Key Verses: The things David had done displeased Yahweh. Yahweh sent Nathan to David. — 2 Samuel 11:27-12:1.
Scriptures: 2 Samuel 12:1-15; Psalm 51:1-9
DAVID had committed a very serious sin before Yahweh, and a horrible transgression against one under his charge. David, of course, before this sin, had proven himself to be one of high moral and intellectual capabilities, so much so that Yahweh spoke of him as a man after His own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22) Yahweh highly prospered King David in his rulership, giving him victory over his enemies and blessing the land with an abundance.
(2) Prosperity, however, did not work to King David’s personal advantage. After years of phenomenal success under Yahweh’s blessing, when his kingdom was mighty and his name honorable, and the necessity for his personal participation in wars was passed, and his heart had begun to gravitate towards earthly pleasures and was less zealous for Yahweh and the Law than at first, the king fell into very grievous sins, which appear all the more black in contrast with the high moral character shown by him in his earlier life, when he was the man after God’s own heart. The story of his sins, how he became enamored of Bathsheba and committed adultery with her, and subsequently, to shield himself, caused her husband Uriah to be placed in the forefront of the battle that he might be killed by the enemy, involving the loss of several other lives as well, is told in the Scriptures in a most straightforward manner, without the slightest effort to condone the king’s wrong-doing. No excuses are offered in connection with the account; the full weight of these awful crimes is laid directly on the king’s head. Whatever excuses may be offered on his behalf must come from the reader of the account. We may suggest some thoughts along this line: In that day the kings of the world exercised a despotic authority, and it was a theory among the people that the king could do no wrong — that whatever he pleased to do was proper to him because of his high position as the head and ruler of the nation. Indeed, many kings were worshiped as gods, not in the sense of simply being mighty rulers, but of being supernatural beings, as though they were Supreme Beings, taking the role of the Supreme Being Himself. We could in no sense of the word agree with such a thought. Nevertheless we can reasonably suppose that a sentiment so general would have more or less influence upon the mind of the king. He who respected Saul’s life, because he was Yahweh’s anointed, may have to some extent fallen into the misconception that his own anointing by Yahweh relieved him in some degree from the responsibilities resting upon others of his nation. Nevertheless, the record states: “The thing that David had done displeased Yahweh.” — 2 Samuel 11:27.
(3) But with all his attainments, with all his wisdom, and skill, and sound judgment, and with all his humility and godly reverence, the poor fallen nature of even this great and good man succumbed to the temptations of abundant prosperity. It is hard to account for the fall of such a good man and of a character so strong in many respects as that of David; but one writer, we think, reasons on it very correctly, saying, — “In some natures, especially strong natures, both the old man and the new possess unusual vehemence; the rebellious energizings of the old are held in check by the still more resolute vigor of the new; but if it so happen that the opposition of the new man to the old is relaxed or abated, then the outbreak of corruption will be on a fearful scale.” — An Exposition of the Bible (1903), Volume II, By Marcus Dods, Robert Alexander Watson, Frederic William Farrar, and others, page 156.
(4) Evidently this fall of David into gross sin was not altogether sudden. There had been missteps leading up to it; and the process being gradual and each wrong thing searing the conscience more and more, the climax was reached almost imperceptibly, so that two, even of the basest crimes, were at length committed, apparently without any compunctions of conscience; and the sin was concealed unrepented of, although it was yielding its bitter fruit of restless remorse (Psalm 32:3,4), until Nathan the prophet was sent to challenge, awaken and arouse the man to a deep sense of his guilt and of the necessity of immediate repentance, confession and reformation. David had become so intoxicated with the spirit which generally attends power, popularity and great success that he evidently did not recognize his gradual moral decline. As a king his word was supreme among the people; all Israel waited to do his bidding; the greatest men in the nation were at his service; success had everywhere attended his energies on the field of battle; his kingdom was extended and very prosperous; but in the midst of all this success and exaltation lurked temptations subtle and dangerous which should have been guarded against with scrupulous care, and perseveringly resisted.
