Lessons in Leadership – Part I: Why Study David

Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be posting leadership lessons that David needed to learn before he became King. Contrary to folklore, no one is born ready to lead. Leaders must be developed before they are needed. In addition, leaders cannot be mass produced – each leader takes time, commitment, some turmoil and persistent effort to develop. Some don’t make it – others think they have made it when they really haven’t.

If you look at our Business Reference Architecture, you’ll find that who the leader is has more to do with their success than any one decision or even a combination of decisions that they make. Why? Because when push comes to shove, they won’t be able to make the very tough, right decisions without first having the visceral fortitude to manage their own emotions and the stress of the situation.

Why Study David’s Life?

We study David’s life because we are so much like him – he’s a very real person with real strengths and real faults. You’ll be able to identify with him quite readily. Also, chances are good that:

  • You need to develop your own leadership skills
  • You need more and better leaders at your business and church
  • We can learn much from David about how to grow in our faith
  • We can learn much about what not to do from studying Saul

A core truth that we will learn from this study is this: A primary key to Biblical leadership and effective ministry is sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

Three Characters in this Study

There are three characters in this study:

  • Saul – a picture of a man with great potential who blew it because he wouldn’t follow the Lord
  • David – a picture of a man with potential who made it because he did follow the Lord, even though he sinned greatly
  • Holy Spirit – the Spirit comes and goes as a result of God’s direction and the actions of Saul and David

Let’s start by looking at an overview of Saul’s life since Saul is in power when David is introduced to us in 1 Samuel.

A Brief Overview of Saul’s Life

Before Saul because king, Israel was governed by a series of judges. Samuel, who is also the high priest when Saul becomes king, is the last of these judges. Even though Samuel appoints his sons to succeed him as Israel’s judges (1 Sam 8.1-5), we also know that they are wicked men – their leadership and judging activities are grown in the soil of wickedness:

1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

In fact, his sons were so repugnant, that the Elders of Israel went to Samuel and asked for a king instead of his sons. In other words, “let’s change direction” and try a new way of governing ourselves.

Samuel Anoints Saul as King

1 Samuel 9.1ff, Saul is introduced to us as “impressive”, “tall”, “handsome” and from a respected family. To the last point – he has the right connections!

Without giving you the play-by-play, 1 Samuel 9 gives us the story of how Saul starts out looking for his donkeys and ends up being anointed King of the nation of Israel. After the anointing, God changes Saul’s heart (10.9) and the Holy Spirit comes on Saul in power. I would suggest that every leader needs God’s anointing: leading is no laughing matter. It is serious business to lead. We also learn, later on, that prophecy is a prominent gift given to Saul. But we also see some negative characteristics in his persona:

  • Lying – 10.16
  • Cowardice – 10.23
  • Impulsive – 13.12 & 13.7-ff

When we read these stories, we learn that Saul knew what was right but decided to try to win God’s favor using his own methods and timing. God didn’t waste much time with Saul: God took the kingdom away from him as a result. Note that even though God took the kingdom away from him in chapter 10, it would be nearly 20 years before the kingdom was transferred to David and in the process, Saul would consult a medium, bring Samuel up from the dead and (essentially) commit suicide.

David is Introduced

When David is first introduced, it is not by name, but by a phrase: “a man after his {God’s} own heart” (1 Sam 13.14).

13 You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”

Later, he is described as one who is “Better than” Saul (1 Sam 15.28) and we learn that David was:

  • Found – God appointed him to this ministry
  • Feared – by Saul; by enemies; not by Jonathan
  • Fallen – adulterer, murderer, liar, impulsive…..
  • Forgiven – completely by God. Why? Because David sought God’s forgiveness. Saul did not.

David committed many sins, such as

  • Adultery
  • Lust
  • Treason
  • Murder
  • Stealing
  • Terrible parent
  • Coveting

Yet, David is described as a man after God’s own heart. In addition, he wrote a significant portion of Scripture and demonstrated both authenticity and integrity. From the time David was anointed by Samuel until he was crowned King of the Northern Kingdom was (roughly) 15 years.


Perhaps you feel called to ministry. Perhaps you understand you’re called, but you feel anxious that you’re “not there” yet. You might have done some things in the past that are keeping you from direct ministry right now. Perhaps you feel “put on the shelf” or that your talents are under-utilized. You might have a strong desire to do more but sense you’re “not ready”. What you can learn from David’s life and this study is this:

  • Our sin may not accurately reflect our heart for God
  • David and Saul provide us examples on what not to do as well as what to do
  • God can use fallen people
  • God sovereignly calls us to different ministries
  • Our choices have real, lasting, eternal consequences, yet our sin is never a final reality – we can also start fresh in Jesus Christ.

In this study, we’ll find that God had to teach David 17 different lessons about leadership and himself before he was ready to become king. Come with me on this journey. And let the Lord work deeply and mightily in your life.

Bill English, CEO