More tragic than the personal disappointment of not being able to build the temple is the fact that David’s misdeeds injured and even took the lives of those who followed him. There are at least four such episodes in David’s life in which his rebellious, senseless, or disobedient actions cost innocent people their lives.
Of course, the immediate victim was Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. The innocent Uriah died because of David’s gross sin of self-indulgence and his feeling of being above accountability. He could have turned his head the first time he noticed Bathsheba on the neighboring roof, or he could have changed his plans when he was told that she was a married woman. Instead, he pushed headlong with his evil desires and plan, knowing that no one in the royal court would dare to speak out against him as he pursued his carnal gratification — a sin that even snowballed as he knew that no one would challenge his demand to send Uriah in the heat of the battle with the deliberate intent of abandoning him to be slaughtered. Additionally, he knew that neither Bathsheba nor anyone in the palace would try to stop him from immediately taking her as his wife and that no tongue would dare to speak a word about the fact that the baby was coming long before the necessary nine months.
When those in leadership are able to live without accountability, those whose lives they are responsible for are the ones who suffer.
Yet this wasn’t the first time David had jeopardized the lives of others. When he was still serving in the courts of King Saul, the monarch realized that David was destined to be the next king. Interpreting this as a threat to himself and his posterity, Saul set out to take David’s life. As a result, the young warrior had to flee the palace and fend for himself while in hiding. The first place he stopped was at the house of Ahimelech, the priest. Here, David presented himself as being on a mission from the king and requested that the priest help speed him on his way by providing food and a sword. (I Samuel 21) When Ahimelech countered that the only bread available was the loaves that had been sanctified for use in the tabernacle, David convinced him that — under the present conditions — it was acceptable that the food be given to him. He also took the sword that had been confiscated from Goliath on the day that David defeated the giant in the Valley of Elah. The unfortunate outplay of this brief encounter with the priest at Nob was that once King Saul caught wind of the fact that Ahimelech had assisted the fleeing David, he executed Ahimelech and eighty-five members of his family along with all their animals. (I Samuel 22:18-19)
David set up the conditions that brought about the deaths of so many innocent people simply because he couldn’t tell the truth. Understandably, he feared the consequences of revealing the fact that he was a fugitive, fleeing from the king. However, his deception implicated the trusting Ahimelech in a very dangerous way. Essentially, he took advantage of the priest’s blind trust, got what he wanted from the innocent man, and ran off leaving him to fend for himself when the truth was revealed.
Even though those in leadership may not present outright lies, it is all too common that they present the truth in a limited or skewed manner in order to get what they want from the Body of Christ. Regardless, the ones who suffer are the innocent who have been deceived. The Apostle Paul warned us of this potential pitfall in leadership.
Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. (II Corinthians 8:21)
In II Samuel chapter six, we read the enigmatic story of David’s attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. After the Philistines captured the ark, they discovered that it brought nothing but trouble to their cities. The idol of their god crashed to the ground, the men suffered from hemorrhoids, and the cities were apparently infected with mice. Eventually they decided to return the ark to the people of Israel and did so by sending it back on an oxcart. (I Samuel 6:2) Months later, David decided that the ark should be housed in the new national capital; so, he made plans to move it to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, he followed the pattern of the Philistines by placing the ark on an oxcart as he headed to the city. (II Samuel 6:3) Along the way, the cart hit a pothole and started to tip. Uzzah reacted immediately by reaching out to steady the ark before it tumbled to the ground. Instantly, the innocent attendant collapsed dead on the pavement. (II Samuel 6:7)
At first reading, it may seem that God unjustly took the life of Uzzah who tried to steady the ark as the oxcart jostled along the unpaved roadway. Yet, careful study of the passage will reveal that it was not a random, senseless act on God’s part; rather, it was another of David’s flaws that resulted in this innocent man’s death. David had failed to understand the anointing of God. Just as Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, had been struck dead because they presented strange fire in the tabernacle (Leviticus 10:1, Numbers 3:4, 26:61) and just as the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain because they desecrated the altar (I Samuel chapters one through four) and just as the Philistines had suffered severely when they held the ark in their pagan temple and cities (I Samuel chapter five), David should have understood that he was endangering himself and anyone with him who would improperly approach God’s sacred presence manifest in the ark. Instead of taking precaution and showing holy reverence for the sacred object, David handled it much like any other piece of furniture, resulting in the tragic loss of a well-intentioned bystander. David’s lack of recognition of and respect for the anointing of God certainly hurt him personally but more seriously hurt those for whom he was responsible.
