answered one of the young men and said, Behold I have
seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is skilful in
playing, and a mighty man of valour, and a man of war,
and prudent in speech, and a comely person; and the Lord
is with him" (1 Samuel 16:18).
This verse gives us six features of the life of David,
the man who came to be described as being after God's own
heart. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that there
are five virtues and that the last, "the Lord is
with him", is really explanatory of the rest.
1. "...skilful in playing..."
This introduces us to a main feature of David's whole
life, which was worship. We owe many of the Psalms to
him. The title for what we call 'The Book of the Psalms'
was originally 'The Book of Praises'. It became the book
of worship, first for the nation and then for the whole
world. There is an indication of what was to be an
outstanding characteristic of David in this description
of him as a skilful player. Where had he learned? How had
he developed this talent? In solitude. When these words
were spoken, David was unknown, living out his days in
the fields of Bethlehem where he cared for his father's
sheep. It was there in obscurity, and perhaps in
loneliness, that he developed his spirit of praise.
Afterwards it became public and the whole people profited
from it, but it had its first beginnings in a simple
humble life with God. How was the young man who
recommended him to king Saul aware of this gift? It seems
that he had somehow overheard David, for he appears to be
the only one who was informed about him. We do not want
to make too much of this point, and yet it is clear that
what happened way back in those fields of Bethlehem did
produce the foundations of David's later life. He himself
referred to this when he offered to go out and fight
Goliath. It was in the ordinary affairs of life that he
proved the reality of the presence of the Lord and
learned the secrets of an anointed life.
From this fact there immediately emerges the reminder
that in the Lord's work we neither need to push ourselves
forward nor to be pushed by others. Our first concern
must consist of exercise Godward. If in your secret
history you minister to His good pleasure, without the
stimulus which comes from public applause, it will sooner
or later, become apparent. God will see to that. Do not
worry too much about your lifework; if you have a hidden
life of worship, then that will show itself in the
outward service to which He has called you. God has
always described His service as worship and regarded
worship as basic to His service. "Let my son go,
that he may serve me," He demanded (Exodus 4:23).
And how did Israel serve Him? By worship. The important
point is that this does not begin in public. David's life
of song was the result of a heart attitude of worship, in
songs of praise which expressed his heart devotion to the
Lord. Sometimes, perhaps, it was a case of songs without
words, inner melody to the Lord for which there were no
We note that this first mention of music in David's life
is associated with evil powers in king Saul. Saul had
been given the highest opportunity, but he had been
disobedient, taking into his own hands those things for
which he should have waited for God. "Tarry till I
come unto thee" - but Saul could not tarry. He was
restless, impatient; and in taking hold of the things of
God for himself he had allied himself with evil powers.
As Samuel told him: "Rebellion is as the sin of
witchcraft..." (1 Samuel 15:23), for it links a man
with that other evil world. So by seeking to grasp at
things for himself, Saul not only forfeited them but
allowed Satan to gain a foothold in his life. This has
been Satan's objective from the first, to draw things
away from God and to himself. In his ultimate
manifestation in the person of the Antichrist, he will
sit in the temple of God, giving out that he is God and
being worshipped as God. That is his ambition. David was
just the opposite, for the motive in his music was that
everything should be for God's glory. That explains the
clash. There are the two kingdoms, one taking from God
and the other bringing everything to God. No wonder,
then, that Saul became David's greatest enemy.
From the first beginnings of his life David turned
everything into music. All his experiences, all his
history, he turned into song. It is a most helpful study
to look for those Psalms of his which have an
introductory explanation of the circumstances in which
they were written. Even when Absalom drove him from his
throne, David turned that bitter experience into a song
(Psalm 3). The whole value of his Psalms is that they
arose from a vital experience of God. The volume of
Psalms then became the book of Israel's praises, until at
last David organised the whole thing for temple worship.
He drew together a choir of four thousand voices, and so
organised their singing into twenty-four courses that
praise was never silent in Israel, day or night. No
sooner had one course finished than the next took over,
and so round the whole twenty-four hours of each day,
every week and every month, throughout the entire year.
In this way there was an unbroken flow of continuous
worship to God.
Even the deep and dark things of his life were turned by
David into Psalms of praise to God. He had his failures,
his tragedies, and even his desperate sin, but in all
this he found forgiveness and restoration as he turned
back in heart to God. This is why he was so beloved by
God, because he never failed to find his way up and out
through worship. And worship has always proved a most
powerful weapon against the kingdom of darkness.
