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6. David

6.5 A Study Of The Character Of David

David is one of the major OT types of the Lord Jesus. The words of David in Ps. 16 are quoted in Acts 2:25,29 concerning Jesus: “I have set the Lord always before me...he is at my right hand...thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption”. These are words describing David’s feelings about his own death and resurrection; and yet so identified was he with the Messiah, that they are quoted as being directly true of Jesus. But Acts 2:29 also quotes these words with a slightly different spin- in that David saw the Lord Jesus always before him, and it was this sense that stabilized him. This could only have been true in that David understood all his feelings and present and future experiences [e.g. resurrection, not being suffered to corrupt eternally] as being typical of the Lord Jesus. He so understood himself as a type of the One to come that he saw this person as ever with him. This is the extent of the typology. 1 Chron. 17:17 in Young’s Literal has David saying: “Thou hast seen me as a type of the man on high” [i.e. Messiah]. David describes himself at ease with clearly Messianic titles such as ‘the Christ’, ‘the man raised on high’, and then goes on to speak of the Messiah who is to come on the “morning without clouds”, admitting that “verily my house is not so with God” (2 Sam. 23:1-5). This is only really understandable if we accept that David consciously saw himself as a type of the future Messiah.  

The feelings and pulse of David are expressed at more length than those of any other Bible character; and therefore in these we are to see something of the Lord we follow. It is significant that David is seen as the representative of Israel, just as was and is the Lord- hence, e.g., the confusion between “the city of Judah” and “the city of David” (2 Kings 14:20 cp. 2 Chron. 25:28 AVmg.). Or consider how David parallels his own afflictions and need for forgiveness with Israel’s need for redemption (Ps. 25:18,22); or how the saving strength of Yahweh’s anointed (i.e. David) was to be Israel’s saving strength likewise (Ps. 28:8,9). The evidently Messianic words of Ps. 8:4,5 “What is man...thou hast made him a little lower than the angels” are prefaced by the context of David thanking God for how he has been given victory over Goliath: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings [an intensive plural, referring to David himself?] hast thou ordained strength...that thou mighest still the enemy” [Goliath]. In this particularly we see David as a type of Jesus, not least in the way that he himself felt that he was manifesting God as He would be manifest through “the son of man” to come. The point is, David consciously felt he was typifiying the Lord. 

God encourages David to see himself as representative of Israel by saying that “I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies…and have made thee a great name” (2 Sam. 7:9), words replete with reference to Israel in the wilderness and their establishment in the land. As David so loved his people and was their representative, for all they did to him, so with the Lord Jesus and His people. When God asked David “choose thee one of” three possible judgments, each of them involved the whole nation- e.g. “Shall seven years of famine come unto thee” (singular). David was their representative even in their time of failure.  

The Character Of David: The Broken Relationships Of David

I'm glad the word 'ineffable' is in the English language. Without it I don't know how we could express the ineffable, ineffable  sadness of the relationships of David. He loved Jonathan with a love passing that of women, those two men came so close together in the bond of the Spirit; only for Jonathan to be slain in his prime by the uncircumcised. David loved Jonathan's sister Michal, and she loved him; only for her to come to despise David's spirituality, and to be unfaithful to him (2 Sam.21:8 implies she had even more relationships than just with Paltiel). And Saul's sons, David's brothers-in-law, the brothers of his deep deep best friend, joined their father in persecuting him in the wilderness years (Ps.119:161). David so loved his son Absalom, his very soul  was consumed  for that strapping young man (2 Sam.13:39 AVmg.); but that son bitterly hated David, and coolly plotted to destroy him and his reputation. David loved Abigail and Ahinoam, but those fairy tale romances took a bitter blow when David fell for Bathsheba. David loved his parents, especially caring for their safe keeping in his wilderness years; only to be forsaken by them (the Hebrew means just that), and to be rejected by his brothers and sisters (Ps.27:10; 38:11; 69:8; 88:18). David loved Solomon and gave very special attention to teach him the real spirit of the Truth, taking time out from a hectic public life to do so; only for that beloved son to turn away in later life, to fast women, alcohol, materialism, and the perversions of idolatry.  

But perhaps above all is the ineffable sadness of the relationship between David and Saul. Saul loved David. David loved Saul, his daughters and his son Jonathan; and later David was to marry Saul's wives. There can be few men who do not have at least some attraction to the father and family of their wife. Saul was not a totally unspiritual man; there are many hints that he had a spiritual side. It's rare indeed that a totally unspiritual person can love a highly spiritual person like David. And yet this fine relationship ended in an intense love-hate affair. So many of the Psalms contain references to Saul's smear campaign against David (Ps.27:12; 31:13; 109:23 cp. 1 Sam.26:19). This in itself indicates the weight with which this tragedy rested upon David's mind.  

The Character Of David: Broken Man

Despite his undoubted physique stamina, all these things contributed to David being a broken man, even quite early in his life, prone to fits of introspection; dramatic mood-swings (cp. 1 Sam.24:14 with 25:6,22,34;), sometimes appearing a real 'softie' but hard as nails at others (consider Ps.75:10 and the whole of Ps.101); easily getting carried away: be it with excessive emotional enthusiasm for bringing the ark back, in his harsh response to Hanun humbling his servants, his over-hasty and emotional decision to let Amnon go to Absalom's feast when it was obvious what might well transpire, his anger " flaring up" because of incompetency (2 Sam.11:20 NIV),  or in his ridiculous softness for Absalom. He had a heart cruelly torn so many ways. All these traits are amply reflected in the Psalms: Ps.6:7; 31:10; 42:3,6; 38:8; 55:4; 56:8; 69:3,29; 88:3,9; 94:19 (what introspection!); 102:4; 116:3; 143:4. An uninterrupted read through the Psalms makes this obvious. Please, try to read through the Psalms in one go some time, try to make the time in this crazy life to do it at least once. Let's be aware, as aware as we can, that this broken down mind of David was the prefigurement of our Lord's broken life. The brokenness of his heart is what we show when we break bread. 

