No Public Pursuit is more important than the Family by Charles R Swindoll
All the passages below are taken from Charles R Swindoll’s book “David” published in 1997.
Since we have almost come to the halfway point in our study of David’s life, it’s a good place to stop and take a panoramic view of things. In considering the details of David’s life, we’ve reached the place where he’s about thirty years old. Before we examine the next forty years of his life, let’s get a little overall perspective.
A good place to begin this panoramic study would be the last three verses of Psalm 78. Though brief, they provide a general analysis of the life of David.
He also chose David His servant,
And took him from the sheepfolds;
From the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him,
To shepherd Jacob His people,
And Israel His inheritance.
So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them with his skillful hands.
Psalm 78:70-72 (NASB)
You can find all seventy of David’s years wrapped up in these three verses. “He chose David His servant” when he was about seventeen. “He took him from the sheepfolds” when he slew the giant and first left the sheep. “He brought him to shepherd Jacob His people” at age thirty. Between the years of seventeen and thirty, you’ll recall, David is on the run from Saul. Then, finally, at age thirty he comes to that pinnacle moment in his life when he takes the throne of Israel. And what happened then? “And he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart and guided them with his skillful hands” for his final forty years.
For the first fifty years of his life, David walked in the integrity of his heart. Though there were a few temporary excursions in the flesh, most of David’s young adult years were years of triumph. Then came the tragedy of the last twenty years of his life. The first part of his life is a model of character and integrity, and the last part of his life is a downhill slide until, I believe, David died a broken man with a broken heart.
There’s so much more to a life than just chronology, however. When we read a verse like “David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years,” it is easy to forget what led to his being exalted as the king. Our tendency is to focus on the present moment and to forget the yesterdays or the tomorrows. Some of the yesterdays need to be forgotten and some of the tomorrows need to be left to the Lord without worry, but we need to keep a perspective like God keeps on life.
Our past is like an art gallery. Walking down those corridors of our memory is like walking through an art gallery. On the walls are all of yesterday’s pictures: our home, our childhood, our parents, our rearing, the heartaches, the difficulties, the joys and triumphs as well as the abuses and the inequities of our life. Since Jesus Christ our Lord is the same yesterday and today and forever, then we can take the Christ of today and walk with Him into our yesterday and ask Him to remove the pictures that bring bad or defeating memories. In other words, the Christian can let Jesus invade yesterday and deal with those years of affliction—those years which the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25-26)—and remove those scenes from the corridors of our lives. I have them. You have them. We need to let Him leave the murals that bring pleasure and victory and take down from the walls those things that bring despair and defeat.
Because of David’s many mighty acts and the legacy he left, it is easy to forget that for a dozen or more years he lived as a fugitive and spent many hours of discouragement and disillusionment in the wilderness. He was a broken, humbled man during those days as a fugitive. He learned much from those crushing years, but little good would come from his reliving the pain they brought into his life.
Finally, though, he becomes king, the second king of Israel, chosen and anointed by God himself. How did he take the throne? Did he storm into the role and demand everyone to submit to his rule? No. David was a sensitive man. He had learned how to lead and how to rally others around him in the afflictions of his yesterday . . . especially while he was a cave dweller . . . remember?
Often we’re better at handling affliction than we are at handling promotions. As Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish essayist and historian, said, “But for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity.”1 But David was a man faced with success. His predecessor was dead, by his own hand. If there was ever a chance for a person to take life by his own two fists and demand a following, it was now. But he didn’t.
After he heard the news of Saul’s death …
David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go up to one of the cities of Judah?” And the LORD said to him, “Go up.” So David said, “Where shall I go up?” And He said, “To Hebron.”
2 Samuel 2:3 (NASB)
FROM FUGITIVE TO MONARCH
David remembered when Samuel anointed him and whispered, “You will be the next king.” He remembered that from many years earlier when he was only a teenager, so he asked, “Lord, shall I go up to one of the cities?” He really wanted to know, “Is it time now, Lord?” He didn’t rush to the throne and take charge. He waited patiently on God for further instruction. And God revealed His plan to him. He said, in effect, “Begin your reign in Hebron.”
In those days the Lord spoke audibly to His servants. Today He speaks from His Word. You might be in a situation where you are wondering, “God has obviously opened the door, and I’m about to walk through it. But … is that what I should do?” Our tendency is to race in when there is some benefit that will come our way. Sometimes it’s best to begin very quietly … to pace our first steps with great care.
Here we see the Lord saying that to the new monarch, David. “No, wait! Even though you are to be king, be humble about it … walk carefully. Be sensitive.”
“Shall I go up?”
“Where shall I go?”
“Go to Hebron.”
And that’s precisely what David did. We are told how long he remained in that limited capacity.
And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.