After a period of mourning for the tragic loss of an innocent man and awe over the vengeance of the Almighty, David decided to proceed with his plan to relocate the ark. This time, he was careful to follow the biblical pattern that God had shown to Moses concerning how the ark was to be handled. (I Chronicles 15:15, Exodus 25:14) He had it transported on the shoulders of the Levitical priests.
David’s failure could have been avoided if only he had the Word of God hidden in his heart. Had he remembered Deuteronomy 10:8, he would have never placed the ark on an oxcart as did the pagan Philistines but on the shoulders of the priests as did Moses. The surprising truth is that Deuteronomy 17:18 commands that the kings of Israel handwrite their own personal copy of the Law. Had he been diligent to put it in his heart as he was committing it to paper, he would have diverted his own failure and the death of an innocent citizen. Had David taken the time to study the scriptures rather than follow the worldly pattern, he could have prevented the death on the highway that afternoon. David could have avoided the death of this innocent man, by allowing the scriptures to be the sourcebook and guide for running his life — a principle that he eventually implemented.
I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word. (Psalm 119:16)
When Nathan the prophet confronted David after the Bathsheba incident, he reminded the king that God had prospered him with incredible gifts and then went on to declare that He was willing to give David even more. But in the middle of all this prosperity and increase, David desired to have — and took — the one thing that God was not willing to give him, his neighbor’s wife. It is interesting that the story is explicit in depicting Bathsheba’s residence as being so close to David’s home that he could see her clearly from his terrace. In other words, she was literally his neighbor. Thus, he defied the commandment against coveting one’s neighbor’s wife in a literal sense as well as in the figurative sense in which the passage is intended. (Exodus 20:17)
And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. (II Samuel 12:8)
However, this malady was nothing new with David. In fact, it dated back to the very Garden of Eden where God was willing to give Adam and Eve every tree in the garden and all the fruit that they bore; however, they wanted the fruit of the one tree that God did not give them. God had promised to give the bounty of the Promised Land to the Israelites, but Achan wanted the goods from the one city that God had said was taboo. Ahab could have had any vineyard in the country, but he could not be satisfied without the one that belonged to Naboth.
The lesson is simple: if we will just curb the greed that makes us crave those things that do not belong to us, God is willing and able to give us even more than we can imagine. Fortunately, David learned this lesson and reaped the abundant benefits of God’s blessings.
Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness. (Psalms 52:7)
The unfortunate reality is that it is all too easy to forget even after we have learned the truth about God’s sufficiency in our lives. Toward the end of David’s life he called for a census of the fighting men available to serve under his command. (II Samuel 24) The scriptures record that God’s anger was kindled against David as a result of this request. At first, we might question why the Lord would respond so adamantly against this seeming innocent request. After all, the Old Testament is filled with the enumerations of the tribes, clans, and families of the people and the reports on the size of the fighting forces in Israel. Just think of the over-the-top lists given in the book of Numbers. But before we try to analyze why this count was so different from all previous polls, let’s take a look at what happened next. God told David that there would be consequences but allowed the king to be the one to determine what they would be: seven years of famine, three months of conquest by their enemies, or three days’ of pestilence in the land. David chose the latter because he knew that it was better to suffer at the hand of God than at the hand of man. However, by the time the plague neared Jerusalem, seventy thousand innocent men, women, and children had already succumbed to the epidemic. At that point, David determined to intercede for the plague to stop. Under divine direction, he went to the spot that eventually became known as the Temple Mount to make a sacrifice. Although he was offered the land, animals for the sacrifice, and materials for the altar for free, David refused and demanded that he pay full price for everything. It was then — and only then — that the hand of the death angel was stayed.
