Doubts come easily to us these days. We wonder whether admired public figures are really worthy of devotion. Stories we cherished, or even just appreciated, seem to have another side. Cultural institutions we trusted may have actually promoted wrongs. Are people we loved actually looking at us with a wary eye? Do we look out through jaundiced eyes?
If ever there was a person who could doubt power, it was David. Israel’s first king, Saul, was very gifted, but his fears became paranoia. David served him loyally, but Saul saw only a competitor. He broke up David’s marriage. Twice, he assaulted, and tried to murder him. David became a nomad and an exile. At the end, Saul consulted a witch/medium, made a covenant with death, and committed suicide as an enemy army approached (1 Samuel 28-31).
David had everything to fear from this man. Yet when Saul finally fell in battle, David composed a song of lament and taught it to the people of Judah (2 Samuel 1:17-27). Why?
Above his own life, God’s kingdom was in his heart. Saul, as the Lord’s anointed king, was Israel’s savior. David would be accused of treachery. And though tempted, he had not finally taken vengeance. In fact David was not naive. He had rebuked Saul to his face and cried out to God for help against his evil (Pss. 34, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59, 63, 142, composed during his flight). In the wilderness, God had answered, disciplining him to “a life of humility and trust” (see Dr. Waltke’s Old Testament Theology, 649).
Because God’s glory was in his sights, David covered his enemy’s sins, lest the Philistine cities rejoice:
Tell it not in Gath,
publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult. (2 Samuel 1:20).
David saw something about the conflict between God and his rebellious world. The “seed of the serpent” will take the opportunity to rejoice in the sins of God’s people. David would not give them the occasion for evil joy.
The Spirit of Jesus was already making David’s heart like that of his greater Son. God’s judgment on Saul was real. Scripture does not hide it. But David would not humiliate him. It may be culturally chic for people to lampoon everyone (including even ourselves). We must not join in. Despair lies beneath it, and despair follows, because scorn is a form of self-righteousness. But grace brings us to confess openly to God, and to deal with each other personally, as David did with Saul.
Tragically, David would go on to commit many of the same sins as Saul. He broke up a marriage, and had loyal Uriah murdered. The last half of 2 Samuel makes it clear that not David, but one of his sons would be the Savior. But he did not die in despair. David confessed his sins to God. He prayed “according to your abundant mercy … blot out my transgressions” (Ps. 51:1). (His plea “take not your Holy Spirit from me” (v. 11) meant “though I deserve it, don’t treat me like Saul.”) God answered David in forgiving grace. In Psalm 32, he could write, “How blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!” The apostle praises this grace. God justified ungodly David, and he does the same for us (Rom. 4:5-8).
David’s way shows us the love that covers a multitude of sins. But David only got a glimpse of what the gospel now reveals so brightly. At the cross of Jesus Christ, God covered all our sins with the blood of his only Son. How beautifully, savingly kind is Israel’s last King!
Howard Griffith, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Academic Dean
Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.