Chapter 6 The Choice for Worship: The Life of David
(Note: This is the sixth installment of a book I’m writing called The Choices God Makes. You can read the beginning chapters in the previous posts of this blog.)
The Choice for Worship: The Life of David
David was one of God’s “deep selects.” Because of his birth order and his vocation he should have lived his life in obscurity and died unknown by the world. But God had other plans. Psalm 78:70-71 says, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance.”
Long before David came on the scene, God was orchestrating his birth and planning his blood line. He chose a foreigner, Ruth, to marry into a Jewish family from Bethlehem, lose her husband early, pilgrimage from her homeland to Bethlehem, meet and marry the kinsman-redeemer Boaz, and ultimately become David’s great grandmother. Clearly, if God chose to bring about the confluence of all of those events, He could have easily also caused David to be the firstborn among his brothers. But as with all deep selects, God chose to make a point about His sovereignty, and about who and what He values. David was a “man after God’s own heart,” a musical shepherd boy with the ferocity of a lion, a warrior in the making, the archetype of the King of kings. Psalm 78 concludes with the verse, “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (Psalm 78:72).
Scholars categorize the psalms of David different ways: by theme, by literary form, by chronology, and so on. There are psalms of thanksgiving, psalms of repentance, psalms of youth, psalms of old age. No matter the kind of psalm, the thread running through all of David’s songs is worship. Irrespective of the stage of life or circumstances David found himself in, he was a worshipper first and foremost. First Samuel 16 tells the story of David’s initial anointing as king by the prophet Samuel. This took place when David was only about 17 years old. Up to that point, David had been a shepherd tending sheep out in the open field. His early psalms, and his worship of God, reflect his surroundings:
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:3-9)
His situation was not unlike that of the shepherds who first heard about the birth of Jesus: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8). The shepherd’s life was simple, yet it required great diligence. There were always predators on the prowl, looking to take advantage of the flock. Those who have been in the military and had to stand watch in the middle of the night know that 99% of the time there is absolutely nothing going on. Despite this, because of that other 1%, there is no place for inattention. In that situation, your senses are heightened and you take in more of your surroundings than normal. It follows, then, that David would be overwhelmed with the night sky and what it says about the choices God makes. That consideration led him naturally to worship.
Did you know that we humans were created to praise God? He gives us an insight into His choice through the prophet Isaiah:
The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the desert
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise. (Is. 43:20-21)
Let there be no doubt that when David worshipped thousands of years ago, and when we worship today, it is a direct result of God’s choice to place the need to worship in our DNA. We have to worship someone or something. It may be possessions, it may be family and friends, it may be ourselves, it may even be God, but we will worship. We just can’t help it. David decided early in his life that his worship would be devoted to God, and God honored that decision throughout his life. As another psalmist wrote, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord” (Psalm 89:15).
However, sometimes that blessing takes a while to work itself out in our lives. It was many years between David’s anointing as king and when he actually took the throne. By some estimates he had to wait upwards of 25 years to finally have the crown placed on his head. During this time of waiting Saul, the king on the throne, chased David through the wilderness trying to kill him, primarily because he saw him as a threat to his reign. This time of trial was David’s preparation and sanctification for being king. Over and over, he threw himself on God’s mercies, which we hear in the words of the psalms he wrote during this time:
Save me, O God, by your name;
vindicate me by your might.
Hear my prayer, O God;
listen to the words of my mouth.
Strangers are attacking me;
ruthless men seek my life—
men without regard for God. Selah
Surely God is my help;
the Lord is the one who sustains me. (Psalm 54:1-4)
As a result of being in extremis on an almost continual basis, David came to the conclusion that the Lord God was his only source of help. This is exactly where God wants us and exactly why he allows trials in our lives. God was literally his only hope, and David clung to him for all he was worth.
It was in this time that he made one of the greatest theological statements of his life, Psalm 23. It is a sweeping narrative in which David makes the connection between his boyhood spent tending sheep and his own need for a shepherd. In a flash of Spirit-given inspiration, he realized that what he provided for his sheep is what he needed for his own life: to rest, to be refreshed, to be guided, to be comforted. He looked at the walls of the canyons surrounding him in the wilderness, “the valley of the shadow of death,” and he understood that his Shepherd was able to deliver him from fear. And most amazing of all, he was able to look ahead to a time in his life when he would be safe, he would have all of his needs met, and he would be able to do the thing his heart longed to do, to worship for all eternity. So, in the midst of great uncertainty, David chose to worship in his circumstances and thereby gain solace: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
When David became king, the worship did not stop. In fact, he made certain that worship would go on in and around the tabernacle 24/7 (1 Chronicles 16). And he didn’t stop writing his psalms, but now David writes from a different perspective:
O Lord, the king rejoices in your strength.
How great is his joy in the victories you give!
You have granted him the desire of his heart
and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah
You welcomed him with rich blessings
and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.
He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
length of days, for ever and ever.
Through the victories you gave, his glory is great;
you have bestowed on him splendor and majesty.
Surely you have granted him eternal blessings
and made him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord;
through the unfailing love of the Most High
he will not be shaken. (Psalm 21:1-7)
It is crucial for us today to understand that the choice to be a worshipper is not a one-time decision; it is an ongoing commitment. If you would ask my wife and me the key to our success as missionaries, we would tell you without hesitation that it was the power of worship. However, we would also readily admit that some days it was difficult to sing or lift our hands, because life in Ukraine was hard and people we encountered could be cruel. It was a choice, and yet oddly, we felt we had no choice. It was worship or die on the field of battle. So we chose to live, just like David.
For most of his life, David had chosen to humble himself and submit himself to God’s plan and depend on His provision. There was at least one time in his life, however, when David’s hubris overtook him and he chose to worship himself and his desires rather than God. David was an established king who could have anything he wanted, and what he wanted was Bathsheba. As a result, the worshipper became an adulterer and a murderer. For a brief moment, David was blinded to his sin, until the prophet Nathan confronted him (2 Samuel 12). From the descriptions we have, David was crushed. He was told by Nathan that the sword would not depart from his house, and in fact there was great bloodshed in his family; he was told that God would bring calamity to his house, including sexual sin; and he was told that the son who had been born to Bathsheba would die. The psalm he wrote during this time sounds different from the others, because he is pleading with God for mercy:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge. (Psalm 51:1-4)
It’s important to note that the choice to worship David had made throughout his life shapes his response to the rock falling on him. He is broken, he doesn’t feel like worshipping, but he knows from experience that this is the thing he needs to do:
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God area broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17)
An important lesson from this story is that God can redeem even those whose lives have been crushed. It was from Bathsheba that the heir to the throne, Solomon, came. God can take our disobedience and the evil satan produces from it and through repentance give us back something good that glorifies Him. This is God’s miracle in our lives. He did it 3,000 years ago, and he can do it today.
Years later, when David was an old man, he continued to worship God with the perspective of time and trial. In Psalm 37, he comments, “I was young and now I am old,” (vs. 25) and then goes on:
The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him. (vss. 39-40)
Who would know these things better than David? He was delivered from the lion and the bear as a shepherd, he was delivered from Goliath as a young warrior, he was delivered from Saul over and over again as a seasoned veteran, and he was delivered from prideful sin as an established king. David’s life was fueled, filled, and feted by worship. David summed up his lifelong approach to worship in Psalm 34:1: “I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.” That was David’s choice. Can we say the same?