The Holy Book introduces us to some outstanding people. Not that they thought of themselves as such. Godly humility would not allow them to. But their huge profiles dominate the biblical landscape. Their characters illuminate biblical truth, and their experiences validate the divine-human enterprise.
Their lives were so impactful that people who have never touched the Holy Book themselves are very familiar with the names of these Bible greats—such men as Moses, Abraham, Daniel, Job, Elijah, Peter, Paul; women such as Esther, Mary, Deborah, Sarah, Martha, Ruth.
A focus on the life experience of any of these hall-of-famers would be worth our attention. Let’s pick one, then: David by name, principal author of the book of Psalms, without whose poetic genius that book and the Bible wouldn’t be the same.
We first meet David as a boy tending his father’s sheep, and about to live out a principle of the book of Proverbs: “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings” (Prov. 22:29).
The biblical historian introduces him as the last of eight brothers (1 Sam. 16:4-12). God sent the prophet Samuel to Jesse’s house to find Israel’s next king of Israel. Jesse got seven of his sons all washed up and ready to pass before the prophet, but never bothered to call David in from tending the sheep.
But none of Jesse’s tall, impressive, ripped, “six-packed and guns blazing” sons was God’s choice. When Samuel then asked if that was all, Jesse responded somewhat sheepishly that the youngest was out keeping the sheep (verse 11). They sent for him, and he arrived, handsome and in the flush of health (verse 12). The prophet heard God’s indication: Pick him, Samuel: that’s the one (see 1 Sam. 16:12).
Earlier on, looking with human eyes at the eldest boy, Samuel was certain that he had to be the one. But God told him decidedly: “Do not look at his appearance.” Indeed, “the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (verse 7). God is longing, working, for us to be like Jesus deep down on the inside. He built that inside look with David while he shepherded sheep and learned to have his God as his shepherd (see Ps. 23). Too often our views of stardom amplify the outward—“arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel,” when God would have us focus on character, “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:3, 4).
David became earmarked to be king sometime down the road. But while he was still sheep-minding he killed Goliath. Anytime you become a giant slayer you automatically become a celebrity, a burden that is ofttimes heavy to bear. A celebrity is a public figure, and public figures are consistently loved by some and hated by others.
God is longing, working, for us to be like Jesus deep down on the inside.
In fact, you don’t have to be a celebrity to experience this love/hate response from the public. Just being seen as successful, or confident, with high grades or well-coordinated wardrobes, seems to be enough to attract a posse of haters. But the God who has called and gifted His children with talent expects and works inside to enable them to rise above the averages of mediocrity, the ordinary, the uninspired, and the second-rate. The devil’s rock throwers come after you because you rise and shine for God. No one stones a dead dog! In the Caribbean we pick lots of mangoes without ever climbing trees: the tree that bears the most fruit gets the most stones.
And David is in trouble now—with his king, of all people! Why? Because his unconditional trust in God has given him victory over a towering giant. The Bible reports that on a subsequent occasion, as Israelite soldiers returned home victorious after another conquest with the Philistine army, women lined the streets chanting, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7). The chant was too much for King Saul, who became murderously jealous of David. The youth went from shepherd boy to giant slayer to fugitive in rapid succession, and all for doing King Saul and his people a major favor.
Much like the life of Joseph, another national hero hundreds of years before, David’s story is a narrative of downs and ups: Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave, but he ended up as chief steward in the house of Potiphar, commander-in-chief of Egypt’s armies (Gen. 37:28; 39:1-4). Then, thrown in prison for a false accusation, he ended up running the prison for the warden (Gen. 39:22). There he was kind to the pharaoh’s butler, who promised that when freed from prison (as Joseph predicted), he would help free Joseph. Nothing of the sort took place. The butler forgot Joseph completely. But two years later he remembered, and Joseph ended up vizier of Egypt, second only to the nation’s supreme ruler (Gen. 41).
