It feels all too common. I open Twitter and find news I wish wasn’t true. I hope it’s not true. But as I read I realize, tragically, it is all too true. A well-known Christian leader has fallen. He wasn’t what he seemed to be. His sins, as the Bible promises, have found him out (Numbers 32:23).
I could list names, but you know them. We all do. Each one, whether in our theological tribe or not, causes grief. They seemed so gifted, so persuasive for Christ, so used by Christ. How could they do what they did? What will happen now? What else don’t we know?
Ancient Israel knew the feeling. In the Old Testament, we find the most complete biography of anyone in the ancient world: King David. From his anointing to his death, we live David’s life along with him through the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and, perhaps more poignantly, through the Psalms. All of David’s life is before us—his righteousness and his sins, his faithfulness and his disobedience, his heroics and his failures. It’s all there for the reading and the re-reading.
As the story begins, 1 Samuel 16-26 tell of David’s ascent. Samuel anoints him as king. Saul welcomes him into the palace. Jonathan befriends him and helps him. When Saul eventually turns on him, God clearly protects and delivers David from all evil. He’s the golden child who can do no wrong. Even when his men plead with him to execute Saul as he is at the mouth of the cave, David strongly denies them. He will not put his hand against the Lord’s anointed. Not once, but twice, David proves he means it.
After David spares Saul’s life a second time in 1 Samuel 26, he refuses to return home to Israel. He still fears Saul, and rightly so. But instead of staying where he is, David flees to a surprising place: into the land of the Philistines, Israel’s arch-enemy.
Go read 1 Samuel 27. It’s not a bright spot in David’s life.
In fact, it’s difficult to know what to do with it. Faithful David seems lost. He gives himself over to a foreign king in a foreign land, hiring himself out as a mercenary. Though the cities he raids aren’t Israel’s, he lies about what he’s doing, kills everyone so no one can break his cover, and puts himself in a deeply compromising situation. It’s the kind of season of David’s life that he wouldn’t put on his resume. Reading it later on as a member of the nation of Israel would have surely been jarring. His actions seem so out of character. No inquiring God for direction. Just merciless killing and lying. By this point of the story, we’ve become fans of David. It was clear he was the chosen one, the king Israel longed for. But why does it feel like a different person in this chapter?
As commentator Dale Ralph Davis says, by the time we finish the chapter, we’ve likely become an angry reader. Perhaps we even feel betrayed by him. Who is this David? What is he doing? These are the kinds of things that we’d see on the back-alleys of Twitter today, the rumors we hope aren’t true.
David is a sympathetic figure. He’s relentlessly hunted by Saul. He’s away from home. David is as good a guy as a good guy can get. But now? He’s a disappointment. There isn’t even a mention of God 1 Samuel 27. That’s no oversight. It’s an insight into David’s mindset. Far from depending upon God in the wilderness, he’s left him to make his own path.
For all the questions we have about David, Dale Ralph Davis helps us see what’s going on inside our hearts as we read the story
Did you ever think that perhaps the writer is trying to correct your mistake? Yes, you, Bible reader that you are, may have fallen into the trap of hero worship, of looking on your pet Bible characters and exalting them too highly. Why should you be surprised, shocked, off ended? Why should you talk about “betrayal”? The text is saying that this chosen, anointed servant is made of the same stuff as all the Lord’s people. Must we throw out God’s kingdom because not only its subjects but even its premier servants are sinners? Karl Gutbrod is right: the text will not allow us to view Saul with only contempt and save nothing but admiration for David; the text resists every attempt to make David the mirror of all virtue.
What Davis says about looking on our pet Bible characters and exalting them too highly has sprung out of the Bible and into the Church. We do this all the time, don’t we? A gifted preaches rises to prominence and we jump on the bandwagon. We don’t mean to make more of him than we ought, but it happens anyway. His leadership seems impressive. People come to Christ from his preaching. He moves us deeply, and we thank God for him.
Then it crumbles.
Heroes fall apart.
All but one.
And that’s the point. That’s where a chapter like 1 Samuel 27 can help us. There is only one hero. Others may good models in some areas, maybe even in most areas, but all but Christ are fallen.
The Bible warned us about this. We could overlook David’s actions here, but even if we do, we cannot when he takes advantage of Bathsheba and kills her husband. David’s sins, too, will find him out, and the whole nation will be impacted.
Putting our faith in someone other than Jesus will inevitably lead to disappointment. Yet we do it anyway. That’s why it hurts so bad when our heroes fall.
The solution isn’t to never have a hero. I don’t think we can live that way. We need someone to look up to. We just must be sure we’re looking to the right one. Jesus is all the hero we will ever need with none of the failures of all the others.
He will never let us down.
 Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, Focus on the Bible Commentary (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 286–287.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published at thingsofthesort.com.