Even those who criticize the Bible have to admit that it doesn’t shy away from painting its characters warts and all. Is Noah the man of obedience and faith who saved the human race from extinction? Yes (Genesis chapters 6-8). But did he shamefully get drunk once after the flood? Yes (Genesis 9:20-21). Is Moses the legend who took on Pharaoh and led Israel out of Egyptian bondage? Yes (Exodus chapters 4-14). But did he murder an Egyptian and hide the body in the sand as a part of his first attempt at doing so? Yes (Exodus 2:11-12). Is Peter the devoted apostle who was willing to go head to head with the Romans and Jews and die fighting at the side of Jesus? Yes (John 18:1-11). But did he deny Jesus three times on the night of Christ’s arrest? Yes (Luke 22:54-62). You see, such conflicting, mercurial behavior is nothing short of commonplace for many of the great characters from the Bible. They showcase not only their incredible good but also their very human bad.
One character that definitely fits into this category is David. We might even think of him as the category’s poster boy. To say that David had his good days and bad days is an understatement on par with, “The Great Lakes are big.”
The slaying of the giant Goliath (1 Samuel chapter 17)? That would be David at his best. The affair with Bathsheba and the subsequent killing of her husband Uriah (2 Samuel chapter 11)? That would be David at his worst. David showing mercy to Mephibosheth, the crippled son of his friend Jonathan (2 Samuel chapter 9)? That’s David doing good. David aligning himself with the Philistines and literally joining their forces to fight against King Saul’s Israel (1 Samuel chapters 27-29)? That’s David doing bad.
These are just a few examples of the rights and wrongs from David’s life. Perhaps this helps us understand why he is such a beloved character. No matter the circumstances in which you find yourself, there’s a story about David to which you can relate.
Yesterday I read the story from 1 Samuel 21:1-9 for my devotion time, and it didn’t take me long to realize that the story features David behaving badly. It opens with him going to Nob, which was a town of priests. At that time Israel’s tabernacle was located at Nob.
David and his small band of men were on the run from Saul, but David lied to Ahimelech, the high priest, by telling him that they were there on official business for Saul. David then asked Ahimelech for some bread so that he and his men could eat. Ahimlelech replied that the only bread that he had was some of the consecrated bread that had been used in the tabernacle. Such bread was replaced every Sabbath. Even though the Mosaic law stipulated that the old loaves could be eaten only by the priests, Ahimelech gave the loaves to David and his men. Before leaving the tabernacle, David also took Goliath’s sword for his own personal use. That sword was kept at the tabernacle.
Now, there’s no doubt that we can excuse David’s eating of the consecrated bread. I say that because Jesus excuses it in Matthew 12:1-8 and Mark 2:23-28. However, there is no way that we can excuse the lie that David told Ahimelech. You say, “Oh, what’s the big deal about a little white lie? Nobody got hurt, did they?” Are you kidding me?
In 1 Samuel 22:6-23, we learn that pretty much the entire population of Nob got wiped out because of David’s lie! When Saul found out that Ahimelech had aided David by giving him bread and a sword, he had Ahimelech and 84 other priests killed. The man who did all that killing, a merciless Edomite named Doeg, also killed many of the men, women, children, babies, oxen, donkeys, and sheep of Nob. And lest you think that I’m laying too much of the blame for that massacre at David’s feet, consider what David himself later told Abiathar, the one priest who escaped the slaughter. David said, “I have caused the death of all the persons of your father’s house.”
And so what is the lesson from Nob? It’s simple: When you sin, other people get hurt by your sin. You see, when David told his lie, he never dreamed that Ahimelech, 84 other priests, and dozens of the citizens of Nob, from the oldest down to the youngest, both male and female, would end up losing their lives because of it. But that’s exactly what happened. Sure, Saul and Doeg were primarily to blame for the tragedy, but we can’t overlook David’s part in the whole affair either.
Even more than that, we can’t overlook the fact that our sins, no matter how godly we might act at other times, can cause others to really get hurt as well. Let’s all remember this the next time we find ourselves on the brink of sin. Perhaps the sin might make our situation a little easier in the short term, but who’s to say what long-term damage it might create?