A Lesson from David on How to Repent

A Lesson from David on How to Repent

As we’ve been highlighting portions of 1 and 2 Samuel these past few months, it was just last communion Sunday that my sermon title was A Lesson from David on Loving Your Enemy[1] which focused on how David refused to take the kingship God had promised him away from Saul who had identified David as his enemy. Instead, David chose to honor Saul as God’s anointed as he waited on God’s timing to deliver Saul’s kingship to him. But how much things changed in David’s life between then and now. For as we saw in our passage last week David, the man after God’s own heart,[2] not only stumbled but also fell in the biggest of ways. The stumble and fall began when he noticed Bathsheba bathing, sent for, and slept with her for one night. Had that been the end of what he did, it would have been bad enough for both he and Bathsheba were married to others. But when David learned that as a result of his deed Bathsheba had gotten pregnant—and since her husband, Uriah, was away at war, he couldn’t possibly have been the child’s father—David’s downward tumble continued as he then made two attempts to cover up his sin by trying to get Uriah to have intimate relations with his wife. When Uriah resisted both times, considering himself to be on duty even when he wasn’t on the battle field, David’s stumble ended in a terrible collapse as he arranged to have Uriah killed in battle that he might take his wife—and the child to be borne by her—as his own.

And this is where our passage picks up, after Uriah’s death. As stated in verse 26 when Bathsheba, “Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him.” And, verse 27, “After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son.” Now at one level, this action was a means of David providing for Bathsheba since, as we noted last week, according to the holiness laws in Israel her pregnancy doomed her to shame and perhaps even death since people would have known that there was no way that Uriah, her husband, could possibly have been the father and death was the penalty for adultery at this time.[3] So by taking Bathsheba as his wife, David had provided a way to protect her—not to mention himself—once she began to show and eventually gave birth to the child. However, though David may have found this to be an acceptable solution to his dilemma, the end of verse 27 makes clear how God felt about this solution: “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” Contrast this with what David replied to Joab when the messenger sent by him told him that Uriah had been killed in battle. As stated in verse 25, David told Joab not to let this upset him. Thereby David sought to “encourage Joab.” But what David had done should have upset him and Joab and anyone who heard about it. So it’s certainly no surprise to learn that the LORD was displeased.

And what made matters worse was the kingly position to which God had called and exalted David. As we’ve seen God had called him to be a shepherd-king to care for and protect his sheep, Israel, his chosen nation. This is why in what follows, God held David accountable for abusing his power; he held David accountable for abusing his call and stewardship over his people as their shepherd-king.

For, again, David initially abused his power in taking Bathsheba;

he then again abused his power in calling Uriah away from the battlefield as he twice tried to convince him to go to his wife;

and he abused his power a third time in having Uriah killed—and thereby losing some of his other warriors in the process.

So rather than shepherd and protect his people—rather than shepherd and protect God’s people, David, who had all he could ever want or need took for himself what belonged to another man and then ended up having that man killed to cover up the evil he had done. Again, it’s no wonder that God was not pleased. So as we move to chapter 12 we have a second appearance of Nathan the prophet. Whereas the LORD had originally sent Nathan to tell David of the house, the dynasty, he would make of him, this time Nathan was sent for a far less pleasant reason, that of addressing David’s sins. This task was why “The Lord sent Nathan to David.”

Now rather than confront David with his sin outright, when Nathan went to him this time he began by telling David, the former shepherd whom God had chosen to be his shepherd-king, an account that would have been especially relevant to David, whose call had ever been that of being a protector of sheep. As read for us earlier, Nathan recounts a story about a rich man and a poor man both of whom lived in the same town. “The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought.” The poor man not only had just one sheep but the little ewe lamb he had was extremely special to him since he had “raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.” Clearly this ewe was more of a family pet than she was livestock. Thus did Nathan set up the backdrop for what followed. Reading on in verse 4: “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” Now anyone who heard this would appreciate the injustice of what the rich man did. Given that he was rich with “a very large number of sheep and cattle” (verse 2), he could have easily sacrificed one of his own sheep on behalf of the traveler. But instead he took the one and only precious ewe from the poor man and served it to the traveler.

