In his warning to the church in Corinth about the danger of idolatry, Paul used the disastrous examples of Israel under the Old Law in 1 Corinthians 10.1-10 – of Israel’s idolatrous worship of the calf, of their sexual immorality, of testing God, of grumbling and complaining – before concluding with this observation:
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction… (v.11).
Paul desired his audience at Corinth – and future readers – to understand the value of examples. Human history is most often written in episodes, that is, in small snippets of events that took place within the general lives of millions of people, the overwhelming majority of whom have never had anything written about them. It is in these episodes that the great successes, and the great failures, of history are recorded, while 99.99% of the rest of the actions of men go unrecorded and, largely, unremembered.
But this series focuses on the episodes – and more specifically the episodes of notable characters in Bible history, and what we may learn by what is “written down for our instruction.”
David appears on the stage of Bible history during the reign of Israel’s first king, Saul. Saul appears at the outset to be just what Israel wanted. But it becomes clear within a short period of time that his character is not fit to lead the nation. He disobeys when he hastily offers a sacrifice before going to battle (1 Samuel 13.8-12). And Samuel the prophet makes clear to him in an audience shortly thereafter that he is not the right kind of man to be king…
And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” – 1 Samuel 13.13-14
The kind of man God sought was David – not because of outward stature, his inborn traits, his personal righteousness, his personal judgment,… but because of the disposition of his heart to strive after God. This suggests several things we can learn about how God desires we come to Him.
What does it mean to trust in God? Do we believe He is with us in difficulty, even though we may not see evidence of His presence? Do we seek to do God’s will even if we do not understand God’s plan and purpose?
Trust is more than obedience… and it is often more difficult. Obedience most often seems rational and sensible; trust, on the other hand, demands faithfulness during what may appear irrational and inexplicable. When we fail to trust, we doubt God’s sovereignty and His purpose for our well-being. Trust demands viewing life through the eyes of faith, which comes from God’s word (Romans 10.17). When we trust, it means we believe what God says in His Word – and that means believing what we read about characters in His Word who were faithful to Him, like David.
The great king wrote,
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? – Psalm 56.3-4
Trust was a choice that David made – it is a choice we must make. Through a deep, personal relationship with God based on faith, David put his full trust in God. The Hebrew writer speaks of it this way…
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight… – Hebrews 11.32-34
Because of this trust, David was not overwhelmed by circumstances that seemed too difficult to handle, like Goliath, the pursuit of Saul, his sin with Bathsheba that he repented of, and the many family difficulties that arose as a consequence of his sin.
This is, without question, the hardest thing for human beings to do – to turn from disobedience. Real repentance involves four things (1) an awareness of sin, (2) an awareness of the eternal consequences of sin, (3) an acknowledgement of sin and desisting in it, and (4) a commitment to do whatever we must to remove sin from our lives. David had all of these character traits, and thus, when he sinned (as all do), he went about God’s method of having his sin forgiven (see Romans 4.6-8).
Yet, the hardest part of repentance is that last – giving up the sin. It requires integrity of life, which is a sign of spiritual maturity. When we give our lives to God, when we enter into a covenant with Him whereby we have forgiveness, part of the agreement is that we will remove sin – repeatedly – when we discover it in our lives. When we do wrong, we have to do right about our wrongs. And that’s hard.
Remember with David the parable that Nathan shared with him in 2 Samuel 12 – after his sin with Bathsheba. The story Nathan told sparked indignation in David, he was ready to put to death a man who would treat another so immorally. Completely unaware that he had convicted himself, Nathan spoke the truth – and David confessed his sin immediately. How often do you see someone today respond so humbly? Instead, there is all kind of finger-pointing, denial, and excuse-making that goes on. The fact is, repentance is hard because we won’t to admit our sin. And we don’t want to admit it, because we don’t want to give it up. David’s repentance was heartfelt and confessional:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. – Psalm 51.1-4ff
Diligently Seeking God
The things we most deeply desire determine our character. Each of us is helping to write the story of human history, and even though for most of us this history will be unknown to man, it is known to two beings that are of utmost importance: ourselves, and God. Every single human encounter is a test between character and circumstance, and we are personally a part of each such encounter in our lives. The question is, in our behavior are we adding to the dignity of the human story, or degrading it further by our choices to do evil?
Jesus emphasized the importance of inward character:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. – Matthew 6.21
Our heart – our mind, what motivates us, what drives us – marks us for what we are. And our hearts guide the choices we make. Circumstances do not matter. The choices we make do not depend on other people. They depend on whether we are actively seeking God, and whether we have a dogged determination to find Him!
David knew what the tears of defeated tasted like – and he knew he had brought them on himself. But he went about building his character on the lessons he learned in life about trusting in God. He got up when he got knocked down. He was never so discouraged that he stopped seeking God. In his words:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. – Psalm 63.1
May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!” – Psalm 70.4
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good. – Psalm 122.9
In a portrait of David we find a man we can emulate – not his kingship, or his military successes. But his determination to seek after God no matter what life’s circumstances, or even his own mistakes, brought his way. He was would not be denied. Will we?
May grace reign in your lives through righteousness.
– Bo Couchman