The Bible calls David a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). In fact, it is God Himself who calls David that. Yet, as we all know, David committed some particularly egregious sins. Along with those egregious sins, he is shown to be a man who has plenty of lesser sins too. So, why is it God calls David a man after His own heart? What makes a person qualified to be described as such?
It will be helpful to look at David and his predecessor, Saul, as we consider what makes a person worthy of such an honorable description.
A man after God’s own heart isn’t perfect. That simply isn’t possible! A man after God’s own heart won’t necessarily avoid significant and grievous sins that may massively impact future generations. A man after God’s own heart is one who seeks to actively live in obedience to God while being captivated by the beauty, sufficiency, and necessity of God and is one who responds properly when confronted with his sin. It is this that distinguishes David from Saul and David from most other people.
Early in his career in his battle against the Amalekites, Saul was commanded to kill every living thing (1 Sam 15:3). This was a direct judgement for the Amalekites’ harshness towards the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt hundreds of years earlier. Rather than obeying, Saul spared the king of the Amalekites as well as many of the choicest livestock.
Years later this stands in stark contrast to David who, in response the the Amalekite raid on his hometown Ziklag, went to the Amalekites and destroyed every last one of them who remained (1 Sam 30:17). David was obedient when Saul had not been. Had Saul obeyed previously, this people group would not have even been around to persecute David and his followers.
We also see the contrast between David and Saul in how one acts like a man after Gods own heart when both of them are under stress and in difficult situations. In 1 Samuel 10 the prophet Samuel obeyed the Lord and sought out the fist king of Israel. As the lots were being cast, it slowly came down to Saul’s tribe, then to Saul’s clan, then to Saul’s family and finally to Saul himself.
As they sought to find Saul, he who had just been selected by God Himself to be the first king of His nation, Saul was nowhere to be found. Overwhelmed by his new position, Saul had hid himself in the luggage hoping to avoid the inevitable (1 Sam 10:21-22).
Contrast Saul’s response with David’s God-dependent response when his situation was much more dire than Saul’s. After the Amalekites has taken many of his people as hostage, David was extremely frightened this his own men would stone him to death for not having properly protected them and their families. Rather than running or hiding, the text tells us that David ‘strengthened himself in the Lord his God’ (1 Sam 30:6). David turned to God in his most difficult times rather than running or hiding.
David being called a man after God’s own heart can be most clearly seen, I believe, when we look at how he repented of his sin compared to how Saul repented after his sin.
After his victorious battle against the Amalekites, Saul was confronted by Samuel for his disobedience in allowing the king and his family to live as well as in Saul’s preserving some of the choicest livestock. A man not after God’s own heart ‘repents’ by deflecting blame to others which is what Saul did as he blamed it on the people (1 Sam 15:15). After that, then, Saul switched tactics and tried to actually justify his sin by saying that they only kept the best of the livestock in order that they may be offered up to the Lord as a sacrifice (1 Sam 15:21). Lastly, and most sadly then, Saul actually lied and said that they did obey the Lord (1 Sam 15:13).
David, a man who was after God’s own heart, reacted just the opposite. When confronted with his horrific sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, David quickly accepted responsibility and repented. In his confessional speech he acknowledged that he had sinned against God (2 Sam 12:5-13). A man after God’s own heart agrees with God on what sin is, even when it is pointed out in that man’s own life, which is precisely what David did (Ps 51).
While not perfect, David knew where his hope was (Ps 69:6). He was a man who sought to live his life in obedience to the Lord. He also sought to be fully dependent upon the Lord even as he faithfully waited for years for God to fulfill His promise to him to be king (1 Sam 24:4-7). Additionally, David responded with humility and true repentance by agreeing with God when his sin was made evident to him. That is a man after God’s own heart. In what ways are you not responding as David did as you seek to be a man or a woman after God’s own heart?