Again, though anyone would appreciate the callousness involved in the rich man taking the poor man’s ewe, David, as king, would have been in a position to do something about such cruelty. And verses 5–6 record his response to Nathan’s account: “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.’” This four-fold penalty, as David clearly knew, is what was stipulated in the law God had given to Moses.[4] This is the David we have come to know and love, displaying a godly anger at such injustice. This is the David after God’s own heart who determined that the just penalty for the rich man’s selfishness and lack of pity towards the poor man was that he deserved to die, “As surely as the Lord lives.” So it appears that David had taken Nathan’s hypothetical account to be an actual one. And once Nathan saw that David has taken his point, he declared some of the most memorable and poignant words in all of Scripture: “You are the man!” David, you are the rich man with the very large number of sheep and cattle; you are the rich man who took away the poor man’s precious and solitary ewe. You are the one who did this. By your own words, by your own judgment and discernment, you are the one who deserves to die. You are the one who must pay for that lamb four times over because you “did such a thing and had not pity.” David, you are the man.

And then Nathan went on to deliver to David the following word from the LORD, the God of Israel, whose message began by rehearsing the many things he had done for David, namely, “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.” By these words, God reminded David of the many ways he had been with him throughout his life. This wasn’t news to David. These are truths to which we’ve seen David himself testify. But now, because of what he had done, David would pay a price in not receiving “even more” from God.

Next, the LORD confronted David with the sin he had committed in verse 9: “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.” God did not mince his words. He laid out for David the specific deeds he had done that demonstrated his despising God’s words. For we despise God’s word, we treat it with contempt, whenever we turn away from its teachings and do those things it specifically prohibits. In a striking manner, David’s action play out what the apostle James teaches about sin: “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”[5] As we noted last week, by his actions David had broken three of the Ten Commandments:

the first occurred when he coveted his neighbor’s wife when he first saw Bathsheba bathing;

breaking this commandment led to his breaking a second commandment when he committed adultery after sending his messengers to bring Bathsheba to him;

and when David learned that his one-night stand with her had resulted in Bathsheba’s pregnancy and he was unsuccessful in convincing Uriah to sleep with his wife, David plotted to and succeeded in having him killed—at the hands of the Ammonites, no less—thus breaking yet another commandment from God by committing murder.

In all of these ways, David had despised God’s word. In all of these ways, David had held God’s word in contempt. And though in David’s mind his then taking Bathsheba as his wife and thereby providing for her might have seemed like the right thing to do, God made unequivocally clear just how evil were David’s actions. David may have further thought that by his actions, he had managed to keep his sins hidden but the reality is that nothing can be hidden from our all-knowing Maker; nothing can be hidden from our just LORD. For breaking God’s Word—for despising God’s Word in all of these ways, David would have to pay the consequences for his actions.

The first consequence is noted in verse 10: “Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” And we know that God’s words by Nathan the prophet came to pass for three of David’s sons—Amnon,[6] Absalom,[7] and Adonijah[8]—all did indeed die by the sword. For Absalom killed Amnon; Joab, the commander of David’s army, killed Absalom; and Solomon, yet another of David’s sons, had Adonijah—and also Joab[9]—put to death. Since David, as prophesied by Nathan,[10]  also lost the son borne to him by Bathsheba some have speculated that the loss of these four sons may have unwittingly fulfilled David’s fourfold curse on the rich man who took the poor man’s precious ewe. As a result of his downward spiral into sin David’s life became marked by violence within his own household for he had shown how he despised the LORD when he took Bathsheba away from Uriah, her husband, to be his own.

