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David, Sin, Grace and Judgment

Apr 5, 2018

God said of the famous Old Testament character David that he was “a man after my own heart”. But he was also a very human and a very fallible man. That is the same with God’s people everywhere: they can be close to God and pleasing to God, but they are also redeemed sinners who still struggle and still fall.

And David had a spectacular fall as we know. In 2 Samuel 11 we read about his tragic encounter with Bathsheba. He betrayed Yahweh and his people by committing adultery and murder. (And if we are into listing the Commandments broken by David, we can also add the one about not coveting your neighbour’s wife.)

That is some pretty serious sin. Yet God’s response – as is so often the case – was a mixture of grace and judgment, as we find in the very next chapter. The famous incident of Nathan confronting David, and doing it by means of a parable, is a classic part of Scripture.

Before looking at the prophet Nathan’s hardcore encounter with King David, and noting the amazing grace found therein, let me say that I have written about this episode before, and I have looked at the very real consequences for David’s sin. See here for more on this: billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/14/sin-forgiveness-and-consequences/

There I note that the consequences for this sin was severe and long-lasting. Just a few chapters earlier the Lord had made some great promises about establishing a dynasty through David, and he said “I will also give you rest from all your enemies”.

But after this great sin everything changes. As he is told by Nathan in v. 10, “the sword will never depart from your house.” Thus he had continuous conflict and bloodshed in his own family, as well as the division of the kingdom. All this was a result of his horrible choices. Yet God preserved his life and kept the Davidic line intact, leading to the Messiah.

That in itself was real grace. But there is more. God’s grace is clearly evident when he sent Nathan the prophet to confront David in the first place. Indeed, some of the most wonderful words in this whole sordid event are found in 2 Sam. 12:1: “The Lord sent Nathan to David.” God cared enough about David and his sin to do something about it.

He could have judged him instantly if he wanted. And the death penalty was warranted for both crimes. Or he could have just ignored David and abandoned him. But instead he went after David. This is amazing grace. It is, to be sure, grace mixed with judgment, but it is great grace nonetheless.

I very much like what Dale Ralph Davis says in his expository commentary on 2 Samuel. He speaks about “the pursuit of grace” in this episode. Let me quote from it here:

‘And Yahweh sent Nathan to David.’ Without those words we would be in for a bleak and hopeless story. The first line of chapter 12 dispels any notion that Yahweh is a passive onlooker. The verb ‘sent’ (salah) is a signal. This verb occurs twelve times in chapter 11 (vv. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 [3 times], 12, 14, 18, 22, 27), where everyone sends—David sends, Bathsheba sends, Joab sends. Now Yahweh sends (12:1a). He has gone into action. Yahweh sends Nathan to David.

Of course we know what that will mean, for we have cheated and read the rest of the story. But we must not run ahead too soon; we need to dally on those opening words for they speak of the vigilance of grace; they show us that grace pursues and exposes the sinner in his sin. They teach us that Yahweh will not allow his servant to remain comfortable in sin but will ruthlessly expose his sin lest he settle down in it. You may succeed in unfaithfulness; but Yahweh will come after you. What immense and genuine comfort every servant of Christ should find in the first six words of this chapter! Not that God’s pursuing grace is enjoyable. But what if grace did not pursue? What if Yahweh abandoned us when we succeed at sin?

That should be good news for every single one of us. God loves us too much to leave us in our sin. He will not allow us to go long in sin and disobedience. The Puritan commentator Matthew Henry put it this way: “Though God may suffer his people to fall into sin, he will not suffer them to lie still in it.”

Of course there may come a time when God abandons someone to their sin. They may have reached a point of no return. We don’t really want to discover when that point might be. So we must stay soft and tender before the Lord, and allow him to have his way in our lives. We must not spurn his mercy and grace.

In his study on the life of David, Charles Swindoll says this about this grace-filled episode:

Grace means that God, in forgiving you, does not kill you. Grace means that God, in forgiving you, gives you the strength to endure the consequences. Grace frees us so that we can obey our Lord. It does not mean sin’s consequences are automatically removed. If I sin and in the process of sinning break my arm, when I find forgiveness from sin, I will still have to deal with a broken bone.

If there was great grace shown to David by God, so too to Nathan. Imagine being in his shoes. He is sent by God to rebuke the most powerful man in Israel. Most other kings would have simply lopped off the head of anyone who dared to confront them.

So Nathan was courageous, and he moved in God’s grace. Timing was one aspect of this, with most commentators believing it may have been a year after the sin took place. He gave God’s word in God’s way and in God’s timing. And he cared enough to confront, even if it might have ended up badly for him.

