Summary: David is a King after God’s own heart, because he looks to God for success in all he does. David’s success will come from his devotion to and his reliance on the Lord, shown so clearly in his response to the death of Saul.
We return today to the story of Saul and David. If you remember, Saul was anointed King of Israel by popular acclaim, though at God’s direction. He was a man of stature, taller than all his peers, an apt warrior king. Just the sort of man Israel needed to oppose the Philistines. Except that he was also a flawed king. He forgot where his power as King came from and so made one too many mistakes as far as obeying God was concerned. As a result God decided to turn the kingship over to another, to David, a man after God’s own heart.
Well, as we’ll see as we go through 2 Samuel, David himself wasn’t without his failings. He was a human being with all the greatness yet all the failings of the human condition. But of all the kings of Israel, David stands out as the one King who throughout his life remained steadfast in his faith in the God of Israel. David is the model King, the one all others will be compared to, the one after whom Jesus Christ himself will be named, as the Son of David.
So what is it that’s so remarkable about David? Well let me suggest it’s that he maintains his faith in God throughout a life that encompasses all that the human condition deals out. As you read through the life of David it’d be easy enough to see it simply as a classic human drama, with all the elements of a Shakespearean play: tragedy, romance, family conflict, madness, hate, betrayal, etc. But it’s far more than that. Here is the story of a man chosen by God to bring his people to security and prosperity in the land God had promised to Abraham all those years before. Here is the beginning of a dynasty that will start well, then fade away to nothing, until at last God sends his own Son to bring his promises to completion.
Of course here in 2 Sam 1 we’re in the middle of the narrative of David. David has been anointed some time before, but has had to wait 15 or 20 years for Saul to die before receiving the promised kingdom. And as 1 Samuel finishes, as Saul is defeated by the Philistines and dies on his own sword, we’re tempted to sigh a sigh of relief, perhaps even to cheer that at last the hero is free to take up the promise of the kingship.
But there’s no sense of triumphalism as the story unfolds, is there? This is no fairy tale where the wicked king dies and the prince who was banished from the kingdom returns to claim his inheritance. No, this is a sad day in the history of Israel. Her first king is dead. The grand experiment is a dud. Not quite a failure but there’s much more to be done if it’s to succeed.
So let’s look at the narrative for ourselves. If you remember, David and his men were sent back by the Philistines from the battle with Saul and ended up in a battle of their own, attacking an Amalekite raiding party who had kidnapped their wives and children. Now they’ve returned, unaware of the outcome of the battle to the north. But then a man comes into their camp with news of the battle. He comes to tell David of Saul’s death. Now notice what’s happening here. We, the readers, know what’s happened, but David doesn’t. We know that this man is an out and out liar, an opportunistic con man. He’s torn his clothes and covered himself with dust to make his appearance seem authentic. He elaborates his story with all sort of details: where they were; the chariots and riders bearing down on them; Saul leaning on his spear on his last legs; his heroic action in dealing Saul the death blow and then taking the crown and arm band to bring to David. And it’s all made up! But he knows that the best liars are the ones who can fabricate a believable story with lots of detail. Clearly this Amalekite expects to receive a substantial reward from David. After all he’s done him a great favour, hasn’t he?
Or has he? No sooner has he told his story than he realises his mistake. David doesn’t respond with the joy he expects. Instead he responds with grief. He takes his clothes and tears them as a sign of mourning. So do the soldiers standing around him. They begin weeping and mourning and it goes on until evening. What’s going on here? The Amalekite is no doubt thoroughly confused.
What he’s failed to realise is that these men hold God’s choice as precious. This death that he’s reported is part of a great defeat for the people of Israel. And not only has Saul died but so has Jonathan, David’s great friend and companion.