Keep Your Heart with All Diligence
Summary: How could David — a man after God’s own heart — fall prey to adultery and murder? How could his son Solomon — who received wisdom from God Himself — multiply wives and turn his heart from the Lord? This article surveys the powerful testimony of this father and son, offering six key lessons from their lives on why we must keep our hearts pure before God.
A Startling Scene
In the recesses of the royal palace, the aging King of Israel lay nearly lifeless in his bedchamber, his body growing colder by the hour. One of the ablest leaders the world had ever known now lay helpless, his once sturdy frame wasting away. Brought to his aid was Abishag the Shunammite, and from her, the King drew warmth and comfort. And yet the comfort he received masked a much greater pain that marked the waning years of his life.
God Looks on the Heart
More than a half-century earlier, this man was but a stripling, a young lad tending his father’s sheep near the little town of Bethlehem. From the tribe of Judah, this youngest son of Jesse busied himself chasing away bears and other beasts that threatened his father’s flock.
While the boy was at work in the fields, the venerable Prophet Samuel arrived unannounced in Bethlehem. Frightened by his visit, the town elders inquired as to why he had come. “To sacrifice to the Lord,” was his answer. Yet Samuel’s primary aim was to anoint a new King to rule the house of Israel. The nation’s current regent, King Saul, had lost favor in the eyes of God for his refusal to execute Agag, King of Amalek. Now this son of Kish was to forfeit his crown to one of the sons of Jesse.
At the sacrifice, Eliab, Jesse’s eldest, came before the Prophet. “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him!” exclaimed Samuel. Yet he was not to be King. “Look not on his countenance,” said the Lord, “or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
Seven of Jesse’s sons passed before Samuel, yet none was God’s chosen. “Are here all thy children?” questioned the Prophet. Fetched from his sheep-keeping duties, the last of the sons of Jesse was brought to Samuel.
He was the one. “Arise, anoint him.” David, the Lord’s chosen, was a man after God’s own heart. Because his heart was pure, he was to be Israel’s next king.
The Rise of the Warrior-King
While his anointing went unheralded, it was not long before David’s pure heart for the Lord propelled him into prominence. On a mission to deliver food to his three oldest brothers who were regulars in Saul’s army, David was outraged by the abject fear that his countrymen demonstrated in response to Goliath, the Philistine giant who openly defied the One True God. The enemy’s champion requested a one-man duel to decide the battle between the two opposing armies, but not one man in Israel’s fighting force had the courage to face him.
So young David took up the task. Wielding only a shepherd’s sling, this boy-warrior took on the mighty Philistine and dropped him with one mere stone hurled from his unorthodox weapon. After cutting the head from Goliath using the giant’s own sword, victory was declared, and David was a hero.
Rising from the humble station of shepherd boy to the high rank of Captain of Saul’s army, David distinguished himself again and again as a mighty warrior who had a pure heart toward the God he loved and served. After enduring many years of tribulation at the hand of King Saul who, enraged by jealousy, tried repeatedly to take his life, David finally gained the crown when the wayward son of Kish committed suicide after a bloody loss to the Philistines.
Thus began David’s forty-year reign as Israel’s Sovereign. Marked by one stunning victory after another, David’s army brought Israel’s neighboring nations to their knees. The Ammonites and Moabites to the East, the Edomites to the South, the Syrians to the North, and the Philistines who flanked their western border — each fell and were subdued by the Israelites. “And the fame of David went out into all lands; and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all the nations” (1 Chron. 14:17).
Yet David was not content to limit his focus as ruler to military conquests. A poet and musician who wrote more than 75 psalms praising the Almighty, he desired more than anything to build a permanent house of worship for the people of God. Having captured and made as his capital the Jebusite fortress at Jerusalem, David planned to construct a glorious temple that would replace the less resplendent tabernacle that had served as the nation’s focal point of worship since the time of the Exodus.