(5) As the chief magistrate of the nation few indeed were bold enough to be true to the king as to a brother in pointing out his errors and dangers: on the other hand, the tendency was, as it always is toward those in power, rather to endorse and imitate, than to wisely, kindly and respectfully reprove, remembering the highest interests of such a one in preference to any desire for his favor at the expense of those interests. While we mark with pleasure the noble traits in David’s character, we must deplore the steps of his decline. Possibly, he got to looking upon the privileges claimed by other kings about him as his privileges also, in a measure at least, and, contrary to the divine law (See Leviticus 18:1-4,18 margin; Deuteronomy 17:14,17-20), he multiplied wives to himself. Then in his war with the Ammonites he resorted to unnecessary cruelty, not alone contented to conquer, but desiring thus ignobly to triumph over his foes. (Compare 1 Chronicles 20:1-3; 2 Samuel 11) Then his numbering of the people, contrary to the law of God and the counsel of his wisest men and the religious sense of the nation (See 1 Chronicles 21:1), showed that a decline of piety was leading him to doubt the divine favor, and consequently to put his trust in numbers and equipments for defense, etc. (Jeremiah 17:5), rather than in God, whose favor and help could be experienced only while he continued to walk in the paths of righteousness.
(6) It was in the midst of this season of outward prosperity, yet decline of inward piety, that David succumbed to temptation and to the dreadful crime he committed against God and man. (2 Samuel 11:1-27.) Poor, fallen human nature! how weak it is, and how prone to sin, even at its best state! Truly, there is no safety from the power of sin except in a close and constant walk with God, and a resolute purpose to continually avoid and resist the intoxicating influences of the spirit of the world. To allow its pride or vain glory or desire for self-gratification to actuate us in any measure is to bring our moral perceptions to that extent under its stupefying influence. And when any one is intoxicated with the spirit of the world (which in large measure is the spirit of Satan), he will blindly do many things which in his sober senses he would shun and despise. So it was with David, a great and wise man, and, until this intoxication came upon him, a good man, and therefore beloved and highly honored of God, yet even he fell; and the previous height of his moral character makes all the more sad his decline and fall.
(7) Well indeed would it have been for David had he remembered the command of Yahweh: “It shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites: and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear Yahweh his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them; that his heart not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he not turn aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20.) If in this matter even such a man as David failed, and therefore was overcome by the power of temptation, let every child of God take heed and profit by the lesson of his folly. The Word of God must be the daily companion, instructor and guide to every one who would be kept in the paths of righteousness, be he little or great. It is not enough that we read it, nor even that we study it, for the sake of mere information or for argument: it is given us to ponder and to feed upon, that its principles may be incorporated into our being, moulding our thoughts and guiding all our actions. This is what it is to have the word of Yahweh dwelling in us as an energizing and moving power; and if we thus have fellowship with God through his Word and the privilege of prayer, we shall not be beguiled into sin, nor partake of the intoxicating spirit of the world.
(8) It was under these circumstances that Yahweh sent Nathan to David. (2 Samuel 2:1) Let us contemplate how Nathan might have felt for a moment. Yahweh was sending him to confront David on a very serious matter. Nathan probably also realized how David may have been thinking of himself, of his power and authority as king, and Nathan was also probably aware of how the heathen kings might have reacted to his coming to challenge what could be thought of as the supreme ruler of the land. If David had become so engrossed with his own selfishness and power, it was possible that David may not repent and may have Nathan killed as a result. However, Nathan had faith in Yahweh, and there is nothing in the scriptures that offer any hint that Nathan held any thought of not obeying Yahweh.
(9) Nathan, under the figure of a parable, challenged the king’s sympathies. Nathan stated to David: ““There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up together with him, and with his children. It ate of his own food, drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was to him like a daughter. A traveler came to the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man who had come to him, but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man who had come to him.” (2 Samuel 12:1-4) so that the king responded with a declaration of a very severe judgment — a death sentence — against the person David’s emotions were engendered so that he was his “anger was greatly kindled against the man”. David thus stated: “As Yahweh lives, the man who has done this is worthy to die!” David did not, of course, realize that the prophet was describing David himself, nor did David realize that he was stating that he himself was worthy of death for the crime he had committed. Then the Prophet brought home to him the lesson saying, “You are the man!” In stating this, the prophet was, in effect, challenging David to own up to his crime.
(10) It was a critical moment for David, and probably for a time silence reigned. What would he do? Would he proudly resist the power of the truth, thus calmly but kindly pressed home by his old and trusted friend, the humble man of God? Probably this was the first impulse of the pride engendered by his thus far successful career; but there was the truth so plainly set before him: how could he deny it? how could he excuse it, or in any sense or degree justify it? Even to his own mind there was evidently no excuse, no palliation. Conscience, which had been more or less restless and even at times remorseful, ever since the crime, was now thoroughly awakened, and a crisis was reached. There were but two courses before the king: one was repentance, confession and reformation; and the other was to plunge deeper into sin by angrily denouncing the prophet and wickedly misusing his power as a king to punish the man of God for presuming to reprove him, and then proudly declaring it to be the right of kings, as exceptional individuals, to do as they please, such being the generally acceded custom of kings in all the nations. Thus he would have been claiming that the customs of the world, instead of the law of God, were to him the standard of privilege. “What king,” he might truly have said, “considers the rights of his fellow-men in preference to his own desires?” David’s heart attitude was disclosed when he stated the words: “I have sinned against Yahweh.” — 2 Samuel 12:13.
