Fearless warrior, passionate family man, loyal follower of G‑d, and a person deeply affected by those around him, King David lived a tumultuous and triumphant life. He was the progenitor of a royal dynasty chosen by G‑d, but he suffered mightily from strife, especially at the hand of those closest to him. Here are 15 lessons from King David’s life we can all live by:

1. Never Judge by Appearances

Our first lesson comes not from David, but from G‑d Himself. G‑d dispatched the prophet Samuel to Jesse’s house to anoint one of his sons future king of Israel. One by one, Samuel was shown all of Jesse’s older sons, but none were “the one.” Little David, out tending the sheep, was not present. Said G‑d to Samuel: “Look not upon his appearance, or the height of his stature … the L‑rd sees into the heart.” Smallest and least likely of them all, it was David who held the potential to lead Israel to greatness.1

Read: The Shepherd Who Became King

2. Just Because No One Did It, Does Not Mean It Cannot Be Done

David facing a mocking Goliath. (Ilya Repin, 1915)
David facing a mocking Goliath. (Ilya Repin, 1915)

David was catapulted to fame and acclaim after he successfully killed Goliath, the Philistine giant before whom the entire Israelite camp cowered, with a mere slingshot and five smooth stones. Even King Saul tried to dissuade David, claiming that he was too young to take on such a seasoned warrior. David was the only one to realize that even the greatest of men can be felled by a well-aimed stone, and that no one is stronger than G‑d. In David’s own words to Goliath: “You come to me with a sword, spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of G‑d Almighty, the G‑d of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”2

Read: David and Goliath

3. Think Outside the Box

When King Saul became jealous of David’s success, he was forced to flee to the land of the Philistines, enemies of Israel. Knowing his reputation as a hero made him widely recognized, David “changed his speech before their eyes and feigned insanity before them. And he scribbled on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva run down upon his beard.”3

David’s quick thinking caused the Philistines to disregard him, and his life was spared. In life, there is always a solution, but it may not be the obvious one.

4. Be Emotional

Throughout his life, David expressed his emotion through song and/or weeping. Even though he was a celebrated warrior, David was not ashamed to show his humanity. Like David, we must give expression to our feelings, never feeling too “manly” for a good cry.

Read David's Psalms

5. Take the High Road

King Saul pursued David through the desert, desperate to find and kill him. Once, when Saul relieved himself in the very cave where David was hiding, David’s cohorts encouraged him to finally kill the man who had made his life miserable for no reason at all. But David merely cut off a small piece of Saul’s robe, indicating that he could have killed his pursuer but chose not to.4 He would have other opportunities, too, to kill Saul,5 but he never took them, revering Saul as the king chosen by G‑d.

There are times when circumstances present us with opportunities to take revenge against those who may have wronged us, and it can be tempting to take them. But, like David, we can take the high road. We may lose the battle, but we win the war of morality.

Read: Retribution and Revenge

6. Hold Your Friends Close, but Your Enemies Closer

Abner was Saul’s right-hand man, and instead of supporting his son, Ish Bosheth, after Saul fell in battle, he continued to fight against David. Nevertheless, when Abner later decided to leave Ish Bosheth and support David, David accepted him unquestioningly. Indeed Abner was in the process of drumming up support for David when he was killed by Yoav, David’s suspicious and vengeful general.6

It is a pattern that repeats itself again and again. Despite Yoav’s continued displeasure, David is warm and welcoming to all, even those who have done him great harm. Is there a rival in your office? A fellow student who always tries to one-up you? Be like David, and welcome them into your circle of friends with honest acceptance.

Listen: Acceptance

7. Never Forget About G‑d

When David was finally firmly ensconced on his throne in Jerusalem, he was not content with his own comfort and sought to build a Temple for G‑d. Ultimately, he was told that he would not be the one to build G‑d’s home in Jerusalem (that would be the job of his son, Solomon7), but it wasn’t for lack of goodwill on his part.

