By Sam Gutierrez
I find it curious that despite his many faults, David is given a generous title: a [person] after God’s own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14). Those familiar with David’s story have often referenced 2 Samuel 12:1-13 as the reason. In that particular story, the prophet Nathan confronts David with the murder of Uriah and adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. When confronted, David admits his wrong rather than denying, projecting, or minimizing his actions.
Today, politicians and authority figures apologize to ease media scrutiny and to bolster bruised public opinion. But in Psalm 51 we see David’s sincere remorse as he pleads for God’s mercy and pledges to change. Many believe that it was David’s truthful admission and repentance in this particular situation that earned him the title “a [person] after God’s own heart.” This is a compelling argument.
I have sometimes wondered if there is another angle that could be taken to help us understand why David might have received such a description. Perhaps the phrase is referring to a defining characteristic in David’s life that reminds people of God: Passion. In worship, in battle, and in friendship, David shows remarkable passion. We see David’s passion for God demonstrated most clearly when David dances before the Ark in a public celebration of worship. (2 Samuel 6:14-22) In this way, David resembles God. When it comes to passion, David is a “chip off the ‘ol block” as the saying goes. Even after thousands of years, David’s passion jumps off the pages of scripture. You can almost feel it.
We may not know exactly why David is given such a generous title, but when we hear that David is a “[person after God’s own heart]” we can begin to think that David is someone that we should emulate. In fact, we want to see David as an example of a leader who can admit his wrong and vow to change – an authority figure we can all admire. But the story of David is not an example of a fallen’s leader’s comeback. Rather, throughout the narrative we discover that the true point of this story is God’s grace. David is the recipient of God’s grace.
We may miss the point, but David does not. In fact, David prays a beautiful prayer of response after receiving the news that his house (lineage) will last forever. David is overwhelmed and knows that he has done nothing to deserve this (2 Samuel 7:18-21). This unmerited favor is what the Bible calls grace.
Grace is heaven shining down on you. Grace is the smile of God. Grace has nothing to do with being a good person, being perfect, trying hard or even trying at all. David wasn’t perfect and his flaws remind us that the blessings poured out on David are not because of David’s virtue, but rather because of God’s overflowing goodness.
We want to see David as a passionate hero - an underdog who defeats Goliath, rises through the ranks, eludes his enemies and eventually becomes King. We think it’s a rags-to-riches story that we can get behind and cheer for. But the story of David is not a rags-to-riches story. The story of David is God’s story of grace working in and through someone who is not perfect nor deserving. That’s good news for David, and that’s good news for us, too.