(11) This was a noble resolution, and in nothing does the nobility of the man shine out more clearly than in his humble and public confession of his sin, his efforts to undo, as far as possible, the wrong he had done, and his meek submission to the penalties which God in his wisdom and mercy saw fit to inflict upon him, that thus his wrath against sin might be manifest to all, and that king and people might so be warned against it. “One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; One who rules his spirit, than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32.) So in overcoming the pride and selfishness that had taken deep root in his heart, David proved himself a greater hero than even in his youthful conflict with the giant of Gath, or in any subsequent encounter.
(12) We are glad that David did not take an evil course. On the contrary, he allowed his better nature to reassert itself; and David said unto Nathan, “I have sinned against Yahweh.” And Nathan said unto David, “Yahweh also has put away your sin. You will not die.” Remember, however, in the judgment of the parable David had unconsciously condemned himself to death! How gracious is God, how ready to pardon when true repentance is manifest! “However,” said Nathan, “because by this deed you have given great occasion to Yahweh’s enemies to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.” (2 Samuel 2:14) David in his contrition meekly accepted both the reproof and the penalties pronounced against him; and realizing that his sin was very grievous, and that his example before the nation was very detrimental to the moral and religious interests of the people, he resolved, and carried out his resolve, to make the example of his deep contrition and repentance as far-reaching in its effects for good, as his sin had been for evil.
(13) That the divine forgiveness does not of necessity imply the remitting of all the penal consequences of sin is manifest in this case and in thousands of others. According to the divine law, the full penalty of David’s sin was death. And, judged by the rigor of that law, this sentence was due under two indictments (See Leviticus 20:10; 25:17); but in view of his repentance Yahweh remitted the death penalty (2 Samuel 12:13) and inflicted only such punishment as was necessary for the full correction of the offender and the warning and instruction of the nation, showing that he was no respecter of persons, and that king and people were on a common level before the divine law. It should also be observed that the penalties inflicted were to a large extent the outgrowth of former sins. The severest troubles came from his polygamous household, and the sons who gave him most trouble were the children of heathen wives; and the child of Bathsheba died.
(14) It is with a good degree of satisfaction that we learn of David’s confession and forgiveness, when we consider that, had not the good that was in the man reasserted itself, we might would need learn concerning “David’s unrepented fall and its fearful recompense.” Up to this event, the scriptures had pointed out noble traits which marked David as a righteous, just, godly man — a man of high attainments, both morally and intellectually, and one whom God was pleased to honor and bless and to make a chosen instrument in his service. 2 Kings 15:5 thus tells us: “David did that which was right in the eyes of Yahweh, and didn’t turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.”
(15) Some lament the fact that Yahweh brought death upon David’s son because of David’s sin. We need to remember that death comes to many children, and this all because of Adam’s transgression. The time has not yet come when there will be a general application of the principle that each will die for his own sin, and not for the sin of their fathers. Only in a limited way was this applied under the Law Covenant, for no one actually “lived” by keeping the law, since the law’s ability to give life was proven weak through the sinful nature that mankind had become. (Romans 3:20; 8:3; Galatians 2:16; 3:13) Nevertheless, David’s son, like all other children was born into this world with condemnation of death already upon him. (Romans 5:12-19) Yahweh had the right to execute that condemanation at any time. However, in this case we see that Yahweh provides an allegory of the redemption through Christ. Thus, David, in his sin, represents mankind fallen from grace. Just as by means of Christ’s sacrifice, the eternal condemnation of death through Adam is taken the condemned race, and placed upon Jesus, so we find in this allegory and illustration: the condemnation of death is taken from David and placed upon David’s son.
KING DAVID’S REPENTANCE
(16) The 51st Psalm is generally recognized as being the one in which David expresses to God his contrition for his sins, and the fact that it is dedicated to the Chief Musician implies that it was the king’s intention that it, in common with other of the Psalms, should be chanted in the Tabernacle services, for which he had set apart a large number of singers. We thus perceive that if the sin was flagrant and gross, the atonement which the king endeavored to make was a most public one. Probably many of the nation had felt more or less of the king’s condemnation, and its influence must have been very injurious; and now in his public view of it as sin, and his prayer for divine forgiveness, the king would undo so far as possible not only the injury which he had inflicted upon his own conscience, and which as a cloud hung between Yahweh and him, but he would undo also the evil influences as respects the conscience of the nation — on the subjects of adultery and murder.
