Why was David called a man after God’s own heart?


There are many different ways that God addresses the members of His Church. Beginning with the twelve that Jesus called, in the New Testament all of those that were a part of God’s Church were termed disciples. The meaning of disciple is a “follower or pupil of a teacher, leader or philosopher.”

Another term Jesus used was brethren, both as a part of a physical family, and as a member of His Church. Using this term, the Church is referred to as a family relationship. We read this in Hebrews 2:10-12: “For it was fitting for Him,” (Jesus), “for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: ‘I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.’”

While Jesus calls us brethren, we read in 2 Corinthians 6:18 about God the Father: “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.” This is certainly a family relationship.

Jesus also used the term friends for His disciples as we read in John 15:14-15: “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” The term friend is also used of Abraham. As we read in Isaiah 41:8, “But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, The descendants of Abraham My friend.”

So, God’s people are His family and friends. However, there is one person in the Bible whom God addresses in a unique way, and that, of course, was David.

This expression was first mentioned in 1 Samuel chapter 13 after king Saul did not wait for Samuel to arrive and instead made an offering on his own authority and hence disobeyed the commandment of God. 1 Samuel 13:14 reads, “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.”

So, God saw that king Saul had failed in this requirement for obedience to God. And this was only one of the many times Saul failed to obey God.

This expression “A man after My own heart” is also found quoted in Acts 13:22 where Paul, in the local synagogue at Antioch, was relating the history of the children of Israel leading up to the coming of a Savior, that is, Jesus. Acts 13:22 states: “And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom He also gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’” This passage adds “Who will do all My will” to the statement in 1 Samuel 13:14.

At the time God said this, David was assumed to have been around eighteen years old, but his thoughts while shepherding would have given God a very good idea of David’s character. In fact, many of the Psalms reflect on how David thought about God.

One Psalm in particular shows that David understood the purpose God had in mind for man. This would reflect how David thought while he was shepherding in his earlier days. Psalm 8:3-6 reads: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.”

As well as reflecting on God’s purpose for man, David had a great love for God’s law. A good example of that is in Psalm 119:47-48: “And I will delight myself in Your commandments, Which I love. My hands also I will lift up to your commandments, Which I love. And I will meditate on Your statutes.”

Another characteristic David had was a great faith and confidence in God. When he was about to face Goliath, he was certain that God would deliver him. There was no wavering or doubt. 1 Samuel 17:37 states: “Moreover David said, ‘The LORD, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.’ And Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the LORD be with you!’”

A further characteristic was his thankfulness toward God. A typical example among many is Psalm 69:30. “I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving.”

David himself was humble. He had had great success in battle but when he was offered Saul’s daughter to be his wife, his response was, “Does it seem to you a light thing to be a king’s son-in-law, seeing I am a poor and lightly esteemed man?” (See 1 Samuel 18:23.) He was still humble at the end of his life. In 1 Chronicles 17:16-17 we see David’s humble attitude after God had refused to allow him to build God’s temple: “Then king David went in and sat before the LORD; and he said: ‘Who am I, O LORD God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was a small thing in Your sight, O God; and You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have regarded me according to the rank of a man of high degree, O LORD God.’”

And at times when he made serious mistakes that cost the lives of others, he had the integrity to take responsibility for his actions. When Saul killed the priests in the town of Nob by means of Doeg, David acknowledged that his action had caused their deaths. 1 Samuel 22:21-22. “And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the LORD’s priests. So David said to Abiathar, ‘I knew that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have caused the death of all the persons of your father’s house.’” 

But even with God’s appreciation of him, David made a number of mistakes in his life, some very costly both to himself and the children of Israel. One of these mistakes was when he committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and when he subsequently murdered Uriah the Hittite. This event cost the life of Uriah and some other valiant men who died during this murder. 2 Samuel 11:17 states: “Then the men of the city came out and fought with Joab. And some of the people of the servants of David fell; and Uriah the Hittite died also.” The son born because of this adultery also died soon after his birth.

Another very costly mistake was when king David numbered the armies of Israel. Even Joab suggested to David that this was not a good idea. 2 Samuel 24:3 reads: “And Joab said to the king, ‘Now may the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times more than there are, and may the eyes of the lord my king see it. But why does the lord my king desire this thing?’” This numbering of Israel cost the lives of seventy thousand men. Again, David acknowledged it was his fault that these people died (see 2 Samuel 24:17).

