The Heart of a King

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The Heart of a King

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Saul was tall, towering head and shoulders over the rest of the men around him. Surely this handsome young man was the kind who could rally the rest of the troops against the enemy camped on the opposite side of the valley. Yet to do that, King Saul of Israel would have to go up against the Philistine enemy giant, Goliath—who was more than nine feet tall and who wore armor that weighed a whopping 125 pounds.

How ironic that the hero and real leader of the story told in 1 Samuel 17 was an unimposing young shepherd by the name of David. He ran toward and conquered the seemingly invincible giant with only his sling and stones taken from a streambed! After this, David was not allowed to go home and was given assignments and rapid promotion in the army, a move supported by the army leaders.

When David is mentioned, many immediately think of this story of his defeating Goliath. How is it that this young shepherd, with no military training, was able to rally the Israelite army and lead them to victory?

What leadership traits did this unusual young man use to not only defeat Goliath and lead the army to victory that day, but to rapidly advance in responsibility in the Israelite army? How was it that he was later able to earn and hold the trust of those who came to him while he was running for his life from King Saul—and then again when he became king of Israel? Let’s look at a few of this amazing man’s leadership traits.

Humility

The first, and no doubt the most important, trait displayed by David was one on which Jesus Christ would focus many centuries later—humility. One of the trademark teachings of Jesus about leadership is found in several places in the Gospel accounts. Mark records it near the end of chapter 10 of his Gospel. Jesus said the gentiles consider those people great who “lord it over” others. But He said His disciples were to take a different approach.

Anyone who wants to be great must have the attitude of a servant—just like Jesus came with the attitude of serving humanity instead of demanding to be served by humanity. We might be tempted to call that an attitude of service, but the real lesson is humility. When the prophet Micah summed up the main points God looks for in His people, he mentioned living justly (following God’s instructions), loving mercy and being humble (Micah 6:8 Micah 6:8He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
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Let’s go back to David’s encounter with Goliath to see how he expressed that attribute. When questioned by King Saul about how David could possibly fight Goliath, David answered that God had given him power to save sheep from both a lion and a bear, and that God would do the same with respect to Goliath since Goliath was defying God (1 Samuel 17:34-37 1 Samuel 17:34-37 34 And David said to Saul, Your servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: 35 And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. 36 Your servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said to David, Go, and the LORD be with you.
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When taunted by Goliath as he went out to battle, David did not boast of his agility or skill with a sling, but told Goliath he came in the name of God and that God would give him the victory. God would receive the glory (verses 43-47). Though his actions were courageous, David was giving God the credit for the victory—even before it happened.

While David surely struggled to maintain this trait at times, as any person does, it was still with him in his old age. As David was fleeing for his life from his son Absalom, a relative of the late King Saul named Shimei ridiculed David and his entourage (see 2 Samuel 16). One of King David’s mighty men wanted to kill Shimei, but David told him to let the man alone. After all, if his own son could seek to kill him, why couldn’t this man voice his frustration at David too? It was an expression of humility that shone as a good example even in his latter years as king of Israel.

Respect for all

Another leadership trait that David displayed was a respect for everyone. Early in his life, when King Saul began trying to kill David out of jealousy, David allowed those in debt and those in distress to join him. He didn’t turn people away because they lacked wealth or status (1 Samuel 22:1-2 1 Samuel 22:1-2 1 David therefore departed there, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. 2 And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves to him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.
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Later, after he was established as king, David made a comment about longing for a drink from a well in his hometown, which was behind enemy lines at the time. Three of his mighty men broke through the Philistine camp and brought back some of that water and gave it to David. But David refused to drink it, pouring it out on the ground to God instead, showing he valued the lives of those men more than that drink he longed for. He showed that he respected them and did not take their lives lightly. They were too valuable to allow others to think they should risk their lives for David’s whims (2 Samuel 23:16-19 2 Samuel 23:16-19 16 And the three mighty men broke through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David: nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out to the LORD. 17 And he said, Be it far from me, O LORD, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? therefore he would not drink it. These things did these three mighty men. 18 And Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief among three. And he lifted up his spear against three hundred, and slew them, and had the name among three. 19 Was he not most honorable of three? therefore he was their captain: however, he attained not to the first three.
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Years later another incident showed David’s respect for his people. When a neighboring king died, David sent an entourage to express his condolences to that king’s son. The son listened to some bad advice and greatly embarrassed David’s servants by cutting off their beards and much of their clothing (2 Samuel 10:1-5 2 Samuel 10:1-5 1 And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead. 2 Then said David, I will show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness to me. And David sent to comfort him by the hand of his servants for his father. And David’s servants came into the land of the children of Ammon. 3 And the princes of the children of Ammon said to Hanun their lord, Think you that David does honor your father, that he has sent comforters to you? has not David rather sent his servants to you, to search the city, and to spy it out, and to overthrow it? 4 Why Hanun took David’s servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away. 5 When they told it to David, he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed: and the king said, Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return.
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Fairness and integrity

