What does it mean to be a man or woman after God’s own heart? King David was called such (Acts 13:22), and God promised to establish his throne forever, while the previous king, Saul, was rejected by God.1 Jealousy consumed and controlled Saul, but at times God prevented David from falling deeper in sin.2 If you desire to please God and have Him look on you with favor, the question you would ask is “Why?” What made God respond so differently to these two men? Simply having or expressing the desire to be described like David will not make it true. After studying the lives of these two men, we must honestly examine our hearts to discover if our character resembles Saul or David more closely.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me…” –Psalm 139:23,24 (written by David)
From a wealthy family, handsome, and a head taller than everyone, Saul fit the image of a king well, especially after leading Israel to many victories in battle. In reading through the account of his life, you’ll also see instances where he appeared to be spiritually minded and expressed repentance when disobedient to God’s commands. Though God eventually removed His loving kindness from him,3 it would be a mistake to write him off as one who defiantly opposed God. He more closely resembles someone you’d find in church. He gives the impression through his words and actions that he’s a spiritual man, seeking to please God. We may not want to admit it, but we likely display behavior similar to Saul at times.
Saul set out to obey God, but because of the pressure of the people around him he justified what may have seemed like minor disobedience.4 Or he convinced himself that it was okay to not fully obey God based on what seemed good to him, even making it sound good spiritually.1 If you’ve ever said/thought “I know I’m supposed to do (or not do) this, but God understands,” you’ve had a heart like Saul. No matter how well-intentioned it sounds, disobedience will not please God. Additionally, when God didn’t answer Saul how he wanted, he sought guidance from other sources.5 Surely none of us have kept asking for counsel or advice until we heard what we wanted to hear…
The character flaws in Saul to be watchful of in our own lives: blaming others to justify his sin,1,4 being self-centered rather than focusing on God or others,6 having a greater concern for his own reputation than for honoring God,1 having the appearance of godliness without a heart that sought to know Him,1 and growing jealous of those who received more recognition.7
Saul knew all the right words for repentance. He knew how to say the right things in attempting to please others. Yet his actions demonstrated the true character of his heart. Throughout his life, Saul’s behavior demonstrated the extent of his devotion to God. He achieved great success and became proud, only exhibiting brokenness and a desire to do right when others exposed his sinful behavior.
“…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me…” –Isaiah 29:13
David came from a poor family and was least thought of among his brothers.8 He had many humble roles before becoming king but served in each wholeheartedly, even fighting against lions and bears to protect his sheep as a shepherd boy. Perhaps his hours spent alone among sheep helped him develop a deep relationship with his LORD. One becomes a good and godly leader through developing the inner self more than by outward action.
David was most concerned about the glory of God.3 He stood against Goliath not to make a name for himself but because the Philistine warrior had defied the name of the LORD.9 He attributed his success to the LORD,9 remaining humble throughout all his achievements and honor,3,7 and continuously sought the LORD when making decisions. David showed great mercy and grace to people who cursed him.10 Forgiveness can be a hard thing for people, but David honored Saul despite his repeated attempts to kill David.11 He showed generosity.12 Even though he was anointed by God to be king as a youth, David demonstrated great trust and patience in the LORD’s sovereignty and promises by not taking vengeance on those who stood against him13 and by allowing the people to anoint him as king rather than force their acceptance.14 David was a true servant king, recognizing that his position was given for the sake of God’s people,15 and he “administered justice and equity to all His people.”16 He worshipped, often and unashamedly, in private and in public.17
David’s life exhibits many promises given in the Scriptures: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter:5:6-7).
From all the Psalms David wrote we can see he truly loved God and spent intimate times with Him. God wasn’t a far off Being but his true Rock and Refuge. In the Psalms we also see that David didn’t always feel close to God or see Him at work in his life, but he always trusted in Him. David loved God and lived for His glory.
David committed great sins, but demonstrated quick and sincere repentance.18 His life demonstrated a firm belief in the sovereignty, mercy, grace, and goodness of God, even while enduring many difficulties at the hand of wicked men. The testing of our faith will prove how genuine we are in seeking God as an end, not a means to an end (1 Peter 1:7). In other words, if we give up on our faith when life doesn’t go our way, it only shows our heart is after the good things we receive from God rather than after God Himself. David clung to God more closely and worshiped Him during his trials, because his heart was after God and not after his own prosperity.
Take care in monitoring the position and intentions of your heart. Long for a close connection with God out of love, not for personal gain or appearances, and we can truly be people after God’s own heart.
“The LORD sees not as man see; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” -1 Samuel 16:7
11 Samuel 15 21 Samuel 25:32, 29:9 32 Samuel 7 41 Samuel 13 51 Samuel 28:6 61 Samuel 14:24, ch 22-23 71 Samuel 18 81 Samuel 16:11 91 Samuel 17 101 Samuel 24 112 Samuel 1:19 121 Samuel 30:23-24 132 Samuel 19:23 142 Samuel 2 152 Samuel 5:12 162 Samuel 8:15 172 Samuel 6, many Psalms 182 Samuel 12:13, 24:10, Psalm 51