The desert warrior and his 600 loyal men rapidly made their way along the steep mountain slope. They knew in the valley, on the opposite side of its rugged peak, were 3000 of the king’s finest soldiers—hand-picked to catch their little rebel group. But the desert nomads, much like Middle-Eastern insurgents today, knew the mountains well and were intimately familiar with the elaborate cave systems that pockmarked the hills.
They found the sheep pens on the border of the Engeti Desert that marked the small entrance to a cave large enough for 600 men and burrowed their way into the depths of the mountain. A few days later, a scout entered the cave and reported the king’s 3000 were nearing the narrow entrance.
Never would the king look for them here. The cave’s deceptively small opening placed it beyond suspicion. The desert warrior and a small group of his leading men made the lengthy journey from the expansive cave through the narrow passage to the mouth.
Just beyond the pens, glimmering in the sun, they could see sparkling armour, shields and spears. The enemy was close. They were out of rank, resting in the relative shade of the mountain side.
One man, a good head taller than the rest and clothed in splendid armour, emerged from the rabble and mysteriously headed directly toward the party hiding in the cave. They quickly ran back down the corridor and around the first bend of the cave’s throat. The man approached the cave. He entered. Alone.
The rebel leader and his mighty men hazarded a glance. There was no question—it was the king.
“Now is the time!” whispered one of the men, “God promised you would have this chance. Deal with him!”
The desert warrior quietly stalked his prey. Edging closer, the only sound that could be heard was the sound of the king relieving himself against the cave wall. The king thought he had found a solitary place for this private act. How wrong he was. Slowly a knife was drawn from its scabbard. Silently the final steps were taken. The rebel knelt behind the king. Steadily he grasped the king’s robe and with a deft swipe of the knife the robe was cut. With a portion of the king’s robe in hand the rebel returned to his men.
The three men attending their leader stared at him incredulously, “You missed?”
He showed them the bit of fabric. “No, I didn’t miss,” he laughed. “I did a little tailoring of his suit and he didn’t even notice!”
The three trained killers glared at their comic champion. They were livid. How could he waste such a chance? “We will kill him ourselves, if you are too scared!” The men moved forward.
Quickly he grabbed them, “No! We mustn’t,” he rasped, “He is God’s anointed leader.” As he spoke he looked down at the scrap of fabric in his hand and the full import of what he had just said and done hit him in the heart. I have just mocked the Lord by making a joke of His chosen leader. He suddenly saw the sin at the core of his action. He was a God mocker, the king’s jester. His pride had overwhelmed his commitment to God. And he had sinned.
God’s king turned and left the cave. The desert warrior stood and headed after him. By the time the rebel reached the mouth of the cave the king was approaching his army. So he shouted, “My lord the king!”
The king turned with a start and stared at his nemesis. The man emerged from the dark cave, knelt in the sunlight and pressed his forehead to the ground for a long moment before regaining his feet. “Why are you convinced I am hell-bent on killing you? You are anointed from Heaven. I will never harm you. And yet you hunt me like a wild dog. I am a flea. Nothing more!”
He held up the bit of fabric that now tore at his heart. “Look at the hem of your robe. The missing piece is here, in my hand. I removed it with my knife and left you unharmed. As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.”
King Saul’s eyes filled with tears. He had once been as passionate for God. He envied this young idealist. Envied him with a passion. “Is that your voice, David, my son?” His voice choked on the last word and his body began to convulse in sorrowful conviction. I am unrighteous and unfit to rule. I’ve lost touch with the God of my youth. He stilled his sobs and raised his voice, “You are more righteous than I. You have showed mercy to an unmerciful old king. God will bless you one day when you become king. Promise me that you won’t cut off my descendants as easily as you severed the hem of my cloak!”
David, the dessert warrior, bowed his head. “I promise,” he shouted. “I promise your children and their children’s children will walk unharmed all the days of their lives.” And he meant it.
■ This wasn’t the first or the last time that David’s pride caused him to lose track of his primary focus. As a teen he confronted a giant. God was with him—and King Saul could tell. The king sent the shepherd boy to arrange the fate of the Israelite people because it was evident that the Lord blessed David’s actions. A few hours later it was clear the king had made the right decision.
When the giant fell, the Israelites chased every Philistine down and David, the giant-killer, entertained his first bout of pride. He had killed Goliath with the giant’s own sword—cutting off his head after knocking him down with a slingshot. He brought the head back to the king as a trophy.
