I’ve been studying the life of David lately and I’ve decided to do a series about him entitled, “God’s Own Heart.”
For the past few years, I’ve been struck by something as I read the Bible: I have a hard time finding very many examples of good fathers in the Bible. Sure, there’s the BIG ONE, the Father in Heaven. But outside of Him, who comes to mind? Abraham? I’m pretty sure Ishmael wouldn’t give his dear ol’ Dad very high marks. And after Gen. 22, Isaac might not either. Speaking of Isaac, he’s clearly disqualified for playing favorites with his boys. Ditto Jacob. Although a great leader, the Bible portrays Moses as a neglectful father. Samuel’s sons accepted bribes and perverted justice. And let’s don’t even talk about that weird story with Noah and his boys.
In short, there aren’t a lot of examples of good fathers in the Bible. At least not as many as you’d like.
But my study of David leads me to one example, one I’d never considered simply because there’s so little actually written about him. But I’m willing to put him up against any other non-divine father in the entire Bible.
Jesse, the father of David, is the best Dad in the Bible.
My evidence? Acts 13:22. During Paul’s speech in Antioch, he speaks of David as a man after God’s own heart. Actually, Paul quotes the words of God, “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.” Strong words for David, but did you notice that Jesse gets a shout out, too? This is why I contend that Jesse might be the best Dad in the Bible. He raised a son whose heart beat in rhythm with the Father’s. And if you ask me, this is the task of parenting.
They say a child’s earliest conception of God is shaped by their relationship with their earthly father. When we read of the relationship David enjoys with the Father in heaven, we can only imagine the relationship he and Jesse shared. We can only imagine the long hours David spent watching as Jesse tenderly cared for the flock. We can imagine Jesse teaching young David the myriad uses for both rod and staff. We can picture the two of them walking through green pastures and beside still waters, mindful of the best places for the sheep to be rested and restored. You can imagine Jesse holding court on the selection of smooth stones and the perfect trajectory of a well-timed sling shot. Most of all, we can see David learning to pray at his father’s table, the words of blessing being spoken by the father and written across the heart of the son. In so many ways, David’s heart must have been shaped by his interaction with Jesse.
If you’re familiar with David’s story, you realize he was far from perfect. Adultery, murder, deception, lust, being too soft on his own children…David’s faults are plenty and the biblical account does not gloss over them. But isn’t it interesting that none of these shortcomings become the primary way David is characterized, either in Scripture or in our collective consciousness. Instead, David is remembered as one whose heart was a reflection of the heart of God.
In the ancient world, the heart was considered the seat of decision and will. To speak of one’s “heart” was to speak of their way of life: their values, their worldview, and the overall direction of their lives. For David, his understanding of reality is shaped by the personal Shepherd who guides him through life’s darkest valleys. David sees what others cannot: a God whose armies shall not be defied and whose name shall not be profaned. It is precisely because David’s heart beats for God that he can say of Goliath, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine,” (1 Sam. 17:32). It is David’s heart that leaps off of the page and arrests our imagination, inspiring us to live courageously with hearts full of faith, trusting in the provision of the Shepherding God above.
And quietly, off to the side, in the shadows where no one is looking, Jesse smiles.
Jesse smiles because he knows that all of his careful instruction, his persistent prayerfulness, and his quiet life of faithfulness in a dusty town called Bethlehem 3,000 years ago formed his son’s heart in ultimate and eternal ways. His son’s heart beats in rhythm with the Father’s heart.
As much as some parents don’t want to believe it, our job is NOT to raise perfect children. Your kids will screw up. A lot. Probably at least as much as you did / do. But thankfully, that’s not the barometer of good parenting, at least not in my book. Instead, we look to the heart, the direction of our children’s lives. And we recognize that, like Jesse, our task is to direct our children’s hearts toward God, to prompt their heart to beat in rhythm with the Father’s heart.
I hope to smile Jesse’s smile someday.