One of the deepest downs in David’s sequence of downs and ups occurred when the city he was hiding in was attacked and plundered while he and his guerrilla army were away. They returned home to find the town pillaged and their wives and children gone, taken off with plundered property, as spoils of war. So deep was the hurt his soldiers felt that they start to talk about “stoning him,” blaming him because they had lost their children (1 Sam. 30:6).
Sometimes as human beings we present the odd response in crisis, pain, or loss, of seeking relief from the unbearable pain by finding someone to blame. Blaming David involved a series of awkward considerations: David was no profiteering entrepreneur or manipulative cult leader who had seduced them into following him: he was a man whose life was under constant threat.
The biblical evidence does not point to him recruiting anyone to accompany him in his fugitive misery. Rather, “everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them” (1 Sam. 22:2). None of them was being as hunted as he was. Yet they had come to him because of their discontent with the system, deciding that they should cast in their lot with him. Now that they had become his companions, he was more than ever marked for destruction. Alone, he was the most wanted of all the men pictured in King Saul’s posted photos. But with the crowd of followers swelling to 400 (1 Sam. 22:2), and then to 600 (1 Sam. 23:13), he would be considered more a threat than ever. David was not their blight: they were his threat multiplier both in terms of what they could do together, and by the same token, in terms of how much more King Saul would want David eliminated.
There is no response as powerful as the David Principle when we face the tragedies of life.
And there was more: whatever losses the little army may have suffered, David had enough pain himself—his wives Ahinoam and Abigail had been seized too (1 Sam. 30:5). And yet, as they had once cursed the system, the crowd was now cursing him, wanting to stone him to death for nothing he had done against any of them; for something that had brought him at least as much pain as it had them.
You and I have seen this played out again and again in family tragedies: a child dies; one spouse subconsciously blames the other for the death or for the way things are handled afterward; the marriage crumbles.
What was David’s response? What did he do? He gave what I have called the David Principle, the principle of response that turned his situation around; the God-given principle that can also bless our lives when blight is threatening, and that can transform our tragedies into victories; the lesson God would have us gr
asp; a major reason He has given us the story.
What did David do? I quote in full so we do not miss the powerful adversative, “but”: “Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (verse 6).
“But David strengthened himself.” Things have gone terribly wrong. . . . But! The enemy has struck a devastating blow upon him and his men. . . . But David! His precious ones have been carted off as the spoils of war. . . . But David! Everything you own is burnt to the ground. . . . But you strengthen yourself in the Lord your God. The tragedy that has devastated you personally makes you a culprit as your own now blame you for it, even saying out loud that they are going to kill you for it. But you strengthen yourself in the Lord your God!
There is no response as powerful as the David Principle when we face the tragedies of life. When it seems that everything is over. When the worst has happened. The power of this response does not naturally come from David. It is no self-help idea, tapping into positive thinking. The strengthening does not come from David himself. It comes from the God he leans on in the midst of his catastrophe, in the throes of his trauma. David leans on the reliability of his God, the omnipotence of his God, the intervention of his God. He rests in the assurance that “when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him” (Isa. 59:19). It’s personal for him: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me” (Ps. 138:7). Friends and family are fine as far as it goes. But when you go through your dark valley, apply the David Principle: strengthen yourself in the Lord your God.
This is not merely your mother’s God, or the God of the church where you worship. The Lord must be your God if you’re to apply the principle successfully. You must get to know Him intimately in times of serenity when He is leading you “beside the still waters” and “in the paths of righteousness” (Ps. 23:2, 3). Exalt His leading and teachings in your life. Experience His friendship and emulate His ways so that encouraging yourself in the Lord becomes second nature, becomes your default mode. Then, as the challenges arise, you draw your strength from Him. He is available for you: you can do all things by His strength (Phil. 3:13). You will not perish. You will rest in Him. And nothing and no one can snatch you out of the safety of His hand (John 10:28).
Hamilton Williams currently pastors the Beacon Light Seventh-day Adventist Church in Phoenix, Arizona, United States.