12 Leadership Principles from the Life of David

February 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

David is one of the most well known and perhaps the most respected leader of the Old Testament. He was not perfect, but with God’s guidance he led the nation of Israel to prominence and success it had never experienced in its thousand years of history. (Even an atheist believes David to have been an important figure.)

This blog post will showcase twelve leadership principles from the life of David.

12 Leadership Principles from the Life of David

‎En-Gedi (“Spring of the Young Goat”) was s spring discharged eastward into the Dead Sea. Near the spring was the cave in which David and his men were hiding when Saul entered; David, despite his men’s urging, spared Saul’s life (1 Sam 24:1–22).

Each principle will start with a related Scripture, an observation about David, and then a principle about leadership.

1) 1 Samuel 17:34-36

But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God!” (All Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation.)

Observation:
David had confidence in his ability because of past experience fighting lions and bears while guarding his father’s sheep.

Principle:
David’s past experience gave him confidence to fight the Philistine. Just as David was (from a human point of view) in fighting lions and bears he was also at a disadvantage when fighting Goliath. However, the confidence he had from past battles gave him the ability to stand against Goliath.

2) 1 Samuel 17:37

“The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!” Saul finally consented. “All right, go ahead,” he said. “And may the Lord be with you!”

Observation:
David believed that it was the LORD who had rescued him from the claws of the lions and bears and therefore believed God would again rescue him at the hands of the Philistine.

Principle:
A leader can place his faith in God’s future provision based on past circumstances where God provided guidance and help.

3) 1 Samuel 17:45

David replied to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”

Observation:
David acknowledged the earthly weapons that Goliath had while sharing that he had the weapons of “The LORD of the heaven’s armies.”

Principle:
No matter what earthly opposition a leader may face, he can rest assured that God in heaven has better and more powerful tools which He will use to ensure His will be done.

4) 1 Samuel 17:45

David replied to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”

Observation:
David decided to fight Goliath because Goliath was defiling God.

Principle:
A leader must stand for the reputation of his God. When someone speaks wrongly against God a leader must step up to defend God.

5) 1 Samuel 17:46

“Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel!”

Observation:
David claimed that when Goliath is defeated, the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. David wanted the pagans to know that God exists.

Principle:
A leader should point to God as the source of miraculous things that are done. The LORD should be praised as being true and alive, evidenced by what He has done in the life of a leader.

6) 1 Samuel 17:47

“And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!”

Observation:
The battle was the Lord’s battle and David was merely participating in it. God was the one in charge, David simply allowed God to use him.

Principle:
The work of a leader is the Lord’s work. The leader is merely the participant who administers God’s plan.

7) 2 Samuel 5:20

So David went to Baal-perazim and defeated the Philistines there. “The Lord did it!” David exclaimed. “He burst through my enemies like a raging flood!” So he named that place Baal-perazim (which means “the Lord who bursts through”).

Observation:
All of the tribes of Israel approached David and said that he was the person who “really led the forces of Israel” during Saul’s rule. This showed that the people saw him as a leader before he was officially king.

Principle:
Even if a leader is not the main leader in charge he can still be seen as the true leader with influence.

8) 1 Samuel 6:22

“Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes! But those servant girls you mentioned will indeed think I am distinguished!”

Observation:
Even though Michal thought David embarrassed himself with his dancing and with the “regular person” clothing, he did not care because he was rejoicing to the Lord.

Principle:
Regardless of what others might think of him, a leader should gladly celebrate when God is honored and God is brought glory.

9) 2 Samuel 9:6-11 

His name was Mephibosheth; he was Jonathan’s son and Saul’s grandson. When he came to David, he bowed low to the ground in deep respect. David said, “Greetings, Mephibosheth.” Mephibosheth replied, “I am your servant.” “Don’t be afraid!” David said. “I intend to show kindness to you because of my promise to your father, Jonathan. I will give you all the property that once belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will eat here with me at the king’s table!” Mephibosheth bowed respectfully and exclaimed, “Who is your servant, that you should show such kindness to a dead dog like me?” Then the king summoned Saul’s servant Ziba and said, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and servants are to farm the land for him to produce food for your master’s household. But Mephibosheth, your master’s grandson, will eat here at my table.” (Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.) Ziba replied, “Yes, my lord the king; I am your servant, and I will do all that you have commanded.” And from that time on, Mephibosheth ate regularly at David’s table, like one of the king’s own sons.

