What makes a man? Or what does a man do to commend himself as a man? Various answers could be given: 1) defends his family 2) provides for his family 3) uses his talents and abilities for the advantage of others. Now all of these things are worthy goals for a man.
But David had loftier advice for his son Solomon. Consider that Solomon was a king of peace: he did not wage war like his father. Solomon was a man of wealth but it was inherited. And Solomon as king had a duty to serve the kingdom.
So what could David tell his son to be or do that he wasn’t already or to gain that which was not already at his disposal How could Solomon distinguish himself as a man?
“be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is writtten in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and withersoever thou turnest thyself: That the Lord may continue his word which he spake concerning me, saying, If thy children take heed to their way, to walk before me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail thee (said he) a man on the throne of Israel.” 2 Kings 2:3-4
These are the last words of David to Solomon. They form the core of what David himself was and what he wanted his son and his son’s sons to be. This, in essence, was the heritage of David the man: not his great battles, nor the greatness of his kingdom, not even his many children but of his love and faithfulness to God. Solomon had a godly man’s counsel and example before him – live as God has called you to live – as his word commands. Live and do, inwardly and outwardly, in truth so that the kingdom may be established in all righteousness and peace.
Now of course we know that David had not obtained that goal perfectly. In fact, the conditional nature of 2 Kings 2:4 reminds us of David’s sins and anticipates those of Solomon’s. The record of David’s family is full of sin and unfaithfulness, and so naturally (and gratefully) we look to Christ to fulfil the promises given to his ancestor (Luke 1:69 & Romans 1:3) as well as to bear their sins (and ours) as their advocate.
But none of that changes the fact that David’s advice is not only sound for all men, but indicative of Christ’s own life himself: one who was always obedient to God. One who never had an earthly kingdom, nor took up arms to defend a mother or a sister. And yet, who would dare to say to say that he was not manly?
And we men, we servants of our king, ought to aim for this even while we fall short. Moreover, it is the promise of the Davidic covenant that we can be holy, that we can be obedient, that we can render gratitude to our God as pleases him (Luke 1:75). This is the best of what a man can be in this life: not manward – approval in the eyes of other men – but Godward – serving him and fearing him forever.