It strains the imagination to gin up a besuited modern version, briefcase in hand, of a tribal chieftain who lived much of his life in a barren Judean wilderness and fought with primitive weapons in horrific hand-to-hand combat. What, one may ask, can a Bronze Age warlord say to Christians and leaders three millennia after his death?
First of all, there's the matter of American Idol and our culture's insatiable lust for instant fame. David was a child star whose talent earned him a royal command performance. He was sent to tend the sheep and returned singing like an angel and playing the guitar like Chuck Berry. Having won the Israeli version of The Voice, he was summoned to sing for King Saul.
As if that weren't fame enough, David became an overnight success in the glamor industry of his day—war. His defeat of Goliath made David the most controversial celebrity in his world. Loved by his nation, feared and despised by his nation's enemies, David experienced the 21st-century dream. His face was on every magazine stand. Teen-aged girls had his posters on their bedroom walls, women old enough to know better sang mushy songs about him, and the Philistines put his face on targets at their gun ranges. He was Israel's most eligible bachelor, until his royal wedding at a young age broke the hearts of women from Dan to Beersheba. That's the dream, isn't it? What could be more "now" than David's meteoric rise to fame?
What would David say? Fame and success may not be all they're cracked up to be. Meteoric means meteoric. A shooting star may disappear in a split second.
Remember, David would caution, your 15 minutes can cost you everything. David plummeted from the front page to the back side of the desert in no more time than it takes to throw a javelin across a boardroom. David would warn against the contemporary ache for fame without tedious years of work and sacrifice and preparation. David in the desert would warn that success quickly gained can quickly disappear.
Second, David would speak to us of enemies. David lived in an even darker and more violent age than our own. He understood terrorism. When word reached him that the entire priestly village of Nob had been slaughtered, an enraged David struggled with survivor's guilt. His poem in the aftermath of mass murder, Psalm 52, denounces the boastful and mighty who "love evil."
Surveying the smoldering ruins of Ziklag, David knew terrorists had kidnapped all the women and children. He would have understood our horror after the World Trade Center 9/11 attacks. When his own men threatened to stone him because of Ziklag's destruction, he would have understood our modern moblike passion to fasten blame on leadership.
David would urge us in the face of our own enemies to find courage in the Lord, to concentrate on God's glory and not on the might of the enemy. He would whisper in our ears that, yes, enemies will come, from outside the walls and from within our own families, but when they do, to "fear no evil," for the great Shepherd is with us. His rod is greater than the nukes of our enemies, and His staff more to be feared.
Third, David would teach the modern soul about repentance, about contrition, about sorrow at our sins and about faith in God's forgiveness. David would not have to talk to us about Bathsheba. We know her ourselves. Our sins, like his, are ever before us. David's sins were terrible. Adultery and murder were among them. And his most destructive sin was a hubris-driven census that caused the deaths of 70,000.
Nonetheless, we citizens of the 21st century hardly need King David to teach us how to sin. He would urge us not to use his sins to justify our own, but rather plead with us to let his model of repentance inform our own. In Psalm 51, David is not just weeping for forgiveness, though that would be a good place to start. He puts into words our deepest longing for something more: a fuller reunion with the righteous God. By confession and blood on the leaves of a hyssop shrub, we start the journey back to God. We travel back from the darker aberrations of our century, but David speaks to us of a brighter, sweeter hope, and he does so with utter confidence.
David, complex in his genius, so deeply conflicted within himself, lived his life in controversy and bloodshed. How strange that he should give us in his own confessional one of the greatest statements of inner healing in the entire Bible. Learn this one thing, believe this, David would say, and you can have hope in the face of terror and for the face in the mirror. Here, says David the Great, is the great key in my greatest psalm.
"He restores my soul."
Dr. Mark Rutland is president of both Global Servants and the National Institute of Christian Leadership. A renowned communicator and New York Times best-selling author, he has more than 30 years of experience in organizational leadership, having served as a senior pastor and a university president.
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