2 Samuel 2:11(NASB)
David is about thirty years old when Saul dies, but he doesn’t immediately march into Jerusalem to take over the whole nation. Instead, following God’s instruction, he goes to Hebron, where he has a limited reign over the people of Judah for seven and a half years. He doesn’t complain. He isn’t anxious. He has learned to wait on God.
Surely, at that time there were some satellite kings, some self-appointed hotshots who had been riding on Saul’s shirttails, waiting to make their move . . . and David patiently let the Lord take care of every one of them. He just went to Hebron and settled in, knowing that he had the ability to handle the whole nation, but not unless and not until it was God’s time. Such humility everyone admires.
Unfortunately, while he was there, David made some decisions he lived to regret. If you turn to 2 Samuel 3, you’ll see a couple of them.
Now there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; and David grew steadily stronger, but the house of Saul grew weaker continually.
2 Samuel 3:1 (NASB)
Then it goes into what may sound like an uninteresting genealogy, but through it we learn something about the weak side of David’s character.
Sons were born to David at Hebron: his first-born was Amnon, by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; and his second, Chileab, by Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, by David’s wife Eglah. These were born to David at Hebron.
2 Samuel 3:2-5 (NASB)
What does this tell us? David didn’t simply have six children … he had six children by six different wives. This polygamy was of the one of the dark spots in David’s life that later came back to haunt him.
If you chart out a genealogy of David’s immediate family, the total size was enormous. Look at the wives that he took in Hebron: Ahinoam, Abigail, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, Eglah. And that’s not counting Michal, daughter of Saul, who was his first wife. When David was forced to flee for his life, Saul had given her to another man. Later, during the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, referred to above, David demanded Michal back, even though she was married to another man. After he went to Jerusalem, only one wife is named (besides Michal), and that is Bathsheba, mother of Solomon. But according to a Samuel 5:13-16 and 1 Chronicles 3:1-9, David had many other wives and concubines who bore him children in Jerusalem. We don’t know anything about most of them.
If I count correctly, David had a total of twenty sons and one daughter, Tamar. She is listed among the children of Maacah in Hebron, who was also the mother of Absalom.
DAVID’S IMMEDIATE FAMILY
I. CHILDREN BORN IN HEBRON—DAVID, AGE 30-37
(2 Sam. 3:2-5, 13-14; 13:1; 1 Chron. 3:1-4)
Abigail Chileab (Daniel)
Maacah Absalom and Tamar
II. CHILDREN BORN IN JERUSALEM—DAVID, AGE 37-70
(2 Sam. 5:14-16; 1 Chron. 3:5-8; 2 Chron. 11:18)
Bathsheba (Bath-shua) Shammua (Shimea), Shobab Nathan, Solomon (Jedidiah)
Unnamed Wives Ibhar, Elishua (Elishama), Eliphelet, Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada (Beeliada), Eliphelet, Jerimoth
* The total size of David’s immediate family is twenty sons and one daughter (excluding concubines and their offspring, who are not named in Scripture, see 2 Sam. 5:13, 15:16; 1 Chron. 3:9).
I want you to keep all this in mind, because David’s enormous family becomes an important issue later in his life, especially after his adultery with Bathsheba. He had, along with the wives, some of whom aren’t even mentioned, a number of nameless concubines. This sizable family began during his years in Hebron, where he reigned in a limited capacity for seven and a half years.
Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and your flesh.
Previously, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and in. And the LORD said to you, `You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel.”‘
So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them before the LORD at Hebron; then they anointed David king over Israel.
David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years.
At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty-three years over all Israel and Judah.
2 Samuel 5:1-5 (NASB)
With his headquarters in Jerusalem, David finally had the limitless reign he had been promised as God’s anointed leader. He had great power and great blessing from God.
Now the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, and … David captured the stronghold of Zion, that is the city of David [that’s Jerusalem]. …
So David lived in the stronghold, and called it the city of David. And David built all around from Millo and inward.
And David became greater and greater, for the LORD God of hosts was with him.
Then Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David with cedar trees and carpenters and stonemasons; and they built a house for David.
And David realized that the LORD had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel.
2 Samuel 5:6-12 (NASB)
When the blessings began, they overflowed David’s cup. Few monarchs have known such remarkable power and prestige.
G. Frederick Owen, a fine historian who writes more like a novelist describes the reign of David like this:
Everything favored national prosperity for Israel. There was no great power in Western Asia inclined to prevent her becoming a powerful monarchy. . . . The Hittites had been humbled; and Egypt, under the last kings of the twenty-first dynasty, had lost her prestige and had all but collapsed. The Philistines were driven to a narrow portion of their old dominion, and the king of Tyre sought friendly alliance with David.
With a steady hand David set out to force back and defeat Israel’s enemies who had constantly crowded, horned, and harassed the Hebrews; Moab and Ammon were conquered; then the Edomites, alarmed at the ever-increasing power of Israel, rose against David, but were routed by Abishai, who penetrated to Petra and became master of the country.