Thankfully it didn’t. David was caught out big time in condemning the man in Nathan’s parable, and he knew the gig was up. He confessed his sin and God graciously forgave him, even though there would be long-term consequences that he and his family would have to endure.

Those wanting more on all this should see two penitential psalms in which David lets us know just what he went through during this period. See Psalm 32 and Psalm 51. They are incredible stories about sin, confession, repentance and restoration – and are directly out of the experiences of David.

The lessons for us today should be clear enough. God does not change. He remains the same, and he deals with his people in a consistent manner. God is always holy, he always hates sin, and he always will deal with it. Thus we find both judgment and grace in the Old Testament, and we find them both in the New Testament.

We must always thank God for his grace, even when it is a part of his judgment. Indeed, his judgment is always gracious. He loves us too much to allow us to wander along in our sin. He will take firm measures when needed to seek to bring us back to him. He will do what he must to lead us to repentance and a new walk with him.

Thanks God for this wonderful grace.

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9 Responses to David, Sin, Grace and Judgment

  • Hello Bill,

    Don’t know if you plan on writing something about the Israel Folau case, would appreciate it if you do, thanks.

    https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/apr/05/israel-folau-explain-comments-gay-people-go-to-hell

    ps, thank you for your Christian witness in these days.

  • Yes I saw that and may yet write it up.

  • I was only just thinking what a rock you have become. This is such an important issue. Sin has inevitable consequences whether you think of it as God hating it or whether this is simply a matter of God knowing the inevitable outcome from what sin does and trying to teach us fundamental and inevitable truths; lifting us to a higher level. I come across huge numbers of people who think that God’s grace is Him turning a blind eye to sin. They apparently think that Jesus’ blood means that sin is no longer a problem but this simply is not the case and never will be. You only need to read Hebrews 12 to understand how God’s grace works and it is not through ignoring sin nor redefining what sin is.

    Heb 12:5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons, “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are rebuked by Him;
    Heb 12:6 for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and He scourges every son whom He receives.”
    (MKJV)

    So many people quote “judge not lest you be judged” and simply don’t realize that our Father does not want to leave us with beams or splinters in our eyes and in fact, one way or another, the beams and splinters will have to be removed eventually whether through us passing through the refining fire or by the soul of the person who will not learn and yield and love truth, being destroyed. As Paul said, we will be brought to a position where we will be able to judge angels (1 Cor 6:3).

  • Thanks Bill, appreciate.

  • I believe the reason that many Christians have for not confronting wickedness in their church, such as not exposing adultery, the use of pornography, abortion and, yes, the big H, homosexuality, has nothing to do with the fear of being accused of being judgemental, unloving, or lacking humility and grace. I believe it is cowardice. They know that if they were to even raise any one of these issues, especially homosexuality, they would be shunned, isolated and maybe ejected from the church.
    Not for them the isolation of Nathan, the prophet, Bunyan’s years in prison, Wurmband’s years living in torture and solitary confinement.
    Not for them living as outcasts and strangers amongst their family and in their own land as did Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress and supremely as Jesus did, for God’s glory and our sake. Like Mr Pliable they are content to live in the City of Destruction, just keeping their heads down and not daring to cause disunity in their church. Where are the Nathans, Jeremiah’s John the Baptists and modern day prophets?

    David Skinner UK

  • Yes I am with you David.

  • Me too, David has hit it on the head.

  • In the fifth century there was a little monk named Telemachus from the Roman province of Asia which is modern day Turkey. He lived alone as a spiritual hermit in the desert seeking God. One day he became convinced that he was selfish rather than selfless, and was led by an inner voice to head to Rome without knowing why. He arrived when the Romans were celebrating a military victory over the Goths.

    Prisoners of war were being marched through the streets. He heard there was going to be a great victory celebration at the Coliseum, and so he followed the crowds to the Coliseum.

    He was astonished to find 50,000 people cheering as the prisoners of war fought each other to the death in gladiator games. Keep in mind that Rome had become officially Christian by this time. Telemachus could not endure what he was witnessing. He was morally outraged, and he decided to take action.

    Two gladiators were fighting, and Telemachus tried to get between them to stop them, shouting three times, “In the name of Christ, forbear!” The crowd was enraged and began to chant for the life of the monk. Finally, the commander of the games gave in to the blood-lust of the crowd and signaled for Telemachus to be murdered.

    Telemachus was killed by being run through with the sword of one of the gladiators. Suddenly, a hush fell over the crowd as people began to realize they had encouraged the killing of a holy man. When the crowd saw the little monk lying dead in a pool of blood, they fell silent, leaving the stadium, one by one. Because of Telemachus’ death, three days later, the Emperor by decree ended the Games, and they were never resumed.

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