The description of David as “a man after God’s heart” was used first by Samuel when he informed Saul his kingdom would not continue. “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart,” he told Saul (1 Sam. 13:14). Now, this does not mean David was perfect. Far from it. He was a strong-willed, sometimes impulsive man who accomplished great things and also had great failures. Sometimes we learn from him by example, and other times we learn from him by contrast.
Fathers, in particular, have much to learn about leadership from the life of David.
Two Images of Leadership
David was an extraordinary leader, and in his last words he described the marks of effective leadership: “When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth” (2 Sam. 23:3–4).
At least two images of effective leadership emerge from David’s life:
1. The light of morning at sunrise. This is a picture of hope. It’s been a long dark night, but the spirits of everyone are lifted when the sun rises on a cloudless day. This is a picture of effective leadership that brings hope.
Hope-producing leadership was what David provided for Israel. He inherited a loose coalition of tribes who could barely defend themselves, and he led them to become a great nation. It wasn’t easy, but his leadership in Israel was like the light of morning at sunrise.
2. The rain that brings grass from the earth. That’s a picture of refreshment. Good leadership causes people to grow and flourish like grass after the rain. That’s what good leadership looks like. Fathers, that’s the kind of leadership we need in our homes and in our families.
So here’s what we discover in Scripture about David: the man after God’s own heart provided better leadership in his work than he did in his home.
Two Realms of Leadership
1 Samuel tells us what David did well:
David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. . . . All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him. (1 Sam. 22:1–2)
That’s a pretty desperate team: “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented.” David turned this motley crew into an army of fighting men who were fiercely loyal to him.
That’s leadership, and in this David is a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ who takes us with all our debt and distress and discontentment. If you commit yourself to his leadership, he will make you one of his mighty men.
If only David had applied the same effective leadership skills in his family. When it came to the family, David didn’t do so well.
One of David’s sons, a man called Amnon, was attracted to David’s daughter Tamar, and he raped her. It was a terrible tragedy of abuse in the royal household. Do you know what David did?
Nothing. The family needed crisis intervention. The boy Amnon needed confrontation. If David had both intervened and confronted Amnon, it would’ve been like the light of morning at sunrise for his family. But he stood back and did nothing.
David had another son, Absalom. He was Tamar’s brother and determined to take revenge on Amnon. The Bible tells us Absalom didn’t say a word to Amnon for two years. Trouble was obviously brewing. Do you know what David did?
Nothing. If David had helped Absalom deal with his anger, he would’ve been like the rain that brings grass from the earth for his family.
Then one day Absalom took Amnon’s life, and then fled. He became an alienated son with a grievance against his father. Do you know what David did about that?
Nothing! Here is a man with marvelous leadership skills, but they are invested in his work, not in his family.
A Challenge to Fathers
Here’s my challenge to all the fathers reading this: will you commit before God that with his help, you will give effective leadership in your home? The kind of leadership like the light of morning at sunrise, and like the rain that brings grass from the earth?
Your family may be difficult and even dysfunctional right now. But your calling is that your wife and your children will feel hope because you’re there, effectively leading them. Your calling is that they will flourish and grow because of the way you’re guiding the family’s life.
That may mean some intervention. It may mean setting some new standards. It may mean sitting down with your son or daughter and saying, “I have to tell you that I’ve failed God and you by not providing the leadership you need in this family. I’m sorry. We have to get on a different track and when we do, it will be for your good.”
If you need help, talk with one of your pastors. Talk with other Christian men who can be a model for you. But don’t let family life just happen around you.
Fathers, I challenge you to determine that you will give effective leadership to your family. It won’t be easy, but the result for your wife and your children will be like the light of morning at sunrise and the rain that brings grass from the earth.
What about those of you who are disappointed in your leadership and discouraged by your circumstances? You aren’t living your dream. Things haven’t worked out in your family as you’d hoped. Right now, you’re not the person you want to be. Look at God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:11: “The LORD himself will establish a house for you.” David had experienced God’s grace in his life, but God wants him to know there is more to come.
When you look at your life, your family, your work, your church, and your world, what you see is a work in process. Imagine your home is in the middle of being remodeled. If the contractor doing the work were to abandon the project, it would be a disaster. But you know that what you see now isn’t the final outcome. The way you live with the mess is by leaning on the promise that the contractor will complete the job.
When God began his work in your life, he committed himself to finishing it. Every man in the church who belongs to Jesus Christ will one day reflect his glory. So lean into that. God has more grace still to come in your life. There are more things he still has to do in your life, in your family, in his church, and in the world. And when he does them, they’ll surprise you with joy.
Hope for Fathers
Biblical scholar Dale Ralph Davis makes three observations about God’s promise in 2 Samuel 7 that I have found helpful:
1. God’s promise is stronger than death. “Even after you die,” he says, “there is more that I am going to do for you, in you, and through you.” Even when you die, you haven’t yet seen the full picture of God’s redeeming work. There’s more to follow.
When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2 Sam. 7:12–13)
2. God’s promise is greater than sin. If God gave up on you each time you sinned, his purpose for you would never be complete, and his promise could never be fulfilled. But God’s promise is greater than your sin. That’s good news. You may feel you’ve made a royal mess of your life; no doubt David did many times. But God’s grace in Christ is greater than your sin.
I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul. (2 Sam. 7:14–15)
3. God’s promise lasts longer than time. God has determined his promise will be fulfilled for all his people. That’s why he has sent his Son Jesus into the world. If you are in Christ, you will be part of this great purpose forever! That is why there’s hope for every man and for every family united to Christ.
Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. (2 Sam. 2:16)
You want to be a man after God’s heart? Exercise the leadership that God has entrusted to you, leaning on God’s great and precious promises as you do.