When King Saul sinned against the Lord and forfeited his rule over God’s people, the prophet Samuel said to him,
But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”1 Samuel 13:14
And the Lord did find that man after his own heart. The apostle Paul said in Acts 13,
And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.”
David: A man after God’s own heart. What a description! A man whose heart follows God’s heart. This is a man who truly knew the Lord.
What would it take for that to be a description of you? What kinds of qualities characterized David such that God described him as a man after his own heart?
We know it certainly wasn’t external qualities that characterized David this way. When God sent Samuel to anoint a new king from among Jesse’s sons, Samuel assessed the sons on the basis of their outward qualities—surely Eliab the eldest is the Lord’s anointed. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’mmm” God was not seeking height of stature; he was seeking a man whose heart followed his heart.
And he found such a man in David. What qualified David as such?
We could go to 1 Samuel and look at some of the narratives of David’s life to discover such qualities, and we will do some of that. But the narratives mostly focus on what David did—the outward appearance; if our goal is to truly discover David’s heart, then there is no better way to do that than to look at the God-inspired window into David’s heart, the Book of Psalms.
At least 73 of the 150 psalms are attributed to David—David is a major focus of the psalms. But this is not just a randomly compiled collection of songs by David and a few others. Christians today often don’t recognize that the 150 psalms were intentionally organized by Ezra or someone like him following the Babylonian exile into five books, and these five books of psalms were arranged to teach us some very important truths, largely centered on David and his relationship with God.
The psalms don’t trace David’s life chronologically—that’s the purpose of the historical books; David did write the psalms during particular experiences in his life, but the psalms primarily unfold David’s inner life. They communicate his heart to us. And so if our goal is to uncover David’s heart, to discover David’s deep inner knowledge of God, then it is fitting that we explore his heart in the Psalms.
The Law of the Lord
Almost every psalm in Book I of the Psalter—the first forty-one psalms—was written by David. Most of these psalms are characterized by songs of lament about the wicked; uncertainty; conflict. The wicked are surrounding David; they are prospering, and the righteous are suffering.
Think about experiences in David’s life that could be characterized like that. King Saul is chasing David through the mountains, intent upon killing him. Bloody battles against the Philistine armies. David’s own son, Absalom, tries to kill his father and take the throne. And what is perhaps the most famous story about David? His battle with Goliath! A huge giant threatens God’s people.
Those kinds of experiences are the focus of the first Book of Psalms—in fact, it’s really the focus of the first three books, but these psalms don’t relate all the difficult events that David experiences; rather these psalms focus on David’s heart in the midst of all of that adversity and wickedness. And these psalms show how God preserved David his Anointed One despite the threats of Absalom, and Saul, and the Philistines, and Goliath.
And the turning point of Book I is found in Psalm 19. This psalm reveals the first key quality of David that characterized him as a man after God’s own heart. This psalm is all about God’s revelation, and the second half of the psalm, beginning in verse 7, focuses on God’s Word. And notice how David describes God’s Word in verse 10:
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
You see, in the midst of trials and uncertainty and attacks from wicked people, David—a man after God’s own heart, focused first and foremost on one primary thing. David’s heart delighted in God’s Word.
Scripture Is Sufficient
In Psalm 19, David uses six different terms to describe God’s Word: law, testimony, precepts, commandment, fear, and rules. And he further describes God’s Word with six characteristics: perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true. And David describes six benefits of God’s Word: it revives the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures forever, and produces righteousness. David is stacking on layers of six terms with six characteristics and six benefits to communicate the perfect comprehensiveness of God’s Word. God’s Word is all encompassing; God’s Word is sufficient.
And God’s Word is the first absolutely necessary component to truly knowing God. Without God’s Word, we would not know God. The first part of this psalm does talk about the way that God’s natural revelation—the things he has made—displays his glory and reveals his handiwork. Paul does say in Romans 1 that God reveals himself to all people in one sense through what he has made.
But creation can only give us enough knowledge, Paul says, to condemn us. It is on the basis of natural revelation that Paul says,
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.Romans 1:18
God’s natural revelation can condemn us, but it cannot lead us to truly know God like David did. Creation cannot lead us to be people after God’s own heart. Only God’s Word can do that, and this is exactly what David is communicating with the benefits of special revelation that he lists in the second half of Psalm 19. David truly knew God because he knew God’s Word.
When David faced Goliath, he did so because he knew God’s Word. He knew God’s demands, and he was appalled that this uncircumcised Philistine giant would defy the armies of the living God. Why was David so concerned? What made him step up when the king would not and no soldier in all of Saul’s army would stand up to the giant? What made him fearless?
It was his knowledge of God’s Word. David wasn’t recklessly fearless. He was fearless because he knew God’s Word. He knew that God is the sovereign ruler of all things. He knew that God promised that he would preserve his people. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine,” David told Saul. He knew that God promised to destroy any who would stand against his Anointed King. And that gave him confidence.
David didn’t try to defeat Goliath in his own strength. He confronted Goliath in God’s name. He said to Goliath, “You come to me with sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. . . . so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.” David trusted in the promises of God’s Word.
Sweater than Honey
But again, it is important to recognize that David’s knowledge of God’s Word was not simply an intellectual knowledge. As he expresses in verse 10, David doesn’t just know God’s Word, David’s heart delights in God’s Word. As Psalm 1 states, David delighted in the Law of the Lord and meditated on it day and night.
This is a critically important point: You cannot truly know God apart from his Word. You cannot truly delight in God apart from his Word. David knew that. Blessed is the man whose delight is in the Law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. If you want to know God, you must delight in God’s Word.
There is a great danger when Christians today talk about knowing God apart from his Word, as if they have some sort of mystical experience, or they think they can simply know God in nature, or through some sort of direct magical connection, or through their own reason. No—we come to know God first and foremost through his Word.
If you want to truly know God, if you want to be a man or woman after God’s own heart, then love his Word; read God’s Word, study God’s Word, meditate upon God’s Word. Delight in God’s Word.
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