Political Hero from the Bible: King David

In this series we take a look at 'political heroes' from the Bible and see what lessons we can take from them in today's political arena. This latest article looks at King David.

David, who was plucked from a field tending sheep and annointed as the future King of Israel, is one of the most revered characters in the Bible. His story, with all its ups and downs, has much to teach us today, especially as we seek to engage effectively with the public square.

Kind David knew the Lord as his shepherd

Psalm 23 is perhaps the most well-known of King David’s canticles, where he declares those famous words: "The Lord is my shepherd". He goes on to state that the Lord “guides”, “leads” and “comforts” in trying circumstances, even “the darkest valley”.  Often we restrict Psalm 23 to being the memory verse of choice for the Christian in distress, uttering it quietly to themselves in private. However, by David - King of Israel - declaring the Lord as his shepherd, he is revealing a deeply public significance.

The fact that David, who himself was once a shepherd over a flock of weak vulnerable sheep, reveals himself as equally dependent on God is a striking revelation from the most powerful political figure in the Old Testament.

Today, modern leaders are quick to present themselves as confident, assured and ultimately sufficient in tackling the challenges facing a nation. It would be an unusual campaign strategy for a modern politician to compare himself to a flock of vulnerable sheep in need of guidance as well as protection.

However, this is the entirely correct response, as one political theologian summarises:

“Whether or not our rulers or nations publicly acknowledge or submit to the rule of Christ, this psalm offers us an enlightening perspective upon them, alerting us to their vulnerability and weakness, as sheep in need of a shepherd. Our very halls of power should be recognized as sites of radical dependency.”[1]

The lessons for those outside those halls of power are equally pertinent. When we follow Paul’s words to pray for our leaders and those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-3) are we picturing powerful figures that need to be brought down a few notches or are we thinking of utterly dependent flawed individuals in desperate need of the guiding hand of God? David would lead us toward the latter.

King David was flawed

The controversies surrounding David’s life would be enough to fill today’s tabloids hundreds of times over. Behind closed doors he was a murdering adulterer and in public, 1 and 2 Samuel reveal a poor administrator with a reign “marked by warfare, rebellion and filial betrayal”[2]. His sons appear out of control and even his ability to seek justice on behalf of his people is questioned (I Kings 3).

Despite all this, David is a beloved figure in Jewish history, perhaps rivalled only by Moses. And he is also described as "a man after God’s own heart" who goes on to be the ancestor of Christ himself. Throughout 1 and 2 Samuel and as we read the psalms, we see David while utterly flawed, turning back to God and seeking forgiveness. It is a trait that reveals the character of a man who, while making mistakes, remained teachable and responsive to correction.

As public figures today are put under increasing scrutiny, are we interested in inspecting their outward appearance and successes or their inward character? And as we ourselves engage in political life do we focus on our performance and achievements or do we remain teachable with a community of people around to pray for us, correct us and assist us?

King David loved his enemies

A key point in the story of David comes when we learn of Absolam's death. Because of David's actions, he brought division to his house (2 Samuel 12:10-11) and one of his sons, Absolam, became a rival for the throne. When it is revealed to David that his son and rival has been killed we see the king respond not with rejoicing, but immense grief. 

The reason for his grief is twofold. First, David loved his enemies even when they sought to destroy him. It's a trait we see also in the case of Saul who tried to have David killed several times but whom David sang songs of praise about after his own demise. 

The second reason for David's grief is that he could see his own failures that contributed to turning Absolam into an enemy, as well as the events that followed. A humble recognition of his own shortcomings prevented David from becoming embittered towards Absolam.   

In our own entrenched political tribalism - where division and opposition rule - there is much to learn from David. His ability to love his enemies and praise their strengths even as they warred against him, as well as to recognise his own imperfection, is hugely commendable to any modern day politician. At Christians in Politics we aim to overcome tribalism, particularly among Christians, as loyalty to one party or another should never take precedent over our call to love God and love others. 

[1] http://www.politicaltheology.com/blog/the-politics-of-the-kings-shepherd-psalm-231-6/

[2] http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/03/a-flawed-king-david

Political Hero - Deborah
Political Hero - Paul
Political Hero - Esther
Political Hero - Joseph
Political Hero - Nehemiah
​Political Hero - John the Baptist