And there was also “calamity,” verse 11, that was later brought upon David for we know that he was driven away from Jerusalem by his son, Absalom.[11] And in addition to this prophecy of calamity and violence being fulfilled, we further know that David’s own wives were openly and publicly given to one who was close to him as Nathan further foretold. As stated in verse 12, whereas what David did had been done in secret, what would be done to him would be done “in broad daylight before all Israel.” Absalom, again, was the means of this prophecy fulfilled for he publicly lay with David’s concubines on a rooftop. As recorded in 2 Samuel 16:22, Absalom “slept with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.”[12] So everything that the LORD spoke to David by Nathan the prophet later came to pass.

But—and we mustn’t miss this—all hope isn’t lost for David. For in his response to Nathan’s word from God David becomes for us a beautiful and touching example of how to repent. As recorded in verse 13, once Nathan had finished delivering to David this painful word from God, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’” In David’s response to this word from the LORD we see that he hasn’t lost his heart for God. Unlike his predecessor Saul who had defended his disobedience when confronted by Samuel,[13] David’s response to Nathan was to own what he had done.

Now though there is no question that the consequences David suffered as a result of his sins were severe, the LORD did spare him his life. As previously noted, within Jewish law the punishment for adultery[14]—not to mention murder[15]—would have been death. But after David acknowledged his sin against God, Nathan replied, verse 13 “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.”

So my, oh my, where do we begin in considering lessons that you and I can learn from David on how to repent??? For I am certain that like David, each person here has at one time or another despised God’s Word; we’ve held God’s Word in contempt by choosing to turn away from its teachings—by choosing to turn away from God—and doing the evil that we wanted rather than the good he desires for us. So what are some things we can learn from David about how to repent?

Well first we can learn from the way in which David owned his sin. Upon being told, “You are the man” by Nathan, David didn’t deny it. He didn’t try to justify his actions. He didn’t try to explain why it was he did what he did. David simply said, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Now at first blush we might challenge David’s words. Hadn’t his sin been in fact not against the LORD but against Bathsheba for taking her to his bed? And against Uriah for coveting his wife—and then killing him and taking his wife for himself? All true. There is no question that David had also sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah. But first and foremost sin is ever and always against God.

But when we confess our sin, we admit and own that we are the man; we are the woman; we are the ones who despised God and his Word and held him in contempt by disobeying and turning away from that Word. We must ever remember that God has given us his law that we might know what loving him and loving others looks like. For the God of love desires above all other things that our lives be characterized by loving actions towards him and those who are his. But when we act in unloving ways, which is to say when we act in ways that disregard the law he has given that we might learn what loving behavior looks like, we are sinning against him. We are hating him and our neighbor. As Jesus later taught in his sermon on the Mount:

17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.[16]

To know and follow God and his law that we might be holy as he is holy is the call and destiny of all who know and love and seek to serve Jesus Christ.

A second lesson we can learn from David about how to repent is that no one, but no one, is above God’s law. We are all equally bound to do as he has taught us. We are all equally accountable when we fail to do so. As we have been considering these past weeks, there was much in David’s life to commend. We’ve seen many illustrations and examples of how his life displayed a heart for God. Yet he should have continued to obey. And for abusing his power and call he had to pay a price. As Jesus also taught, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”[17] But conversely, what we can also learn from David is that succumbing to sin—even “major” sin like adultery and murder—needn’t undo all the obedience that preceded nor does it mean that we can’t be restored to serving and loving and pleasing God. That David had to suffer consequences for his sin is undeniable. But in the LORD’s mercy, he was able to continue serving God as his shepherd-king and was rightly considered to be Israel’s most important king despite his sin. For when we think of David today we do recall this morning’s account. But we also recall his victory against Goliath. And how those he fought with loved him. And how those he ruled over loved him. And how he was a man after God’s own heart—and this is true despite his sin. And this is how it should be.

