I love words and studying the Word! I often combine these passions as I read and study the Bible. Most recently, I started ruminating on the phrase “a man after God’s own heart.” This phrase occurs twice in the book of Second Samuel in reference to David. Yet David committed both adultery and murder. Calamity and chaos ruled his family. One might think, “Surely, this is a mistake. How can this be a man of God?”
I started by thinking about the English word “after.” We often say of a child, “Oh, he takes after his father.” or a similar phrase when noticing traits or characteristics. That is typically how I’ve understood this passage. As I chewed on the passage some more, I thought about the phrase “going after” – a chasing. Then I decided to look into the original language.
In Hebrew, “ish kilebabo” means “a man with a heart like His.” The word “after” isn’t there! This led to some more ruminating and searching, because again, how does an adulterous murderer have a heart like God’s? Ancient Greek does not have an exact preposition for “like.” The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was in common use at the time of Jesus) uses the word κατά (kata), which can be translated as “after” in the sense of pursuit or “in accordance with” or “as.”
“Rather than indicating David’s spirituality, it indicates the fact that David meets God’s criteria for kingship. He is a man of God’s choice. This stands in immediate contrast to Saul who met the criteria that were established by the people.”
What the ancient author clearly means to say of David is that, as a result of Saul’s failure to live up to his responsibilities as king, God chose a man who shares his own view and feelings—a man with a heart like God’s own.
Just like David, we are flawed people. We often fall short in our pursuit of following God. Maybe we aren’t adulterous murderers, but we may be liars, quick-tempered, jealous, scornful, gossips, or worry-warts. A heart like God’s, a heart chasing after God, a heart looking to imitate the Father will, like David, repent (turn in the opposite direction and walk in agreement with God) with a contrite (humble remorseful) heart. God loves us enough to give us the choice to chase after Him! Do you love Him enough to surrender your will to pursue His heart?