When David later wrote, “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him,” (Psalm 126:6) he was setting forth the very valuable truth: if we are going to have a harvest that causes us to celebrate, we must plant precious seed — something that hurts us when we sow it. By refusing Araunah’s offer of the threshing floor, oxen, and equipment needed to make a sacrifice, David was planting a costly seed in anticipation of a joyous reward.
And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. (II Samuel 24:24)
Now, for an explanation of the Lord’s anger. The problem was not because the census in and of itself but because a change in the heart of David. In Psalm 20:7, David had boasted, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.” In other words, he had proclaimed that his faith was in God regardless of the number of soldiers — or lack of soldiers — on his side. Through calling for the census, he was demonstrating that he had fallen from that original trust in God.
Tragically, we see the same change of heart in so many of our leaders today. Men who once boldly forged forward in faith in and dependence upon God now calculate their every move based on their donor base or church membership. In the process, those who suffer are the innocent who depend upon faith-filled ministry.
Now we have to ask the big question: “Why did God allow seventy thousand eighty-seven innocent victims to perish because of one man’s rebellious, senseless, or disobedient actions?” Perhaps we can find the answer in the very first introduction we have to David. In I Samuel chapter sixteen, we read the story of Samuel’s visit to Jesse’s house looking for a replacement for King Saul whom God had rejected. In the process of the selection, Jesse presented each of David’s seven older brothers for the prophet to inspect. After carefully reviewing all the candidates and finding that none of them cut the spiritual muster set by God, the prophet asked if there might be another son that he had not yet met. The criterion that God had set was that the prophet should stop looking at the outward appearance of the candidates because He was judging them by their hearts. (I Samuel 16:7) God was desirous of a leader who had a heart after His own heart. (I Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22) In this simple distinctive, I believe we see why God dealt with David with so much longsuffering. The Lord knew that — in spite of all his stupidity, insensitivity, and self-determination — David would eventually turn back to the right way because deep inside his heart actually beat with the same pulse of God Himself.
We see this truth demonstrated in the prayer that King David composed after his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. In Psalm chapter fifty-one, David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.” (verses 10-11) Even though this may seem like a simple prayer of repentance, it actually revels David’s secret to spiritual success. Even though he prayed for forgiveness of his sins, he realized that the real issue was that his heart was no longer sensitive to the inner prodding of the Spirit of God. The definitive phrase of this prayer is found in verse four, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.” Even though he had violated a virtuous woman and murdered a noble warrior, David knew that the essence of his sin was not against these humans but against his heart relationship with the Lord. For us today, we must realize that the most important thing in life is to guard our heart relationship with God so that we don’t endanger the innocent around us through our foolish or rebellious actions.
Even though our study so far has focused on David’s major blunders that not only blotched David’s own life but also left a trail of destruction in his wake, we need to realize that all through the time that he was wreaking so much damage he was also raising up a team of powerful men who made a difference in the world they lived in.
Escaping from the threats of King Saul, David hid in the cave of Adullam where a sizable group of misfits collected around him. (I Samuel 22:1-2) These followers were all men who were being chased by the law, men who were in debt, and general riffraff and troublemakers. However, they dedicated their lives and futures to David and his campaigns. As a result they became essentially superheroes who accomplished unimaginable conquests. (I Chronicles 11) Such heroic stories are the result of what these men received from spending time with this man who — as we have seen — was in many case nothing more than a disaster looking for a place to happen.
How could this happen? The simple answer is that they learned from his heart more than from his actions. One significant story depicts what must have taken place. As David was fighting in the valley of Rephaim, he remarked that he longed for a drink from the well at Bethlehem. When his warriors heard his comment, they fought their way through the enemy lines to get him the water that he desired and then fought their way back through the enemy forces to bring it back to their commander. When they presented the water to David, he did something that at first would seem totally unthinkable — he poured out the water rather than drinking it. His comment was that the water was really the blood of his warriors and that he wanted it to be given as a sacrifice to the Lord. (II Samuel 23) To make sense of the story, we can understand that he gave the water to God rather than taking it for himself because he realized that the inspiration that caused the men to risk their lives was not really his life, but the life of God that resided inside him. The only way for our leaders today to have a positive impact on the world and the Body of Christ is live so that the life of God shows through their faulty flesh.
The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)