But then David did something odd. He went on tour—with the head. He kept the head and weapons of Goliath in his tent and took them on a slow procession to Jerusalem. People came to see this hero and his plunder. Soon the decapitated head of the giant was far out-sized by the head of the young shepherd boy.
The stories and songs about David moved toward the Holy City faster than he did and when he arrived in a town the young girls would begin the refrain, “Saul killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands!” They continued singing David’s praises as King Saul passed through their towns as well. And thus began the jealousy that declined into hatred and finally into madness. David, not so much in his success, but in how he dealt with his success became the bane of King Saul’s existence.
Had he quietly surrendered the weapons and head of the giant to King Saul on the battlefield camp, rather than making the prideful procession to Jerusalem, the story would be different. But the story as told in the Bible reveals a king who slowly slipped into depression and then plummeted into an insane jealous rage that lasted until his death. In the eyes of King Saul, David was enemy number one—the usurper of the throne. Every girlish refrain and boyish apology served to steel his resolve.
■ Years later, when David was king, his pride got the better of him once again. He desired Bathsheba. He sent for her. And he slept with her. When she fell pregnant and her husband had been gone for weeks—serving in King David’s army—a solution had to be found.
David called for Uriah, the woman’s husband, and tried—but failed—to get the man to sleep with his wife. It seems Uriah was unwilling to disrespect his God or his king by taking personal pleasure when there was a battle raging. David should have been reminded of his own idealistic past. But too many years as the sovereign king had severed him from his righteous youth. And once again his pride led the charge.
David signed and sealed Uriah’s death warrant and, with the same sarcasm he had displayed when cutting the hem off Saul’s garment, he gave the letter to Uriah to deliver to his general. Uriah galloped to his death with integrity and resolve, not knowing his own impending doom.
Uriah died. Bathsheba mourned. David waited. And as quickly as was decent, the king and Uriah’s wife were wed.
David was confronted with his sin in a most unusual way. Nathan the prophet visited him with a tale to tell. David listened to a story of a poor man’s plight, a rich man’s greed and a beloved lamb’s death. He called retribution down on the rich man. His own shaking finger of judgment was bent backward to point directly at him by Nathan’s chilling words, “You are that man.”
David wept. He wept for his sin. He wept for the baby that was dying. He refused to eat, bathe or sleep. For seven days he wept. Then the baby died. He had tried. He knew he had been forgiven—Nathan had said so. But he thought maybe—just maybe—the baby could be spared. But the sickness ended in death. David accepted God’s judgment. And he and Bathsheba were soon blessed with another baby boy. They named him Solomon.
■ After all we have just explored, it seems ludicrous that the Bible can state David was “a man after God’s own heart.” How could this be?
Pride goeth before a fall. The phrase is well known. And it is also known that pride settles deepest in the tallest poppies. When he was only a teen, David was anointed “future king” by God’s prophet. David didn’t have visions of grandeur—he had realities of grandeur! It was just a matter of time.
His humble beginnings as a shepherd boy were eroded as people flocked to follow him. He was a great leader. But, unfortunately, at times he let it go to his head. Thinking himself above reproach, he would do something irresponsible. Afterwards, in dejected shame, he always realised he was no different than any other man. And ultimately he would kneel, kiss the ground before God and beg for forgiveness. When faced with his slip-ups he bowed in humility, confession and repentance. David was, indeed, a man after God’s own heart.
■ Long before Newton discovered it, the Bible clearly demonstrated that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” David’s life is proof. King Saul was driven to madness by David’s prideful parades—no matter how sincere the apology. Not only did Uriah and the baby die in Bathsheba’s tragedy, but David’s bony-finger-pointing judgment—that the man in the story should pay four times over for his evil—was carried out in full. Four of David’s sons were lost during his lifetime and the respect of his children was never regained. They had seen too much.
Truly, the wages of sin is death. And often it is far worse than your own death. It is death through disconnection—of loved ones, of cherished ideals, of commitment to God. Sin separates.
David discovered the solution. Repentance. Admitting wrongs and saying sorry can often make things right with an offended friend or family member. Repentance always makes things right with God, because God always forgives a repentant heart. Unfortunately, repentance doesn’t change the consequences of the snowballs you have thrown. Some, mercifully, do little harm, while others cause avalanches.
The only way to ensure that pride will not go before your fall is to catch yourself at the thought level—in those fantasylike moments when you think, “I should have said . . .”—and take the thought captive. Imprison the prideful and release the merciful.
But when you let one fly and it hits its mark, remember to humble yourself and say you are sorry. “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and he will lift you up.” And you too will be seen as someone after God’s own heart, warts and all.