In our culture and in our flesh, we love flashy beginnings. As of this year, the wedding industry brought in a staggering $57.9 billion dollars. We love a good grand opening or ribbon cutting. But biblically-speaking, how people end their lives is far more significant than how they begin.
Often, when we think of King David, we imagine him standing with his sling before a toppled Goliath. Or we think of him being set apart as the future king and selected from among his older brothers by Samuel. Perhaps we think of his massive failures which included adultery, murder, and cover-up. Maybe we remember him fleeing from his life from his best friend’s maniacal father, hiding in caves.
While David’s entire life is both fascinating and instructing, I find the David at the end of his life most compelling and comforting. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows at the end of David’s life. In fact, the aged, well-seasoned David continued to struggle with sin.
David’s Latter Days
In 1 Chronicles 21, Satan incited David, through his pride, to instigate a census of Israel. While that does not sound like the stuff of scandal or sin to us, the scheme was a prideful attempt to show his power and prowess as a leader. Joab, the leader of Israel’s army, sought to warn him against this selfish scheme, saying, “May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?” (1 Chron. 21: 3).
Even Joab’s cunning appeal which sought to steer David’s decision through his idolatry of pride and power failed; for “the king’s word prevailed against Joab” (1 Chron. 21:4). David would have his way, would force his will, and his people would experience the consequences. At this point in his life, we wonder if David will ever learn his lessons.
Thankfully, the Scriptures don’t leave us with this David. The same David whose heart was pricked by the skillful prodding of Nathan and whose repentance penned Psalm 51 received the Lord’s correction. He recognized the staggering effects his selfishness had on the people whom he was supposed to be serving.
“And David said to God, ‘Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please, let your hand, O Lord, my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people.’ (1 Chron. 21:17).
In fact, in the very place where the angel of the Lord graciously relented of the plague (the threshing field of Ornan), David devised an elaborate plan to build a temple to the Lord’s name and for the Lord’s glory.
Do you see what I see? Do you see a very different David?
A Very Different David
Yes, he still messed up royally (pun intended) even when he was well-advanced in the process of maturing in the Lord. But I find his repentance and recognition of sin to be a powerful encouragement.
He went from being the kind of man who, though owning flocks of sheep, would steal the one beloved sheep of another man (Nathan’s story which convicted David of his sin with Bathsheba) to the kind of shepherd who says, “Punish me, not the sheep.”
He went from slyly stealing that which was not his (an abuse of his power and position as king) to paying full price to Ornan for the land which would be reserved for God’s temple (1 Chron. 21:22–24).
He went from wanting to count heads to ensure his own enduring legacy to spending the rest of his life making elaborate plans to ensure the legacy of God’s great name. He went from forcing his own will and plans and desires to accepting the Lord’s will, plans, and desires, even when those shattered his own. Multiple times at the end of his life, and once in front of the gathered people of Israel, David showed that God’s will carried far more weight than his own (1 Chron. 22:6–10; 1 Chron. 28:2–8).
He admitted the depth of his own desire to build the Temple for God himself, but he also submitted to God who said his son would be the one to build the Temple. Rather than push though, chasing his own desire, or sit and pout, David poured himself into preparations for the Temple. He had blueprints drawn up, he gathered all the building materials, he coached up his son, Solomon.
David learned his lessons. It took an entire lifetime, but he learned. This gives me great comfort. For the same master who trained David trains us. This reality left me in tears as I studied the end of 1 Chronicles this week.
Glory to the Master, Not the Pupil
God’s disciples will learn their lessons (Luke 6:40). God will finish the work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).
As a woman who sees the scary strength of her own will and longs to place more weight on God’s better will than my own, the mastery of the Master gives me hope.
As a mother of teenagers who is constantly wondering when my children will learn, the mastery of the Master settles my worried heart.
As the wife of a pastor who seeks to shepherd a young flock in an arid spiritual terrain in the midst of massive cultural and spiritual warfare, the mastery of the Master emboldens me to stay the course.
Stay the course, my sin-weary and world-weary friends. Trust your Master and teacher. Receive his discipline as true sons and daughters (Hebrews 12: 5–11). Don’t begin to believe the lie that he is a hard master. Trust his heart for you is for your good and his glory.