June 27, 2014 Broadcast

The Monarchy

A Message by R.C. Sproul

After the cycles of wickedness and repentance in the book of Judges, the nation of Israel desired to be like the surrounding nations, so they asked God for a king. God granted their request in King Saul, who was soon replaced by David. In this lesson, Dr. Sproul traces the rise of the monarchy, beginning with the call of the prophet Samuel.

From the series: Dust to Glory

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    What Made David Great?

  2. devotional

    God Chooses Israel's King

  3. devotional

    The Monarchy Instituted

What Made David Great?

Kevin DeYoung

Everyone who knows the Bible knows that King David was a great man. And yet everyone familiar with the Bible also recognizes that David did a lot of not-so-great things. Of course, there was the sin with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband Uriah, and the subsequent cover-up. That was not exactly delighting in the law of the Lord (Ps. 1:2). But there was also the ill-advised census motivated by David’s pride, not to mention a series of lessons in how not to manage your household well. For being a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), David managed to follow his own heart quite a bit.

So with all these flaws, what made David great? One could easily mention David’s courage, his loyalty, his faith, and his success as a leader, musician, and warrior. But he was great in other, lesser-known ways as well. In particular, David was a great man because he was willing to overlook others’ sins but unwilling to overlook his own.

David was a gracious man, bearing with the failings of others, eager to give his enemies a second chance. Twice, while his friends advised him to strike down their enemy, David spared Saul’s life (1 Sam. 24; 26). Though Saul opposed him at every turn, David did not rejoice at his death, but he wept for the king and his son Jonathan (2 Sam. 1:17–27). David welcomed Abner when he defected from the phony king Ish-bosheth and mourned for him when distrusting Joab stuck him down (chap. 3). David was unnecessarily kind to Mephibosheth (chap. 9) and uncommonly patient with Shimei’s spiteful cursing (16:5–14). Later, David would pardon those who rebelled against him during Absalom’s insurrection (19:16–23). Time after time, David showed himself to be unlike the sons of Zeruiah who lived to hold grudges and settle scores. David knew how to forgive. More than anyone prior to Jesus, David loved his enemies. Like no other Old Testament king, David was willing to welcome rebels back to the fold and overlook the sins of those who had opposed him.

But amazingly, David’s kindhearted attitude toward his enemies did not translate into a soft attitude toward his own sins. Usually, people who are soft with others are soft with themselves, and those hardest on themselves are even harder on others. But David was different. He was gracious with others and honest with himself. I believe David’s greatness was simply this: as much as he sinned, he never failed to own up to his sin. I can’t find a single instance where David was rightly rebuked for his failings and then failed to heed the rebuke. When Nathan confronted David for his adultery and murder, David, after he saw what Nathan was up to, quickly lamented, “I have sinned against the Lord” (12:13). When Joab sent the woman of Tekoa to change David’s mind about Absalom, he listened (chap. 14). When Joab rebuked David for loving his treacherous son more than his loyal servants, David did what Joab told him to do (19:1–8). Joab was often wrong in his advice to David, but when he was right David saw it and changed course. Likewise, after his foolish census, David’s heart struck him and he confessed, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done” (24:10).

David knew how to forgive, and he knew how to repent, too. He never blamed others for his mistakes. He did not make excuses based on family history, peer pressure, or the demands of leadership. He did not use passive language, referring to his sin as a dysfunction or a growth edge. He did not lament over his sins simply because of the negative effects they could have on his kingdom and his relationships. He saw his transgressions primarily in their vertical dimension, as an offense against almighty God (Ps. 51:4). He never ran from the light when it exposed his darkness. Instead, he squinted hard, admitted his iniquity, and worked to make things right. When we consider how rare it is in our day for athletes, movie stars, and politicians to candidly and clearly take responsibility for their public sins, we should be all the more amazed that the king of Israel, arguably the most famous man in the history of God’s old covenant people, was humble enough to listen to the chastisement of those who were beneath him and change accordingly.

