Tell me if you’ve heard this story before. A young shepherd boy kills a giant, overcomes his enemies, and becomes king. He wrote songs, hung out with sheep, and is called a “man after God’s own heart.” Everyone loves King David, and he lived happily ever after, the end.
That’s the story of King David l was told growing up in church. But here’s the thing about David, he was a man after God’s own heart, but he lost himself along the way. David’s story isn’t the story of a hero we should use as a moral example. Instead, David is a reminder of how power and faith are often a poisonous mixture.
David’s story in 1 Samuel is tragic. For the first half of his story, everything goes right. He kills Goliath, plays the harp, and wins battles for his people. David also shows mercy on people who don’t deserve it, and helps hurting people. He really does seem like the perfect role model.
This part of the story gets most of the airtime in kids bibles, and for good reason. There’s a lot we can learn from him. He shows qualities we should copy, like humility, mercy, and forgiveness. But David is also violent, so violent that God won’t allow him to build a temple to God.
We don’t need to spend too much time talking about the first part of King David’s story. If you’d like to hear more, check out your average kids bible. But those stories tend to skip the second half of David’s life and his swift spiral out of control.
King David’s dark side.
First, David abuses his neighbor’s wife, then tries to cover up his crime by having her husband killed. Later, one of David’s sons sexually assualts David’s daughter, and David does nothing. His inaction causes a different son, Absolom, to kill his brother and lead a violent uprising.
David defeats Absolom and remains king. But David is too far gone. When he comes back to his palace he imprisons some women that Absolom sexually assuaulted for the rest of their lives.
There’s even this odd story of David getting old and infirm. And they try a “test” to see if David is still strong, so they find a young woman, and make her sleep in David’s bed. They assumed that if David was strong enough, he’d make a move. But he doesn’t and that’s how they know he’s dying. You can draw your own conclusions about what this story tells us about David.
With David’s last breath, he ordered his guards to kill some people he’d promised to protect.
So this is the story of David: A shepherd boy became a man after God’s own heart but turned into a self-absorbed leader who hurt people for his own comfort and pride.
Now, I’m not trying to ruin David for you, but this is what the Bible has to say about him. He’s not a good guy, but he’s also not a bad guy. At his best, he shows us what it’s like to follow God, but at his worst, he breaks our hearts and makes us feel angry and betrayed.
Davids life is a tragedy, but why? Well, David’s story takes a turn when he becomes king. As a shepherd on the run, I imagine he spent time in prayer. After all, he needed to trust in God. But as king he had servants, gold, and an army. What did he need? What couldn’t he get?
So what can we learn from King David?
1. Power, wealth, and faith are a dangerous mixture.
David cared about God and he cared about his people. But wealth, success, and comfort distorted his mind. He became proud, entitled, and detached.
We can easily fall into the same trap. So can organizations and churches. David’s story warns us of falling into the trap of building wealth and a platform. Sure, they can be used for good but only when the person or people remain humble. It also reminds us to hold people in power accountable.
2. It’s possible for us to fall away.
I’m not trying to make any big statements, or claim you can lose your salvation. All I’m saying is that David had it all, but he threw it away. He was called a man after God’s own heart, then became cruel, jealous, and apathetic.
It’s possible for us to follow the same path. We might start strong, but then make a compromise that causes harm to ourselves and others.
3. Bible characters are complicated.
To some, David is the perfect role model. He’s courageous, bold, and resourceful but he’s not perfect. In fact he often does horrifying things. So why do we avoid talking about David’s dark side? One reason is because of the influence of Christian nationalism. For them (and many others) the giant-slaying conquering soldier is more inspiring than peace-filled Jesus.
But King David isn’t wholly good or evil. He had great victories, showed courage, but also committed horrific crimes. We should take time to learn from both.
The story of David isn’t for kids.
It starts with chopping off a giants head, progresses to failed assassination attempts, then multiple SAs. So why do we teach it to kids? No idea. Maybe because David had sheep, and if a story has animals it becomes a kids storybook.
Anyway, the Bible is for adults. Some ideas and parts of stories are great for kids. But if you’re going to tell your kids about the Bible, please be honest about what the people were like. Jesus can be a Bible hero but no one else.
If you found this post helpful, encouraging, or even a bit annoying and would like to experience more, check out this post on Jonah.