Over the past three weeks, we have taken a whirlwind tour through the life of King David - from his early days as a nameless shepherd to the lasting covenant God makes with him. Those of you who have followed along with this study might well be wondering what lesson we should take away from all of this. The Bible is filled with the life stories of so many people - what are we supposed to do with them? How can they change our life?
This is the sort of question that I get from my teenage students, that I almost never get from adults. Teenagers tend to be shockingly, uncomfortably honest when it comes to these matters - insisting that their teachers not just give them information, but show them why the information is valuable. Adults, all too often, have learned to “get along” or “keep up appearances” and thus will often not ask such an “impolite” question. That’s a shame, because “why do I need to learn this” is actually a thoroughly useful question - and one that any teacher worth their salary ought to be able to answer.
So let’s answer it. Why do we need to learn about the life of David - or study the lives of any biblical characters for that matter? What benefit do we receive?
The first answer is that the stories of these people tell us a lot about who God is and what He values. It is important to remember that God is ultimately the main character of the entire Bible. Each book and chapter within it is intended to teach us more about Him and help us see Him more clearly. God is like the wind: just as we know it is windy by watching the leaves of nearby trees move, it is easier to see how God works by looking at how He affects the lives of people
In David’s life and his writings we can see the faithfulness of God. When God makes a promise - whether telling a young shepherd that he will be king, or an aging king that his dynasty will endure forever - God follows through. We also see that God is patient. God fulfilled His promises to David, but He did so in His own time. Rather than rushing to act immediately, God waits for the right moment to fulfill His plans. Finally, we see that God rewards those who rely upon Him. David steps out in faith repeatedly through his life - facing Goliath with a sling, sparing King Saul, leading armies into battle - and each time God is right there beside him.
In addition to learning more about God, we can also learn a great deal by observing the actions of the people in the Bible - both good and bad. Individuals like David, Jonathan and Saul all have character traits that contribute to their success or failure in life. These traits - the ancients called the good ones “virtues” and the others “vices” - are just as relevant today as they were in biblical times. As we read these stories, we should always be on the lookout for virtues that we can acquire and the vices that we can avoid. By learning from the examples of those who came before us, we receive many lifetimes worth of experience, without having to learn every lesson the hard way.
There are a myriad of virtues - and vices - we can observe in the lives of David and the other people in his life. David’s courage - rooted in an unshakable trust in God - is critical to his success as a warrior, a leader and a hero. In Jonathan’s relationship with David, we see a timeless example of the unconditional, selfless love that God demonstrates toward us - and calls us to show to our neighbor. Saul’s life and fall are a warning against the dangers of pride and the pursuit of popularity.
In short, the reason we study the lives of these characters is that they tell us more about God, and teach us more about ourselves. By reading about their glories and failures, we discover what kind of people we want to become, and want to avoid becoming, as we see God move and shape their destinies. In the process, we acquire what the ancients call “wisdom” - the ability not just to know, but to apply our knowledge to improve our lives.
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