I was struck by the truth—and importance—of understanding this upon seeing an interview with I believe it was Marion Jones, the Olympic gold and bronze medal-winning track runner who later had her medals taken away from her when it was discovered that she had used steroids during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Ms. Jones expressed her regret for what she had done but also went on to note that whereas the wrong she had done was frozen in time in the minds of those who learned of it, she had gone on to marry, raise children, and be a PTA mom. Hearing her say this made me realize how I would never want to be remembered by my greatest failing. Our greatest failing should never be viewed as defining the entirety of our lives. For what Scripture teaches is that we all sin. It may not be adultery, but it may be lust;[18] it may not be murder, but it may be hatred.[19] Whether we commit a sin we consider to be big or a sin we consider to be small, we all sin therefore we all stand in need of the forgiveness of our Great Physician.[20] Therefore we all should remember that when we  sin, we need only ask and receive forgiveness from our loving and gracious LORD who is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.[21] So let us learn from David and seek forgiveness from God. And let us seek forgiveness from those we sin against. And let us then go on to forgive ourselves for sinning. Let us not let our failures define who we are for ourselves.

A final lesson we can learn from David on how to repent is to believe God when he says, as he did to David, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.” My dear brothers and sisters, what an appropriate passage this is for us to consider this communion Sunday. For the LORD taking away our sin by the sacrifice and death of his Son, Christ Jesus, on our behalf is the heart of what we celebrate each month when we together partake of the LORD’s Supper, of his body broken for us, of his blood shed for us. What God in Christ has done for us, dying in our place and then sending us his Holy Spirit that we might have his life in us now and forever so that we might not ever die, is the reason we gather each week to remind ourselves of the steadfast mercy and love and compassion of our God and Maker, our one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And even though David preceded the sending of Christ into the world, he believed—and received—and celebrated God’s presence and forgiveness in his life.

Some of you may know that one of David’s most well-known psalms was written after Nathan went to him after his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. And as we prepare for communion I want to read for us from this beautiful psalm, Psalm 51, in closing. Let us receive God’s Word:

Psalm 51[In Hebrew texts 51:1-19 is numbered 51:3-21.]

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[Or The sacrifices of God are] a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

Let us pray.

[1] Preached on July 1, 2018 on 2 Samuel 1:1, 17–27.

[2] As the LORD first told Saul as recorded in 1 Samuel 13:13–1413 You have done a foolish thing,… You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” This is confirmed by Paul in summarizing Israel’s history to those in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:20b–22: “After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’”

[3] Leviticus 20:10: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” Though as also noted last week, if Bathsheba was innocent and had been taken by David against her will, then only his death would have been required. See Deuteronomy 22:25–27:25 But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her.”

[4] Exodus 22:1: Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.

[5] James 1:13–15: 13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

[6] 2 Samuel 13:28–29: 28 Absalom ordered his men, “Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon down,’ then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Haven’t I given you this order? Be strong and brave.” 29 So Absalom’s men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled.

[7] 2 Samuel 18:14–15: 14 Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. 15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.

[8] 1 Kings 2:25: So King Solomon gave orders to Benaiah son of Jehoiada, and he struck down Adonijah and he died.

[9] 1 Kings 2:29, 34: 29 King Solomon was told that Joab had fled to the tent of the Lord and was beside the altar. Then Solomon ordered Benaiah son of Jehoiada, “Go, strike him down!”…. 34 So Benaiah son of Jehoiada went up and struck down Joab and killed him, and he was buried at his home out in the country.

[10] 2 Samuel 12:14: But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.

[11] See 2 Samuel 15. As noted in verse 13 of that chapter, due to Absalom’s plotting, “A messenger came and told David, ‘The hearts of the people of Israel are with Absalom.’”

[12] Further context begins in verse 21. 2 Samuel 16:21–22: 21 Ahithophel answered, “Sleep with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself obnoxious to your father, and the hands of everyone with you will be more resolute.” 22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he slept with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

[13] 1 Samuel 15:20–21: 20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

[14] Leviticus 20:10: If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.

[15] Leviticus 24:17, 21: 17 “‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death…. 21 Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death.

[16] Matthew 5:17–19.

[17] Matthew 12:48b.

[18] As Jesus, referencing Exodus 20:14, teaches in Matthew 5:27–28:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

[19] As Jesus, referencing Exodus 20:13, teaches in Matthew 5:21-22: 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

[20] Jesus said as recorded in Mark 2:17: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

[21] 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.