Lesson 5: David, the shepherd’s heart

So far in our study we have noted two kings who failed to live up to God’s standards for the king of Israel (cf. Deut. 17.14-20). Solomon knew how to be a good king, but he did not guard his heart and departed from the Lord. Saul, the first king of Israel, was consumed by pride and did not obey his God. As a result, Samuel told Saul that his “kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1Samuel 13.14). In this lesson we begin our study of David, the man after God’s own heart.

Men would not have chosen David to be king.

When Samuel proclaimed Saul as king of Israel he said, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? Surely there is no one like him among all the people.” (1Samuel 10.24). Saul looked the part of king (note vs. 23), and Samuel knew it. In spite of Saul’s shortcomings, it seems that Samuel held out hope that Saul’s kingdom would endure. So, when the Lord said that Saul’s kingdom would end, Samuel “was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night.” (1Samuel 15.11). 

Apparently, Samuel believed that the next king of Israel would have an impressive appearance, just like Saul. So, when Samuel went to Jesse’s house to anoint the next king of Israel, he was impressed with the physical appearance and stature of Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son (1Samuel 16.6). However, the Lord had other criteria in mind: “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1Samuel 16.7) David had a pleasing appearance (1Samuel 16.12), but he did not look like a king (not yet anyway). Man would not have chosen David as king.

God selected a shepherd.

It is significant that when Samuel went to Jesse’s home to anoint the king, David was not present; he was tending the sheep (1Samuel 16.11). If there would ever be a man after God’s own heart, it would surely be a shepherd. David’s extolling of God as shepherd helps us to understand why.

  1. Shepherds provide their sheep with what they need (Psalm 23.1-2). Shepherds spend the majority of their time leading their sheep to pasture and water. God, the shepherd of His people, always provides (see Deuteronomy 2.7). 
  2. Shepherds care about the welfare of their sheep (Psalm 23.3-4). God always has the best interest of His people at heart. And His concern isn’t merely for their physical well being, but for their spiritual well being.
  3. Shepherds protect their sheep, even at their own peril (Psalm 23.4). With God as shepherd, His people can be assured of safety even in the face of great danger. David had experience protecting sheep, and he had proven himself willing to sacrifice his own safety for the well being of the flock (1Samuel 17.34-35). 

David was a shepherd; he was accustomed to looking after the needs of others. This one trait helps us to see why David could be described as a man after God’s own heart. This one trait explains why David would be such a great king. Tragically, Israel would be led by many bad shepherds in her history and would consequently be destroyed (see Ezekiel 34.1-6). But God promised that in the future He would shepherd His people. Significantly, God promised that the coming Messiah would be a shepherd just like David: “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.” (Ezekiel 34.23) 


The apostle Paul gave this exhortation to the saints in Philippi: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3–4). While he does not use the term “shepherd”, this passage embodies the role. Shepherds think of others, they devote their lives to tending and protecting helpless animals. Children of God do the same. They view others as more important than themselves.

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