Observation:
David showed loyalty and kindness to Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, fulfilling his promise to Jonathan many years before (1 Samuel 20:42).

Principle:
A leader must stay obedient to his word. Even if that person is no longer present to hold the leader accountable the leader still must maintain his word.

10) 2 Samuel 18:1-2

David now mustered the men who were with him and appointed generals and captains to lead them. He sent the troops out in three groups, placing one group under Joab, one under Joab’s brother Abishai son of Zeruiah, and one under Ittai, the man from Gath. The king told his troops, “I am going out with you.”

Observation:
Even though David had fled from the city of Jerusalem he still led his men.

Principle:
When things go astray for a leader he needs to still have a desire to lead, and he needs people who are still willing to be led by him.

11) 2 Samuel 18:32, 33

“What about young Absalom?” the king demanded. “Is he all right?” And the Ethiopian replied, “May all of your enemies, my lord the king, both now and in the future, share the fate of that young man!” The king was overcome with emotion. He went up to the room over the gateway and burst into tears. And as he went, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.”

Observation:
David was deeply saddened when he heard about the death of his son, Absalom. David was so sad that he wished he had died instead of his son.

Principle:
A leader, even a king, must have a strong love for his family even if members of that family cost him his leadership, influence, and power. Desires for a loving family at home should trump a leader’s desire for power and influence at work.

12) 2 Samuel 20:2-6

So all the men of Israel deserted David and followed Sheba son of Bicri. But the men of Judah stayed with their king and escorted him from the Jordan River to Jerusalem. When David came to his palace in Jerusalem, he took the ten concubines he had left to look after the palace and placed them in seclusion. Their needs were provided for, but he no longer slept with them. So each of them lived like a widow until she died. Then the king told Amasa, “Mobilize the army of Judah within three days, and report back at that time.” So Amasa went out to notify Judah, but it took him longer than the time he had been given. Then David said to Abishai, “Sheba son of Bicri is going to hurt us more than Absalom did. Quick, take my troops and chase after him before he gets into a fortified town where we can’t reach him.”

Observation:
Even though David had just experienced a deeply emotional time with the death of Absalom he remained calm and was decisive in his leadership.

Principle:
A leader will experience rough times and emotional distress. When those times come he needs to remain calm and maintain decisiveness in his leadership.

Leadership Principles Summary

The one summary most prevalent in these dozen leadership principles based on the life of David is a focus on God.

From the time David first confronted Goliath throughout most of his life he was always focused on God. The beginning of David being a public figure as a leader occurred not simply because a Philistine giant was going to defeat the Israelites; the beginning of David’s public life was because that Philistine giant was speaking out against his God. That was David’s concern and that led him to step out against the giant.

Another way to summarize the principles from David’s life is to look at his steady and decisive leadership. David had direction in his leadership because he was focused on God and (almost) always sought to follow Him.. He knew where to go and what to do because he was following God.

Personal Application

For me, I can improve my leadership skills by being more focused on God.

I can do this by seeking His will before I begin to dream and see things that I might be able to do. I believe one of my weaknesses is that I have a tendency to think and dream and see a vision for what I think God might want me to do in life. However, I often skip the step of prayerfully asking God what He might want me to do and where He might want me to go. As a result, I might cultivate a vision for something that I can do as a leader without even consulting God about it.

As David has shown as an example, I can be more purposeful in always seeking to follow God with my heart and my actions. When I actively seek to focus on God and follow Him, I will be able to provide direction and leadership based on what His will is, not my own.

Question: What leadership principles have you learned from the life of David?

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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