In Acts 13:22 we see that David is referred to as a man after God’s own heart. What a statement! For God to say that about a man is truly amazing.
Before David came on the scene, Saul served as the first king over Israel. But because of two instances in particular, God rejected Saul as king, and David was annointed in his place. Saul’s first big mistake came before Israel was about to have a battle against the Philistines. Before going into battle, Saul wanted to offer a sacrifice before God, which sounds like a great thing. He waited a week for Samuel to come offer the sacrifice, and then, fearing that Samuel wouldn’t arrive in time, Saul offered the sacrifice himself. But because he was from the tribe of Benjamin, it was unlawful for him to offer sacrifices. Because he disregarded God’s law, God decided to take the kingdom away from him (1 Sam 13).
Later, Saul disobeyed God again when he was commanded to completely destroy the Amalekites. But instead of following through with that command, Saul left King Agag alive, as well as the best of the flocks. When he was confronted by Samuel, Saul said that the animals had been spared in order to sacrifice them to God. And while that might sound like a reasonable idea, Samuel puts it to him this way:
Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams. – 1 Sam 15:22
Once again, God’s judgment against Saul was restated. Saul had disobeyed God, and losing the kingdom was the consequence.
But in contrast, we might at first assume that David was almost perfect, for God to call him a man after his own heart. But it doesn’t take long for us to see that David made his share of mistakes too. In 1 Sam 21 we read about David and his men eating the Holy Bread, which only priests were supposed to eat. In 2 Sam 6 we find the account of David transporting the ark to Jerusalem. Instead of having the Levites carry it on their shoulders, as God has prescribed, David put it on a new ox cart. Sure, that sounds more efficient, but it wasn’t what God wanted, and Uzzah ultimately lost his lifed because of it. And of course, as most people know, there is David’s sin with Bathsheba, found in 2 Sam 11, in which David ends up committing adultery and murder.
So how is he a man after God’s own heart? It really doesn’t sound like Saul did anything worse than what David did.
And of course the answer is that he loved God. David wasn’t perfect, but he honestly wanted to serve God. At times, he made mistakes; he stumbled and fell like we all do. But because his heart was set on following after God, God was with him.
David wrote most of the Psalms, and his love of God is very evident in reading them. The first Psalm is a great example:
1 Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper. – Psalm 1:1-3
It seems to me that David continually sought after serving God and learning more about him. When David was a boy, God delivered wild animals into his hand as he watched over his father’s flocks. And it was because of his faith in God that David was able to stand before Goliath. Though he made mistakes (and endured consequences), he never lost that faith and dedication.
Christ spoke about those who tried different approaches. There were those who tried to follow the commands, but had no true love of God:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. – Matt 23:23
And those who professed a love of God, but their actions spoke otherwise:
Then He will also say to those on the left hand, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.” 44 Then they also will answer Him,[d] saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?” 45 Then He will answer them, saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” – Matt 25:41-45
Your goal should be for God to be able to say that you are a person after his own heart. And that should be my goal as well. If we can become living sacrifices to God, if we can truly dedicate ourselves to serving him and trying to do more and do better every day, then we can expect to hear him speak of us as someone after his own heart. We can expect to one day hear him say “well done, good and faithful servant.”