David’s plan, however, would have to wait a generation. His war-bloodied hands were not those that the Lord would have build His Holy Temple. A son who would later be born would have to carry out the vision. Such was the promise of God. Greater still, the Lord covenanted with David to establish his posterity on the throne of Israel forever, so long as his successors feared Him. God’s House would indeed be built, and David’s house would endure as Israel’s reigning dynasty.
All seemed well for the warrior-king whose heart was turned to God. His enemies were subdued before him, and his sons were placed in authority as the chief rulers of the land. David’s legacy appeared to be secured as glorious and enduring and with hardly a spot or blemish.
O How the Mighty Have Fallen!
At the height of his reign, however, David’s steadfast heart began to wander. “At the time when kings go forth to battle,” David lingered back at the royal palace and found himself in a fit of lust as he beheld from his balcony a woman bathing. Her name was Bathsheba, and she was to be his, even though she belonged to another man. From this adulterous one-night stand, a child was conceived, and more treachery was to follow. At David’s command, Bathsheba’s honorable husband Uriah was placed in harm’s way in the field of battle so as to ensure that his life would be extinguished.
Soonafter, the faithful prophet Nathan confronted David for his wickedness, and the fallen ruler was broken before the Lord. Crying out for mercy, he begged that God forgive his egregious acts of sin and cleanse his heart from the evil that had overcome it. “Hide thy face from my sins,” David implored, “and blot out mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51: 9-10). David longed to be distinguished once again by the trait that had been his hallmark: a man with a pure heart toward God.
A House in Turmoil
Notwithstanding David’s repentance, there would be consequences for his moral failures. Nathan prophesied that the Lord as judgment for his perfidy would “raise up evil against” him from within the ranks of his very own family.
One by one, David’s sons rebelled and brought shame to the house of their father. Rape and murder ravaged the royal family as David’s firstborn son Amnon took advantage of his half sister Tamar, only to meet his own doom at the hand of David’s third-born son Absalom two years later. When his father failed to treat him as a man and bring his wrongdoing to justice, Absalom grew more bitter still and staged an all-out rebellion against him, garnering military forces in opposition to David’s army and eventually defiling his father’s very bed with David’s concubines “in the sight of all of Israel” (2 Sam. 16:22).
In an incredible moment of irony, the man who had once stood defiantly against the God-hating Champion of the Philistines now fled before the face of his own son. This glaring contradiction was not lost on the people of Israel as they lamented in the midst of civil strife the downfall of their once great leader, “The king saved us out of the hand of our enemies, and he delivered us out of the hand of the Philistines; and now he is fled out of the land for Absalom” (2 Sam. 19:9).
More heartache followed for David as Joab, his longstanding commander, disobeyed his order to spare Absalom’s life should he be captured and instead thrust three darts through the heart of the king’s son as he hung in the bough of an oak tree.
With one bloody rebellion quelled at great loss, David was faced with another civil uprising lead by Sheba the Benjamite that threatened to rival the harm brought about by Absalom. Though the rebellion was short-lived, it, like the last, was brought to an end by a dishonorable act on the part of Joab as he slew the adversary’s military captain after feigning peace and extending to him a hand of friendship.
Back to the Bedside
Now on his deathbed, David was on the verge of seeing his legacy lost. While he lay ailing, his fourth-born son Adonijah was wreaking more havoc on the royal family, seeking to seize the crown for himself, even though Solomon, the son of Bathsheba, had been promised the throne. Surprisingly, David knew nothing of the plot. In his sickened state of health, he was unaware of Adonijah’s scheme to assume power over Israel’s unstable government. All the great work he had done for God was about to be squandered under his very nose.
From the midst of the chaos and intrigue of the latest crisis, the prophet Nathan emerged once again to clear away the confusion of a situation gone bad and advocate action on the part of king. Conferring with Bathsheba, he advised her to appeal to her husband and alert him of the problem at hand—for indeed, both her life and that of her son were in danger.