"The lion of the tribe of Judah... hath
overcome" is part of the heavenly song, and since
Judah means 'praise', this suggests that there is a
victoriously militant power in spiritual praise. Many a
time Martin Luther found his escape by this means. He
knew much of the onslaught of satanic powers; he seemed
sometimes to be engaged in hand-to-hand conflict with the
Devil. His only but very effective answer at such times
was to say: 'Let us sing, brother'!
Psalm 22 is one of David's great Messianic Psalms and,
although it opens with a dismayed cry at being forsaken
by God, it soon breaks through in an appeal to the one
who inhabits the praises of Israel (verse 3). It seems
that God is provided with a throne for ruling when His
people worship and praise Him. This is no small thing.
Again in Psalm 114:2, speaking of the glorious procession
out of Egypt and on towards the inheritance, the psalmist
tells us that: "Judah became his sanctuary".
This is only a figurative way of saying that the praises
of the Lord provide a holy dwelling place for Him. Praise
brings God into a situation as nothing else can, and it
puts Him in His right place which is over all. It is a
tremendous thing to be able to put the Lord over
everything, over breakdown, over perplexity and
suffering, over your enemies, over your failures and even
over your sins. That was what David did, and that is
surely the spiritual reality which lies behind the
description: "skilful in playing".
Praise, real praise, means that we are on the victory
side. Of course there is a kind of singing which is
really a confession of defeat, singing to keep up your
spirits, whistling in the dark to pretend that all is
well. There was no need for David to do that, for the
final statement about him was: "the Lord is with
him". That was both the reason for David's singing
and the result of it. Yet worshipper as he was, provider
of praise as he might have been, David sometimes went
down into the depths of despair and had to confess that,
as he sang, his soul was cast down and disquieted within
him. But he had an answer for this. It was to look on to
the day of deliverance which must surely come: "Hope
thou in God; for I shall YET praise him..."
(Psalm 42:5). The end of the story is written for us in
the book of Revelation which gives us glimpses of the
glorious choir of the redeemed in heaven. In that day we
shall all be skilful in playing and it will be true in
the fullest sense that the Lord is with us. So let us
praise Him that we shall YET praise Him, and this
in itself will bring us a present experience of victory.
2. "...a mighty man of valour..."
This brings us straight on to the second feature of this
anointed man's life, namely that he was a great man of
courage. David may not have been as impressive in
physique as those brothers of his, but because he had
spiritual and moral courage he was rightly considered as
a mighty man. Valour begins by getting on top of
ourselves, by conquering our own moods and feelings; it
begins within and not in outward things. At times it is
not so difficult when you have an audience, and are
inspired to courage by the fact that people are looking
on, but it is much more difficult to be brave when you
are quite alone. Once again we note that David first
acquired his claim to valour when he was in the
background, largely unobserved.
Of course there are also new challenges to the man who is
exposed to public testing, but when that came, David
confirmed that the original assessment of his valour was
a correct one, for by God's grace he kept true through
many temptations to doubt and fear. When the Philistines
seized him in Gath he declared: "What time I am
afraid, I will trust in thee" (Psalm 56:3). It is
fear which robs a man of his courage. Fear entered the
world when sin came in, and it has governed human
behaviour ever since, just as it exercises a dreadful
rule in the ranks of evil spirits (James 2:19). If sin
brings in fear, then courage often depends on having a
good conscience. The most fearless or courageous Man who
ever walked this earth was the Lord Jesus, whose
remarkable moral courage was based upon an absolutely
clear way between Himself and His Father. A bad
conscience makes us small and makes us cowards but a good
conscience gives stature and boldness. David was far from
being a sinless man, but he had learned the secret of
getting right with God and a great theme of his Psalms is
the blessing of forgiveness and justification by faith in
our Saviour God.
Valour also depends upon a complete faith in the Lord.
David believed God implicitly; he believed and he loved.
The Psalms are full of this fact. Only perfect love can
cast out fear. Every new experience of God which came to
David made him the more ready to trust God's great love
and to love Him in return, a fact which doubtless
established him more and more as a mighty man of valour.
The Lord built up his strength by taking him through
difficult and adverse circumstances in which he proved
the steadfast love of his God. Then as he grew in
courage, he was able to undertake things altogether
beyond his measure in the interests of the Lord.