… Commercial highways were thrown open and in came merchandise, culture, and wealth from Phoenicia, Damascus, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, and more distant lands. To his people, David was king, judge, and general, but to the nations round about, he was the leading power in all the Near Eastern world—the mightiest monarch of the day.2
Simply put, that’s a lot of clout for any leader to handle, especially for a man as passionate as David. Very few can be trusted with that kind of power, because with it come unique temptations that very few can handle. As we say, “Power corrupts … absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But remember, the hand of God was with David. Nevertheless, he was still a man. He could still be given to failure. But more on that later. For now, let’s enjoy the blessings he enjoys. They have been a long time coming!
David’s accomplishments were marvelous. Territorially, he expanded the boundaries of Israel from 6,000 to 60,000 square miles. Incredible! He set up extensive trade routes that reached throughout the known world. And from that, wealth came into Israel like the nation had never known before.
David unified the nation under Jehovah God, creating a national interest in spiritual things. He was not a priest; he was a king … but he lifted up the role of the priesthood so that Judaism could operate openly and freely in the land. He destroyed the idol altars.
I say again, David was a remarkable man. He was a brilliant organizer, a brilliant manager, a brilliant planner. He was also a man of brilliant battlefield savvy, who stayed on the leading edge of military defense.
David was also human—very human—in fact, he had three major failures in his life, three heartbreaking disappointments.
First, he became so involved in public pursuits that he lost control of his family. As we saw earlier, the man had too many wives and too many children to lead and rear properly. Being a man of virile passion, he gave himself passionately to these women; the result were too many children who were thrown together to sort of raise themselves. There’s little difference between life on the back street and life in the king’s palace if there is insufficient parental direction and guidance. A king or queen can produce prodigals and rebels just as easily as those without wealth and rank.
And that’s exactly what happened to David. At the height of his reign, when all of these impressive events and accomplishments are happening nationally, it is evident that David had lost touch domestically. He had undisciplined children. As we’ll see in chapter 18, Absalom rebelled. He deceived his father and pushed him from the throne. Tragically, David fled like a wounded animal.
Another son, Amnon, raped his own half-sister, Tamar. This horrendous act led to murder and enormous dysfunctional relationships within the royal family. According to the sacred text, David’s only reaction was that he “became angry.” That was it. He just got mad. Perhaps his own sin and failure with Bathsheba prevented his knowing what to do. Or, if he knew what to do, he didn’t do it. Before the public, David was decisive and brilliant; but behind the scenes, within the walls of his own home, he was passive and negligent.
We’ll cover it later, but let me mention here that in his later years, when David was an old man, his son Adonijah, like Absalom, also tried to usurp the throne.
Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, “I will be king.” So he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen with fifty men to run before him.
And his father had never crossed him at any time by asking, “Why have you done so?”
1 Kings 1:5-6 (NASB)
Look at that statement! Never once had David “crossed” his son; literally, he had never pained his son. What does that mean? Well, how do you pain your child? Obviously, he had failed to train him properly, to discipline him when necessary. Never once had he crossed him, asking, “Why have you done so?” Just as he failed to control Absalom, he also had no control over Adonijah. I could go on (and, later I will), but my point is clear: David became so enamored with public pursuit that he lost control of his family.
David’s second failure was that he indulged himself in extravagant extremes of passion. Whatever he did, he did it with all his heart. When he fought, he fought to the bitter end, completely vanquishing the enemy. When he loved, he loved with all his heart, and the numerous wives and concubines were examples of this passion.
His appetites also led to inappropriate seasons of leisure. One spring, at the time of year when other kings went out to battle, David stayed at home in Jerusalem. In his passion for leisure, he hung around the house that day, and what an infamous day it proved to be. As you recall, it was the day he fell into sin with Bathsheba. He was indolent. He was lazy. He was indifferent. He became consumed with lust. And his failure to curb his passions for sex led him to uncontrollable desires … which resulted in his going to bed with Bathsheba. He then lied to the people around him. When we get to chapter 16, we’ll look at those things in greater detail.
J. Oswald Sanders sums it up correctly, “David’s greatest fault lay in his yielding to passions of the flesh.”3
David’s third tragic failure was that he became a victim of self-sufficiency and pride. In simple terms, David began to believe his own track record.
He said, “Number the people, Joab.”
And Joab said, “Why do we want to do that?”
And in so many words, David told Joab, “Don’t be insolent with me. Don’t be insubordinate. You do as I say.” So Joab did, and 70,000 died as a judgment from God—judgment against the king’s pride. We’ll examine all that in chapter 23.
