by David C. Grabbe
CGG Weekly, January 15, 2016
"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
As we saw in Part One, when the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint one of Jesse's sons, God says, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (I Samuel 16:7). Looking at their hearts, God had Samuel pass over the firstborn, even though firstborns typically have natural leadership abilities and are skilled in telling others what to do. That is not necessarily what makes a good leader, though.
God did not choose a captain of the army or a career politician or a "community organizer." He chose a shepherd, a young man accustomed to spending long days and nights contemplating the creation while tending, protecting, providing for, and watching over those who were vulnerable. He was willing to risk his own life for the sake of an animal that, while important to the family's livelihood, was nowhere near his own value.
David was not like the elites in academia and politics, who reside in ivory towers and have little idea of what the average person's life is like in the real world. David, however, was accustomed to close involvement with his charges. Later on, when he was a commander, he lived with his men and was connected to them, just as he was among his sheep. This is the man who became the greatest human king.
In the same way, God looks on the hearts of those He calls and prepares. We may not be shepherds like King David, but we can still have a heart like God's and develop those qualities of leadership that God can use both now and in the resurrection, when we are sitting on thrones.
Proverbs 20:28 tells us, "Mercy and truth preserve the king, and by lovingkindness he upholds his throne." King Saul thought David was wonderful when he slew Goliath, but not long afterward, Saul began to feel threatened by the younger man's successes (I Samuel 18:6-9). Saul made numerous attempts on David's life (I Samuel 18:10-11, 25, 29; 19:10). The king still had the authority, but he certainly was not acting like a leader.
In fact, Saul proves the reverse of this proverb: He consistently acted without mercy or lovingkindness toward his son-in-law. His fixation and obsession with killing David shows that he was not being guided by truth—another facet of this verse. As we know, God did not uphold Saul's throne (I Samuel 15:26-29).
On the other hand, an example of this verse in David's life is his response to Saul's ongoing persecution. On a couple of occasions, David had the opportunity to end his maltreatment by killing Saul, but he held himself back. At one point, David was close enough to cut out a portion of Saul's robe (II Samuel 24:1-4). Later, he felt guilty for doing even that against God's anointed (verses 5-6).
Another time, David and his nephew, Abishai, sneaked into Saul's camp, taking Saul's spear and jug of water (I Samuel 26:5-12). Both times, David's companions encouraged him to act carnally. They thought he should act according to this world's "Eleventh Commandment": Do unto others before they do unto you. They believed he should follow the doctrine of pre-emptive war as a guarantee of their security. But both times David rebuffed them, pointing out that Saul was still the Lord's anointed, a truth that weighed on him more heavily than thoughts of personal safety or advantage.
The truth of God's sovereignty and governance in the affairs of man was also more real to him than the carnal urgings of his companions. David had mercy on Saul, even though, had the circumstances been reversed, the king would not have had mercy on him. This same heart also manifested lovingkindness, as we will see in a later example.
Another "kingly" Proverb is found in Proverbs 29:4: "The king establishes the land by justice, but he who receives bribes overthrows it." David's life contains a couple of occasions when he had the opportunity to accept a bribe but did not. They were not bribes of envelopes stuffed with hundred dollar bills or even bags filled with gold. These bribes were more subtle, but it still took a righteous leader to reject them and carry out the justice that was required.
II Samuel 1:1-16 tells the story of a young Amalekite man from Saul's camp, who brings news to David of the death of Saul and his sons. The man falsely confesses to killing Saul, presenting the king's crown and bracelet to David. In today's language, the terms for this are "mis-speaking" and "mis-remembering."
But the plain fact is that he lies to gain favor with the man whom everyone in Israel knew would be the next king. This false Amalekite knew of Saul's animosity toward David, and he assumes that David would welcome the news of his adversary's death. Perhaps, he likely thought, David would reward the individual who had had a hand in taking down his rival.
This unscrupulous opportunist came seeking favor, trying to distort David's judgment with a falsehood. This ties in with Proverbs 29:12: "If a ruler pays attention to lies, all his servants become wicked." David, not one to put any stock in lies, has the man executed. He receives justice for his attempt to bribe David and for his false report.
Part Three will deal with a few more examples of David's uncommonly righteous and kind leadership style.