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David - in His Virtues

Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

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David - in His Vices
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JESSE the Bethlehemite, the father of David, and the far-off father of Jesus Christ, was the son of Obed, who, again, was the son of Boaz and Ruth. Jesse had an illustrious past to look back to. He was the tenth in direct descent from his father Jacob, and more than one shining name stood in his illustrious ancestry. But it is not his so illustrious past, it is the surpassing splendour of his future that makes us look with so much interest on David's father. We are not told as much about Jesse as we might like. He is already an old man when we first see him. And it is somewhat remarkable that we are told nothing at all about David's mother. The more so, that there would seem to have been nothing about Jesse to lead us on to think of him as either transmitting the extraordinary ability of his youngest son, or as discovering or fostering his youngest son's extraordinary gifts and character. Jesse's sole interest to us is in this, that he had David among his sons. We bow before the old Bethlehemite because of the branch that grew out of his roots.

Latest born of Jesse's race,
Wonder lights thy bashful face,
While the Prophet's gifted oil
Seals thee for a path of toil.
Twofold praise thou shalt attain,
In royal court and battle-plain,
Then comes heartache, care, distress,
Blighted hope, and loneliness;
Wounds from friend and gifts from foe,
Dizzied faith, and guilt, and woe;
Loftiest aims by earth defiled,
Gleams of wisdom sin-beguiled,
Sated power's tyrannic mood,
Counsels shared by men of blood,
Sad success, parental tears,
And a dreary gift of years.

For the Lord had said to Samuel, Fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite; for I have provided Me a king among his sons. God sees not as man sees, and God works not as man works. In providing Him a king, God worked in a way strange and unlikely to our eyes. We would not have committed our coming king to Jesse to bring up. It was a strange school for a future king-the lonely sheepfolds of Bethlehem. So we think who look at the outward appearance. David was forgotten and neglected by his father; he was scoffed at and trampled upon by his brothers; but you cannot sour, or starve, or poison, or pervert a nature like David's. There is a well-spring of piety and of poetry in David that makes David independent of adverse circumstances. Nay, he takes prosperity out of adversity. That ruddy stripling has his harp and his sling and his father's sheep, and what more does he need to make him happy? He has the glorious traditions of his far-off father Israel to dream about. Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, and Moses, and Joshua, and Jephthah, and Samuel: his poet's eye doth glance from the one to the other till they are all with him as he folds his flock under the stars of Bethlehem. 'Now, as they were going along and talking, they espied a boy feeding his father's sheep. The boy was in very mean clothes, but of very fresh and well-favoured countenance, and as he sat by himself he sang. Then said their guide, Do you know him? I will dare to say that this boy lives a merrier life, and wears more of that herb called heart's-ease in his bosom than he that is clad in silk and velvet. So they hearkened, and he sang:-

The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want,
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.'

And, again, 'When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon, and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?' And, again, this: 'Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.' No; that was not an erroneous school for David. All his days the remembrance of those days was dear to him. A draught of the water of the well of Bethlehem, even to old age, would make King David pure, and free, and young, and himself again.

'And Saul's servants said to him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee. Let our lord seek out a man who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well. Behold, answered one of Saul's servants, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the Lord is with him. Wherefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, which is with the sheep. And it came to pass, when the evil spirit was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.' Browning's Saul is a wonderful piece of writing. The colour, the movement, the insight, the passion of that piece are astonishing. What a gift is poetic genius! And how well laid out by Robert Browning. Let all young men be readers of Robert Browning, and imitators of David in Saul in this, that what David puts his hand to, you may depend upon it, he will carry that through. There is an inborn temper of masterfulness in David. David never does anything by halves. Energy, decision, resolution, devotion, finish, scorn of idleness, scorn of ease, love of labour, love of danger-you will always find virtues like these in young David. Saul's servants had all heard of David. David's harp had sounded farther than David ever dreamed. Plenty of shepherd-boys had a harp, but there was no man in all Israel who could make his harp play and work cures of the mind like David. David was a man of strong passions, good and bad: but no passion in David's heart was stronger than the noble passion to do with all his might whatsoever his hand found to do. Harp, or sling, or sword, or sceptre, or psalmist's pen-it was all the same. David was a cunning man, and the Lord was with David. It would soon change the face of the world if all our young men would but determine to put on David's masterful mind. How much power is wasted; how many talents are let rot; how many opportunities are lost for ever for want of David's eager, onward, hopeful, masterful mind. How few men come to anything eminent, or distinguished, or praiseworthy. Jesse's son was not the only son in Israel who had an ear for music. But he was the only owner of an ear for music who did his very best by his ear. All the men in Saul's camp had the best-made slings hung at their belts, but it was the homeliest piece of skin and cord in all Israel that delivered the smooth stone into Goliath's forehead. How much half-finished work is gathering dust in all our houses! How many books, bought or borrowed, and let fall out of sight unread! How many costly instruments of music that nobody can play! How many languages smattered over! What heaps of sluggard's litter lying all around us! How few of our children can translate a page to perfection, or polish a sentence, or play a tune, or patch a garment, or prepare or eat a meal so that you can say, The Lord is with them! In His name, what your hand finds to do, do it with all your might to Him who slumbers not nor sleeps. Whether it is learning a language, or preparing a speech, or singing a song, or composing a sermon or a prayer, or visiting a stair, or teaching and training up a class, or ploughing a furrow, or sweeping a house, lay it not down till you can say, It is finished.