When David was offered Saul’s daughter, Saul required a dowry of one hundred Philistine foreskins for her hand in marriage, thinking David would be killed while killing Philistines to collect these foreskins. 1 Samuel 18:25 states: “Then Saul said, ‘Thus you shall say to David: “The king does not desire any dowry but one hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to take vengeance on the king’s enemies.”’ But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.” David, in response, killed two hundred Philistines and presented their foreskins to king Saul. 

As described later, he was a man who had shed blood many times and as such God did not want him to build the temple of God. This is explained in 1 Chronicles 22:7-8. “And David said to Solomon: ‘My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build a house to the name of the LORD my God; but the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “You have shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a house for My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight.”’” It was left to Solomon to build the house of God.

There was even an example where David was going to kill all the men of a family of the rich man Nabal. David and his men had protected Nabal’s livestock while they were avoiding king Saul. David sent his men to ask Nabal to share some of his meat with them. Nabal refused, and insulted David, which made David so angry that he was prepared to kill all the men of the household of Nabal. However, Abigail, Nabal’s wife, heard this and came to meet David with a gift of food and pleaded with David not to kill them all. She reminded him of how he would feel in the future if he went ahead with his plan. 1 Samuel 25:30-31 shows her reasoning: “And it shall come to pass, when the LORD has done for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you ruler over Israel, that this will be no grief to you, nor offense of heart to my lord, either that you have shed blood without cause, or that my lord has avenged himself. But when the LORD has dealt well with my lord, then remember your maidservant.” 

David took heed of her pleading, and did not kill all the men which in some ways was similar to when Moses pleaded with God not to destroy the Israelites after the incident of the golden calf. Exodus 32:11-12 shows this pleading: “Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: ‘LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, “He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people.’” Exodus 32:14 shows us the result of this pleading: “So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.” In both the case of David and of God, they listened to the pleading and did not kill those they were intending to.

So, what did king David do that gave him the title of a man after God’s own heart? After all, he was even promised that his kingdom would last forever (compare 2 Samuel 7:16), and we read in the books of the prophets, that he would ultimately rule over all the tribes of Israel.

There were at least three particular events in David’s life that showed God that he had the potential to rule forever.

As was related previously, it is generally believed that Samuel anointed David king when he was about 18 years old. For much of the next 12 years, David was hiding from Saul in the wilderness, or outside of Israel, so he would not be killed. Saul had already made a number of attempts to kill David. David did not know how long this trial would last, or what event would end it, but had faith in God that God would keep His promise that he would be king one day.

To show the importance of this time in David’s life, God used most of sixteen chapters in the book of 1 Samuel to describe it. With such a large amount written, it is obvious that God thought this time in David’s life was very important for our understanding.

The first mentioned is when Saul took 3000 chosen men to capture David in the wilderness of En Gedi. This is probably quite a few years into the 12-year trial that David was experiencing. 

Beginning in 1 Samuel 24:1-6, we read: “Now it happened, when Saul had returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, ‘Take note! David is in the wilderness of En Gedi.’ Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel, and went to seek David and his men on the Rocks of the Wild Goats. So he came to the sheepfolds by the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to attend to his needs. (David and his men were staying in the recesses of the cave.) Then the men of David said to him, ‘This is the day of which the LORD said to you, “Behold, I will deliver your enemy into your hand, that you may do to him as it seems good to you.”’” Actually, the LORD had not told David this, but his men were encouraging him to end his trial. If he killed Saul, he would no longer be an outcast and could take up the position of king immediately. 

Continuing: “And David arose and secretly cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Now it happened afterward that David’s heart troubled him because he had cut Saul’s robe. And he said to his men, ‘The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD.” David used the term “The LORD’s anointed” twice in one sentence, probably reminding even himself that Saul was the LORD’s anointed.

After Saul went on his way, David followed him, probably at a considerable distance since he could not trust him, and said tactfully in 1 Samuel 24:9. “…‘Why do you listen to the words of men who say, “Indeed David seeks your harm?”’” They both knew that it was Saul and not his men who thought David was an opponent to Saul. 1 Samuel 24:12 shows David’s attitude when he said, “Let the LORD judge between you and me, and let the LORD avenge me on you. But my hand shall not be against you.” He trusted God and did not get ahead of God’s Will. He had steadfast faith in God’s promise. He knew if God said He would do something; He would do it. The question he had was when?