David was a man after God’s own heart because he hated sin but loved to forgive it. What better example of God could there be? God doesn’t just welcome His enemies in, He dies in their stead (Rom. 5:6–11). He is always eager to show mercy, always willing to give traitors a second chance. And yet, God is not soft on sin. He exposes it and calls on us to exterminate it (John 16:8–11; Col. 3:5). But of course, God, unlike David, is never guilty of His own sin. God showed His condescension not by humbling Himself before a needed rebuke, but by humbling Himself to take on human flesh and take up a cross (Phil. 2:5–8). David was great, but not nearly as great as his greater son.

God Chooses Israel's King

No discussion of Israel’s monarchy would be complete without a look at David, the most significant king of Israel during the old covenant period. David is a prominent figure throughout Scripture and his importance is developed in the Old Testament and into the New.

While Saul was the first king of Israel, his reign was but a brief intermission in God’s design to set a faithful king over His people. Illustrating the old adage, “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it,” the Lord responded to the pleas of the Israelites to give them a king like the other nations (1 Sam. 8:1–10:8). Saul later turned out to be a failure (15:10–11a) and the Lord rejected him, but this should not be a surprise, for our Creator’s order to Samuel that he “obey their voice and make them a king” (8:22) is begrudging compared to His “I have provided for myself a king” in 1 Samuel 16:1. With David, God was not “giving in” to Israel’s request, giving them exactly what they wanted as a judgment on sin (see Rom. 1:24–25); rather, He appointed David to bless His people.

The qualities the Lord prized when appointing David to lead His people are not necessarily the characteristics most people think of when they are looking for leaders. We might choose to elect officials based on their foreign policy experience, educational background, past political offices, and other such criteria. Yet while these things are not unimportant, their merit was only secondary when the Lord placed David and his descendants on the throne of Israel. As He told Samuel, the important qualities for a good ruler lie within the heart (1 Sam. 16:7) — that constituent part of the human spirit that is the seat of the intellect, moral judgments, piety, and feelings. When the Lord chose David, He wanted a man who understood his need to be a man “after [God’s] own heart” (13:14).

The Lord found this man in David, who was the least of his brothers and a humble shepherd who did not otherwise aspire to greatness (16:8–13). This David was a man after God’s own heart not because he was perfect, but because he was sensitive to the Holy Spirit and knew to repent when he had sinned (2 Sam. 24:10–25; Ps. 51). May the Lord make each of us a man or woman after His own heart.

The Monarchy Instituted

Following Joshua’s initial conquest of Canaan and the period of the judges, the Israelites expressed their desire for a king (1 Sam. 8). This request was motivated by Israel’s desire to be like the other nations who looked to a king to fight its battles (v. 20) rather than to the Lord who promised to wage war for the people (Ex. 14:14). The request for a king in Samuel’s day was an implicit rejection of God as king (1 Sam. 8:7–9).

Importantly, the sin behind the people’s request reveals why Samuel frowned upon it. The desire for a king over Israel was not itself inherently evil; the Lord has always been pleased to rule His people through a human vice-regent when they seek a king with pure motives. This is clear in today’s passage, which was written long before the Israelites asked Samuel for a king. Indeed, Deuteronomy 17:14–20 looks for Israel to have a king — a king whom God Himself chooses (vv. 14–15).

The type of king God desires is defined in this passage. First, the king must be an Israelite, not a foreigner (v. 15). This would help prevent Israel from becoming subservient to another empire and guard against the introduction of false gods by outsiders. The concern to prevent idolatry is also behind the warning for the king not to take many wives who would turn his heart away from the Creator (v. 17). Unfortunately, Solomon’s own life demonstrated the wisdom of this stipulation (1 Kings 11:1–8). The king must also not seek excessive military might in the form of horses or excessive luxury in the form of silver and gold (Deut. 17:16–17).

Since ancient Near Eastern kings were honored according to the size of their armies, treasuries, and harems, we can see how the king of Israel was to be most unlike the kings of pagan nations. Israel’s king was to be subservient to God’s law (vv. 18–20). As a servant of the people, the king did not abide by different rules, for he was subject to the same commands and penalties as ordinary people. Here is the notion of the rule of law that has become so prominent in Western legal theory. We see this principle illustrated in point 45 of the Magna Carta: “We will appoint as justiciars, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs only such men as know the law of the kingdom and well desire to observe it.” Though we do not live in a theocracy like Israel, rulers both secular and in the church are never laws unto themselves.

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