David: Broken Man

Ps.6:7; 31:10; 42:3,6; 38:8; 55:4; 56:8; 69:3,29; 88:3,9; 94:19 (what introspection!); 102:4; 116:3; 143:4

" Mine eye is consumed because of grief" (6:7)

" My life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing (not just the depression of a moment) strength faileth, my bones are consumed" (31:10)

" I am feeble and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart panteth...the light of mine eyes is gone from me" (38:8-10)

" My tears have been my meat day and soul is cast down within me" (42:3,6)

" I mourn in my heart is sore pained within me" (55:2,4)

" Put thou my tears into thy bottle" (56:8)

" I am weary of my crying...mine eyes fail...I am poor and sorrowful" (69:3,29)

" My soul is full of troubles...mine eye mourneth" (88:3,9)

" In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul" (94:19)

" My heart is smitten and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread" (102:4)

" I found trouble and sorrow" (116:3)

" My spirit is overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate" (143:4)

The Character Of David: Depression

There are a number of links between the Psalms and Job's speeches (run your eye down the marginal references). Depressed Job must have been very much at the back of David's mind. Like Job, David knew and respected God's promises, but at times such as that when he wrote Ps.89, it all seemed rather abstract, and in his depression he bitterly questioned God. In Ps.89, David repeats the promises made to him, but compares them with his present difficult situation: " Thou covenant will I not break...but thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant" (Ps.89:19,34,39). He reflected how God had promised that " The enemy shall not exact upon him" , but now his enemies clearly had the upper hand (Ps.89:22 cp. " Thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice" , v.42,50,51). Likewise " His throne (shall endure) as the sun" , but " thou hast profaned his crown (i.e. his throne) by casting it to the ground" (Ps.89:36,39). It is in the context of God promising David eternity that he questions: " Shall  he (God) deliver his soul from the grave? What man is he that liveth and shall not see death?" (Ps.89:48). He goes so far as to feel that God's " former lovingkindnesses (a word often re. the promises), which thou swarest unto David in thy truth" had been at best suspended (Ps.89:49). Surely David is close to the edge here; there almost seems to be a sense of mocking in his comments on the promise that his throne would endure for ever as the sun: " His throne (shall endure) as the sun...but...Thou hast cast his throne down to the ground" , rather than it being like the sun (Ps.89:36,44). Yet truly in the spirit of Job, he was able to praise God in this very same context: " Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen, and amen" (Ps.89:52). Presumably this Psalm was written (or thought out) whilst fleeing from Absalom, or possibly during one of the later rebellions, when it seemed that all hope of holding on to the throne was lost. Here is David in depression, making hasty comments about the faithfulness of God, reacting to the position of the moment. This is surely an indication of his mental make up. One cannot be persuaded that the Lord Jesus did not experience the temptations which go along with this kind of personality. " My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mt.27:46) and the following thoughts in Ps.22 seem to be Christ's equivalent of David's crisis in Ps.89. 

The Character Of David: Humility

Further indication of David's low self-esteem (or humility), related as it was to his depressive tendencies, can be found throughout the Psalms. These must all point forward in some way to the make up of the man Christ Jesus. Consider David's graphic descriptions of himself, rooted in his fine appreciation of the natural creation, especially of bird life, which he seems to have carefully observed. In these allusions we see a true humility rather than a playing with words. This was how he really felt (see table). It was because David was truly humble that he could immediately respond in genuine humility to God's promises to him; whereas Solomon became proud because of them (1 Chron.17:16: " David the king  came and sat  before the Lord, and said, Who am I...?" ). Despite the openness with God which we see in the Psalms, despite being able to break explicit commandments because he so finely appreciated the spirit behind them, despite being a man after God's own heart, even in his true spiritual maturity towards the end of his life, David " could not go before (the altar) to enquire of God; for he was afraid because of the sword of the angel of the Lord" (1 Chron.21:30). Now this seems an eloquent essay in the true spiritual humility of that man David (1).

David: How he saw himself

A dead dog (1 Sam.24:14 cp. 2 Sam.9:8; 16:9)

A dead man, a corpse (Ps.31:12)

A deaf and dumb man (Ps.38:13)

A poor beggar man (Ps.40:17 and often)

A young orphan (said as an older man; Ps.27:10)

A locust (Ps.109:23)

A flea (1 Sam.24:14; 26:20)

A moth (Ps.39:11)

A partridge of the mountains (1 Sam.24:14)

A lonely sparrow (Ps.84:3; 102:7)

A turtledove, the poor man's offering (Ps.74:19)

A pelican and desert owl (Ps.102:6)

A snared bird (Ps.124:7)

Often David likens his enemies' plans to catch him as snares, gins, pits etc. (eg Ps.140:5)- all the language of hunting animals and birds.

Compare this with the parables of the Lord Jesus. There too one sees the words of a man whose mind was actively observing the natural creation, exhorting himself every hour from what he saw there. The broken state of David's mind looked ahead to the broken mind of our Lord. We can perhaps more easily appreciate how and why David's mind was broken. But with the Lord Jesus, it is more difficult to enter into how and why his soul was so broken. His soul was broken so that  we might be saved; David's soul was broken as a result of his own mistakes and his general experience of life. David's depression resulted in him manifesting all the classic characteristics of the highly strung person. His great sensitivity and almost telepathic ability to enter into other's problems was legendary throughout Israel, and this was one of the things which endeared him to his people (1 Sam.22:22; 2 Sam.14:17,20; 18:13)- and there is a powerful, powerful similarity here with our relationship with Christ.  

The Character Of David: Suicidal?

