In 1 Samuel 13:14, King David was called “a man after God’s own heart.” He was chosen to be king of Israel while another king (Saul) sat on the throne, despite the ancient tradition of sons following their fathers to the throne. Even more interesting was David’s friendship with the very person whose place he was effectively taking: Jonathan.
David’s friendship with Jonathan shows a lot about the nature of his personality. He wasn’t devious or scheming, he must have been a loving person. By rights, Jonathan and Saul should have both hated him, both wanted him dead for the power he was taking away. (Incidentally, Saul did.) It’s important to remember this about David, because there’s another chapter to look at now: his stealing of Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.
God’s own heart and the other side
David slept with the wife of one of his soldiers and got her pregnant. Then he had her husband killed and had her moved into the castle, appearing to be gracious to her. To an outsider’s view, it was a high honor given to the wife of a great soldier. To the prophet Nathan, it was something completely different. Nathan approached David with this story from 2 Samuel 12:
12 So the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to tell David this story: “There were two men in a certain town. One was rich, and one was poor. 2 The rich man owned a great many sheep and cattle. 3 The poor man owned nothing but one little lamb he had bought. He raised that little lamb, and it grew up with his children. It ate from the man’s own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter. 4 One day a guest arrived at the home of the rich man. But instead of killing an animal from his own flock or herd, he took the poor man’s lamb and killed it and prepared it for his guest.”
Nathan was taking his life in his hands, make no mistake. This was a monarchy, not a democracy. David didn’t immediately understand that he had been outed. His response was to condemn the man in the story, even saying that the man deserved to die. Then Nathan turned the table: “You are the man.”
David has not stopped being a man after God’s own heart. He’s still that guy. That’s not all he is, though. He’s a man after God’s own heart, but he’s also a man. And as a man, he has all the same struggles and temptations, sins and failures any of us have. Luckily for Nathan, the “God’s own heart” piece wins out, because he doesn’t have Nathan killed on the spot to keep covering up his misstep. He realizes he has to stop. He repents.
What happens next in David’s life isn’t relative to this post, but it’s not good. There is discipline. David gets depressed (Psalm 51) and goes through a cycle of growth that is painful and necessary. God never leaves him, it’s God’s nature to remain faithful. Here’s the hard truth, though: the pain proved David’s character. It certainly wasn’t the mistake or the choice to stop covering it up. The bearing of the pain was the evidence that he was after God’s own heart.
the long road
To follow God, we must sometimes accept long roads. David accepted the consequences of his actions without knowing what it would cost him. Certainly, the story was written down and it was known to people after his time, probably even during his life. What could have happened? Open insurrection? David was the king of the holy nation of Israel… could he have been stripped of his title? 2 Samuel 12 says that his family would “live by the sword,” and this wasn’t because some magical powder was sprinkled on the castle. My bet is that David’s actions caused divisions that echoed through the ages. This was what he accepted when he confessed what he had done: consequences whose longevity he couldn’t know. After God’s own heart, though, you cannot continue disobeying even if the cost is high.
the inner life
As Nathan’s story showed David stealing from a man much less wealthy than himself, so do we look for shortcuts. Jesus, in his most well-known sermon, described an interesting group of people as blessed. Here’s the except from Matthew 5 in the New Living Translation:
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
It’s tempting to see this as a to-do list. “Show mercy, check. Be humble… check.” What’s interesting, though, is what’s missing from this list. If Jesus wanted to give us a checklist, where are the preachers? The prophets? He never says, “Blessed are those who cast out demons,” but it’s notable that he does mention some of those people toward the end of his sermon when he says, “Not all who call me Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (7:21-23) What’s the difference? The inner life. The stuff that nobody sees. The list of the blessed are people who are typically forgotten. Some of them, like people who are persecuted for doing right, may even be pushed to the fringe because we WISH we could forget them.
The point is this: Jesus condemned people who had purely outward lives versus those who had un-public, unseen faith. To treat Matthew 5:3-10 as a list of things we need to do is to steal the sheep from the poorer man just the same as David. We’re looking for a shortcut to God instead of taking the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13) and pursuing God’s heart, the way which is much more difficult.
don’t kill Nathan.
What to do? First of all, remember that we are all mixed blessings. God knew David’s whole heart and still said David was close to his own. Jesus chose to take on a human body to show us what to do. “The world is saved through him” (John 3:17) when we realize that Jesus came to show that it’s possible to be in a body of flesh and still live in the Spirit. David had Nathan, we have the Holy Spirit. We have the community of believers. When we hold our own faults and victories loosely, we allow the spirit to move us. There is no shortcut or magic cure, there is only going after God’s own heart and the commitment to walk the long road.