Along with showing respect for all people, David also showed a deep sense of fairness and integrity. When David gave his word, he stood by it. When God gave him the victory over Goliath, David became good friends with Jonathan, Saul’s son. When Saul began plotting to kill David, and Jonathan realized David would become the next king, Jonathan asked David to give him his word that he would always show kindness to his family. David agreed and gave his word (1 Samuel 20:12-17 1 Samuel 20:12-17 12 And Jonathan said to David, O LORD God of Israel, when I have sounded my father about to morrow any time, or the third day, and, behold, if there be good toward David, and I then send not to you, and show it you; 13 The LORD do so and much more to Jonathan: but if it please my father to do you evil, then I will show it you, and send you away, that you may go in peace: and the LORD be with you, as he has been with my father. 14 And you shall not only while yet I live show me the kindness of the LORD, that I die not: 15 But also you shall not cut off your kindness from my house for ever: no, not when the LORD has cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth. 16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the LORD even require it at the hand of David’s enemies. 17 And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.
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After Saul’s death, when God had firmly established David as king over all Israel, David searched to find any descendants of Saul to whom he could show kindness as he had promised. Jonathan’s son was located and David restored to him all the land of his grandfather, King Saul. He also took him into the palace to eat at the king’s table like one of David’s own sons. David was true to his word, showing integrity, mercy and generosity (2 Samuel 9).

Later in his reign as king, when Satan moved him to sin by numbering Israel against God’s command, God sent word that punishment would come. He gave David a choice of what punishment he wanted—three years’ famine, three months’ worth of defeat at the hand of his enemies or three days’ punishment directly from the hand of God.

David chose to throw himself on God’s mercy. God sent a plague and many Israelites died. He opened David’s eyes to perceive the angel poised with a drawn sword over Jerusalem. David pleaded with God to spare the people and punish him personally, since it was his sin. He had no sense of “entitlement” or of being “above the law” just because he was king.

For God to stop the plague, He told David to erect an altar on that spot, at the threshing floor of a man named Ornan (or Araunah). When David asked to buy the spot for the altar, Ornan offered to give it to the king, along with the wooden implements to provide wood for a fire and oxen for a sacrifice.

David refused to take advantage of Ornan’s generosity and the right a king would have to confiscate property in matters of national interest or safety. David insisted on paying full price for everything, showing his integrity as well as a sense of fairness for his subject (1 Chronicles 21).

These are but a few of the godly principles displayed in the stories of David’s life. They are the kind of traits that made this young shepherd the great leader he became in Israel.

Anyone who has read the life of David knows that he also committed some terrible sins. David was far from perfect. In fact, it appears that he was especially lacking when it came to family matters. The dismal record of rape, murder and treason among his own children was prophesied by God’s servant Nathan as a result of David’s horrendous sin with Bathsheba. So God recorded both the good and the bad about David.

Yet when all is said and done, God said about King David, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22 Acts 13:22And when he had removed him, he raised up to them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, which shall fulfill all my will.
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The biggest factor to God was that David’s heart was right. David deeply loved God and His law, meditated on it and prized it as a great source of wisdom.

David is historical proof that leadership does not depend on heritage, size, strength or any other physical characteristic. It depends on the heart—matters of principle, character and ethics.