I suppose, if asked to name a hero from the Bible, that many people would choose David. After all, he killed giants, wrote inspiring poetry, and became a glorious king. He represents the pinnacle of Old Testament Israel. But is that really what makes him a hero?
Over the last few months, I have been listening to Charles Swindoll’s book David, A Man of Passion and Destiny, on my bike commutes, and it has been an illuminating experience. David is, like just about every significant person recorded in the Bible, all too human. His passion is his strength and his downfall. The narrative in no way glosses over these failures, which is a big part of what makes the history so compelling. However, as a historical account, it is easy to miss the emotion and the import of key events.
Buried in the middle of a paragraph are a handful of words which I think represent David’s most heroic moment. These few words are uttered by David during the height of his reign as king, after the following story is related to him:
There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.
Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.
Do you know who told this story and why? It was told to David by Nathan, a prophet, after David slept with a married woman and subsequently had her husband killed (read the full story).
Now David was at the height of his power. His wrongdoing has just been uncovered by Nathan. It would have been well within his ability to have had Nathan killed. But he didn’t kill Nathan. Instead he stopped and said: “I have sinned.” Just step back for a moment and think about that. When is the last time you heard one of our political leaders take responsibility for their actions like that? How hard is it to admit that you are wrong; and even harder when you have every facility within your grasp to avoid it? David didn’t even have an opposition party to denounce him: he was king and could do whatever he wanted.