God knew that David possessed outstanding leadership qualities long before the young shepherd boy from Bethlehem became Israel’s king. David was the youngest of eight brothers whom the prophet Samuel “interviewed” for the job. He was the only one of the brothers about whom God said, “Anoint him, for he is the one” (1 Sam. 16:12b).
David soon demonstrated the qualities God saw in him. By singlehandedly facing down the giant Philistine warrior Goliath, David displayed amazing personal courage and commitment to a cause greater than himself (1 Sam. 17). By refusing to harm King Saul when given the chance—even though Saul made multiple attempts to get rid of his anointed successor—David showed remarkable loyalty and patience, trusting in God’s timing and providential help (1 Sam. 24). By unifying all of the Israelite tribes after King Saul’s death and making Jerusalem the political and religious center of Israel, David exhibited political acumen at its best (2 Sam. 5–6).
Later in his career as king, however, David proved that even the best leaders can falter badly if they fail to remain humble, disciplined, and committed to the cause greater than themselves. David’s ghastly sins involving Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 11–12) not only exposed the king’s precipitous slide into self-centeredness but also became the seedbed for subsequent lapses of judgment in his leadership of God’s people.
In the wake of a failed coup against David by his son, Absalom, the king was in danger of making at least three more leadership mistakes. Joab, David’s military commander, warned the king that if he did not avoid these mistakes, his kingdom would collapse.
First, David showed signs of putting his personal feelings ahead of what was best for the nation. Absalom had been killed in the process of putting down the attempted coup. David grieved loudly and continuously over Absalom’s death and refused to take time to honor his returning soldiers who had put their lives on the line to save the king and his kingdom (2 Sam. 19:1-4). Admittedly, David’s situation was a lose-lose proposition. He was either going to lose a son or lose the kingdom God had given him. God providentially restored the kingdom to David, but David—to Joab at least—was in danger of turning a great victory for God’s people into a time of personal mourning.
Second, as king, David was the encourager-in-chief. Effective leaders not only show courage but also inspire others by encouraging them. Joab warned David that if he did not immediately go out and encourage his soldiers, by morning the king would have no army! It would be a serious mistake in leadership for David to fail to encourage those who followed and served him.
Third, David could not afford to ignore the signs of growing disunity among the various tribes of Israel. Absalom had been able to win the support of some Israelites because the king had not been careful to give all the people access to justice (2 Sam. 15:1-6). With Absalom gone and the coup attempt defeated, David needed to repair trust with some Israelites so that the kingdom would again be united (19:8-15).
Effective, enduring leadership puts others’ needs first. It constantly seeks to encourage others. It continuously works to unite people around a cause greater than themselves, inspiring them to great service to God and His purposes.
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.