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The Misuse of David as a Moral Model

Dr. James Emery White
Dr. James Emery White
2022 9 Jun

There are few characters in the Bible more celebrated and revered than King David. From the defeat of Goliath with a slingshot and a few stones to becoming the king of Israel, here, as the Scriptures say, was a man after God’s own heart. 

Except for that little event with Bathsheba.

Only it wasn’t so little.

Just to be clear, David actively pursued a sexual liaison with a married woman, using his power and position as king to ensure her compliance. Today we call such things sexual abuse or even rape. Learning she became pregnant, he then orchestrated the murder of her husband. He subsequently married her in an attempt to cover up his sexual misdeeds.

Most would call that, without equivocation, grounds for removal from office. 

So did God. 

Lest we forget, God did not pat David on the head and say, “Boys will be boys.” He did not contrast and compare the conduct with all of the good David had done. He did not overlook the matter as a result of the fire within David’s spirit, as though the same passion David brought to battle and worship somehow afforded him a kitchen pass when it came to sexual matters.

No, God sent a prophet. That prophet made it clear that David was under judgment and that the child with Bathsheba would be taken. Despite how much he prayerfully implored God to spare his child with Bathsheba, the child died. Further, through the prophet Nathan, God made it clear that David’s discipline and rebuke would be public in nature and ongoing.

And it would be. 

And just to be clear, all this would happen even though David repented.

I offer this assessment for a singular reason. I have heard countless Christians bring up David when leaders in our day fall to sexual sin, as if they are in good company. As though David was able to move beyond that event with simple repentance, with God’s hand of blessing continuing as if nothing much had happened. Even worse, as if their sexual sin elevated them to Davidic standing in terms of spirituality.

This is revisionist history.

David, as Luke records in Acts, undoubtedly served God’s purposes in his generation. 

Until he didn’t.

David was a man after God’s own heart.

Until he wasn’t.

David was used mightily by God as king of Israel.

Until his complete, utter, chosen, actively pursued moral breakdown (and to be sure, there is little that God did with David after this). 

So, let’s stop bringing up David in terms of restoring fallen leaders to their position, or using him to justify the use of music from churches that refuse to repent from deeply entrenched patterns of sin (argued from the inclusion of David’s psalms in the Old Testament). David was never fully restored in terms of God’s use of his leadership. That mantle was passed to Solomon. The inclusion of David’s psalms in the Bible are there not because of David, but because they were written/inspired by the Holy Spirit and deemed the very Word of God. Further, their inclusion and use in the life of the Church does not support an ongoing unrepentant lifestyle. 

David is not a model for how leaders engaged in disqualifying lifestyles should be quickly restored. The quip, “Look at David!” has nothing to do with such matters. 

Unless, that is, you look at what God did with David.

James Emery White

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.