John Walton has posted a discussion on the designation "a man after God's own heart in 1 Samuel 13:14. Walton rightly argues that this designation relates to God's heart for David rather than David's heart for God. Walton notes:
How do we know that the interpretation should go this direction?
By other uses of similar phrasing. One should particularly note the usage of Jeremiah 3:15, but also Psalm 20:4 (Hebrew, v.3). In addition we would find that this is standard rhetoric in the ancient Near East as a reference to covenant alignment when a king replaces a rebellious vassal with one who will be more compliant and cooperative. Likewise Mesopotamian gods such as Enlil and Shamash are said to install kings of their own choosing using a similar phrase. (Commentaries offering more information include K. McCarter’s Anchor commentary on 1 Samuel and the forthcoming Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament.
Finally it should be said that this interpretation does not eliminate every aspect of David’s loyalty to Yahweh. Indeed, his loyalty and alignment are the most likely criteria referred to. But that should be differentiated from our common understandings of piety, devotion and spiritual maturity. It is our careful study of Hebrew usage—supported by background information—that helps us to arrive at this interpretation.
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