I once heard a seasoned pastor warn a group of ministers about such things. He said that along with the kind of temperament, winsomeness, and charisma it takes to be a dynamic spiritual leader, there also comes a series of easy faults to fall into. To make them easy to remember, he used four words that began with the same letter, “S”: silver, sloth, sex, and self. Stop and think of the dynamic leaders who have fallen. Almost without exception, one or more of these four was the avenue of failure.
TWO TIMELESS TRUTHS THAT OUTLIVE KING DAVID
There are at least two timeless principles we can learn from David’s reign that apply directly to our own lives.
First, no pursuit is more important than the cultivation of a godly family.
And second, no character trait is more needed than genuine integrity.
In his autobiography One Life, the brilliant surgeon who pioneered and performed the first heart transplant, Christiaan Barnard, tells how at the height of his discoveries and his outstanding career, he lost his home.
It was a bright April morning when I drove out of Minneapolis, heading for New York. It seemed a century had passed since I had first arrived . . . a time longer than all the years before it.
In New York, I put the car on a boat and caught a plane for South Africa. At Cape Town, a northwest wind was blowing, and we came in over the sea with the waves close below.
[My wife] was there with the children. I had written little in the last two months, yet I was unprepared for her greeting.
“Why did you come back? Why didn’t you stay in America and never come home again?”
There was no longer a smile in her eyes, and her lips seemed to wait for nothing.
Oh God, I thought, I’ve made the most terrible mistake of my life.
“Don’t look so surprised,” she said. “We gave you up. We decided you were never coming back.”
“It was only a little delay.” I said. “I wrote you about it. We were building valves, aortic valves.”
“You were also building a family,” she said, “I mean, once upon a time you were building one, until you dumped it into my lap.”
“We have ceased to exist for you. …
I wanted to say that I came home because I loved my children and believed I loved her. I did it because I felt it. What could I say now that would not sound meaningless?
It began to rain. The city was gray under a gray sky. It was winter in Cape Town, and in Minneapolis, spring was already there. How was it possible to lose a whole springtime? 4
David also lost a whole springtime . . . and much, much more.
When God measured the tree of David’s life, however, He didn’t condemn it to be cut down for kindling. In His great love, mercy, and grace, He honored the many efforts of this man on behalf of God’s people and the name of Jehovah, as well as the integrity of the heart.
After all these years, David’s life still casts a shadow across our own lives. Sometimes, in the drab winter months, on the heels of heavy rains and gray skies, we need to take a good long look at the places in our lives that need our attention … those places where we are vulnerable to temptation. We need to ask the Lord to clear away those paths that have been scarred with the litter of yesterday. We need to be people of integrity who care enough about yesterday to make it right with our children today.
There is no person or righteous cause that the enemy of our soul’s will not try to destroy, and he loves to multiply his victories. If David were here, he would tell us to beware—the Enemy is always lurking, relentlessly seeking to destroy.
THREE LASTING LESSONS LEARNED AT DAVID’S EXPENSE
Three lessons linger as I close the pages of 2 Samuel, chapters 1 through 5.
1. Prosperity and ease are perilous times, not merely blessings. In C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, he says, “The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather [for the devil].”5
Have you hit the middle-aged strides where you don’t have to worry too much about the things that used to take a lot of time? Take heed! Prosperity and ease are more often than not, perilous times.
2. Gross sin is a culmination of a process, not a sudden act. Back in 2 Samuel 3, you’ll remember, David was already amassing his fortune along with a number of wives. But when was enough enough? When he had a harem full of them and he was still not satisfied, driven by lust for more? Gross sin isn’t a sudden action, it’s a process that culminates. And one who commits it says to himself in the morning hours that follow, “I can’t believe I did that.” That’s certainly what David must have said.
3. Confession and repentance help heal a wound, but they will never erase all the scars. If we’re honest enough to admit it, there are times that we sin, saying, “Well, I can do this now and then confess and repent, and God will forgive me.” And that’s true. But I must warn you, you can never erase the scars. He will heal the wound, but He will leave the scars. And your children may suffer as a result, and their children after them. That’s the heartache of it all. Sin has terrible wages.
The only hope we have is daily dependence on the living Lord. It’s the only way we can make it. He’s touched with our feelings of infirmity, our weaknesses, our inability in the dark and lonely times to say no. He’s touched with that. And He says, “I’m ready with all the power you need. Call on Me and I’ll give you what you need.”
So? Call on Him! Stop this moment and call on Him. He will hear and heed our cry. I know. In recent days I’ve done just that . . . and He has provided the strength I needed to go on. [129-142]
1. Thomas Carlyle, cited in John Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 474.
2. Owen, Abraham to the Middle-East Crisis, 5.
3. J. Oswald Sanders, Robust in Faith (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press 1965), 121.
4. Christiaan Neethling Barnard, One Life (Toronto, Ont.: Macmillan, 1969), 253-254.
5. C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters (New York: Collier Books, Macmillan, 1959), 132