This song, by John Paul Young*, reminds me of some of the challenges David faced:
“Take a look at me, I’m yesterday’s hero,
And yesterday’s hero is all that I’m gonna be if I don’t get together,
Make a new start and be somebody better,
All that I’ll be if I don’t get together now…
If you followed my story,
Then just be glad you ain’t in my shoes.”
In my Twitter feed today, Franklin Graham made this comment on the 2016 U.S.A. election: “Our nation is broken and the fix isn’t through any person or political party, but will only come through turning to God.”
Nothing has changed in three thousand years. The populace still blames their leaders for the nation’s problems, no matter how complex, and unless that leader can turn the situation around, (be that within their power or not,) the people want them out. Reason, fairness and faith have nothing to do with it.
David went through the same thing repeatedly, and it is recorded in the Psalms. “Many people say, “Who will show us better times?” Let your face smile on us, LORD.” Psalm 4:6
Israel was looking for stability, prosperity and salvation, but ironically and sinfully, God’s own people were looking for answers in man, not God. They put David into power because they thought he could solve their problems.
“Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and your flesh. “Previously, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and in. And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel.’” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them before the LORD at Hebron; then they anointed David king over Israel.” 2 Samuel 5:1-3
However, when David didn’t solve the problems of the nation as they expected, or do things the way they wanted, he became yesterday’s hero and there were multiple attempts to oust him.
“I have heard the many rumours about me,
and I am surrounded by terror.
My enemies conspire against me,
plotting to take my life.
But I am trusting you, O LORD,
saying, “You are my God!” Psalm 31:13-14
We don’t know every reason why David faced opposition, but here are some of the most likely scenarios. Firstly, power challenges are simply the fate of any leader: someone else wants the power, fame and wealth you hold. In modern politics, we see parties wrangling to be elected to power through dirty deeds, arguments and rhetoric. In other countries, military coups take place, which happened to David via his son, Absalom, in 2 Samuel chapters 13-19.
Secondly, some of the tribe of Benjamin were never happy that the leadership of Isra’el was taken over by the tribe of Judah: God’s choice of man did not matter to them, and this is demonstrated in 2 Samuel 16 with Shimei, and again in chapter 20 with Sheba. There were also problems with David’s favouritism towards the closest tribes to him, Benjamin and Judah, which rumpled feathers all over Isra’el. (2 Samuel 19)
If that isn’t enough domestic trouble, the Psalms record attempts to bribe King David, and opposition to his godly behaviour. He didn’t fit the status quo, or the plans of the wicked, so they wanted him gone. (References below.)
To that, you need to add in the effect of stress, hopelessness and exhaustion on the people, that would have been caused by Isra’el’s national security problems. After David became King, there were are least another twenty years of war ahead for Isra’el. As strong a leader as he was, the process of winning would take time and a weary nation didn’t necessarily wish to wait. They wanted better lives, now and any perceived failure to deliver would have made David unpopular.
Long term insecurity with warring and raiding neighbours would have had the people living in terror and would also have had a detrimental economic impact. For example, in Saul’s time, the Philistines wouldn’t allow Israel to have blacksmiths. The nation was being held for ransom by forced dependence on their enemies for blacksmithing services. This would have affected agriculture and many aspects of how the people of Isra’el lived, not just weapons. I don’t know if this was still occurring in David’s time, but it does illustrate the problems Isra’el had and that David was up against. [Ref: 1 Samuel 13:19-22]
Whatever reason, David did not reign without facing as much trouble from his own people, as he faced from the surrounding warring nations, who wanted Isra’el’s territory. While much of Isra’el is now desert and desolate due to land clearing, over farming and war; three thousand years ago, Isra’el borders included a major western trade route which could potentially controlled for profit (like the ancient city of Petra.) It was a lush place, with high rainfall and lucrative natural resources. In short: a land of milk, where cattle could thrive and honey, where the land yielded abundantly. For an opposing nation, gain was also to be had by taking slaves. Isra’el was valuable and David’s enemies went to a great deal of trouble to get at him.
“How long will you people ruin my reputation?
How long will you make groundless accusations?