David may even have extended to suicidal tendencies. His servants, who knew him well, feared he would take his own life if Bathsheba's baby died: " How will he then do hurt to himself...?" (2 Sam.12:18; the same word is used in Num.20:15 concerning Egypt's 'hurting' of Israel). One gets a sense that David had another such fit of self-hate in his reaction to the news that many in Israel would have to die because of his numbering of the people (even though their punishment was just, seeing they had refused to pay the census money required by the Law). It is quite possible that Christ knew these tendencies well; was he not tempted to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple, to take the Kingdom immediately, in other words to short cut through this life? Indeed, any man driven to the mental lengths of David and Jesus has known these feelings. The Lord Jesus broke his soul in striving against sin; this is what brought about in him that similar mental state to David.  

Christ so struggled against sin, he so groaned beneath the mental weight of our sins, that it was as if  he had been through everything David went through emotionally and spiritually. The main reason why there is so much deep personal detail about David is because we are intended to come to know him as a person, to enter into his mind- so that we can have a clearer picture of the mind and personality of the Lord Jesus. This is why the thoughts of David, eg in Ps.16:8-11, are quoted as being the very thoughts of Christ (Acts 2:27). So Christ-centred was David's mind that he " foresaw (not " saw" - disproof of the pre-existence) the Lord (Jesus) always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved" (Acts 2:25). David was obsessed, mentally dominated, by his imagination of Christ, so much so that his imagination of his future descendant gave him practical strength in the trials of daily life. Small wonder we are bidden know and enter into David's mind. Likewise the book of Genesis covers about 2000 years of history, but almost a quarter of the narrative concerns Joseph; surely because we are intended to enter into Joseph, and thereby into the mind of Christ. 

The Character Of David: Loneliness Of Roads Less Travelled

As we go through the life of David, it is evident he went along roads few others have travelled. For example, who else would offer his sacrifice upon the altar and then start strumming his harp in praise as he watched the animal burn (Ps.43:4 Heb.)? This was a new paradigm in Israelite worship. Like Job, David had no precedents in past spiritual history from which he could take comfort (Job 5:1). David knew God well enough to act like the High Priest even when he was not a Levite (2 Sam.6:13-20; and 2 Sam.19:21 = Ex.22:28), he came to understand that God did not require sacrifices, he came to see that the Law was only a means to an end. David’s sons, although not Levites, were “priests” (2 Sam. 8:18 RV). He could say that the Lord was his inheritance [a reference to how he as the youngest son had lost his?], and how he refuses to offer the sacrifices of wicked men for them (Ps. 16:4,5; 119:57)- speaking as if he was a Levite, a priest, when he was not. He knew that the ideal standard for married life was one man: one woman, and yet he was somehow able to flout this and still be a man after God's own heart. He broke explicit Mosaic commandment by marrying Saul's wives and also his daughter, he airily waived the Mosaic law concerning bloodguiltiness (consider the implications of 2 Sam.14:4-11), and the need to stone rapists (2 Sam.13:21). When others tried to do these kind of things, they were severely punished by a God who insisted upon serious obedience to His Law. Consider how Saul was condemned for offering sacrifice instead of a priest (1 Sam.13:10-13); and Uzziah likewise (2 Chron.26:16-19). When the woman of Tekoah basically suggested that the Mosaic laws about the rights of the revenger of blood be repealed, David seems to have agreed. When Amnon seeks to rape his sister Tamar, she suggests that he ask David to allow them to marry- and surely, she says, he will agree. Yet this too would have been counter to the spirit of the Law about marriages to close relatives. Yet David went beyond the Law so often; and it is this which perhaps led him to commit the sin of presumption in his behaviour with Bathsheba. Right afterwards he comments about the man who stole his neighbour’s sheep, that it must be restored fourfold; whereas the Law only stipulated double, David felt he so knew the spirit of the Law that he could break the letter of it- in any context. And this was his [temporary] downfall.  

David: Spiritual Loneliness

(Ps.12:1; 14:1; 88:18; 102:7)

" The godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men" (12:1)

" There is none that doeth good" (14:1)

" Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness" (88:18)

" I am as a sparrow alone upon the house top" (102:7)

For this reason, the Psalms often speak of David's spiritual loneliness (Ps.12:1; 14:1; 88:18; 102:7). The Lord Jesus likewise must have had this sense, he clung on to those twelve men whom God gave him as companions, knowing that they appreciated so little, taking comfort from them as a single mother does from a conversation with her four year old son. This sense of spiritual loneliness will afflict every true servant of Yahweh. Elijah, Moses, Adam, Hezekiah, Job, Jeremiah and all the prophets, Paul... each of them felt so alone. We too surely feel that we are walking along a virgin path, pioneering a new road, but one that will only be travelled by us. All the talk about fellowship and support from our families, our community, can only go so far. And in our hearts, we know this. It's at times like this, as we come to know the mind of David, that we have both temptation and fantastic opportunity: temptation to feel that even the Father and Son cannot enter into our experience; and yet also the marvellous opportunity to touch the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God  , on a personal level; to know  him, and the fellowship of his sufferings, and thereby to have the certainty of sharing his resurrection.  

The Character Of David: Self knowledge

Reading through the book of Psalms in one or two sittings reveals another characteristic of David: frequent and intense self-examination, especially while on the run from Saul (Ps. 4:4; 7:3; 17:3; 18:20-24; 19:12; 26:1; 39:1; 59:3; 66:18; 77:6; 86:2; 101:2; 109:3; 139:23,24).

David: self-examination and self-knowledge

" The answer of a good conscience"

(Ps. 4:4; 7:3; 17:3; 18:20-24; 19:12; 26:1; 39:1; 59:3; 66:18; 77:6; 86:2; 101:2; 109:3; 139:23,24).

