King David. Great, but not perfect.

King David. He was Great. He wasn’t Perfect. (And that’s a good thing)

The victor, we were brought up to understand, is most commonly the writer of history. Of course, it might be more accurate to say that it’s the victor who is, most commonly, the one who validates, through censorship and control,  the historical account. 

In antiquity, great authoritarian leaders were adept at controlling the message, often because they alone had the resources and structures to develop and communicate their version of events to exclusion of all others. The result is that many ancient records are one sided accounts, which emphasise the strength and power of the leader of the day, without any reference to their faults or failures. They are invariably presented as the paradigm of contemporary leadership. They are without fault. Shortcomings, if there were any, are conveniently airbrushed out. They prepared their place for posterity as self designed heroes, seated on a pedestal of unchallenged greatness. 
Quite extraordinary then, that alongside the ancient stories of victory and achievement, one of the oldest accounts of national history, that of a Middle Eastern tribe called the Israelites, also contains stories of crushing defeat and appalling behaviour amongst some of its’ leaders. The Old Testament as we read it today, contains stories of deception, intrigue, dishonesty and murder, often involving the greatest names of Biblical history. The most obvious, of course, is David, who is presented as supremely dedicated to the God of Israel, yet who is also painted as a bandit, adulterer and murderer. However, such was his responsibility for violent bloodshed, that God rejects his attempts to build the Temple in Jerusalem, a project later undertaken by his son, Solomon.

Why are these stories of his bad behaviour, his disobedience before God, even there? Wouldn’t our view of David be higher if it wasn’t tainted by the stories of his shortcomings? 

On the contrary. It is the very fallibility and imperfection of David as a leader, lover, husband and father,  that make him accessible to us. Of course, most of us haven’t done any one of the most grievous things which David did, nor have we achieved greatness in the same way as him. But we can identify with his underlying weaknesses. In so many things he was successful. In some things he went ‘over the top’. He could be impulsive. He struggled, and sometimes failed, to control his behaviour. He set out to do the right thing, and sometimes ended up getting it wrong. 

But throughout the account of his life, David is applauded for one thing. His heart. His heart was to serve God. 

  • David experienced God’s blessing, protection, discipline and forgiveness, and was grateful for it. 
  • In spite of his own shortcomings, David sought, celebrated and revered God’s presence, cherishing the opportunity to walk with God.
  • In life, and in death, God is faithful, honouring His promises to David.
Many of us lack confidence when trying to account for the successes of our life, but they are there!
Like David, I can be impulsive. I have struggled at times to control my behaviour. I’m forever setting out to do the right thing and too often miss the mark. The story of David is God’s way of saying, that’s ok. I can still love you and work with you in spite of that. 
I’m glad that David is not put on a pedestal of unchallenged perfection. The character of David gives me hope.
I’m not at all sure that David and I would have been friends, but I’m pleased that he’s portrayed as he is, warts and all. 

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