When I read this Psalm, I remember a story I once heard about Teddy Roosevelt. He owned a ranch with several head of cattle. He found out that one of his ranch hands had stolen some cattle from a neighbor, and had put the cows into his (Roosevelt’s) herd. He immediately fired the man, and this was his reason: “If he’s willing to steal for me, then he’ll be willing to steal from me!”
I’ve mentioned this before, but David is one of my favorite characters in the Bible, and today’s passage is one reason. Every leader, especially a king, is tempted to fill up his administration with whoever will benefit him the most. You always want the most competent people, but also there’s always the need to take into consideration the political connections that a prospect brings to the table. If he “knows someone,” then that can be really useful, especially to a leader who’s just starting out.
But according to this Psalm, that was not the top priority for David. He was considered not just a political leader but also a spiritual one as well. It was his job to enforce God’s law on the nation, so he couldn’t very well keep lawbreakers within his own administration.
So what type of man was he seeking? Looking over the passage, it looks like there were two qualities he was on the lookout for, which were requirements for working under him. The first, which seems to leap off the page, is honesty. He can’t be “faithless,” he can’t “[slander] his neighbor in secret,” and he can’t practice “deceit.” Just like Roosevelt, he had to have people of principle and integrity who could be trusted.
Second, which gets just a mention in vs. 5, is humility. It would be a great honor to work in direct service to a king, and it'd be very easy to get a “big head” over it. Of course, in God’s kingdom (of which David’s was supposed to be an extension), there’s no room for pride. A place of leadership in God’s kingdom is a place of service, not an opportunity to gain power and lord it over others.
Now, let me lay all my cards on the table. Did David always carry out the principles he asserts here? I wish he did, but no. His commander of the army, Joab, was a cold-blooded murderer. David knew about it (or at least strongly suspected), but because of his (David’s) precarious political position, he never pursued it. If you want to read about it, you can do so here. But just because he didn’t live up to his principles at all times (which none of us do) doesn’t negate the rightness of the principle, nor does it minimize the wisdom David showed in at least recognizing the need for this.
So how does this apply to us? I’m not a King or President. But what about the people with whom you do business? Are you willing to overlook their character in order to get what you want? Do you prize honesty in your friends?
Also, there is another application which strikes me. We're commanded to pray for our leaders. No, it’s not an option. The prophet Jeremiah even advised the exiles to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which [God has] carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” And I'd think that a good prayer for leaders is that the Lord would provide them with good counselors who display these qualities.
And of course this is a good reminder to all of us to ask ourselves “Am I this type of person? Am I faithful? Do I slander anyone? Am I deceitful? Am I prideful?” The King of Kings is also looking for people to serve him, and his standards are even higher than David’s. Do I fit the bill?
Lord Jesus, I want to be a faithful servant in your house. Please help me to be that type of man, by your grace.