At the end of this encounter, Saul admitted that he was wrong, and asked David not to cut off his descendants when he became king. 1 Samuel 24:22 informs us, “So David swore to Saul. And Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.” Even though Saul admitted error, David still did not trust him.

The next event occurred sometime later when Saul and his three thousand chosen men went to the wilderness of Ziph chasing David to kill him.  David saw where Saul and his men were encamped, with Saul in the midst, surrounded by his men.

1 Samuel 26:6-10 reads: “Then David answered, and said to Ahimelech the Hittite and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, brother of Joab, saying, ‘Who will go down with me to Saul in the camp?’ And Abishai said, ‘I will go down with you.’ So David and Abishai came to the people by night; and there Saul lay sleeping within the camp, with his spear stuck in the ground by his head. And Abner and the people lay all around him. Then Abishai said to David, ‘God has delivered your enemy into your hand this day. Now therefore, please, let me strike him at once with the spear, right to the earth; and I will not have to strike him a second time!’ But David said to Abishai, ‘Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’s anointed, and be guiltless?’ David said furthermore, ‘As the LORD lives, The LORD shall strike him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall go out to battle and perish. The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’s anointed….’”

It is stated later that a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen on them (compare 1 Samuel 26:12, last part).

David went to the other side, a great distance between them and called out to Abner, and woke up the camp of Saul. It was a great distance because David still did not trust Saul. He did not know how Saul would react to being woken up. David then explained to Saul once again that he could have killed him, but refused to do so (verse 23). In 1 Samuel 26:25, last part, we read: “So David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place.” David still could not go home to be with his family.

The last event referring to Saul and David is recorded in a long passage in 2 Samuel, chapter 1. When king Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle, David did not rejoice at the news, but actually executed the man who claimed to have killed Saul and was after a reward. David understood the principle in Proverbs 24:17-18. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles, Lest the LORD see it and it displease Him, And He turn away His wrath from him.”

David actually lamented over the death of Saul (who was also his father-in-law) and Jonathan (who was his best friend), and he composed the Song of the Bow to be taught to the children of Judah.

There is actually a principle that before a man can be allowed to rule, he must be able to be ruled. David learned this for around twelve years while he was fleeing for his life. He honored Saul as his king even though he could not trust him. God had already rejected Saul as king, and David had already been anointed as future king (compare 1 Samuel 16:1). Still, David did not take the kingdom from Saul by force, but he waited for God to deal with Saul.

Yes, David committed some terrible sins that cost many lives. After he killed Uriah the Hittite, God told him he would not have peace for all his physical life and even some from his own house would rise against him. Even sin repented of may still involve consequences.

But David repented wholeheartedly each time and God accepted his repentance and totally forgave him. 

Luke adds something in the book of Acts 13:22 which we can re-read: “And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’”

Even though David sinned, he repented wholeheartedly (compare Psalm 51). His heart was loyal to God, which cannot be said about many subsequent kings (compare 1 Kings 11:4; 15:3). 

So ultimately, God’s belief in David proved to be correct. David had shown by his actions and repentance that he was a man after God’s own heart.

To sum up, David had a number of characteristics which were pleasing to God. He had total faith in God to protect him as shown in the example of Goliath. He trusted God in that what God had promised He would perform, that David, one day, would be ruling as king. He never pre-empted God. He had love for Saul and Jonathan. He was humble to the end of his life. Because of his integrity, he took ownership of his mistakes, and repented thoroughly and asked for God’s forgiveness, and at all times he worshipped God, as we see in his writings. And what would be difficult for many under the circumstances, David addressed Saul as “My lord the king” (see 1 Samuel 24:8). Considering he was speaking to the one who was trying to kill him, this shows a great respect for the authority God had placed over him.

So when we study David’s life and how he interacted with God during it, we can see that he was, indeed, a man after God’s heart and did all that was expected of him. By his faith and actions, he set an example for all of us of the kind of attitude that is required to be a man after God’s own heart.

Lead Writer: Paul Niehoff (Australia)

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