8. Don’t Worry About What Others May Think

When David brought the Holy Ark to Jerusalem, he “danced with all his might before the L‑rd.” Queen Michal, daughter of King Saul, found it distasteful for a king to display such emotion in public. When she criticized him for allowing even simple folk to see him in such a state, David explained his actions by saying that G‑d had chosen him to become king over Israel. Even if he were to “demean” himself further, he said, he was confident that the onlookers would honor him.8

When we push aside our concern over public opinion to serve G‑d in the way we know to be correct, people respect us for our strength of conviction.

Read: Why Being Foolish Can Be Holy

9. Accept Rebuke

After David acted improperly with Bathsheba (and had her husband, Uriah, killed), Nathan told David about a rich man who stole a poor man’s sheep as a way of demonstrating how wrong the king had been to take Bathsheba from her husband. The king humbly accepted the prophet’s criticism and admitted that he had sinned.9

This stands in stark contrast with the behavior of his predecessor Saul, who repeatedly denied his wrongdoing to the Prophet Samuel.

Like David, we must recognize when we mess up, ask for forgiveness, and try to do better.

Read: How Does Forgiveness Work?

10. Don’t Get Stuck Trying to Undo the Past

As predicted by the Prophet Nathan, the first child of David and Bathsheba fell mortally ill. David prayed to G‑d, fasted, and slept on the ground during the child’s illness. When the child died a week later, however, David was remarkably calm. In response to his servants’ curiosity, David explained: "While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, 'Who knows? Perhaps the L‑rd will be gracious to me, and the child will live. But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?"10

David knew that his child was gone forever and chose to focus on comforting his wife. There is a time for prayer, a time for mourning, and a time to resume living.

11. Love Your Family to Death (Literally)

David suffered tremendously at the hands of his family. His father-in-law, King Saul, hounded him incessantly, and his son Absalom drove him out of Jerusalem. David was not foolish. He made sure to safeguard himself, but even as they tried to harm him, he displayed love to both of them. In fact, even while being pursued by Absalom’s soldiers, David instructed his warriors to be gentle to his wayward son, and he mourned them both after their respective violent deaths. 11

12. Use Your Resources Wisely

While camped outside of Jerusalem, fearing attack from his son, Absalom, David was joined by loyal friends and followers. Among them was the old and wise Chushai. Recognizing that Chushai was of little use in a guerrilla camp, David dispatched him to Jerusalem where he could infiltrate, posed as a supporter of Absalom.12 Indeed, in more than one instance, Chushai’s inside knowledge and wisdom saved the day.

13. Be a Loyal Friend

Jonathan (son of Saul) and David were an unlikely pair of friends, who promised that their friendship would extend to their children.13 Time and time again, Jonathan risked his very life in order to save David from Saul’s evil schemes. Their last parting was one of copious tears and hugs. Even after Jonathan’s death, David lavished care and attention upon his late friend’s son, Mephibosheth, supporting him financially in Jerusalem.14

Blood runs thicker than water, and friendship is even deeper than blood. Treasure your friends, and treat them with loyalty and devotion.

14. Seek Out Compromise

While David was away from Jerusalem, Mephibosheth’s servant, Ziba, slandered his master, telling David that Mephibosheth was hoping to become king over Israel. David decreed that Mephibosheth’s wealth (much of it, a gift from David) be given to Ziba, but when the war ended it became apparent that Mephibosheth had remained loyal to David. Faced with the choice of retracting his word or depriving Mephibosheth of all he owned, David decided that the wealth he had awarded Ziba would now be split evenly between the two men.15

David’s split-second decision allowed both men to save face and retain enough to live off. Sometimes, a compromise is the best solution when faced with two imperfect alternatives. Indeed, keying off Scripture’s assessment that “David did judgment and kindness,”16 the sages say that David was known for creating compromise.17

15. It’s Never Too Late

Throughout his career, David suffered from the ill-temper and vengefulness of his captain Yoav. Despite his best attempts, David was never able to rid himself of Yoav. On his deathbed, giving final instructions to Solomon, his son and successor, David asked him to make sure that Yoav would ultimately be punished for his numerous acts of treachery.18

Like David, we cannot accomplish everything. You don’t need to move mountains. Do what you can, ask others to pitch in, and let G‑d put the pieces together. In the words of the sages, “it is not your [task] to finish the work, but neither are you free to be absolved from it.”19