Upon gaining an audience with the King in his bedchamber, Bathsheba revealed to David Adonijah’s seditious plot to usurp control of the kingdom. With passionate words, she urged him to take leadership and set matters straight before he died. She pleaded that he install Solomon as his rightful successor, lest after his passing she and her son be counted as offenders. “My lord, O king,” she entreated, “the eyes of all Israel are upon thee” (1 Kings 1:20).
Following immediately on her heels, Nathan entered into David’s presence to corroborate her testimony and reinforce that the situation was dire and required that the King respond quickly and decisively.
A Powerful Awakening
The words of David’s wife and those of his trusted counselor roused him from his complacency and signaled the turning point of what had nearly been the downfall of his kingdom. With newfound resolve, David vowed to set matters aright that very day. To Bathsheba, the King swore, “As the Lord liveth, that hath redeemed my soul out of all distress. Even as I sware unto thee by the Lord God of Israel, saying, ‘Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne in my stead’: surely will I certainly do this day” (1 Kings 1:29-30).
Wasting no time, David gave strict orders to Nathan the prophet, Zadok the priest, and Benaiah, the captain of the guard, to quickly organize a crowning ceremony and triumphal procession for his son who would be King. There was the song of pipes and great sounds of joy that day as Solomon was anointed as David’s successor before the sight of all of Israel.
Following the formal crowning, David labored tirelessly, gathering vast amounts of cedar wood and precious metals — the raw materials that his son would need to build the Temple for the Lord. Seemingly rejuvenated from his near state of death, David busied himself with preparations to ensure that Solomon would be able to carry out his vision to the fullest extent.
David had awakened with a roar.
David’s Farewell Address
Grateful that God had rescued his reign from ruin, David knew only too well that it was not his great exploits against his enemies or his big dreams for God that marked him as a man to remember. Clearly, the measure of his heart had always been the measure of his greatness. David had learned this lesson the hard way and nearly lost it all by letting his heart become poisoned by the pride of his own accomplishments and a sense that he could live above the law. Conscious of his own failures, David did not want Solomon to unwittingly walk the same wayward path. For the young king to be great, his heart must be pure before God.
With this vital truth in mind, David assembled all the princes and captains of the tribes of Israel together for a final public address. The ruddy and aged man who had only a short while before been confined to his bed now “stood upon his feet” to charge his son and the people of Israel one last time (1 Chron. 28:2).
Speaking words reminiscent of those uttered at the time of his own call to leadership, David declared, “Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all the hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever” (1 Chron. 28:9).
Handing Solomon the blueprints for the Temple, David charged him to erect the edifice of worship as God had willed. After much thanksgiving to God and gift-giving on the part of the people, David prayed to the Lord in closing, “[G]ive unto Solomon my son a perfect heart to keep thy commandments, thy testimonies, and thy statutes, and do all these things, and to build the palace, for the which I have made provision” (1 Chron. 29:19).
David’s legacy would live on. Having entrusted to God the life of his son, “he died in a good old age, full of days, riches, and honour: and Solomon his son reigned in his stead” (1 Chron. 29:28).
A Holy Temple, A Glorious Reign
As young King Solomon began his reign, he wisely heeded the counsel of this father and petitioned the Lord for an “understanding heart” so that he might with prudence govern the people over whom he now sat as ruler (1 Kings 3:9). After receiving God’s blessing, in obedience to his father, “Solomon determined to build an house for the name of the Lord, and an house for his kingdom” (2 Chron. 2:1). With the aid of Hiram King of Tyre and the skilled artisans of neighboring Phoenicia, Solomon after seven years of labor completed the Temple that God had promised his father that he would build. It was a great day for Israel.
Having fulfilled his father’s dream, Solomon would rise to even greater distinction as Israel’s King. Rivaling David in the splendor of his reign, Solomon’s amassed such great wealth that he made “silver in Jerusalem as stones” (1 Kings 10:27). His literary output was likewise staggering. Writing 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs, his wit and wisdom became legendary. Attracting noted dignitaries from afar, Solomon once hosted the Queen of Sheba who proclaimed to him in astonishment, “Thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard” (1 Kings 10:7).
