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King David's Approach to Violence and What We Need to Learn from Him

by Cate Russell-Cole  
3/21/2016 / Christian Living

In my jewellery box is an Irish warrior's shield pendant. Sometimes I wonder what King David would have to say about me owning one. Part of me feels a little foolish, in that I am not a warrior, so what am I doing with such a thing? I haven't earned my stripes in battle, but have certainly overcome my share of obstacles... That must be acceptable, but my concern goes deeper than that.

What am I, as a Christian, doing valuing a symbol of violence? Unlike His great-grandfather, David, Jesus was a man of total peace. He never hit anyone, never killed anyone in Isra'el's defence. He was like Solomon: a man of peace who built the new temple of God. As I live within the New Testament covenant of grace, I am duty bound to be a person of peace, turning the other cheek. The only sword I am supposed to hold is the sword of the Word of God. I agree, but images of swords and shields make me feel safe.

Today reinforced how much I am not alone in this. My husband and I went to the Queensland Museum's "Medieval Power: Symbols and Splendour" exhibition, which held an intriguing collection of objects from the British Museum. The exhibit had pottery, religious objects, marvellous jewellery, seals, the most stunning drawings and scenes carved into ivory with the most exquisite craftsmanship... and there were knights. There were knights everywhere; they dominated.

Knights are romantic figures. Cosplayers want to be them, we play video games to become them and in Medieval times, Kings and noblemen who had never seen battle, had their portraits painted wearing a knight's armour, just to prove how powerful and successful they were. Knights were rich men. One piece was a badge that would be attached to a horse's bridle, and the explanation told us that a war horse cost four hundred times the salary of a common man: that is that man's yearly salary. That's an obscene amount of money, but regardless, people wanted to be a knight! We're frequently drawn to the hero who vanquishes enemies and wins. Why? Because feeling powerful makes us all feel safe; it's not just me who wants that shield.

The biggest take home message I got from the exhibition was our fascination with violence, which is startlingly as alive now, as it ever was. We no longer have to worry about our houses being raided, in the same way people were forced to in times past. We have police, locks, alarm systems and a sense of security undreamed of in that time; yet still we are drawn to violence. The games we play are Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty Black Ops 3. We watch the Karate Kid movies, Mission Impossible, Navy Seals and many, many crime and punishment style television programs, with violent content. Mankind is drawn towards harming others in many ways.

Here in March 2016, we want world peace, but in November 2015, Activision, who makes Call of Duty, earned $1.04 billion in three months from game sales. For people who don't want war, what is going on? The answer is simple: it's sin in action. Our carnal nature takes us where we shouldn't go and we fill our time with destructive entertainment.

You'd never expect to see Jesus playing these games, but what about David? Would he have played them, being the warrior he was? I don't believe so.

I do have a basis for that belief. While his not going to war is criticised by theologians in regards to his sin with Bathsheba, when I studied David's military habits, it was his custom to not run into every battle. [Ref: 2 Samuel 11:1]In this incident with the Ammonites, the head of the army, Joab, took command of the first part, then in verses 10:6,7 when the Ammonites called in more reinforcements, David left for battle with more of his men. David also stays back in Psalm 60 and in 2 Samuel 2:12-17.

Now we don't know why he did that, but what is crystal clear is his choice not to be obsessed with pursuing violence and the fame that military victory can bring. My article, Yesterday's Hero, talks about the persecution David underwent as King, when his early victories over Goliath and in Saul's army were pretty much forgotten. This could have fuelled him to get into the action and concrete his image as an indispensable asset to the nation, but it didn't. David fought for the safety of Isra'el and in line with the standards in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) and that appears to be it. For whatever reason he chose to not become a career soldier-King, he still made that choice. This decision has been highlighted by Joab's actions. If someone was a threat, Joab killed them without a hint of regret. Joab spent months on the battlefields killing men and his unrighteous love of the sword and strife was a thorn in David's side. [Ref: 2 Samuel 3:1-30]

We know that David was a kind-hearted man, who looked to the Lord for protection and ruled with wisdom. "So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people." 2 Samuel 8:15 His vision of the world was broader than any sword, it was based on spiritual principles and his love of God, and that made him a far greater success than any military prowess he had. "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 and "After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse, a man after My Own Heart; he will do everything I want him to do.' " Acts 13:22

There's the key: knowing God's heart. That heart is One that protects when necessary, but doesn't honour or need the adrenaline rush of violence to thrive. God's heart is the One which chooses a change in character; it's the One which heals and delivers and it's the One David looked to for protection. Read Psalm 11; it starts: "I trust in the LORD for protection. So why do you say to me,
"Fly like a bird to the mountains for safety!" Then goes on to say, "The LORD examines both the righteous and the wicked. He hates those who love violence." David knew where the boundaries were and he stopped before he reached them.

It's no new revelation that we should reject the things of this world, and that includes any participation in violent entertainment in any form; but when you look at that same value from a successful warrior's point of view, that message hits home so much harder. We need to copy David's example and put our imaginary swords away.


- Yesterday's Hero: Ancient Politics or, How to Keep a King Humble
- How to Kill Giants: Searching for the Deep Secrets Behind King David's Success
- Good King or Nasty Sinner? How Negativity Bias Affects How We Interpret the Life of King David

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:


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.

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