" Commune with your own heart upon your bed" (4:4)

" If I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands; if I have rewarded evil...let the enemy persecute my soul" (7:3-5)

" Thou hast visited me in the night: thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing" (17:3)

" I have kept the ways of the Lord...for  all his judgments were before me...I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity" (18:21-24; after Bathsheba)

" Who can understand his own errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults" (19:12)

" Judge me, O Lord; for I have walked in mine integrity" (26:1)

" I said, I will take heed to my ways" (39:1)

" They lie in wait for my soul...not for my transgression" (59:3)

" If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (66:18)

" In the night I commune with mine own heart" (77:6)

" Preserve my soul: for I am holy" (86:2)

" I will walk within my house with a perfect heart" (101:2)

" They fought against me without a cause" (109:3)

" O God...know my heart: try me...and see if there be any wicked way in me" (139:23,24)

David's characteristic of self-examination cannot be unrelated to the fact that while on the run from Saul, he keenly meditated on the word of God (largely in the Law); Ps.119 has many connections between his love of the word and the outlaw experiences. Perhaps David thought so much of the Law that he came close to Moses in spirit; " those that seek after my soul...shall go into the lower parts of the earth" (Ps.63:9) is clearly alluding to the fate of Moses' enemies, Korah et al  . Amid daily pursuit from his enemies, David reflected that " In God will I praise his word" (Ps.56:10 and context). In the same period, David eagerly looks forward to the judgment seat (Ps.62:9 RV, 12) as a source of comfort in his present distress . Real self-examination, real love of the word, will have the same effect.  

The Character Of David: Awareness Of Sin

Yet another theme is the frequent allusion David makes to the promises, both to Abraham and himself; often he speaks of those promises as " mercy" and / or " truth" . He saw the promises as fundamentally concerning forgiveness of sin (" Mercy" ), which is how Peter interprets them in Acts 3:25,26; it is fundamentally through this that we can receive the eternal inheritance. David describes the promises as " blessing" (2 Sam.7:28,29), a word normally used in the context of forgiveness. So David was aware of the grossness of sin, of the need for self-examination, to ensure that his technical breaches of the Law of Moses were truly a reflection of his friendship with God rather than an indication of spiritual weakness.  

And now consider the Son of God, Christ our Lord, tempted in every point like as we are. He knew his sinlessness, indeed he must have been constantly aware of it. Just one sin would have marred that fine, heavenly relationship with the Father which he so rejoiced in. How he would have examined himself! How he would have searched his motives, perhaps even examining the tone of his voice, his body language, his way of using Scripture, his use of humour (for he did use it).... The high level of self-knowledge which David achieved must have been reflected in his Lord. Christ's sense of purpose must have exuded from his very being. He knew where he was from and where he was going to, there was a precision and certainty behind all his words: " I am  the bread...I am  the true  vine....the good shepherd..." . And yet all this was thought, believed and said by a man whose very soul was broken, whose whole life was a carrying of a cross, and who (therefore, from that analogy)  found it so desperately hard to carry on. 

The Character Of David: Desire To Praise And Preach

David knew his sinfulness, he knew his reliance upon the grace of God, more and more as he got older. One would have thought that after the Bathsheba incident, David would have kept his mouth shut so far as telling other people how to live was concerned. But instead, we find an increasing emphasis in the Psalms (chronologically) upon David's desire to teach others of God's ways- particularly the surrounding Gentile peoples, before whom David had been disgraced over Bathsheba, not to mention from his two faced allegiance to Achish (1 Sam.27:8-12). There is real stress upon this evangelistic fervour of David (Ps.4:3; 18:49; 22:25,31; 35:18; 40:9,10; 57:9; 62:8; 66:5,16; 95:1,8; 96:5-8,10; 100:1-4; 105:1,2; 119:27; 145:5,6,12). Indeed, Ps.71:18 records the " old and greyheaded" David pleading with God not to die until he had taught " thy strength unto this generation" . As with Paul years later, the only reason he wanted to stay alive was in order to witness the Gospel of grace to others. David  therefore coped with his deep inner traumas by looking out of himself to those around him, eagerly desiring to share with them the pureness of God's grace. He didn't do this as some kind of self-help psychiatry; it came naturally from a realization of his own sinfulness and God's mercy, and the wonderful willingness  of God to extend this to men.

David: Zeal to preach to the world

(Ps.4:3; 18:49; 22:25,31; 35:18; 40:9,10; 57:9; 62:8; 66:5,16; 71:18; 95:1,8; 96:5-8,10; 100:1-4; 105:1,2; 119:27; 145:5,6,12)

" I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen" (18:49)

" My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation...they shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this" (22:25,31)

" I will praise thee among much people" (35:18)

" I have the great congregation...I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart: I Have declared thy faithfulness" (40:9,10)

" I will sing unto thee among the nations" (57:9)

" Trust in people" (62:8)

" Come and see the works of God...I will declare what he hath done for my soul" (66:5,16)

" When I am old...forsake me not, until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation" (71:18)

" Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, glory...come into his courts...say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth" (96:7,8,10)

" Make a joyful noise...all ye lands...come before his presence...know ye that Yahweh is God" (100:1-4)

" Make known his deeds among the ye of all his works" (105:1,2)

" Make me to understand thy precepts: so shall I talk of thy wondrous works" (119:27)

" I will speak of thy majesty...I will declare thy make known to the sons of men...the glorious majesty of his Kingdom" (145:5,6,12)

The Son of God understood " what was in man" even more finely than David. The Lord Jesus likewise looked out of himself, out of the warfare that plagued his inner mind, to the need of preaching the Gospel to the brokenhearted. If we had been in the shoes of the Lord Jesus, we would doubtless have stayed tucked away in anonymous Nazareth, keeping away from temptation, struggling to hold on to our perfection of character, and avoiding the sort of spiritual stress created by days of active preaching, constantly being pestered by irritating, self-centred questioners. But not so the Lord Jesus. In a sense he exposed himself to this type of temptation through his devotion to preaching the Gospel, he looked out of himself to others, his deep knowledge of the love of God, his fine appreciation of the Father's character, simply impelled  him to share it. Yet because of this appreciation, the Lord Jesus was forthright in his condemnation of those who did not believe or want to understand the truth of the Father. This was prefigured by the way in which David had a marked hatred of sin, and often stated his desire to purge Israel of sinners, and his refusal to fellowship with evil (Ps. 94:20; 97:10; 101:3-8; 119:63,78,79; 139:19). So often David makes reference to his enemies within Israel, and the judgments to come upon the wicked (Ps.1:1; 4:3; 5;5; 15:4; 26:4,5; 35:3-8; 45:7; 52:6; 58:6; 104:35; 109:5-20; 137:8,9; 139:21). Again, this is quite some emphasis.  

