David Isn’t the King You Need

King David was described, early in 1 Samuel, as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Read through the rest of the story, and that comes through: David often submits to God (when no one else will), shows surprising mercy (when everyone else expects vengeance), and takes daring risks on God (when others are cowering in fear).

And yet.

The scroll of Samuel doesn’t end with us thinking, “David’s the man. We should all be just like him.” Instead, we end with more questions than answers. How could someone who started so well go so horribly wrong? Is this the best God’s people could hope for?

First and Second Samuel may leave us scratching our heads—until we realize the point of these books. They weren’t meant to chronicle the biography of a great and mighty king. Primarily, they were meant to leave us longing for a good and holy king.

David wasn’t the king that Israel needed, for two reasons:

1. Compromises of Character

David was married to Michal, King Saul’s daughter. But the longer the story goes, the more you see David pick up other wives. Unsatisfied with one wife, he did what powerful kings often did in those days—he gathered more.

It gets worse. After David’s exile, King Saul took Michal back and married her off to another man. David’s response? Marry five more wives.

And then, several years later, David decided he wanted Michal back, too—even though, by this point, she was married to someone else and David already had several wives. But he was the king, so he got what he wanted (2 Samuel 3). It wasn’t even that he wanted Michal; he just wanted the political alliance that a daughter of Saul would provide him. David chose to break up a happy home for his own convenience, using her as a pawn.

This was how kings acted. Everyone might have expected it. But it’s important to note that this wasn’t how God’s kings were supposed to act. According to Deuteronomy 17, this was the exact opposite of what God had commanded the kings of Israel to do. The kings of other nations would multiply wives as a display of their power; God’s kings were supposed to live differently. In this respect, David chose the common path, not the godly one.

All of this culminates in what is, perhaps, the most famous story in Samuel—David taking Bathsheba, another man’s wife (2 Samuel 11). In context, though, while we should be horrified at this, we ought also not be terribly surprised. Why would this man, who compromised his character so many times before—all in pursuit of multiplying wives—suddenly change course? When David took Bathsheba, he simply took the next dark step down a dark road.

David, despite beginning as a man after God’s own heart, had a besetting sin. And it would inevitably bring him down—along with countless others.

2. An Inability to Address Israel’s Deepest Problems

David had deep flaws. But something just as significant shows up in the early chapters of 2 Samuel: We see that even David at his best wasn’t able to address the deepest needs of the nation.

I’ll prove it:

In 2 Samuel 2, David was anointed king and Saul’s son Ish-bosheth decided he too would be king, creating a short-lived civil strife. David was king of the south and Ish-bosheth was king of the north. Ish-bosheth’s general, Abner, decided to set 12 men from each kingdom against each other to see who would rule it all.

David’s side won, consolidating the kingdom for him. Meanwhile, Abner and his men flee. Abner is able to escape by killing one of David’s warriors; when he returns to Ish-bosheth, he starts sleeping with one of Saul’s former concubines. Ish-bosheth gets mad, because he (rightly) interprets this as a power play. So now Ish-bosheth feels threatened by King David and his own general, Abner.

They argue about it and Abner bolts, defecting to David’s side. But while he’s secretly negotiating with David, Joab (David’s chief general) asks Abner to step into a dark alley for a brief chat. You can guess where this goes: Joab kills Abner.

Meanwhile, back in the north, two of Saul’s old lieutenants, Baanah and Rechab, murder Ish-bosheth, cutting off his head and presenting it to David, thinking they would get a reward. David, it turns out, isn’t thrilled. Rather than giving them a reward, he sends them following after Ish-bosheth, executing them both.

And it is at this point in the story, seven and a half years after Saul’s death, that we learn that David is now, finally, king over a united Israel.

You see, the kingdom David inherited was deeply divided. And while he was able to bring a measure of political peace, it only lasted a short time before everything unraveled. Why? Because even at his best, King David wasn’t able to solve Israel’s deepest problems. They didn’t need a stronger king; they needed a king who could transform hearts.

Humanity needs a different Savior, one who can heal in places governments can’t touch. One day, from the tribe and lineage of David, another King would be born, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

And unlike David, this King would have no compromises of character. He wouldn’t use his power to take wives or extort privileges from others. Instead, he’d use his power to lay down his life for his people, even for his enemies.

And through his death and resurrection, he would release into the world a power that could heal humanity in their most broken places.

David isn’t the King you need. Jesus is.