After the Easter holiday, this coming Lord’s Day I plan to return to 1 Samuel 13 and pick up where I left off 2 weeks ago (Lord willing). In 1 Samuel 13, we have the first mention of what could be an interpretive problem. After Saul is rejected for his foolishness (and going hard after his own ingenuity and impatience rather than God), we are told that God would choose a new king after His own heart.
This has led many to speculate something like this: God was looking throughout the land to see if there was anyone who loved Him above everything else and, whew, He found that person in David. David was awesome-sauce. He was able to kill giants, wild animals threatening the flock, honor Saul, befriend Jonathan, fight the Philistines. His heart for God is evident in all of this. He wrote the Psalms for goodness sake.
Unfortunately, this interpretation doesn’t take into account the train wreck that was David’s personal life: multiple wives, the use of position/authority to rape, kill, and take. How he (especially in 2 Samuel) increasingly looks more like Saul (and a king like the other nations) than one who has a heart for God. So, how do we make sense of this?
I’m helped by what Jen Wilkin and others have said and written. Jen invited us to consider thinking of this phrase like the line from the hymn A Mighty Fortress: “a man of God’s own choosing.” John Woodhouse, for instance, says this phrase “a man after God’s own heart” means:
“a man of God’s own choosing, a man God has set his heart on. [It is] talking about the place the man has in God’s heart rather than the place God has in the man’s heart”.
(Woodhouse, 1 Samuel: Looking for a Leader, page 287)
Another article that discusses this in a longer way is called David: A Man Chosen According to God’s Heart. I’ve also benefitted from the following episodes of the Knowing Faith podcast featuring Jen Wilkin, JT English, and Kyle Worley. Check out episode 31 (There’s No Such Thing as 2 Samuel) at the 12:50 mark, episode 35 (People Getting Shanked) at the 7:30 mark, and episode 40 (Not What It Looks Like) at the 18:40 mark.
So, if we follow this line of reasoning…
What made David special wasn’t something within him but something outside of him. Specifically, in contrast to Saul, who was tall, handsome, and the one the people asked for, we have David, a man chosen according to God’s heart, who did many worthy things in preparing to and eventually becoming king. He did these not because they came naturally, but because God had chosen him.
I hope this encourages you and it’s something we can continue to be curious about as we move through 1 and 2 Samuel.