Why was it said that David was a man after God’s own heart? What is it about David that so appealed to God that God not only gave him a kingdom but entered into a covenant with him that the Messiah would come from his lineage? What makes David so very special in God’s eyes?
Well, David was hardly sinless. It wasn’t David’s purity, and it wasn’t his holiness in the sense of moral perfection.
It was his heart. David had a heart of humble submission to God.
The same was true of Moses —
(Num 12:3 NIV) (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)
Like Jesus, Moses, and as we’ll cover, Abraham, David’s career was characterized by submission, service, sacrifice, and a willingness to suffer for the sake of God. It’s not that he did any of these things to earn some sort of reward. After all, he had already been anointed king! Rather, this is kind of heart God looks for in a king.
Each time David had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, he refused. He sacrificed that opportunity, preferring that God place David on the throne in his own good time.
(1Sa 26:9-11 NIV) 9 But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless? 10 As surely as the LORD lives,” he said, “the LORD himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 But the LORD forbid that I should lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.”
Had David killed Saul, he would have ascended to the throne sooner, enjoyed many more years as king, and would more quickly have been in position to defeat the Philistines for the sake of Israel. Human wisdom insisted that David not rely on God but take matters into his own hands.
Just so, when an Amalekite raiding party took all the wives, children, and possessions of David’s men — and David’s men were so furious with David that they were ready to stone him — rather than immediately pursuing the Amalekites, David went to a priest to ask God’s direction. (1 Sam 30:6-8).
David submitted to God, and for God’s sake, even submitted to Saul while Saul sought to kill David. He sacrificed the opportunity for self-defense and vengeance. And while he was on the run, used his own, very limited resources to defend the people from Philistine raiding parties — even over the objection of his own men —
(1Sa 23:1-5 NIV) When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” 2 he inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” The LORD answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” 3 But David’s men said to him, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!” 4 Once again David inquired of the LORD, and the LORD answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.” 5 So David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah.
David was a man after God’s own heart because, like Jesus and like God, he was a person of submission, service, sacrifice, and even suffering for the sake of God.
Now, this is not to say that the Christian life is devoid of joy and earthly rewards. After all, David married Abigail during his time in the wilderness. And soon enough, he became king of Judah and then, seven years later, king of all Israel. God rewarded David very well in this life.
Just so, Abraham was also chosen by God for his submissive heart. He gave Lot the choice of the best land. He risked his life and fortune to rescue Lot from a raiding party. He stayed far away from the temptations of Sodom and Gomorrah — unlike Lot, who chose to live in Sodom.
Abraham made his fair share of mistakes, but his heart was always submissive to God, and as a result, he wound up a very wealthy and honored man.
Of course, there’s no promise that submission will lead to wealth or honor. Plenty of God’s servants have ended their lives in poverty and destitution because of their service to God. According to Jewish history, nearly every one of God’s Old Testament prophets died a martyr.
The martyrdom of the prophets is just as possible as the riches and power enjoyed by David and Abraham. You see, submission to receive tangible rewards in this life is not submission. It’s selfishness. It’s seeking to earn wages.
But when submission is motivated by love — for God and for others — then the reward is beside the point. In fact, serving others is the reward.
If you love your new grandson, then you delight in serving him — wiping his bottom, cleaning his spit up — even though he doesn’t say “thank you,” even though he actually howls in protest. The reward is knowing that you helped someone you love.
And it’s fun. Even joyous. To serve those you love is sheer delight. Therefore, living as Jesus lived, in service, submission, and sacrifice, is not about enduring misery. It’s about learning a better way to find joy. But it only works if it’s built on a genuine love.
(Psa 16:8-11 NIV) 8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. 11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.