Kings are more frequently surrounded by those who want power or favours, than genuine friends; and it can hard to find genuine supporters who aren’t in your camp to reap some benefit. David was no exception.
CGP Grey sums up how precarious David’s position was in his video, *“The Rules for Rulers.” In order for any king to maintain power, he must have loyal supporters who he has adequately rewarded, (e.g. financially, in terms of status and by granting property,) otherwise anyone who can offer them a greater reward can amass enough support to overthrow them. This is why the unrighteous Joab, who had murdered Abner, was allowed to lead David’s army after securing Jerusalem for David. He was a key and had to be rewarded rather than discarded, no matter how unsuitable he was. [Ref. 1 Samuel 3 and 1 Chronicles 11] An underpaid and under-appreciated army general could easily look the other way in an organised revolt, if promised a better deal from someone else. In 1 Kings 1, Joab did jump ship when he thought David was near to death, in order to ingratiate himself to the expected new king, Adonijah, and keep his status safe. That proved how shallow his loyalty really was.
There is plenty of evidence of dirty politics going on around David’s palace, even though his court was made up mainly of members of his immediate and extended family in order to quell disputes. Aside from **Absalom’s rebellion, here are some of the key issues which David’s reign faced, which are reflected in the Psalms. (This is not an exhaustive list. There is the revolt of Sheba in 2 Samuel 20 which appears to have been prompted by his favouritism towards his own tribe, which is mentioned in 2 Samuel 19:41-43; hatred shown by Shimei in 2 Samuel 16:5-14 and the problems of a new king who didn’t trust David which led to a war in 2 Samuel 10.)
The Psalms speak repeatedly of David being in danger as his position is coveted by others wanting power. This never stopped throughout his lifetime and had to be part of the reason why David held an illegal census in 2 Samuel 24. Being deeply fearful of being usurped and murdered was one of David’s greatest fears and it was one which always left him extremely stressed. While David was a very strong, capable man, everyone has their achilles heel and this seems to be David’s, which is understandable. If he’d been killed, the perpetrator would also have killed his entire family and many of his supporters, so there was a lot of responsibility on him.
From the time that Saul tried to arrest David in his home, to the time when David handed the throne of Isra’el over to Solomon, the danger never ended. That period covers over fifty years.
“And now, [Lord] in my old age, don’t set me aside.
Don’t abandon me when my strength is failing.
For my enemies are whispering against me.
They are plotting together to kill me.
They say, “God has abandoned him.
Let’s go and get him,
for no one will help him now.” Psalm 71:9-11
“Hear me, Lord, my plea is just;
listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer—
it does not rise from deceitful lips.
Let my vindication come from You;
may Your eyes see what is right.
Though You probe my heart,
though You examine me at night and test me,
You will find that I have planned no evil;
my mouth has not transgressed.
Though people tried to bribe me,
I have kept myself from the ways of the violent
through what Your lips have commanded.
My steps have held to Your paths;
my feet have not stumbled.
I call on You, my God, for You will answer me;
turn Your ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show me the wonders of Your great love,
You who save by Your right hand
those who take refuge in You from their foes.
Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
hide me in the shadow of Your wings
from the wicked who are out to destroy me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.” Psalm 17:1-9
A king who rules under the law of the Lord will fall foul of ungodly men, and this would have been a constant challenge to David. Pulling them into line would put David’s life at risk again, as they would want him removed to save their position and increase their power. There are a number of verses which speak of corruption among Isra’el’s leaders.
“Justice—do you rulers know the meaning of the word?
Do you judge the people fairly?
No! You plot injustice in your hearts.
You spread violence throughout the land.” Psalm 58:1-2
“Save me, O God,
for the floodwaters are up to my neck.
Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;
I can’t find a foothold.
I am in deep water,
and the floods overwhelm me.
I am exhausted from crying for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes are swollen with weeping,
waiting for my God to help me.
Those who hate me without cause
outnumber the hairs on my head.
Many enemies try to destroy me with lies,
demanding that I give back what I didn’t steal.” Psalm 69:1-4
I have no idea what incident this referred to, but David’s words speak clearly enough. If you want to replace a king, create a scandal which will discredit him enough to lose his popularity with the people. Think about how much rumour and malice occurs in the short reign of a modern politician. How much more garbage can go down over a forty year reign? There must be far more to David’s story than has been recorded.
David’s Reactions: The Census
All these factors could have contributed to why David ordered an illegal Census in 1 Chronicles 21, so he knew how many able bodied men could be called into service. The events leading up to the Census aren’t clear. 2 Samuel 24 talk about a drought, and before that, there was the revolt of Sheba which some scholars attribute David’s decision to take a census to. In 1 Chronicles 21 the preceding event is the war with the Ammonites which had been a very hard won victory, but which had appeared back in 2 Samuel 10. The cause may be something which just isn’t mentioned in our Bibles at all.
2 Samuel 24:1 says, “Once again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he caused David to harm them by taking a census. “Go and count the people of Israel and Judah,” the LORD told him.” and 1 Chronicles 21:1 says, “Satan rose up against Israel and caused David to take a census of the people of Israel.” It seems like God, Satan and David were all unhappy with Israel, but it was David’s choice to resist temptation and do the right thing. This was the only area where he acted like Saul and gave into fear and anger.
David’s Reactions: The Psalms
As always David turns to his greatest weapon to deal with these problems: prayer and praise. Over time, he seemed to have worked out how to deal with these stresses better. In Psalm 39:1-5 he speaks of learning to hold his tongue and in Psalm 37 he encourages us by saying:
“Commit everything you do to the Lord.
Trust him, and He will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.
Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for Him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
or fret about their wicked schemes.
Stop being angry!
Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper—
it only leads to harm.
For the wicked will be destroyed,
but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.” Psalm 37:5-9
He also determined to deliberately stay away from bad influences. Psalm 101:2-7
“I will be careful to lead a blameless life—
when will you come to me?
I will conduct the affairs of my house
with a *blameless heart. (*integrity, perfect)
I will not look with approval
on anything that is vile. (evil, wicked, base)
I hate what *faithless people do; (*those who fall away or turn away from God)
I will have no part in it. (won’t cleave to)
The *perverse of heart shall be far from me; (*devious, perverted, evil, fraudulent)
I will have nothing to do with what is evil.
Whoever slanders their neighbour in secret,
I will put to silence;
whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart,
I will not tolerate.
My eyes will be on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
the one whose walk is blameless
will minister to me.
No one who practices deceit
will dwell in my house;
no one who speaks falsely
will stand in my presence.”
David has the final word on how to handle the chaos in this Psalm:
“I wait quietly before God,
for my victory comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62:1-2 (Cross reference Psalm 131:2)
*The Rules for Rulers https://youtu.be/rStL7niR7gs Based on “The Dictators Handbook” by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita & Alastair Smith “Why Bad Behaviour is Almost Always Good Politics.” The second video in the series Death and Dynasties is also helpful for understanding David’s position. https://youtu.be/ig_qpNfXHIU
**Absalom: 2 Samuel chapters 13-18 recount Absalom’s story. For an explanation of Absalom’s mental status (sociopathic), please read this article: http://articles.faithwriters.com/reprint-article-details.php?article=32723
The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://cateartios.wixsite.com/kingdavidproject.
Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.