There is no better example in the Bible of long-term good leadership than King David. “Really?” you might respond. David was an adulterer and murderer. Yes. Yet he had three notable qualities that must exemplify every Christian leader: he trusted God with his heart and soul; he continually sought God’s leading, then followed; and he wholeheartedly repented when he sinned.
David’s calling by God and anointing as king by Samuel occurred when he was still likely a teenager. But God made him wait years before being given Israel’s throne, years of testing and honing for leadership, when he had to frequently run for his life from both King Saul and Israel’s enemies.
The first thing we see from the newly anointed young David is deep confidence that the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is still their God, and paralyzed Israel must trust him for deliverance. David understands, as none of his elders do, that they are allowing Goliath and the Philistines to not only humiliate them, but to profane God’s name. God then both glorifies his own name and rewards David’s trust by giving him a most improbable victory.
During his long reign David habitually asks God to lead him. Should he battle God’s enemies? When? Where? But when David himself decides his own course – he wants to build God a house – God tells him no. His son Solomon will build that temple because David has been a man of blood. God approved David the warrior; he fought God’s fights. Yet that disqualifies him from being the one to build the temple. David was surely deeply disappointed, but he quickly acquiesces to God’s will.
Earlier there occurs the most notoriously nasty episode of David’s life: he lusts after Bathsheba, commits adultery with her, deviously plots to make it look like his child is her husband Uriah’s, then deliberately gets Uriah killed in battle. When confronted by the prophet Nathan, David abjectly repents, realizing that it is God, first of all, whom he has dishonored (cf. Psalm 51).
God graciously forgives him, yet there are serious consequences: first, the child dies. David causes suffering not only for himself but for Bathsheba: she loses a loved husband and the child she was forced to conceive. But there’s an even greater long-term price: “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight” (2 Sam. 12) – which indeed his own son Absalom did during his attempt to wrest the throne from his father. Then David must deal with Absalom’s gruesome death. And when David is old, another of his sons tries to usurp his throne. Even righteous Solomon will allow pagan wives to ensnare him, causing grief for future generations.
Once, David conducts a census of Israel, which God had forbidden. In pride he seems to have wanted to revel in the fighting nation he had built. When God confronts him, he repents. But again repentance doesn’t negate serious consequences. That is a principle modern Christian leaders must also recognize.
God lets David choose which of three calamities will be visited on him. David’s deeply ingrained trust in God makes him throw himself on God’s grace rather than being at the mercy of fallen human beings. God forgives David, yet brings a plague upon Israel. Yet again there are stark repercussions: others die because of David’s sin.
Despite all that, God calls David “a man after my own heart” (Paul, Acts 13). When Saul disobeyed God and God deposed him, God then “sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people” (1 Sam. 13). And God never withdrew that wonderful, tender description of, and relationship with, the man he called to lead Israel and to be the primary ancestor of Christ. It is surely a position all of us (leaders or not) who worship David’s God and Savior also long for: Oh, to be a man or woman after God’s own heart!
The column title is from a Psalm of David (61:5).
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