Inquire of God, Act Accordingly
This last week I read a chunk of Chronicles and most of 1 and 2 Samuel. I did so because I haven’t preached out of the Old Testament in a while, and really, I was hungry for some personal wisdom.
Now, without question, the two main figures in 1 and 2 Samuel are David and Saul, respectively (in order of prominence). And if I could put it broadly, these books chronicle the lives of these two kings with the intention of comparing and contrasting them. The contrast is primarily a spiritual one. David is the example of what to do, and Saul is the example of what not to do. So I want to spend some time broadly defining the difference between a God-pleasing life (which is a successful one) and a self-directed life (which always ends in ruin).
But before doing so, let me provide some encouragement to those of us who can’t go a week without messing up in some way.
Upright, God-Approved David Wasn’t Perfect
First, here are some things the Scriptures say unanimously of David:
“David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5).
“And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father” (1 Kings 9:4-5).
“When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 11:4).
“You have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes” (1 Kings 14:8).
“I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will” (Acts 13:22).
Consistently, the life of David is defined in those ways. In a little bit I’ll talk about why, however, I’ll start by saying why he isn’t defined in those ways. Being called a man after God’s heart, and having his life summarized as “always doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord” does not mean perfection.
For starters, God’s rule for kings was that they shouldn’t take for themselves many wives (Deuteronomy 17:17). David did. Concubines, too.
Further, God forbade murder, rape, and adultery, all of which David committed in a single string of sins with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11).
At times David had to be rebuked for showing special favoritism to family—even family who was trying to kill him and overthrow his throne, thus disgracing the very people risking their lives for him (2 Samuel 19–Joab’s rebuke of David after his son Absalom died).
Once when David was deeply established by God in his kingdom, he ordered that a census be taken of all the people so as to better know how well prepared they were for battle. This was a slap in the face of God, who had always protected David—at times allowing David to greatly succeed in battle even with insignificant numbers (2 Samuel 24). For a period of time, then, David trusted more in men than in God.
And besides these, there are other apparent lapses of judgment we might point out in David’s life. The idea I want you to see is the obvious imperfection of the man who was so highly esteemed by God and so favorably viewed by subsequent generations. The point is, a favorable life before God—one that is pleasing and fruitful—is not mutually exclusive with being sinful (imperfect). Some of the very best of God’s men and women committed sins some of us wouldn’t dream of committing. And there was still great hope for them.
What Separated David, a Sinful Man, from Saul, a Sinful Man?
Let me now broadly define the difference between David and Saul. Remember, the difference is not that David was perfect and Saul was a sinner. That is not the difference. Both David and Saul made sinful decisions. Here is the actual difference. David made it his pattern to seek God in just about every kind of scenario we might imagine. The phrase so often used in Samuel and Chronicles is: “David inquired of the Lord.”
On one occasion, some enemies of the Lord were devastating a city in Israel, and David’s impulse was to rush to save them—but first he “inquired of the Lord” (1 Samuel 23:2). God gave him direction to go save the city.
Afterwards, the men with David were fearful and tried to sway him from going, so “David inquired of the Lord again” (1 Samuel 23:4), and God again gave him instruction to go save the village.
After saving the village, king Saul heard of David’s whereabouts, and he sent troops to destroy the city and capture David. Not knowing whether to hold his ground or to flee, David contacted a local priest to again inquire of the Lord (1 Samuel 23:9ff).
On another occasion, when Saul was complaining to his men after pursuing David, one of the men said, “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, and he inquired of the Lord for him” (1 Samuel 22:10).
During one period of great civil unrest, while David was campaigning in another part of the land, he had left all of his family back in a town called Ziklag. After coming home from his campaign, he found the whole city pillaged, everything burned to the ground, and all of his family had been taken. Imagine the grief, imagine the despair, imagine the rage! Why might act impulsively, but the text says, “David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I pursue after this band?’” (1 Samuel 30:8).
After Saul, the leader of David’s enemies had died, David did not know if it was safe to go up into the cities of Judah, so guess what he did? “David inquired of the Lord” (2 Samuel 2:1).
Later, after being officially coronated as king, some of the Philistines heard of it and were seeking to kill David. Not knowing how he should act, “David inquired of the Lord” (2 Samuel 5:19). And once more, for good measure, when another band of Philistines came after him, “David inquired of the Lord” (2 Samuel 5:23).
Inquire of the Lord and Act Accordingly
The pattern of David’s life was—inquire of the Lord, act accordingly. He first inquired of God, seeking his wisdom, then he acted as God revealed. And these above examples are only a few specific instances recorded in Samuel. Chronicles mentions these things, also; and half of the Psalms are written by David—all of them involving some kind of inquiry. I wonder how differently our lives would be were we to mimic this.
There are only two instances in Samuel when Saul inquired of God, and in both instances the Lord did not answer him. Saul inquired of God once after he made a very foolish vow, and no answer came from God. And he inquired again after he had consistently disobeyed God. Again, there was no answer.
[The point of God’s lack of response in Saul’s life is not that a person can go so far as to never again be in God’s good graces. The point is that God does not answer those who only care to receive temporary blessings from God in the moments they think they need him. The point is, nobody should use God as a personal genie—which happens all the time.]
The stunning thing is, when Saul did not immediately receive a response from God, it didn’t bring him to repentance or to truly humble himself. Such humility and change would have restored his relationship to God, eventually. But Saul did not do that. When he did not hear from God, he went and inquired of a necromancer (1 Samuel 28).
To whom do we turn to answer hard questions? When facing decisions, whose counsel do we seek? When struck with moral dilemmas, whose wisdom do we pursue? When ridden with guilt, do we inquire of the guilty conscience, playing defense attorney? Or do we run to the presence of God? Do we seek a friend’s advice over the Creator’s? Do our parents and their wisdom occupy the center, or does God’s? When anxious or depressed, do we first inquire of God, or do we turn to medicines and secular counselors? The difference between David and Saul was borne out in the results of their leadership. But their subsequent successes and failures were owed to the patterns of inquiry they sought in their reigns. David was supremely blessed because in everything, before acting, he sought God’s counsel.
And the good news is, for every time David sinned and failed to seek God’s counsel, he also turned to God. And God was waiting by, patiently, graciously, abounding with steadfast love and faithfulness.
My admonition for you going forward is that every decision be made atop a mound of prayer, meditation, study, and general seeking of God. I wonder how many heartaches we could avoid were we to do as David did.