David: reference to judgment for sin

(Ps.1:1; 4:3; 5;5; 15:4; 26:4,5; 35:3-8; 45:7; 52:6; 58:6; 104:35; 109:5-20; 137:8,9; 139:21).

" The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity" (5:5)

" Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion...let them be as chaff...let the Angel of the Lord persecute them...let the net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall" (35:4-8)

" God shall destroy thee for ever...The righteous also shall laugh at him" (52:5,6)

" Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth" (58:6)

" Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth" (104:35)

" Let Satan stand at his right hand...when he shall be judged, let him be condemned...let his children be fatherless...continually vagabonds, and beg" (109:4-20)

" Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones" (137:9)

" I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee...I hate them with perfect hatred" (139:21,22)

David's refusal to fellowship with evil

 (Ps. 94:20; 97:10; 101:3-8; 119:63,78,79; 139:19).

" Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful" (1:1)

" Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? whose eyes a vile person is contemned" (15:1,4)

" I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers. I have hated the congregation of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked" (26:4,5)

" Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with Thee?" (94:20)

" Ye that love the Lord, hate evil" (97:10)

" I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the works of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave unto me. A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off...him will I not suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me...he that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house...I will early destroy all the wicked of the land; that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord" (101:3-8)

" I am a companion of all them that fear thee...let those that fear thee turn unto me" (119:63,79)

" Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men" (139:19)

The Character Of David: " Full of grace and truth"

Yet think of the attitude of mind with which David write and prayed those words; scarcely with any hard self-righteousness after Bathsheba, and we have seen that David suffered acutely from depression and lack of self-esteem. He surely would have said and thought all those words from a motive of truly loving God's righteousness, and wishing to vindicate Yahweh's perfect character. His awareness of his own weakness is summarized in Ps.139:21-23:  " I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee...I hate them with perfect me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts" . We lack the zeal to stand up for God's truth, both in the world and in the ecclesia, because we sense that we are such desperate sinners. David had that strength even more so, and yet it was his true appreciation of God's grace which led him to so eagerly resist anything which was against this or in any way compromised it. Indeed, the seriousness of sin and the need to separate from it was one of David's favourite preaching topics. 

There can be no misunderstanding of David as some softie who let anything go. Of course he was a sensitive man, with a soft heart. The way others’ words so hurt him is evidence enough of this (Ps. 57:4). Yet this was marvellously blended with his clear recognition of evil and firmly expressed desire not to mix with it. Much self-examination and realization of his own failures didn't make David turn a blind eye. Many of David's references to his enemies and the wicked whom he hated are in fact to Saul and Absalom. And yet we know that he deeply loved both these men. The Lord Jesus had this same wondrous mixture of " grace and truth" which has so eluded Christianity. His hating sin more than any other man was one reason for the height of his exaltation above all others by the Father (Ps.45:7).  

The Character Of David: Love For Israel

Another way in which Christ looked out of himself was by recognizing that he was representative of so many others, that he was so connected with us. This was seen in David's experience too, and again the Psalms explain just how: Many times David reveals that he saw his sufferings as being bound up with those of Israel; those who hated him hated Zion, those who blessed him blessed Zion, and God's salvation of Israel was being expressed through God's deliverance of him in the daily vicissitudes of life; as God had chosen Zion, so He had David His servant; David's joy was Zion's joy, and her exaltation would be David's  (Ps. 51:18; 69:35; 87:2; 106:5; 121:3,4; 125:1; 128:5; 146:10; 149:2). David's awareness of this must have led to a very special relationship between him and Israel. He was " the light of Israel" even after his disgrace with Bathsheba, the light which his people would fain see quenched (1 Chron.11:1). He treated all Israel as his brothers, as Christ treats his Kingdom (1Chron.28:2). The fact that he was living out the collective experiences of God's people must have been a strength to David, a real encouragement to endure. And in the case of the Lord Jesus, it is possible to speculate that if he were only  concerned with achieving his personal salvation, he may not have had the motivation to hang on which he had. How true are the words of Bro. Roberts,  that Christ did it all for himself, " that it might be for us" . And for many a latter day saint, the extra motivation for hanging on, for struggling to do those readings, to say those prayers from a true heart, has often come from realizing one's connection with the rest of the body, realizing the need to spiritually help a partner, children, ones' converts of earlier days, ones' long loved ecclesia... There's nothing wrong in our sense of spiritual responsibility to others giving that vital fillip to our spiritual enthusiasm. The effect of our weakness upon the Lord Jesus, like the clinging need of a weak minded husband or child, was the same! 

David's joy was Zion's joy

 (Ps. 51:18; 69:35; 87:2; 106:5; 121:3,4; 125:1; 128:5; 146:10; 149:2).

" Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem" (Ps.51:8)- in the context of Bathsheba

" I am poor and sorrowful...the Lord heareth the poor...praise Him...for God will save Zion, and will build the (poor) cities of Judah" (Ps.69:29-35)

" Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God" (Ps.87:2)

" Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people...that I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance" (Ps.106:4,5)

" He that keepeth thee  will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade" as He was to Israel in the wilderness (Ps.121:3-5 cp.105:39)

" That thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord. The Lord shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life" (Ps.128:4,5)

" Sing unto the Lord...let the children of Zion be joyful in their king" (Ps.149:2)

And so as we take the emblems, we express again our willingness to at least make the effort to shoulder the cross, to go on. But as we said, the man carrying his cross is the picture of a man who finds it hard to go on. Many men, like the Lord Jesus, just couldn't make it to the place of crucifixion. The man carrying the cross was the picture of a man who finds it hard to go on. We stress it because if we are truly carrying the cross, and thereby have hope of sharing his resurrection, then we will be finding it hard to go on. As that perfect day draws near, the day of the Lord Jesus, of our meeting with him, it will be harder and harder to go on. Life seems to get spiritually harder as the years go by. But yet we never will be tried beyond what we can take. I find those words just so encouraging. There will  be  a way of escape, that we may be able to bear it. So yes, we will find it hard to go on, we will know that spiritual loneliness of David / Jesus. Yet we will also know  the love of Christ, love which passes our human knowledge, we will know  him, know his sufferings, know his mind, the mind of the Son of God  . And then, surely, we will be united with him in his glory. Now we symbolize our connection with him, and yet also with each other. As David felt part of Israel as he suffered, and as the Lord felt so close to us in his agonies, so we are bound together too as the body of Christ, pushing separate paths up different sides of the mountain, perhaps, but somehow, in an inexplicable way, bound together in the unity of the Spirit. 

David's Final Maturity

2 Sam. 23:1-5 gives quite some insight into the nature of David’s spiritual maturity at the end. He comes over as:

Sure of his salvation

Aware of his own failures and frailty, acknowledging that his family ‘was not so with God’

Deeply aware of God’s grace

Having a clear vision of Jesus the future Messiah, even foreseeing how He would be pierced with a weapon and slain by wicked men- in order to attain our salvation

Aware that his own rulership was pathetically inferior to that of the Lord Jesus

Appreciative that all these wonderful things are rooted in the covenant made to himself, which was all his salvation and desire.

These very same themes we find recurring in the lives of many other servants of God.


David And The Value Of Human Life

Many have struggled to reconcile the statement that David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14) with the fact that his life contains many examples not only of failure, but of anger and a devaluing of human life. He was barred from building the temple because of the amount of blood he had shed (1 Chron. 22:8). The figure of ‘shedding blood’ takes us back to the incident with Nabal, where David three times is mentioned as intending to “shed blood” (1 Sam. 25:26-33), only to be turned away from his sinful course by the wisdom, spirituality and charm of Abigail. David started out as the spiritually minded, humble shepherd, full of faith and zeal for his God. Hence Jehoshaphat is commended for walking “in the first ways of his father David” (2 Chron. 17:3). It seems to me that the comment that David was “a man after God’s own heart” refers to how he initially was, at the time God chose him and rejected Saul. But the trauma of his life, the betrayals, jealousies and hatred of others, led him to the kind of bitterness which so often surfaces in the Psalms and is reflected in several historical incidents where he lacks the value of others’ lives which we would otherwise expect from a man who walked so close with his God. Consider some of those incidents:

-         When told to slay 100 Philistines, he slays 200 for good measure (1 Sam. 18:25,27)

-         His wife Michal had a pagan image at home (1 Sam. 19:13)- rather odd for a man who appears so committed to Yahweh

-         When David demands to eat the shewbread (1 Sam. 21:6) we sense a rather different David from the one who extolled the scrupulous keeping of the letter of God’s law in Ps. 119, a Psalm apparently written in his early days whilst at the court of Saul

-         David’s eager taking of the sword of Goliath (1 Sam. 21:9- “There is none like that; give it me”) contrasts sadly with his earlier rejection of such weapons in order to slay Goliath. And David later reflects how he knew that his faithless taking of that sword and the shewbread  would lead to the death of Abiathar’s family ((1 Sam. 22:22). But still he did it.

-         Going down South to Achish of Gath and playing the mad man (1 Sam. 21:13,15) has further sad connections with the patriarchs going down to Egypt in times of weak faith  

-         His anger with Nabal and desire to slay all “that piss against the wall” who lived with “this fellow” ((1 Sam. 25:21,22) is expressed in crude terms; and he later thanks Abigail for persuading him not to “shed blood” and “avenging myself with mine own hand” ((1 Sam. 25:33)- the very things he elsewhere condemns in his Psalms (e.g. Ps. 44:3). Time and again in the Psalms, David uses that Hebrew word translated “avenging myself” about how God and not man will revenge / save him against his enemies, for God saves / avenges the humble in spirit not by their strength and troops but by His. But in the anger of hot blood, David let go of all those fine ideas. He had some sort of an anger problem.

-         David says that the servants of Saul are “worthy to die” because they fell asleep as a result of “a deep sleep from the Lord” which fell on them, and therefore didn’t protect Saul (1 Sam. 26:12,16). Were they really that guilty of death for this? There doesn’t appear to be any Biblical command David was quoting.

-         “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul” is surely a collapse of faith (1 Sam. 27:1). And it led to the way in which David deceived Achish by pretending he was attacking Jewish towns, when in fact he was going out and attacking the Amalekite settlements, killing all men, women and children in them so that nobody was left alive to tell that it was David who had attacked them (1 Sam. 27:8-10). Innocent people were slain by David’s sword for the ‘political’ reason that he had to keep Achish ‘in the dark’ about what he was really up to. And so in case a 5 year old say something incriminating later, David simply killed the little boy. Indeed, when Achish later says that David would be best not to go with him to fight Saul, David hypocritically says: “But what have I done? And what have you found in your servant so long as I have been with you unto this day, that I may not go fight against the enemies [i.e. Saul] of my lord the king?” (1 Sam. 29:8). This was hardly an example of the “integrity” and “uprightness” which David glorifies in his Psalms, and which he insisted he was full of (Ps. 25:21). Indeed he claims that his integrity is the basis of his acceptance by God (Ps. 26:1).