Passing on the Principle
Yet Solomon knew better than to let worldly success go to his head. His father’s storied reign and parting words had etched in his mind the unbending principle: the heart is the true measure of a man. Putting ink to parchment, Solomon sought to communicate to his children the truth that had been his father’s testimony.
“Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father,” admonished Solomon, “and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. For I was my father’s son, and tenderly beloved in the eyes of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, ‘Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live’” (Prov. 4:1-4).
Solomon then would repeat the gripping charge to his children that his father had stressed to him, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).
The Kingdom Divided
Tragically, Solomon himself did not stay the course. Like his father, later in his reign he gave way to vice and allowed the allure of women to seduce him. He loved many strange women and took for himself foreign wives of pagan ways who “turned away his heart” (1 Kings 11:3). As judgment, God declared that he would repay his sin by rending the kingdom from his son. The twelve tribes of Israel would be split into two warring factions, no more united as the house of Jacob. This time, there would be no eleventh hour turnaround for good as there had been at the close of David’s reign.
As foretold, Rehoboam, Solomon’s son and successor, proved to be a reprobate. Upon assuming the throne, he scoffed at the counsel of his elders, thereby precipitating a civil war that divided Israel in fulfillment of the Lord’s prophetic word.
Due to the failure of a King’s heart, the glory that was Israel was no more.
Lessons to Be Learned
On the grand stage of history, the glorious reigns of David and Solomon have never been rivaled. From the fall of Goliath of Gath, to the raising up of God’s Holy Temple — the epic tale of this father and son looms large across the panorama of time. Yet these near-titans were mere mortals, and there is much we can learn from their lives. And the key lessons they leave us point to the importance of the heart.
Lesson #1: The measure of a man’s heart is the measure of his greatness. One may conquer kingdoms, build great cities, and do other stunning deeds of valor and glory, yet in the final analysis, it is the posture of a man’s heart toward the Almighty that God values. From David’s anointing to Solomon’s falling away, this point is made abundantly clear in Scripture’s record of their lives.
Lesson #2: The Lord will elevate the pure of heart, not those favored by the world. It is often the poor shepherd boy that God marks for a higher calling when those with undiscerning eyes would choose another. Such was the story of David, and ever cognizant of this fact, he wrote, “Who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart . . .” (Ps. 24:3-4).
Lesson #3: One moral failure of the heart can forever hinder the efforts of a man. David lost the ability to rule with authority once he fell into sin. His strength as a ruler and effectiveness as a father were fundamentally compromised. He no longer commanded the respect of his people or his children. Once a man with a clear sense of right and wrong who was quick to confront evil, he now looked the other way when his closest friends and family committed the most unspeakable crimes. David never got beyond the shadow of his ill-conceived sin.
Lesson #4: Though God is a forgiving God, there are consequences when a man turns his heart from the Lord. While God heard David’s cry of repentance, He nonetheless judged him for his sin, requiring the life of the son who came from his unholy union with Bathsheba and condemning the royal family to a season of strife. Though the heart can mend, God will not be mocked. His justice requires sanctions for sin.
Lesson #5: A heart of hypocrisy will wreck a man in the eyes of his children. The heartache of David’s sin was perhaps felt no greater than in the lives of his sons and daughters. Absalom and Amnon vexed because of the evil committed by their father. Though Solomon offered many pearls of wisdom to his children on the importance of guarding the heart, he himself ultimately lived a lie and lost the very hearts that he sought to win to the Lord. When a man calls his children to purity, he must be about more than words.
Lesson #6: Guarding the heart is a life-long mission. We must never relent in seeking to keep our hearts pure. Though David and Solomon were known as men with faithful hearts, each faltered at a critical moment during their reign, and the course of history was forever changed by their duplicity. It is imperative, therefore, that we heed the charge that both put into words, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).
Let us make David’s cry of Psalm 139 our daily prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24).
This article was originally published in Patriarch Magazine, Issue 45, pp. 5-8.