If you could choose between the two, who would you rather be Saul or David? If you know much of the Old Testament story of these two men I imagine you would reply David pretty quickly. Me too. I mean who doesn’t want to be the guy that drops a 9-foot tall giant with a rock to the forehead? Who doesn’t want to be the guy who’s considered to be the man after God’s own heart? Most would say, “sign me up,” right away.
But, what was the difference between these two men—both of whom were considered great at least at some point in their life and rule?
Saul was a man who lived what the world around him considered greatness. He was head and shoulders taller than everyone around him, he commanded allegiance and respect, and he was considered a great warrior. Saul was actually everything everyone in Israel wanted in a leader. He was everything everyone would want in a leader today.
David, however, was quite different. Smaller in stature than Saul, the youngest son in a large family (I imagined one who got lost in a lot of family conversations at dinner), and a shepherd—not exactly the highest honored profession in the land.
Both men were considered great by the world around them but what was it that made David’s stature head and shoulders above Saul in God’s eyes? I think as I answer this question we can glean some principles of how you and I can be what God considers great. And, if you didn’t already notice, that’s often completely different than what our world thinks is great.
1. David was willing to suffer without retaliation.
After David folded Goliath up like a cheap lawn chair from Walmart, Saul began to have some jealousy issues. Saul was scared to death to lose what God was responsible for him having. That was one of the reasons he lost it, by the way. So, he tried desperately to eliminate the threat, which is how he viewed David, by sticking David to the wall with a spear—a couple of times. David did the smart thing and dodged them.
If you’re like me, chances are in all honesty we’d both throw something back as soon as our lives were threatened. I’m not in the habit of letting people try to kill me.
Here’s the crazy truth: David didn’t retaliate. He ran but he didn’t retaliate. As a matter of fact, even when David had the chance to take Saul’s life and everyone around him believed he should do it, he wouldn’t. (1 Samuel 24) David seemed to believe and rest in the fact that if God wanted him to be a king, God would bring it to pass. David was willing to wait and not retaliate.
2. David was willing to let God try his heart and character.
To say that David suffered through much of his life and reign is a massive understatement. As a king’s servant, as a fugitive, and even as king David cried a lot. This was not because he was a wimp—he definitely wasn’t. It was because he lived with much hardship.
David realized that a life given and directed by God was not guaranteed to be a life of ease and comfort. Actually, he understood that it was probably the exact opposite. The life that God was going to give David would include suffering in order for God to develop David’s character to be all that God wanted him to be—a man after his own heart. This was a work that Gene Edwards described as “[An] operation [that] took years and was a brutalizing experience that almost killed the patient.”*
It was because of these experiences that David became not only the man he became but also a man who wrote so many psalms [songs] that people all over the world can identify with today in the deepest places of their hearts.
3. David didn’t make the mistake of trying to protect what God had given him.
This one’s huge. David cared more about what God thought of him than anyone else. He just wasn’t trying to impress anyone. I think that’s why David was willing to allow his son Absalom to take his kingdom. (2 Samuel 15) David knew that if God wanted to take the kingdom from him there was nothing he could do to stop it. He also knew that if God wanted David to remain king, there’s was nothing anyone else could do to change that. David truly rested in God’s sovereignty over him.
As Gene Edwards so elegantly put it in his book, “A Tale of Three Kings,” if David began to try to live a life of self-protection, if he went even once step down the path of trying to keep by force the kingship that God had given him, he would cease to be David and he would become just like Saul.
David was secure in the Lord his God. He didn’t need to be king to feel accomplished or successful. That’s why God made him king. This is why Saul was the king the people chose—David was chosen by God.