-         It’s recorded that in this ethnic cleansing which David performed, he took the spoil of those settlements for himself (1 Sam. 27:9). Indeed when he destroyed Ziklag, he took away their herds “and said, This is David’s spoil” (1 Sam. 30:20).

-         When Saul is killed, a young Amalekite hopeful comes to David with the story that he had killed Saul, trying to curry favour with David and secure his own release as a prisoner of war. David executed him (2 Sam. 1:15). It seems to me that this was an over the top reaction, and yet again betrays a lack of value and meaning attached to the human person. There was no attempt to convert the frightened young man to grace, to the God of Israel. The summary slaying of Rechab and Baanah has some similarities (2 Sam. 4:12).

-         Once King, David decides to get back his ex-wife Michal, who was by now married to Phaltiel, who evidently loved her. Yet David takes her from Phaltiel, and we have the tragic image of the loving husband walking behind her weeping as she is led away from him (2 Sam. 3:15,16). This was not only a breach of Mosaic law, but displayed a sad elevation of politics above others’ relationships and marriages. It may be significant that her renewed marriage with David wasn’t blessed with any children (2 Sam. 6:23).

-         The incident with Uzzah touching the ark led to David being “displeased” with God because He had slain a man who was trying to assist David’s project of bringing the ark to Zion (2 Sam. 6:8,9). Do we not again see the anger and irrational emotion of David flaring up?

-         I’ve commented elsewhere about God’s response to David’s desire to build God a house. God said ‘No’- because He chose to live in the hearts of men rather than physical buildings. But still David obsessively pushed ahead with his dream. Likewise his whole attitude to Solomon appears to have been obsessive and involved a ‘reading out’ of the conditional nature of God’s promises regarding Solomon.

-         When David defeated Moab, he made the captives lay down in three lines. He arbitrarily chose one line to keep alive, and killed the other two lines (2 Sam. 8:2). This can’t be justified as some careful obedience to some Mosaic law. It reads like something out of the Holocaust, an arbitrary slaying of some in order to exercise the whim of one’s own power. No wonder David was barred from building the temple because of his attitude to bloodshed. Likewise when Rabbah is captured, David proudly puts the crown of the king on his head, grabs their spoil for himself, “and he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick kiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon” (2 Sam. 12:31). Now all that is torture. It’s one thing to obey Divine commands about slaying enemies; it’s another to wilfully torture them, Auschwitz-style. These incidents reveal David at his worst. And again- did he really have to ensure that every male in Edom was murdered (1 Kings 11:15,16)- was that really necessary? What about the mums, wives, sisters left weeping, and the fatherless daughters, left to grow up in the dysfunction of a leaderless Middle Eastern home? Those men were all somebody’s sons, brothers, fathers, grandfathers. Was David really obeying some Divine command here, or was this the dictate of his own anger and dysfunctional bloodlust?

-         David’s murder of Uriah and his sin with Bathsheba again reflects this same lack of value of the human person, even of his faithful friends.

-         When David is asked to give seven men of the family of Saul as a blood sacrifice to appease the rain god who was not sending rain, David agrees. He doesn’t make the Biblical argument that rain being withheld indicates the need for repentance before Yahweh, and that sacrificing humans is wrong and won’t change anything in this context. He gives in to the false understanding of the Gibeonites, breaking his undertakings to Saul and Jonathan by doing so, and selects seven men to be slain and hung up. We read of the mother of two of them, Rizpah, lovingly watching over the bodies of her sons day and night, with all the distraction of true love (2 Sam. 21:10). David didn’t have to do this. But he did. He doesn’t seem to have cared for the mother’s feelings, nor for the lives of her sons. And note that David makes up the total of seven men by having the five foster sons of his own estranged wife Michal slain. Was this not David somehow hitting back at Michal, who had mocked him for his style of worship in 2 Sam. 6? And how did Adriel, the father of those five sons, feel? He wasn’t of the house of Saul, but because of David’s desire to placate someone else, he lost all his sons, just because his wife had died and Saul’s daughter had raised them. And yet this same David is recorded as saying soon afterwards: “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 perfect toward him; And I kept myself from mine iniquity. Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, According to my cleanness in his eyesight” (2 Sam.  22:22-25).

-         David seems to glory in how he destroyed his enemies- “I might destroy them that hate me… then did I beat them as small as the dust of the earth, I did stamp them as the more of the street, and did spread them [i.e. their body parts] abroad” (2 Sam. 22:41-43). Can this really be justified as obedience to Divine commands? Is this not the expression of blood lust and anger? And isn’t it therefore self-righteous to style himself “the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam. 23:1)? Was he really “sweet”?

-         The numbering of Israel was another weak moment for David (note 2 Sam. 24:3,4,10), leading to suffering for others. Yet this same David had written that “there is no king saved by the multitude of an host” (Ps. 33:16).

-         When David became old and impotent (AV “gat no heat”, 1 Kings 1:1), it was still felt important for him to be producing children, and so the sex goddess Abishag was found for him. Where exactly is the morality in that…?

-         David earlier forgave Shimei for cursing him. But he tells Solomon to bring down that old man’s white hairs to the grave with blood on them- again, a crude image for the murder of an old man. And he uses the same awful turn of phrase to ask Solomon to do this also to his lifelong friend Joab (1 Kings 2:6,9). Surely grace would’ve found another way?

The Weakness Of David In The Psalms

In addition to all this, we find the Psalms so often expressing David’s intense anger- even to the extent of contradicting his other more gracious statements about people, and also being at variance with his own beggings for mercy and grace at the time of his sin with Bathsheba. Consider “Hold them guilty, O God; Let them fall by their own counsels; Thrust them out in the multitude of their transgressions; For they have rebelled against thee” (Ps. 5:10). Yet David has to use these very words about himself in Ps. 51:1 when he pleads with God to be merciful to him.  David’s ‘imprecatory Psalms’, in which he asks for bloodcurdling judgments upon his enemies, are hard to justify in the light of Christ’s teachings. They appear to be a continuation of the moments of bitterness, anger and brutality which we saw in the above mentioned historical examples (1).

