Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah. (Psalm 39:5)
In this psalm, David reminded himself of the brevity of man’s life and summed up his thoughts with the idea that no matter how long or how well a man lives, his life is actually nothing in comparison to the eternal scope of God’s plan. Interestingly, David was the one who made the calculation that a man’s lifespan was seventy years unless he might gain a few extra because of exceptional health (Psalm 90:10), and he was exactly seventy years old at his death (II Samuel 5:4). It also seems noteworthy that the Psalmist prayed for the favor of good health in his old age, “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.” (Psalms 71:9) It might be assumed that he was hoping for those extra ten years he predicted in the passage from Psalm seventy-one; yet, it seems that he did not obtain this divine favor of good health and extra years. (I Kings 1:1) Some biblical scholars believe that this was the result of the lingering effects of his sin with Bathsheba. (Psalm 32:3, 38:3)
David’s son Solomon, apparently aware of what happened to his father, gave us a remedy for the physical maladies that can result from sinfulness.
Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. (Proverbs 3:7-8)
Dying is the great equalizer of all men. In I Kings 2:2, King David summed up his life with these simple words, “I go the way of all the earth.” David had fought lions, bears, giants, and mighty armies. He had served his nation as their king and brought it to dominance in the entire middle-eastern political area. He had amassed a staggering personal fortune and forged his country into a world financial leader. Yet, as he neared the end of his life, he realized that he was no different from any other man on earth. He was going the same way that all men go. There was no special plan for the politically powerful, the decorated military hero, or the financial tycoon. Every man, no matter what status he may have held in life, has the same status in death.
Our only comfort will be in the fact that the One who has conquered death is with us as we meet our destiny. The twenty-third Psalm instructs us that only those who have the rod and the staff of the Good Shepherd — well, actually the Good Shepherd Himself — can walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear of evil. Regardless of the tranquil picture it presents, this psalm — one of the most comforting scriptures as we face the reality of death — was not written when David was quietly tending his flocks on a green mountain meadow. Instead, it was penned while David was under constant threat of death by his pursuing enemy.
Like David who could write of the peaceful guardianship of God even while death was breathing down his neck, Christians need not fear the process of dying, the experience of death, the judgment that follows death, or hell that finalizes death in what the Bible calls the “second death.” Death to a Christian is not the end; it is actually a new beginning. In speaking of His own death, Jesus described it as a change of address. He said that He was going away and that He was to return to bring us to be with Him at this new address. (John 14:1) If we view death this way, there is no more to fear or dread about it than the simple act of moving from one home to another. The Apostle Paul saw himself in a strait between two — to stay or to go. He felt that to die would be for his personal gain, but to stay would be beneficial to the believers he was ministering to. As soon as he was certain that he had done all that he needed to do here on earth, he was ready to move on to his new home.
If we were to look carefully at the scripture, I believe that we might see a principle of progression concerning the promises of God; they become prayers and then prophetic proclamations. Let’s take just a minute to trace this development concerning one specific promise. In Numbers 14:21, the Lord declared, “But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” This promise became a prayer — in fact, King David’s final prayer in Psalm 72:19-20, “Let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen. The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.” The prophets established it as a proclamation when Daniel affirmed that a stone cut without hands would smite the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and then become a great mountain that would fill the whole earth. (verse 2:35) Isaiah and Habakkuk more specifically echoed the original promise when they said that knowledge of the Lord (or knowledge of the glory of the Lord) would fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9, Habakkuk 2:14) With the confirmation of two or three witnesses, this promise was unequivocally established. (Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16, II Corinthians 13:1) One explanation as to why Jesus was introduced in the New Testament as the son of David and the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1) is that He fulfilled David’s dying prayer that the glory of the Lord would fill all the earth as He fulfilled the prophecy that all the families of the earth would be blessed through Abraham’s seed. (Genesis 12:3) Even as he was facing his own personal end through death, David prophetically prayed the future into being!
If you don’t mind, I’d like to end the study of David’s life by looking at the beginning — his initial calling into the Lord’s service. Let’s think back to the time when the prophet Samuel was directed to Jesse’s house to anoint the next king of Israel. (I Samuel 16:1-13) We all remember how the prophet wanted to choose Jesse’s first son because he was so tall, handsome, and strong. However, God said, “No.” God continued to veto each decision the prophet desired to make as he called the next son and then the next and then the next until he had seen all seven of the brothers who had been called to the feast. At that point, the prophet questioned the father if there were any remaining sons. Of course, David — the lad who was so unlikely for the throne that he hadn’t even been beckoned to the interview — was the one whom the Lord selected.
David’s call was quite unlike what we normally think of a calling from God — burning bushes, blindingly bright lights on the road to Damascus, and angelic visitations. In fact, it is so different that it is almost hard to believe. David’s call didn’t even come to David himself. It actually came to the prophet-judge Samuel who then told David that God had called him. I choose to conclude with this story so as to leave you with one simple — yet life changing — thought: we must not view David as anyone out of the ordinary. Certainly, he was anointed and prophetically chosen; however, he never experienced the dramatic supernatural visitations that we often associate with being “called by God.” In fact, it is amazing that David was actually anointed three times before he realized that he had a heart issue that needed to be corrected. (I Samuel 16:13, II Samuel 2:4, II Samuel 5:3) If David could change the world without having to have otherworldly encounters, so can we. His secret was simply his determination to maintain a right heart relationship with God — a simple principle and lifestyle at all of us can decide to adopt.