When he was just fifteen, David was hand-picked for an unearned and unwarranted position of both earthly and heavenly glory. God anointed David to be the second King of Israel, His beloved people. David was the Chosen of the Chosen – one of few on whom God’s Spirit would rest. He was granted the title of kingship, lacking only the kingdom he was entitled to rule. And yet, even as David grew into his divinely-appointed identity, he did not assume the throne for another fifteen years. During these years, Saul stubbornly clung to the throne while David learned to fully surrender any expectations of God’s promised will for his future.
David had numerous opportunities to kill Saul and take the throne by force. In these moments when Saul was within arms reach, David could have easily reached out to take hold of his rightful kingship – but he did not. Instead, he maintained an unentitled posture: a profound humility of heart and a poverty of spirit in which he recognized that his life, his title and his kingdom ultimately belonged to God. Stemming from his intimate knowledge of God’s nature and character, David developed both a love and a fear of God based on who He was, not what he stood to gain from Him. Therefore instead of taking the kingdom into his own hands, he waited and trusted the Lord to present it to him on His terms, and in His timing.
David was not without his struggle against the flesh, however. In one the Bible’s most famous accounts of sin, David takes Bathsheba as his wife and orchestrates her husband’s death. The prophet Nathan convicted him in a parable as the rich man who took the single lamb of his poor neighbor to serve to his guests instead of one from among his many flocks and herds. God then spoke to David saying, “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more” (2 Samuel 12). After everything God had given and would have given to David, he still felt entitled to this woman who did not belong to him and played the role of God to obtain her.
Psalm 51 records David’s repentance in one of the most heartfelt songs in the book. “Against you, you only, have I sinned. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The classical song “Miserere Mei, Deus” composed by Allegri beautifully captures the essence of his renewed humility. Although the consequences of his sin remained, David was once again restored to an unentitled posture before his Lord.
As a result of his sin, Nathan prophesied that their first born son would die. For the next seven days David neither slept nor ate, laying on his face to pray for his son to live. When he heard his son had died, “he got up from the floor, washed himself, put lotions on, and changed his clothes. Then he went into the Lord’s house to worship.” When his servants questioned his quick recovery, he said “While the baby was still alive, I fasted, and I cried. I thought, ‘Who knows? Maybe the Lord will feel sorry for me and let the baby live.’ But now that the baby is dead, why should I fast? I can’t bring him back to life.” David hoped, but did not assume, that God would answer His prayers. He appealed to God’s undeserved lovingkindness, yet acknowledged His righteous sovereignty.
When Absalom, David’s wayward son, attempts to usurp the throne David does not defend his kingly entitlement. Rather, he takes his family and leaves willingly, allowing for the possibility that God had renounced his right to rule. The priests began to bring along the Ark of the Covenant – the physical embodiment of God’s presence, favor and blessing – but David told them to take it back to Jerusalem saying, “If the Lord is pleased with me, someday he will let me come back to see it.” After a lifetime of enjoying the favor of God, David did not take His presence or pleasure for granted.
An angry onlooker began to follow them, throwing rocks and ridiculing David for miles as he left the city. David’s right-hand soldier offered to cut him down, but he said “Leave him alone. Maybe the Lord will see my trouble, and give me a blessing instead.” Instead of contending for himself with his earthly authority, David endured the humiliating spectacle in submission to God’s authority and entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.
In stark contrast to David’s open-handed acceptance, Saul’s reaction was very different when confronted with the threat of losing his crown. Saul’s fleshly pride surfaced the moment God stripped away the object of his entitlement. He could not accept that the Lord had rejected him and anointed David to take his place as king. Saul felt inherently worthy to rule the kingdom for his earthly qualifications of height, charismatic personality and worldly reputation. But “the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Sam 16)
Saul submitted to God’s will when it granted him earthly power, authority, and dominion. But as soon as it clashed with his own will to rule, he rebelled. God sent Saul a tormenting spirit, yet he did not surrender the throne in obedience. Instead, he temporarily soothed the consequences of his disobedience by ordering David to play music in his court to ward off the affliction. Saul remained seated on the throne while God’s anointed served him, placating his selfish rebellion. In this way, Saul made God’s will subservient to his own.
It is our fleshly inclination to stay seated on the throne of our own lives. When we see God simply as the means to our own happiness or success, we fail to recognize Him as our Lord. This is the malady of an entitled spirit. We want God’s help, but not His interference. We will “flatter Him, but never obey Him” (AW Tozer). David discovered the secret of an unentitled heart by recognizing God for who he was – the lover of his soul, yet sovereign over all. He trusted God’s faithfulness and love, but revered His authority and power. In order to do likewise, we must remove the only entitlement we are born with: the right to rule our life – to serve our own kingdom on our own terms. Only then will we be able to cultivate a love for God that is without condition, expectation or reservation.