Throughout David’s Psalms in Ps. 1-72, he repeatedly asks for torture upon the sinners and blessing upon himself as the righteous. He speaks of how sinners should be “contemned” in the eyes of the righteous (Ps. 15:4), the gatherings of sinners should be “hated” and sinners should not be fellowshipped (Ps. 26:4-6; Ps. 31:6) and how God’s uprightness is shown to the upright and His judgment to the judgmental (Ps. 18:25,26; Ps. 33:22). He invites God’s judgment upon himself and others according to their and his works (Ps. 28:4).  Frequently he alludes to Saul as “the violent man”- even though David committed his share of violence- and asks judgment upon him (Ps. 18:48). Only those with clean hands and pure heart like himself could have fellowship with God (Ps. 24:3,4). Psalm 37 doesn’t indicate any desire to convert the sinners but rather an expectation of their judgment and destruction. God and David laugh at the wicked because their day is coming (Ps. 37:13). There’s no spirit of grace here at all- perhaps that’s why Zech. 12:10 specifically says that the spirit of grace will have to be poured out upon the house of David in the last days.

Spiritual Schizophrenia

It would be true to say that the Bathsheba experience changed David’s attitude. His mouth had been full of reproofs of the wicked, but through his desperation then he became a man “in whose mouth are [now] no reproofs” (Ps. 38:14). But I think it’s too simplistic to suggest that David simply changed post the sin with Bathsheba. For the list of anger incidents etc. given above include many from after that time. My suggestion is that David was in essence the man of love, grace and forgiveness which we see so often- his grace to Saul and the house of Saul, his love for his children, his marvel at the natural creation, his humility, his praise of God, his walking with God, his constant contact with the Father, his Psalms of love and spiritual insight, to the point that he beheld the future Messiah “always before my face” (Acts 2:25). And there’s that wonderful account of “the last words of David”, where he recognizes that he had failed, that his house was “not so with God”, and yet through the future Messiah, “the light of the morning”, who would be pierced by a spear, the promises to him regarding his eternal future would indeed be fulfilled (2 Sam. 23:4,5,7). This ‘other side’ of David we’ve not touched upon in this present study, but any Bible student knows it so well. But- and it’s a big ‘but’- this loving, wonderful person had an anger problem, a temper that could lead to murder of innocent people (e.g. the Nabal incident), a bitterness with his enemies whom in his better moments he loved and prayed over with a grace rarely reached amongst men. In short, he displayed the spiritual schizophrenia which plagues us all, and even on his deathbed it didn’t leave him [witness his vicious commands for the death of Shimei and Joab]. And yet in the final analysis, God loved David, setting him up as the spiritual benchmark for the judgment of Israel’s future kings.

The Bigger Picture

How does this affect us? It’s all surely encouragement for those who despair of their weaker side, who feel this may lead to their condemnation, who despair at how one moment they can be loving, gracious and spiritual, and the next- caught up in the unspirituality which warrants condemnation. God sees to the end of a man’s history, to the end of human history, He weighs men, and weighs them up in grace. Further, we all likely struggle with the unspirituality of others against us. We ponder how brother X or sister Y can really be a Christian, can have any real relationship with God, because of how we see them act. This struggle over these kinds of issues is, in my experience, the number one reason why people leave Christian communities. The raw anger, hatred and viciousness they see in others disillusions them, and they walk. The pull of materialism, of false doctrine etc, are actually not significant reasons in the majority of cases I know of where a believer has quit the community of believers. It’s nearly always personal disillusion with the evil side of their brethren. All I can say is, Consider David’s poorer side. Think of men like Adriel and Phaltiel, women like Rizpah, the mothers of Moab and Edom, who all likely considered David a sadistic maniac- given their experience of him. And, of course, Uriah, who surely knew all along what was going on. They saw the weaker side of David. Thanks to the extent of Biblical revelation about David, we see a wider picture. And even if that wider picture remains invisible to us concerning brother A and sister B, try to imagine that they have a prayer life, read Scripture, are loved by God, and probably in some ways and to some extent do respond to that love… and leave the final analysis of human character to the God who judges, weighs and knows far deeper, more graciously, more hopefully, than we ever can in this life.

God accepted David and thought so positively of him by grace. And our own covenant relationship with God is a result of receiving the “sure mercies” [Heb. hesed, covenant grace] given to David (Is. 55:3). As God perceived David so positively, by grace, so He will us; and we likewise must extend that same perspective to our brethren who are in that same covenant of grace.


(1) There are other explanations for these imprecatory Psalms. One that appeals to me is that throughout them, David is alluding to the Abrahamic covenant that God will curse those who curse His people and bless those who bless them. Another window of understanding is provided by analyzing them from a psychological viewpoint. Dorothee Soelle speaks of how “the movement from helplessness to power is through public expressions of lament, complaint and protest” (Suffering (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975) p. 73). By expressing our hurt and feelings in words, even if they come out terribly, we are (psychologically at least) on the way to some kind of healing or liberation. This is demonstrated at length throughout Arthur Janos, The Primal Scream (New York: Putnam, 1970) 



(1) Or is this an indication that in later life, David's spirituality declined? We have shown in Solomon and the temple  that David became totally carried away with the idea  of Solomon being the Messiah, even though this was not what God had promise. Jehoshaphat is commended for walking " in the first  ways of his father David" (2  Chron.17:3, although see AVmg. and other versions). When David became king, he forgave his enemies, whereas he advises Solomon to murder his enemies when he becomes king. Does this indicate that he didn’t sustain the spirit of grace to the end?