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Good King or Calculating Sinner? Negativity Bias and the Life of King David

by Cate Russell-Cole  
11/29/2015 / Bible Studies

The range of reactions to David that I have heard, often leave me scratching my head. At times it sounds like people either love him, or loathe him, depending on what aspects of his life they focus on. If they focus on the negative, he is branded as a high achieving, warring, bad boy, with a degree of amazing godliness that just doesn't fit in with his Psalm-writing character. If they focus on the positive, he's an angel in a crude, human form.

Of course, the truth is always in the middle. David cannot be understood without knowing the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, plus God's heart and plans for His people. If you read the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy then turn straight to the Psalms, you will see that most of David's attitudes are built on the commands set down through Moses, and the identity of Isra'el in the eyes of God. King David lived and worked in line with God's vision for His people. [Ref. 2 Samuel 5:12]

This is what fuels him as a warrior, powers his spiritual devotion and keeps him from becoming an egotistical tyrant, as many kings are. I have called David the anti-king, as instead of relying on wealth and muscle to succeed, he depends on the Lord to the point of severe persecution from other nations, and those around him. [See links at base.]

David has been set into many moulds: young hero, battle-hardened warrior, adulterer, and the "sweet singer of Isra'el." While he has played all those roles, we need to stand back and look at his story as a whole, then allow him to change and grow past those roles. David changed as he aged, and as the Lord built and disciplined him. He went through many 'character building' desert experiences ,where he learnt to lead a nation and obey the Lord. His desire to listen to correction is what saved him from his sins, and gave him one of the most highly honoured places in the Word of God. [Refs. 1 Samuel 25, 2 Samuel 11 and 12, Psalm 18:17-25]

So even though most people are fans of the Psalms and see David in a positive spiritual light, why do some of us slide into a negative assessment of David, writing him off a sinner? There are several reasons.

1. We are used to kings and leaders being corrupt and automatically expect that to occur with David, which produces a 'confirmation bias.' For example, we read about BathSheba or the census incident, and subconsciously use those events to confirm our expectations of an abuse of power. (See negativity bias stats in point 2, for the balance of events.) [Refs. 2 Samuel 11 and 12, and 2 Samuel 24]

When studying David, I have been stunned at how humble he actually is and that he constantly presents himself before the Lord, seeking correction. I don't have the courage to do that myself. I have a lot to learn from him. [Refs Psalm 18:17-25, Psalm 19:12-14, Psalm 139 and Psalm 41:12]

2. Society runs on a 'negativity bias.' We like the dirt. My best read articles are about whether or not David had venereal disease, or a homosexual affair with Jonathan. Less read are the ones which show David's financial generosity, humility, and kindness. Thank God the articles on how his faith were built, are read! That is the most important lesson we can learn from David.

As a further example of negativity bias, here are some rough statistics on how his life appears in the Bible. Within the books of Samuel, 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles, there are 46 positive events which denote David as a righteous man, and 20 negative life events, of which only 3 list catastophic sins (Gath, Bathsheba and the census).

So if you get stuck judging David on his behaviour with BathSheba, you are ignoring the 46 times David got life right. That is not a balanced way to judge. [Gath: 1 Samuel 27]

Conversely, out of the Psalms which can be attributed to David (in name and by style), 21 are cheerful and 46 are distressed. That is overall. The sad Psalms do have positive verses in them, where David pulls himself up by his bootstraps. However, we brand these Psalms as happy or sad and that, again, demonstrates the pull our psyches have towards the negative.

3. If the negative stories we know are the first we've heard, or the most often repeated, they brand the person. It only takes five seconds to form an impression of someone, whether you have correct or complete facts, or not. One isolated incident can overwhelm logic, and despite whatever else has happened to that person, (known or unknown,) a 'good' or 'bad' label is assigned. So if you hear about BathSheba more than the temple, David becomes more of a sinner than a saint.

The blessing of the Word of God is that we don't have to make any final judgements on people, as the Lord has already done it for us. The commands in the New Testament to judge, are not needed for those who have already gone home to be with the Lord. God saw all the parts of their lives that we can't see and He handed down the correct justice. "For David had done what was pleasing in the Lord's sight and had obeyed the Lord's commands throughout his life, except in the affair concerning Uriah the Hittite." 1 Kings 15:5 [See also 2 Samuel 8:15 and Acts 13:22-24 for summaries of his life.]

I encourage you to use the links below to learn more about David, and take the time to study his life. You'll be surprised at how inspiring he is, and how little of him you know. It will help build you spiritually.

For more information on what made David tick, please see these articles:

By Heart or By Sword

Persecution for Praising the Lord

How the Psalms Teach Us the Law (Torah)

Does Absolute Power Corrupt Absolutely?

Was King David a Megalomaniac?

How Gentle Kings Become Killers

The Anti-King: David and Humility

Study Essentials for Understanding King David!studyresources/cqhl

For more information on King David, please have a meander through the King David Project Facebook page, our web site and our blog, "Masada Rain." The blog houses many useful resources on studying, David plus bits and pieces of information which don't neatly fit into article form. Please ignore dates and use the search feature to find what you want. The web site has resources on David's family tree, life and the Psalms. All content is creative commons and non-profit. Sharing of the project's work would be deeply appreciated.

Masada Rain Blog:
The project web site:
Facebook page:
Twitter: @Masada_Rain

"From Despair to Deliverance: the King David Project," is a non-profit ministry, that seeks to make the life of King David easy to understand and relevant, so that believers gain inspiration and comfort from the life of King David. The project is run by Cate Russell-Cole, a Christian writer from Brisbane, Australia.


This article by Cate Russell-Cole is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Written in Australian English.

Article Source: WRITERS

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