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“That We Might have Hope” (Rom. 15:4)

First Samuel Chapters Twenty-One To Thirty-One


Both were chosen by God to lead Israel. Both started out as humble servants of their God. Both were wicked sinners, guilty of hatred, anger, pride, and jealousy. Both of them deserved to go to hell. Yet one of them is described as being “a man after God’s own heart.” In this study we will examine David and Saul and learn from the examples of each.

David’s Sin

When we think of ‘David and sin’ the account that usually comes to mind is that of David’s adultery with Bathsheba, and his murder of Uriah to cover it up.

Scripture, however, provides numerous other examples of David’s sins. In First Samuel chapter 21 we read of how David lied to Ahimelech the priest about his reason for being there, and his reason for needing a sword. Later in that same chapter he pretended to be insane to protect himself from the Philistines of Gath. In chapter 25 David in his anger makes plans to annihilate Nabal and his men for not providing for David’s men. In chapter 27 we learn of David’s despair in believing Saul would one day kill him. Instead of turning to God in his time of doubt, he looked within. He fled to the Philistines for protection, and lived there for sixteen months. In order to convince the Philistines of his support for them, he attacked and destroyed neutral neighboring towns, leading the Philistines to believe he was attacking the Israelites. His attacks were so devastating that “he did not leave a man or woman alive” (1 Sam. 27:11).

As one can see, there is no shortage of evidence that David was a sinner. In what way, then, can he be described as one “after God’s own heart”?

David’s Repentance

In your own life perhaps you can recall a time when God used somebody to give you timely advice or encouragement. David was blessed with just such people.

Remember Nabal, the one who refused David’s men provisions? He had a faithful wife named Abigail. In order to stem disaster, Abigail met David as he was on his way to slaughter her husband. She begged to speak to him, and she apologized for her husband’s foolish behavior. She offered David gifts, and advised him not to seek vengeance on her husband. She prevented David from executing his wrath.

David heeded her advice. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me” (1 Sam. 25:32). David was open to correction from the Lord, even when it came from a woman he had never met before. After her husband died, Abigail became David’s wife.

We also learn something about David from the advice he did not take. Two times he had opportunity to kill Saul, and his friends advised him to do so. On both occasions David chose not to kill Saul because Saul was the anointed of God. David realized that it was God who had placed Saul in the position of authority as king, and it would be wrong for him, a servant of the king and God, to take his life. David was even conscience-stricken for cutting off the edge of Saul’s robe.

We see in these incidents a desire in David to obey God’s Word, a desire that is only evident in those with a heart of faith–a “man after God’s own heart.”

Saul’s Sin

What do we learn about Saul in these same chapters?

Throughout this section Saul is desperately clinging to his kingdom, and is seeking vengeance on David. This is the same David who had gained a victory over Goliath, comforted Saul with his music, became best friends with Saul’s son Jonathan, and married Saul’s daughter Michal.

Why was David his enemy? Saul was jealous of David’s popularity and he knew that David was anointed to replace him. Instead of being happy for him, he hated him. Saul was also angry at God for being rejected as king, even though it was because of his own disobedience that this had happened.

Twice Saul regretted pursuing David and seeking his life, but his heart hadn’t changed. Instead of seeking forgiveness and guidance from God, he went to the witch of Endor for guidance. He learned that he and his sons would die the next day, and the Philistines would conquer Israel.

Did this lead him to repentance? No, only to despair. The following day Saul was injured in battle, and told his armor-bearer to kill him so the enemy wouldn’t abuse him. When the armor-bearer refused, Saul took his own life. Even in the face of death Saul offered no repentance or plea for pardon. He died as foolishly as he had lived.

David and Saul–how different were they? They were both sinners, but David repented of his sin and through faith received forgiveness. His life was one of “daily contrition and repentance.” Saul, although regretting some of his actions, rejected the forgiveness available to him. He died in his sin. How different were they? They were and are worlds apart.

May God in His grace grant us sinners the faith of David.

“But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand; Deliver me from the hand of my enemies,

And from those who persecute me. . . . Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the Lord.” (Psalm 31:14-15, 24–a psalm of David)

–Prof. Joseph Lau