By Russ Ramsey
I was recently studying the life of an artist I deeply admire. The more I got into this painter’s story, the more I discovered that the things I loved most about his art came from complicated, sometimes disturbing aspects of his character.
No one has a simple story. The story of how David became king is very complicated and filled with details that should haunt us as we seek to understand the life of this man the Lord described as “a man after His own heart” (1Samuel 13:14).
I want to focus on two specific details in today’s passage from 1 Chronicles to see the measure of this king. The first is the fall of King Saul. David had a complex relationship with Saul. On the one hand, they were joined by episodes like the confrontation with Goliath and David’s ability to play the music that soothed the tormented king’s spirit (1 Samuel 16:23). On the other hand, the Lord rejected Saul a long time ago, and this whole drama had been leading to the moment when Saul would leave the picture and David would fill the leadership vacuum (1 Samuel 15:23).
But it happens in such a lonely and sad way—Saul, knowing he is about to lose in battle, opts to fall on his sword. Not to be too gruesome, but this means he put the hilt of his sword on the ground, positioned the tip of the blade between his ribs, and let the weight of his own body drive the blade through. Imagine the agony, fear, and despair King Saul must have known at that moment.
How did David respond? Second Samuel 1 tells us he responded honorably. David grieved Saul’s death by weeping and tearing his clothes. Because Saul had once been anointed to lead God’s people, David continued to honor him—even in his death—despite the pain he had endured in their relationship.
The other detail I want to point out comes in today’s reading—1 Chronicles 11:41. After David is made king, the writer lists David’s mighty men—those brothers in battle who stood with him, defended him and laid down their lives for him. In that list, we see a familiar name: Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband, the man King David would later instruct his generals to withdraw from in battle so that he would be struck down and David’s sin be covered up (2 Samuel 11).
Saul’s death and Uriah’s foreshadowing bookend David’s coronation. This man after God’s own heart was as complicated a sinner as you’ll find—he humbly served a wicked king, but he also fell into lust, adultery, and murder, betraying a close friend and his wife.
You are no less complicated. Neither am I. At this point, I’d love to offer some application that pulls this all together into a positive light. But, maybe on this occasion of the king’s coronation, we do better to just sit in the tension that the Lord works through imperfect people. He brings to pass what He intends, even when kings disobey Him.