(17) Here again we see why David was described as a man after God’s own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22) His sins were not pleasing to God — quite the reverse; but the after appreciation of the enormity of the sins and the hearty repentance therefore to Yahweh, and the desire to be cleansed from every evil way, David was still found pleasing to Yahweh. (2 Kings 15:5) Here we have an illustration of how all things may work together for good to those who love God. (Romans 8:28) By reason of his heart-loyalty to Yahweh, and the principles of righteousness, even these terrible sins resulted in bringing a great blessing to David’s own heart — humbling him — giving him an appreciation of his weakness and littleness, and of his need to abide close to Yahweh, if he would have Yahweh’s fellowship and compassion and be safe from the temptations of his own fallen flesh.
(18) So, too, with the Christian. How many of them have realized profitable lessons and blessings out of some of their stumblings — not that the stumblings were good nor directly from Yahweh, but that Yahweh was able to overrule such circumstances for good to those who are of the proper mind — rightly exercised by them to repentance and reformation.
(19) In Psalm 5:1-3 David expresses his appreciation of his sin and his trust in Yahweh, without any attempt to apologize for his shortcomings. He trusted in Yahweh to make whatever allowances could be made and merely appealed to his great “loving-kindness.” In calling to mind the multitude of God’s tender mercies in the past, he expressed faith and trust that in some way Yahweh could blot out these grievous transgressions and forgive them. Yahweh, at that time, had not yet clearly defined the way in which he could be just and yet be the justifier of sinners. (Romans 3:26) Only vaguely through the shadows of the Day of Atonement sacrifices had he intimated that he had some way of his own by which in due time the guilty but repentant ones might be cleansed. David grasped the thought of mercy as understood in the types and shadows of the Law, and much more may we of the house of Christ grasp the thought of our Father’s forgiveness when we see that it is exercised towards us through the Lord Jesus Christ, who already has given himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (1 Timothy 2:5,6), and whose sacrifice has been accepted of the Father, — as manifested by our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, and by the descent of the holy Spirit at Pentecost. If, therefore, David could trust Yahweh for loving-kindness and tender mercies and forgiveness of sins, the members of the house of Christ (Hebrews 3:5,6) should endeavor to exercise full faith in the divine character and plan of salvation from sin.
(20) In Psalm 51:4, it would seem that David is ignoring the fact that wrong-doing had been done to his fellow-creatures, but we may preferably understand it to mean that while this wrong to fellow-creatures was recognized by the king, he recognized a still higher responsibility to God, whose laws he had broken and whose kingly office, typifying that of the Christ, he had dishonored. Hence, in contrast between what man might think of his crime as against man and his own still higher consciousness of his sin as against Yahweh, the latter seemed so much greater as to practically obscure the former. The greater sin as against the Almighty quite overshadows the wrongs to humanity. David declares his recognition of the fact that Yahweh is the great Judge, and that whatever his judgment would be he knew in advance that it would be right.
(21) Then David (Psalm 51:5) he introduces an extenuating thought, as though reminding Yahweh that he was conceived in sin and therefore that perfection was not possible for him. But he does not use this fact as a screen behind which to hide his own responsibilities. Free to will, though a sinner by nature, he was necessarily responsible for yielding as he did to temptation, but he was confident that Yahweh would give him the benefit of every mitigating circumstance.
(22) It will be noted that David expected punishment from Yahweh his sins, and was here expressing his confidence that Yahweh would send no punishment which would not be reasonable and within the limits of justice. What he was praying for in this Psalm was not a remission of proper punishment, but rather for the cleansing of his heart in the sight of Yahweh and for his restoration to the divine favor. As a matter of fact we find that Yahweh did send a severe punishment upon the king, and that he restored the sinner to his favor, granting him to experience again the joys of his salvation. According to the sentiments of other kings of his time, evidently acquiesced in by the people of Israel, the king had taken an extremely moderate course in sin, in that he had not directly taken the life of Uriah but merely connived at his death in battle; but the king appreciated the fact that God was looking deeper than this and desired truth — righteousness in the inward parts — in the heart. David in no way sought to use an argument that his sin was not as great as those of the heathen kings, rather his knowledge of God’s law in his heart made David much more aware of the guilt of his sin than we could think any other king could appreciate. Outward crime and a crime allowed in the mind are alike heinous in God’s sight: his experience had taught the king wisdom. Now he wished to be thoroughly cleansed, and poetically says: “Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow..” Hyssop was used in the sprinkling of the unclean under the Law. David, grasping to some extent the significance of the symbol, desired the antitypical cleansing of his heart. His appreciation of Yahweh’s thoroughness in dealing with sin and of his compassion in forgiveness are good lessons for some of the still more favored members of the ‘house of Christ.’ Many of the latter, although having seen with “the eye of faith” the great Atonement for sins made by our Lord Jesus, are still unable to appreciate the fact that the application of the merit of his sacrifice is quite sufficient to cleanse us from all sin and perfect us, that we may be recognized as absolutely pure in the Father’s sight and dealt with accordingly — not as sinners, but as sons.