How long will you continue your lies?’ Psalm 4:2
“I come to you for protection, O LORD my God.
Save me from my persecutors—rescue me!
If you don’t, they will maul me like a lion,
tearing me to pieces with no one to rescue me.” Psalm 7:1-2
“My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.” Psalm 31:15
“Malicious witnesses testify against me.
They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about.” Psalm 35:11
“Confuse them, Lord, and frustrate their plans,
for I see violence and conflict in the city.
Its walls are patrolled day and night against invaders,
but the real danger is wickedness within the city.
Everything is falling apart;
threats and cheating are rampant in the streets.
It is not an enemy who taunts me—
I could bear that.
It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me—
I could have hidden from them.
Instead, it is you—my equal,
my companion and close friend.
What good fellowship we once enjoyed
as we walked together to the house of God.” Psalm 55:9-14
David also faced cruel opposition from his family and friends. “Even my own brothers pretend they don’t know me; they treat me like a stranger.” Psalm 69:8 “I am scorned by all my enemies and despised by my neighbours— even my friends are afraid to come near me.” Psalm 31:11 The threat of a takeover must have been so strong, those closest to David were scared of being on the wrong side, as they would have paid for that decision with their lives.
David had become yesterday’s hero. His victory over Goliath was old news. His glory days in Saul’s army were as good as forgotten. This breaks my heart for David, yet despite that, I can see how the political problems that David faced, greatly assisted in keeping his heart right with the Lord. Not having an easy reign kept him dependent on his God for deliverance, and stopped him from venturing too far down the easy track of excessive egotism. Had his head turned from faith to power, he would have become as lost as the wicked men of Isra’el.
Psalm 30 shows how David was swayed by his military and material success:
“When I was prosperous, I said,
“Nothing can stop me now!”
Your favour, O LORD, made me as secure as a mountain.
Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered.” Psalm 30:6-7
In many Psalms, we read David lamenting not receiving answers from the Lord when he desperately needed them the most. “O LORD, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I am in trouble?” Psalm 10:1 (This is also seen in Psalms 22:19, Psalm 13, Psalm 35:17-22 and Psalm 6:2-3.)
If David had been placed in power by the Lord to deliver Isra’el from her enemies, why would the Lord play cat and mouse at the worst possible times? The answer is complex, but simple**. Kings are used to absolute power and having people respond to their summons. The Lord did not respond to every summons, no matter how humble, or desperate, as David had to learn that he served a far greater King and it was critical that he live his life in total submission to that Sovereign’s standards. “My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees.” Psalm 119:71
By not being allowed absolute success and on demand, priority access to the throne of God, David stayed spiritually whole, even when physically and mentally hurting. That kept him on track and also allowed the Lord to make Isra’el safe… and to be able to bless us with David’s legacy of the Psalms to build up and inspire us.
Can any of this apply to us? Yes. David’s experience reminds us that the suffering we face makes us grow, develop our character and respect God, so that we don’t become unrighteous, spoiled brats. As much as it hurts, or as confused as we are as to why God hasn’t fixed everything the way we thought He would, we shouldn’t be given everything too readily. For the Lord to smother us in too greater abundance, would be our ruin too. Like it or not, we need to suffer.
“The LORD looks down from heaven
and sees the whole human race.
From his throne he observes
all who live on the earth.
He made their hearts,
so he understands everything they do.
The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
for all its strength, it cannot save you.
But the LORD watches over those who fear him,
those who rely on his unfailing love.
He rescues them from death
and keeps them alive in times of famine.
We put our hope in the LORD.
He is our help and our shield.” Psalm 33:13-20 New Living Translation
* Source: Yesterday’s Hero, John Paul Young, 1975: watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmfil4faFuw
** For more information on the complexity of answers which never seem to come, please read “How Long?” When Answers to Prayer Don’t Seem to Arrive
OTHER RELATED RESOURCES ON THIS TOPIC:
– Did God Want a King for Israel, to learn more about how the people increasingly turned from God in this period. http://articles.faithwriters.com/reprint-article-details.php?article=32570
– The Anti-King: David and Humility
– Was King David a Megalomaniac?
– Does Absolute Power Corrupt Absolutely?
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