David, son of Jesse, is possibly one of the most recognized people in the entire Bible. His story is a rich and colorful one, his heart was one after God's own, but he was also a guy who failed at alot of things. It's the last two reasons that I think we like him so much, because he is such a prime example of what God's grace can truly mean. I'd like to take a very brief look at an aspect of his story that perhaps is overlooked though, and that is a systemic look.
At the most basic point, systems theory "focuses on the interconnectedness of elements within all living organisms, including the family" (Gladding, 450). Many of you know that I am training to be a marriage and family therapist. It is through looking at systems and families' patterns of interactions that we treat both family and individual problems. More than pulling out a diagnostic manual or evaluating dreams, we think that most people are troubled by negative interactions within their family. Let me illustrate. As a youth minister, there's no doubt that someday a mother, father or both will drop a kid off at my door at tell me to "fix them" because they are misbehaving or doing whatever. At this point, I will politely tell them that they are most likely the problem, and without the entire family working together, the kid's problems will persist.
So, it is through this lens that I want to look at David. What got David where he ended up? No doubt greed, lust, and a little thirst for fighting that he seemed to have, but what else?
Let's start at the beginning. We find David as a mere shepherd boy who is anointed by Samuel to be the next king. What major accomplishments does David have to deserve this honor (which really isn't too much of an honor because God wanted to be their only king)? Guarding sheep, and taking out a lion or bear on occasion with a slingshot. He was obviously pretty good with a sling, but he wasn't much of a warrior. Also amongst his accomplishments is harp playing, and he was pretty good at it. It was this gift that brought him to meet somebody, a king named Saul. The reason Saul needed some harp playing was because God's spirit had left him, and in fact, seemed to reside with David now. Saul now is tormented, troubled in the mind. Music seemed to help though.
Cut scenes, David goes to bring food to his brothers who are in a standstill battle. While he's there, he sees a pesky oaf named Goliath who is cursing God's name and decides that this simply will not do, so he decides to take him out. Saul doesn't seem to recognize the newfound hero (1 Sam 17:58), even though he's the musician. Before David goes out against Goliath, Saul tries to give David his armor. It doesn't fit, and David essentially says "that's not my style." But, from the get go, you can see Saul's potential influence. He tries to make an ironclad warrior out of a shepherd.
There are perks to doing the king a favor: riches and Saul's own daughter. So now David is Saul's son-in-law. David also befriend's Saul's son Jonathan, and the two become as close as brothers. He's now in the family. Saul even makes David commander over his men of war because he continues to send David out to fight and he has success. Things are looking up for David it would seem. The people even sing songs about him (while simultaneously insulting Saul) "Saul has killed his thousands, David his Tens of Thousands." It's hyperbole, but it does show society's expectations of David, this new war hero.
This song made Saul pretty upset, and the next day Saul actually hurls a spear at David. TWICE. David never once retaliates against Saul, and Saul sends David out to fight the Philistines in order to get him out of his sight. Saul even uses his own daughters as a means of bribery (marriage for Philistine...parts) to get David to go out and fight against the Philistines more and more, hoping that at the frontlines, David would die (sounds familiar). Saul continues to try and kill David, creating more and more violent situations, both by himself and by other enemies. All the while, David does what he is told, never retaliates against Saul, and is blessed by God (in many ways, but to Saul's distaste, by keeping him alive). (All this can be found in 1 Samuel 16 and onward).
Cut forward a few years and David is now King, the best that Israel ever saw except for God in the beginning and Jesus himself. God tells David that He has blessed him, taken care of him, and considers him a wonderful servant. However, God tells David he will not be allowed to build the temple because "You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth" (2 Chronicles 22:8). Also amongst David's issues (although not connected to the temple) is his most famous encounter with Bathsheba, a married woman. He and Bathsheba get pregnant, which David tries to hide. He goes so far as to have Uriah, her husband, killed by sending him to the frontlines, a trick he learned from Saul. Maybe David learned from Saul that all it takes to get a woman you want is a little bloodshed. Violence was Saul's answer, and unfortunately, David occasionally acted in the same way.
So you can see that Saul had a huge impact on David, and society did as well. A shepherd boy becomes a warrior with too much blood on his hands because of the world he was thrust into. God gave him victory, but not always the battle it would seem. David lived up to the expectations that both Saul and the people of Israel had of him - he killed his tens of thousands.
This is all incredibly fascinating because it shows the true power of systems. As I have said, I think that most of our problems are caused by the negative interactions that we have with other people, especially those closest to us. I do not think that there are genetic factors that solely lead to our downfall, I think we learn it.
There is another lesson to be learned from David though. Despite all of the negative familial impact he had from his father-in-law and society's thirst for a warrior, he also shows us that people can choose to be different, although constantly impacted. David is called a man after God's own heart because of how repentant and servantlike he was. David was influenced negatively, and it shows, but he also made distinct decisions to be different. It is these decisions that we admire and preach on time and time again. At the end of the day, we are responsible for our decisions, but making the right decision might very well mean looking at the influences that you have in your life at both a familial and societal level. David made the decision to not retaliate against Saul, to seek after God, to follow His guidance, and to repent when he messed up.
So, I hope you enjoyed this perspective. I also hope though that you are able to examine your systems and truly seek to follow after God with all of your life, as well as set the example of how a system can influence for good as well. May our families and churches be places where we set the right example, and may we be called a people after God's own heart.