Was David really a man after God’s own heart?

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The Bible calls David “a man after God’s own heart” twice. The first time was by Samuel who anointed him as backslidden King Saul’s successor, “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14, NKJV). The second time was by the Apostle Paul who recounted Israel’s history, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Ac. 13:22). Does being a person after God’s own heart mean perfection? Certainly not! Nobody is perfect, except Jesus. Consider eight major mistakes on David’s record:
1. Fibbing to Ahimelech: David lied to the priest in Nob when he fled from Saul claiming he was on a secret mission for the king—1 Sam. 21:1-9.
2. Fleeing to Gath: To escape Saul’s wrath, David fled to Gath, the hometown of Goliath, (carrying the slain giant’s sword, not a good idea). When he was recognized, he faked insanity to avoid capture, torture and death—1 Sam. 21:10-15.
3. Fighting for the Philistines: For 16 months, David was a mercenary for Israel’s enemy. Strangely, he wrote no Psalms during this period as the well of inspiration dried up.
4. Flubbing the transport of the Ark: The Ark was handled carelessly and carried on a cart, instead of on the priest’s shoulders, resulting in Uzzah’s death—2 Sam. 6:1-10.
5. Falling into adultery: His most famous failure was his scandalous affair with Bathsheba.
6. Finishing off Uriah: Worse, was the subsequent cover up — the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite — 2 Sam. 11:1-27.
7. Failing as a Father: David failed to discipline his son, Amnon, for raping Tamar, his half-sister. This led to Absalom’s rebellion who murdered Amnon in revenge and then tried to steal David’s throne.
8. Focusing on numbers instead of God: Late in life, against Joab’s advice, David insisted on counting his army (his 1.3 million troops were a source of pride and false security). This displeased God who sent a plague and slew 70,000 men — 2 Sam. 24:1-25.
Obviously, being a person after God’s own heart doesn’t mean perfection or David would have been disqualified. In fact, with his rap sheet, he should have been dethroned, banished from Israel, executed for adultery and murder, separated from God, and damned eternally. That is what he deserved. Instead, he was forgiven, restored, allowed to stay in power, given an everlasting covenant, included in the lineage of Jesus, and was promised to reign again as a prince with Christ in the millennial kingdom (Ezk. 34:23-25). So, how do we explain this? MERCY and GRACE! Mercy is when God does not give us what we deserve; grace is when God gives us what we do not deserve!
Why was God so merciful when David messed up so royally? First, because he genuinely repented (Ps. 51). Second, David was merciful to Saul when he could have killed him many times but refused to lift his hand against “God’s anointed.” Third, David was merciful to Absalom when he attempted a coup. Fourth, David was kind to a crippled man named Mephibosheth (Jonathan’s son) and let him live in the castle as one of his own sons. David sowed mercy, and when he needed it the most, it returned to him like a boomerang.
So, how can we honestly say David was a man after God’s own heart? Because he was hungry for God, he sought after God, he had a passion for spiritual things, and he tried to please God despite his failures. His actions proved he was a God chaser:
•He penned 73 Psalms of worship. He may have also written some of 49 anonymous Psalms; these lyrics express his deep desire for God and his heart-felt worship.
•He positioned the Ark in Jerusalem. By doing so, he made his capitol God’s headquarters on earth. He loved God’s presence so much he wanted to be as close to it as possible.
•He provided a new tabernacle to house the Ark. This replaced Moses’ Tabernacle and revolved around true worship rather than sacrifices and rituals — 2 Sam. 6:16-17.
•He promoted musicians and singers to full-time worshippers. Since he couldn’t worship God 24/7, David delegated others to do it — 1 Chr. 16:1-6, 37.
•He proclaimed his desire to build God a permanent temple. He felt guilty for living in a cedar palace while the Ark was in a tent and told Nathan his dream to build a temple — 2 Sam. 7:1-14.
•He planned and funded the Temple. When God refused for David to build the Temple because he was a man of war, he stockpiled materials for Solomon (a man of peace) to build it.
•His “perfect heart” (KJV) never turned to idolatry. Most of the forty plus kings of Israel and Judah, including his own son, Solomon, fell into idolatry; David never did — 1 Kgs. 11:4.
•He was a pioneer in worship. David was a man before his time (a New Testament man in an Old Testament era). He started worshipping Yahweh as a shepherd boy on his harp while tending sheep. God noticed and promoted him from the pasture to the palace where he specialized in musical worship.
Truly, David was a man after God’s own heart! Notice how God let him eat showbread (reserved only for priests) and wear an ephod (a vest-like priestly garment) when he danced before the Ark. Usually, God kept the kingship and priesthood strictly separated. In fact, King Saul was scolded for offering sacrifices and Uzziah was stricken with leprosy for burning incense (2 Chr. 26:16-21). But David was a type of Christ who is both our King and High Priest, who has called us to reign with Him as kings and priests (Rev. 1:6; 5:10). David expressed his passion for God, “My soul follows hard after You” (Ps. 63:8). The Message reads, “I hold on to You for dear life!” David was a God chaser, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts ... for the living God” (Ps. 42:1-2). He knew the secret of running after God instead of running away from Him. David was far from perfect, but his heart kept pursuing the only One who is.

Ben Godwin is the author of five books and pastors the Goodsprings Full Gospel Church. You can read more articles or order his books @ bengodwin.org.