What Makes a Man After God's Own Heart?
“Now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14) These were the words of Samuel to King Saul not long into Saul’s reign. Later, when Samuel goes to anoint Saul’s successor, God tells Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature … For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord look on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) After this, David, a young ruddy boy, is found and anointed to be the next king of Israel.
God draws a distinction between King Saul and King David in this way: One was after his heart, and the other was not. One was who God wanted a king of Israel to be, and one was not. So what made David a man after God’s heart in a way that Saul was not?
You might expect these men to be as different as different could be, but you can find many similarities between the two. Just a few examples: Both Saul and David were called to be king when they were young nobodies working for their father. Both Saul and David were remarkably humble in their early life. Both Saul and David gave glory to God in their first major victory of renown. Both Saul and David were warriors, known for the prowess in battle, each both extremely successful on the battlefield. Both Saul and David professed to follow God, sought after him, and made sacrifices to him. They both shared negative traits as well: Both Saul and David had anger issues that caused them to lash out violently at those who opposed them. Both Saul and David had issues with pride that led to sin. Both Saul and David sinned grievously before the Lord on multiple occasions.
When you lay out each man’s life against the other, you find them to be remarkably similar to each other, not only in positive attributes, but negative attributes as well. Each man shared many of the same strengths and many of the same weaknesses. So how could two men who by superficial judgment seem to be so similar be judged so differently by God? What made one a man after God’s heart, and the other far from the heart of God?
Here are a couple of differences, but as you’ll see, they are quite major. The first, when Saul and David were confronted with their sin before God, they both reacted in different ways.
When Saul was confronted with his sin, he made excuses. One example in 1 Samuel 13, Saul was to wait for Samuel to arrive to make sacrifices before fighting the Philistines. But Samuel was delayed in his coming, and Saul took it upon himself to make the sacrifices. When Samuel confronted Saul, this is how Saul defended himself: “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” (13:11-12) Notice, Saul blames the people, Saul blames his fear, Saul refuses to admit he made a mistake. Another time, Saul was to destroy everything of the Amalekites, including the livestock, but Saul did not. When confronted with this, after trying to deny it several times, Saul finally said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel.” (15:30) Even in Saul’s “repentance” you can see he is not so much concerned with being contrite and sorrowful, but with maintaining his power and prestige among the people.
Contrast that attitude with that of David. When David was confronted by Nathan with his adultery with Bathsheba, and murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite, David said this: “I have sinned against the LORD.” (2 Samuel 12:13) Notice there are no additional excuses, no blaming other people, no seeking to hide it from those he was trying to impress. David did not seek to justify himself but acknowledged his sin.
We can also see a difference in each man with how they dealt with the judgments of God. When Saul was told that the kingdom would be taken from him, he lived as if it were not true. At one point, Saul even chastises his son Jonathan, “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” (1 Samuel 20:31) Saul thought himself capable to thwart the judgments of God.
Contrast that when David was told the child conceived in adultery would die. David prayed to God that it would not be so, but when he heard of the death of the child we are told: “Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:20-23) David humbly accepted the judgments of God when they came.
While Saul and David were remarkably similar in many ways, we can see that their attitude toward sin and the judgments of God were far apart. While Saul made excuses and fought against God, David acknowledged his sin without excuse and sought after God’s will even in judgment. One of these men was a man after God’s own heart. Let us humbly follow such an example in our own lives.