The eighteenth chapter of First Samuel contains some of the most difficult and dangerous passages in David's whole life, and four times in that single chapter David's wisdom is remarked on. David, we read, went out whithersoever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely. And after the foolish women had aroused Saul's envy and endangered David's life with their thoughtless songs and silly dances, we read again that David behaved himself wisely in all his ways. Wherefore, when Saul saw that David behaved himself very wisely, Saul was afraid of David. And then, summing up David's residence at Saul's difficult and dangerous court, the sacred writer says that David behaved himself more wisely than all the servants of Saul; so that his name was much set by. I feel certain that the extravagant and ill-considered songs of the excited women pained David far more deeply than they pained Saul. Their coarse chants must have grated painfully on David's finely-strung heart. Their singing and dancing drove Saul mad. But all that-the women's folly and the king's jealousy-only made David a wiser and a wiser man every new day. If David could have shut the mouths of these mischief-making women, how willingly would he have done it. They could not understand what was the matter with the usually so open David, the victorious captain who rode past them in silence, and with a dark cloud on his countenance. It says much for David, and it says no little for the sound public opinion of Israel in that day, that David's name was so celebrated for his wisdom. Men of a cold, cautious, reserved character far sooner gain and far easier keep the name of wise men than their fellows do who are of warmer feelings and more generous impulses. The fulness and the openness of some men's hearts obscure to the multitude the lucidity and the solidity of their minds. We are ready to think the man wise and able who is silent, and reserved, and proud, and whose temper and tongue are edged in all he says and does with slight and scorn of other men. The warm-hearted man is a far wiser man than the cold-hearted man ever can be, but it takes a warm heart and a wise to see that. David must have had great strength of character and great solidity of judgment, and he must have had good and honest hearts round about him, fully appreciating him, and guiding public opinion concerning him, when, with so much openness, friendliness, geniality, and humility, he gained such a name for prudence and wisdom. The voice of the people is sometimes, after all, the voice of God.

David's fine humility is beautifully brought out in the matter of his marriage. Saul's diabolical design was to get David murdered in connection with his marriage. But, without having discovered that, David's humility of heart and delicacy of mind became, unknown to himself, a shield to save his life. A less humble, a less noble man, might very well, in David's place, have given loose reins to his imagination and his ambition, and let himself dream about the king's daughter. The more so, that, after the coarse custom of the time, Saul had promised his daughter to the man who should rid him of Goliath. And David had done that. But it had never entered David's fondest dreams that King Saul should fulfil his proclamation to an obscure man like him. Nay; even when Saul thought he saw a way of getting David killed in connection with his marriage, David scorned the proposal of the plotters. They might think as meanly of Saul and Saul's house as they chose; but let them not so speak to the king's armour-bearer. 'Seemeth it to you a light thing to be a king's son-in-law, seeing that I am but a poor man, and lightly esteemed!' David has not forgotten his father's house. David has more place and honour already than he knows how to bear. He would lay it all down and return to the sheepfolds of his youth if he only could. Whatever he may be to those foolish women, David is no hero to himself. To himself he is still the youngest son of Jesse the Bethlehemite. Well may Solomon say, looking back with a son's pride to his father's character and career, By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, and honour, and life.

It is to David's lasting honour also that the land of Israel was not plunged into all the horrors of civil war. His men were increasing in numbers every day, and their extraordinary devotion to David, added to the rankling of their own wrongs, made them ready for anything. David's self-restraint was the one thing that stood between Saul and the loss of his throne and the loss of his life. It happened one day about that time that David and his outlawed men were hiding in a cave among the rocks of the wild goats, when, as Providence would have it, Saul, who was pursuing David, came up to that very cave to sleep. Now is David's opportunity. The Lord, said David's men, hath today delivered your enemy into your hand. David drew his sword and stepped down to where the sleeping king lay, and cut off the skirt of Saul's garment, and withdrew again into the darkness. His men wondered why he had not brought the king's head in his hand instead of the lappet of his robe. When Saul rose from his sleep and left the cave, David went to the mouth of the cave and called out, My lord, the king! Think of Saul's feelings when he looked up and saw David, whom he was hunting to death, standing on the spot where he had just risen from sleep, and standing with his sword in one hand and the skirt of Saul's robe in the other. When Saul looked up, David stooped with his face to the earth, and bowed himself. And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou men's words against me? See the skirt of thy robe in my hand, and know that though some bade me kill thee, mine eye spared thee; for I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord, for he is the Lord's anointed. Is this thy voice, David? exclaimed Saul. My son David, thou art more righteous than I; for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil!

In the court, in the camp, in the caves of Engedi and Adullam, on the throne, in the sanctuary-all hearts, good and bad, fly open in David's presence. Like his New Testament Son, David's life, in its way, was the light of men. We see all the men and women of David's day in the light of David. All who come near David, ever after their hearts are naked and open to us. Saul, Jonathan, Merab, Michal, Nabal, Abigail, Abner, Joab, Uriah, Nathan, Shimei, Absalom, Solomon-we see them all in the light of David's blazing presence among them. There are some men who shut up every heart that comes near them. They chill, and cramp, and shut up every heart. But David warmed, and enlarged, and enriched, and lighted up, for good or for evil, every heart that came into his generation. Even Saul is no longer obscure after David enters Saul's court. It was David's heart. It was his talents; it was his character; it was his virtues; sometimes it was his vices; but it was always his heart. It was his heart; it was his love; it was his magnificent and unparalleled power of sympathy. It was the divine nature in David: it was Jesus Christ in David long before Jesus Christ came. Bring my soul out of prison, sang David in one of his most solitary and forsaken psalms. Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thy name. The righteous shall compass me about; for Thou shalt deal bountifully with me. How well that prayer and hope was fulfilled in Israel: and how well it is fulfilled still among ourselves let David's psalms testify. Look how the righteous everywhere compass about David the sweet psalmist of Israel. Arise, anoint him: for this is he.

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'David - in His Virtues'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters.​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​d/david---in-his-virtues.html. 1901.