(23) From the statement of Psalm 51:8 we may reasonably infer that during the year that preceded this repentance King David was in so miserable a state of mind that even the music of the singers and of those who played skilfully upon the harp and all the joyous songs of creation were sore to his heart — had no gladness in them to comfort his heart when it was barred from Yahweh’s presence and fellowship. This is the thought of our hymn, which says of the soul which enjoys the light of Yahweh’s favor:–
“Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flowers
Have all gained new sweetness to me;” and
“His presence disperses all gloom,
And makes all within me rejoice;” and
“While I am so happy in him,
December’s as pleasant as May.”
(24) King David was longing for the joy and gladness which he had experienced in times past, and figuratively he likens himself to one whose bones had been broken. He knew that his joy and comfort would return if he could but have back again Yahweh’s favor. He knew, too, that Yahweh could not look upon sin with any allowance, hence his prayer: “Hide your face from my sins, And blot out all of my iniquities. Hide your face from my sins, And blot out all of my iniquities. Don’t throw me from your presence, And don’t take your holy Spirit from me. Don’t throw me from your presence, And don’t take your holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation. Uphold me with a willing spirit.” — Psalm 51:9-12.
(25) No true Christian can read these words without feeling a deep sympathy with the different expressions; and even though in our walk with Christ Jesus we may have had no experience with such terrible sins as those which weighed upon the heart of David, nevertheless our higher responsibilities and higher conceptions of sin under the “new commandment” and under the instructions of the holy Spirit, under Christ, cause us to feel with proportionate weight transgressions which in the sight of the world would appear nothing — such, for instance, as we have just mentioned: covetousness, hatred, slander, which are thefts and murders from the higher standpoint of the divine view appropriate to the believer in Christ.
(26) Let us ever keep in memory that a broken and contrite heart Yahweh never despises, will never spurn. (Psalm 51:17) Therefore into whatever difficulty any of Yahweh’s people of the new creation may stumble, if they find themselves hungering for Yahweh’s fellowship and forgiveness, if they find their hearts contrite and broken, let them not despair, but remember that God has made a provision through the merit of Christ which enables him to accept and justify freely from all sin all that come unto him through Jesus — through faith in his blood. There is a sin that leads to the death of the new creature (1 John 5:16,17) — a sin leading to the second death — from which there will be no recovery, no resurrection; but those who have broken and contrite hearts on account of their sins may know that they have not committed “the sin leading to death,” for their condition of heart proves this, as the apostle declares: “it is impossible to renew … again to repentance” any who have committed the sin that leads to the second death — willful sinners against full light and knowledge, sin such as trods under foot the Son of God, and debased the blood of the covenant, and insults the spirit of grace. (Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-29) Let all, therefore, rejoice in the grace of our God, who is able through Christ, his accepted way, to save unto the uttermost all who come to him, laying aside sin and its desires. — Hebrews 7:25; 12:1.
(27) “If anyone [of the church] sins [through weakness and temptation — not intentionally], we have a Counselor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.” (1 John 2:1) Such, therefore, may come with faith to the throne of the heavenly grace that they may obtain mercy and find grace to help in every (future) time of need. (Hebrews 4:16) But, like David, their prayers and hopes should be for a restoration of divine favor and not for escape from chastisements needful to their correction. God forgave David, but also chastened him. — 2 Samuel 12:11-14.
(28) Surely King David must have learned a great lesson in mercy from his sad experience. How many times must he have called to mind his response to Nathan’s parable, “As Yahweh lives, the man who has done this is worthy to die! He shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity!” Alas, poor David! these words showed that he had a mind, a heart, that was no stranger to justice and pity in other men’s affairs, and hence that he was the more guilty in his much more serious violations of justice and compassion. Oh, how merciful to the failings of others it should make us when we remember our dear Redeemer’s words, “if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15); and when again we remember that we may not even pray for forgiveness of our sins unless we from the heart forgive those who have injured us and again desire our fellowship.