Week of July 8: Lessons in leadership found in David's last words
By Kim Reindl
For the week of July 8
Scripture: 2 Samuel 23:1-7, 1 Chronicles 18:14
Opening question: What is the importance of a person’s “last words?” Have you ever had a time in your life when someone’s last words made an impression on you (i.e., words of a leader stepping out of his/her position of leadership; words of a respected person at the time of a major life transition like a graduation or at the end of a career; words of a loved one at the time of his/her death; etc.)?
Important people often leave us with “famous last words.” Sometimes, as is the case with public figures such as presidents, business leaders, or revered teachers, these words come in a formal farewell address. At other times, as is the case with mentors or loved ones, last words are personal declarations given at critical junctures in life or are impressionable words given at the time of death. Whatever the circumstances, last words are important because they are meant to be a final testimony or a gift of wisdom given for the good of those who hear.
In order to best understand David’s last words in 2 Samuel 23:1-7, we must hear them in relation to the whole of David’s life and kingship. Interestingly, kingship in Israel was not God’s choice, but the choice of the people. Before the time of Saul, God alone was understood to be the sovereign King over Israel. Yet there came a time when the people cried out for an earthly king, “like other nations” (1 Sam. 8:5, 20). God gave the people what they wanted, but not without warning (1 Sam. 8:9). Kingship over Israel was to be unique. Israel’s kings were to rule subject to God. Hence, it is for this reason that God established the role of Israel’s prophets (1 Sam. 12:23). The prophets were put in place to pray for the kings, to hold the kings accountable, and to remind them of God’s ultimate sovereignty.
David’s last words are a final declaration of God’s ultimate rule over God’s people. “Just” leadership for David is inseparable from an intimate connection with God. David’s understanding of this makes him the paradigmatic example of human leadership through divine relationship. David is able to rule “over people justly” because he is “ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3). Within the context of the books of Samuel, we come to understand “fear of God” to mean living before God with an honest and contrite heart. By no means is David perfect. To the contrary, David is incontestably human, embodying both the best and the worst of human existence. Yet the Scripture tells us that David is a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:13-14). Why? The answer seems to be that David’s heart is permeable (contrary to hard), able to be convicted by the Spirit in a way that allows him to stand openly and honestly before God, trusting in God’s goodness and powers of redemption. (Such is reflected in the Psalms attributed to David; Psalms of celebration, lament, struggle, despair, and hope that give us examples of how David loves the Lord and trusts in God’s divine character.)
The important message in David’s last words is that he has been able to rule justly over Israel, not because of who he is, but rather because of who God is. Although David strayed from God’s will from time to time, he always returned to God in the end with a heart capable of receiving God’s forgiveness. Out of such a heart, David was able to rule over God’s people in a way that was just and pleasing to God (2 Sam. 23:5; 1 Chron. 18:14). Therefore, what we learn from David is that justice toward others is in direct correlation with openness to divine justice. Isn’t this the message that Jesus reveals to us? We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:7-21). David understood that all else, without God, is worthless (2 Sam. 23:6-7), yet life lived under God’s sovereignty is “like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land” (NRSV; 2 Sam. 23:4).
Questions for further reflection:
What are some of the examples of how David acted or was tempted to act on his own outside of God’s will (i.e., 1 Sam. 24 & 26; 1 Sam. 25; 2 Sam. 11-12) ? In the end, how did David show loyalty to God?
Does our society value honesty and humility in our leadership? What do you look for in a leader (in business, in government, in the church)? How would a leader like David be received today?
Today, if you were required to give your last words to those that you love, what would you say? Does your life now reflect these words? If not, how might you change to live into these words? (Ask God for guidance through the power of the Holy Spirit.)
Kim Reindl is Vice-Chair of the Nurture Team for the North Georgia Conference and is the founder of Pomegranate Christian Education & Formation. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-388-4292