Tremendous odds mattered nothing to him provided he could
be sure that the Lord was with him. He also proved his
courage in waiting for God and enduring without
complaining when things seemed to be against him. For a
man of action to be powerless, just to endure and be
patient while he waits for God, demands very great
courage. There were times when David could have acted in
desperation to rid himself of his great enemy Saul, but
he refused to do so. He was prepared to wait for God.
When we learn such a lesson then we are learning valour
of a very high order.
3. "...a man of war..."
In the third place David was a warrior. This reference is
the first intimation of the constant warfare which was to
be a feature of his life. David had to be a fighter, not
because he was personally aggressive, not because he
needed to be relieved of superfluous energy, and not
because he was trained or qualified in military matters,
but because he was jealous for the rights of God. It is
quite clear that what stirred his spirit was both
indignation that God's name should be dishonoured and
concern for the good of God's people. It was a sense of
responsibility for the Lord's interests which made him a
fighter, and as we speak of this we seem to hear the
words of that other great spiritual warrior, Paul:
"Knowing that I am set for the defence of the
gospel" (Philippians 1:16).
As we have said, it all began in the simple and humble
affairs of David's daily life. His first fight was over a
lamb. Only a lamb! Why risk your life for just a lamb?
Your father is a man of some substance - witness his
gifts to the king and the older brothers - and he would
never miss one little lamb. Surely the lion could have
that one! But no, that lamb was David's responsibility,
it was part of the father's possessions which had been
committed to his care, and it was this sense of concern
for Jesse's interests which led him later into concern
for God's interests and made him the fighter that he was.
Warriorship, however, demands utter selflessness. Those
who have personal problems and interests may be fighters
in a wrong way but they will never be good soldiers of
the Lord nor fight the good fight of faith. Those who
spend their time complaining and criticising are doing
the enemy's work. In the wilderness Israel was defeated
not by outward enemies but by their internal complaining
and murmuring. You may think that you have plenty to
murmur about; David himself had times when he felt that
he was being very badly treated, but he found - as we
shall do - that whole-hearted devotion to the Lord's
interests is the sure way of victory. God's man of war is
also a worshipper; his mouth is filled with the high
praises of the Lord. If worship is to come first, then
this will mean a turning aside from selfish or personal
problems and a total concentration of the whole heart on
the honour of the name of the Lord. Only so can God's man
be a true warrior. This brings us to a very practical
point which is that the first phase of spiritual warfare
and every subsequent skirmish and battle calls for a new
letting go to the Lord. This is very often the secret of
success, and especially so for the Christian whose
enemies are spiritual and who is called not to personal
conflicts or triumphs but to share in Christ's battle
with evil and to share His victory.
4. "...prudent in speech..."
David was known to be prudent in speech or, as the
Authorised Version has it, "prudent in
matters". David was a man of discretion, a man of
wise counsel, and a man who could speak for God because
he had first learned to listen to God. Perhaps
teachableness was one of his outstanding qualities. The
person who is self sufficient, who thinks that he knows
so much, will never be able to speak wisely for God.
Some of you may have felt at times that God can make no
use of you, since you lack the qualifications or natural
abilities which men regard as necessary for serving Him.
The prudence of which we are now speaking is not a
natural quality at all, but that which becomes a
spiritual feature of the one who truly knows what it is
to have the Lord with him. The Lord is not looking for
cleverness. Indeed He often cannot use people because
they are too clever in their own estimation.
Teachableness, however, is a quality which He greatly
values, and this is a matter of the spirit as well as of
the mind. There is often a big difference between
knowledge and wisdom, or prudence. Knowledge may consist
of a mass of correct information, but wisdom means the
application of that knowledge in ways which are good. It
is possible for a Christian to have a vast amount of
spiritual information, information as to what the Bible
teaches and what the commentators suggest, holding all
this in the mind or in the notebook yet with little
evidence of it in the practical values of life. Wisdom is
a matter of using the information correctly by turning it
to account for the glory of God.
What is more, such wisdom will always be constructive.
There are those who seem to think that they show their
superior wisdom by their ability to criticise. If they
can put their finger on a fault or discover some flaws,
then they consider that they are being wise. But the
effect of their activities is destructive, whereas the
Scriptures make it plain that true wisdom is always
constructive. Solomon, the wisest king of all, was a
great builder, and it was he who wrote about wisdom
building her house (Proverbs 9:1). So much is written in
the New Testament about speech which is for building up
or edification that the implication seems to be that if
our tongues cannot contribute to positive helpfulness in
this way then they had far better remain silent. Wisdom
is always shown in its building values.
In fact wisdom is always actuated by the ability to
discriminate as to what is for the glory of God. Nothing
else matters. The Spirit's presence in a man is made
evident by the ways in which he can avoid that which
grieves God and devote himself to God's pleasure. If the
Lord is with him then he will be prudent in matters.
5. "...a comely person..."
The final verdict on David was that he was a comely
person, a man of good presence. It is clear that God
intended that this should be true of every human being.
From one standpoint this is the Bible's theme. "Let
us make man in our image" God said. So far as man is
concerned God always had perfection as His purpose.
Through sin, however, man has become stunted, deformed
and repulsive to God, and he would always remain so but
for the fact that the Lord Jesus has brought a salvation
which makes men perfectly whole. As the Saviour passed
along the way He met the blind, the paralysed, the
deformed, and He spoke the words of deliverance and
transformation which left them whole again - they were
saved. His eternal purpose in salvation is to have sons
conformed to His eternal Son, who is indeed the Comely
David is a foreshadowing of this mighty work of
salvation. He who would by nature have been repulsive to
a holy God (born in sin and shapen in iniquity) became a
man after God's heart, a man of good presence who could
be looked upon and admired. It may be helpful to consider
some of his features, and the first one is undoubtedly
meekness. David never claimed to be as good as the other
man. He always thought himself to be the poorest of men.
Emptiness of self is the very essence of meekness. See
also how David suffered when things went wrong. Never for
a moment did he blame someone else, but condemned himself
outright. If ever a man was filled to overflowing with
the consciousness of the marvellous mercy of God to a
sinner, that man was David. See again how he suffered
wrong without becoming vindictive. It is a mark of
meekness to bear unjust wrong and not be embittered by
it. For years David bore so much evil from Saul and yet
he refused to take revenge, even when it could have been
so easy. When Saul died in battle David did not gloat, he
did not express relief but he made one of the most
beautiful laments of grief over Saul as well as over his
Another thing which made David great was the way in which
he accumulated wealth for the house of God. He took hold
of every experience of suffering and wrung out of it
something for God and God's people. Did he go into a deep
and dark experience? Then he took hold of it and
extracted from it that which would be for the enrichment
of generations that were to follow. That is how we got
our Psalter. That is not the little person's way of
looking at things. He gets under his troubles, turns in
on himself and gives way to self pity. The big man,
however, does what David did, uses his own adversity to
bring comfort and help to others.
One further feature of David's spiritual and moral
stature was his single unifying passion. "...for thy
sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face...
For the zeal of thy house hath eaten me up"
(Psalm 69:9). David's supreme concern was for the
Father's house, and in that he was a true type of the
Lord Jesus to whom these very words are applied. He had a
mighty concern for the Father's glory, and tremendous
courage to carry that concern into action. David was like
that. So much is written in the books of Samuel and
Chronicles about his concern for the house of God. This
was his one unifying passion. His life was a unity
governed by a singleness of purpose, and that was what
made him great. He had spiritual quality; he was a man of
a good presence. God does not get glory out of our
littlenesses, our petty jealousies and selfish
pre-occupation. But when we grow up spiritually, leaving
all those childish things behind, then the glory of God
begins to be seen in us.
All this, then, because the Lord was with David. He
himself was aware of that Presence, though at times he
was tempted to question and doubt. What is more
important, other people took note of it. This is what
matters most. When people meet us, do they meet the Lord?
When the Lord Jesus came to this earth He was called
"Emmanuel" - God with us. The verdict upon His
life after He had gone back to the glory was: "God
was with him" (Acts 10:38). And the Holy Spirit has
come to make this our experience. His anointing signifies
that the Lord is with us, and this should make effective
in our lives those five qualities which were observed in
the young David. To have the Lord with him cost David
dearly. It cost him his home; for a time it cost him his
rightful place as king; it cost him comforts and
popularity. But it gave him that which is more valuable
than all earthy treasures. It gave him the supreme joy of
bringing pleasure to the heart of God. The Lord was with
the Mark" Nov-Dec 1975, Vol. 4-6.