King David was one of those larger-than-life personalities that simply would not be squeezed into our evangelical view of what a "Bible hero" should be. Joseph was. Daniel was. The Virgin Mary surely was. Not David. The problem is we want a "Christian" David, and he just was not a Christian. He was a Jewish warlord living in the cusp between the Bronze and Iron Age.
We cannot impose on David a contemporary Judeo-Christian ethos. We want the oh-so-cute and curly headed child with a slingshot who fit so nicely on VBS felt boards. The problem is the real David won't fit on felt boards or in the modern world. He was a sometimes an outlaw who ran what could legitimately be called a protection racket. He sold his sword to become a mercenary for an enemy of his own people. He was despised by his own father-in-law and ridiculed by one of his wives, one of his many wives, by the way. He also had a vast harem of concubines. He was feared by his enemies, envied by some, admired to the point of idolatry by a desperately dangerous private army, desired by women and hated by one of his own sons.
David committed adultery and conspired to have a faithful follower murdered to cover it up. He was rebuked publicly by a prophet, caused untold suffering among his people with an ill-advised act of hubris and on his death bed, like a mafia don, he ordered the execution of enemies.
David was also a Spirit-led poet with prophetic and Messianic insights that reached beyond the millennia. He was a consummate musician whose melodies soothed the demonic, a man of unwavering loyalty and the founder of Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem. The problem with David is actually the problem with the Bible. It's just so darned complicated. There are parts of it that don't even seem Christian. That is because they aren't, but all together it is.
If we try to make David into a New Testament saint we will miss one of the truly magnificent complexities of Bible, the REAL Bible, that is. If we dismiss him as a legend like some kind of Jewish King Arthur, we deny the authority of the Bible. How can we reconcile this complicated and often conflicted genius with the we what we know to be true of God?
David was a man of his own time to be sure, and that time was a thousand years before the coming of Christ. His faith in the supernatural power and the judgment of God was remarkable even in his own time. His comprehension of the cleansing redeeming grace of God was incredible. David does not fit in the New Testament but his psalm of repentance (51) certainly does.
It is strenuous to grapple with the real Bible. Reductionism is so much easier. Shrinking David, making him into a felt board Bible story for VBS is just less complicated than facing up to the contradictions and sins and greatness wrapped up in this one huge life.
The issue is, of course, far greater than how we view David. It is really a matter of how we view scripture. Some want to sanitize the Bible, tidy up the gritty bits for the children and those with religious spirits. Heartier believers can read the whole Bible, every word and understand it won't all fit on a felt board or a Christmas card.
The David of the Bible, the real King David, like Abraham and Issac and Gideon and St. Peter himself, was not a plaster saint. He was a complicated, conflicted man of flesh who struggled, won, failed, fell and rose to win again. He defies our modern Christian efforts to clean him up for the saints in Sunday school.
I am nearly finished with a two volume work on King David. It will be the result of years of study. I pray these books will reveal the real David, the complex leader whose ups were incredible and whose downs were devastating, to him and to many around him. My prediction is it will offend both the Felt Board Set and unbelievers who want to dismiss him as myth.
In an greater sense I hope to encourage believers, and non-believers for that matter, to go back to the Bible, brace themselves and read it as it is and not as it was in their children's' picture Bible.
As I sat at an outdoor picnic table in Tiberius, Israel working on the manuscript a woman asked what I was writing about. I told her I was writing a book about King David.
"Why?" she snarled. "Why write about that bloody man?"
Why indeed? Because in addition to everything else he was, both noble and wretched, he was also a man after God's own heart.