in our own times of waiting, frustration and hardship. When we see the end result of God’s work, we see that not one tear was wasted. David was not the only one to go through this apparently contrary training program either. Think of Joseph who also had to wait 13 years in the opposite of his promised lofty leadership position, in the humiliation of slavery and down in jail. This is how it often seems to go with God – a long wait (often with hardship) and then a sudden turnaround. One day, suddenly, Joseph found himself standing before Pharaoh. One day, David was finally made king. But from the moment of the promise to the moment of delivery is a tough training process. As Psalm 105:19 puts it, when talking about Joseph’s long wait for his promise to come true,
“Until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him.”
The wait is an important refining, training and testing time, often in a way that may seem opposite to where you want to be. It was during the hard, wilderness years after having been anointed as king, yet seemingly a million miles away from the reality of that promise, that David learned the ropes.
The arrow was being stretched further and further backwards in the bow, ready to be catapulted ahead with great power. Just as David’s time as a shepherd taught him how to fight beasts to prepare him for his epic battle with Goliath, his time leading a bunch of ruffians while trying to avoid death taught him how to fight his inner battles with his ego and lead well. He learned how to truly rely on God in an otherworldly way. And that is how God trained David to be such an extraordinary king.
Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash