David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13)
Please open your Bible at 2 Samuel 12. The life of David is a story in three chapters—his trials, his triumphs and his troubles. Troubles dominated the last chapter of David’s life, and he brought these troubles on himself by his own sin and folly. David committed the sins of adultery and murder and what he did “displeased the Lord” (2 Samuel 11:27).
Here is a man who genuinely loved God. But he carved out an area of his life that was never submitted to the authority of the Lord. He allowed sin to build a position of power in his life, and that led him to a place where he did things that, in the earlier years of his life, he would never have imagined himself doing.
Sometimes it is helpful when you are reading the Bible to ask, “What do I expect to happen next?” Today, I want us to see what David did next, and what God did next.
What Will David Do?
Surely what comes after David committing these two heinous sins—adultery and murder—must be the most profound repentance, but that’s not what happens. By the time we get to chapter 12, the child is born. That means more than nine months have passed since David committed these sins, and has there been any repentance? None whatsoever. David has simply covered up and moved on.
Here’s the first thing we learn from this story: The natural sequel to sin is not repentance. This is a pattern in the Bible. You see this pattern from the very beginning in Genesis. God places Adam and Eve in a beautiful garden. Everything is provided for them. They have loving companionship, meaningful work, and they only have to reach up to the trees and their food is provided for them.
God says there is one tree from which they must not eat: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But Eve ate of the tree. And she gave to Adam, and he ate also. Now what happened next?
Adam and Eve had walked in fellowship with God and you would think that Adam’s immediate response would be to go to God and say, “Lord, I have something to confess. I have sinned against your law. I ate from the tree of which you told me not to eat. I am cut to the heart by what I have done, and I want to ask for your forgiveness.”
But, that is not what happens. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8). And if God hadn’t sought them and called them out, that’s where they would have remained.
The natural sequel to sin is not repentance, but hiding. It’s to cover up and try to move on. Adam knows he is a sinner, so he stays as far away from God as he can. It’s the most natural reaction in the world.
You see it again in Simon Peter when he catches a glimpse of the glory of Jesus through a miraculous catch of fish. He doesn’t say, “Jesus, I want to be your follower. Make me a disciple.” He says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). The sinner’s first impulse is to run from God. So what hope is there of reconciliation with God? None whatsoever, if it was left to us.
David’s experience when he covered up
What was it like for David during these long months when he covered up and tried to move on? We know because David tells us in a Psalm that he wrote later in life, where he reflected on these months in which he covered up and tried to move on.
Listen to this from Psalm 32: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4).
Don’t think for a moment that when David covered up and tried to move on, everything was hunky-dory in the palace. It was not. In fact, this was without doubt the most miserable year of David’s life: “My bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3).
This was a man in a palace. He had money, he had privilege, and he had the wife that he wanted. But he lives every day with a nagging groan in his spirit. Even when he savored great pleasure, the groan is still there. He went to sleep at night with a groan, and when he woke up in the morning, he groaned at the thought of another day.
His “strength was dried up” (Psalm 32:4). He had no energy. He lost his zest for life. His enthusiasm for what he was doing was gone. The blessing of God on his life had departed and all that was left was a groan. The natural sequel to sin is not repentance, but hiding from God, and that experience for a believer always proves miserable.
David’s misery was a sure sign that he really was the Lord’s. A person who has never known or really loved the Lord will not miss him when he is gone. But if you are the Lord’s, you can never really be happy when you are hiding from him. That was David’s experience and, if you are the Lord’s, it will be yours, when you cover up and move on, as well.
So, where do we go from here? David is miserable, but he is not repentant. There is no confession of sin, no seeking the face of God. Months have passed, and in all that time there has not been a flicker of repentance in his soul. “I kept silent” (Psalm 32:3).
It is easy for us to assume that sin leads to repentance—not at all! Genuine repentance is always a miracle of God’s grace. If it were not for the grace of God, sin would lead us to live at a distance from God forever.
What Will God Do?
David has committed two heinous sins—adultery and murder. One commentator points out that David had broken at least six of the Ten Commandments!
- He had put his desires before God (1st commandment)
- He had committed murder (6th commandment)
- He had committed adultery (7th commandment)
- He had stolen (8th commandment)
- He had lied and deceived (9th commandment), and
- He had coveted (10th commandment)
The sin of this man who had been so greatly blessed was an insult to the name of God. “Why have you despised the word of the Lord…you have despised me…you have utterly scorned the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:9, 10, 14). What will God do with a man who has, despite his many privileges, scorned him, despised him, and broken one command after another?
1. God might justly have said to David, “This is the end for you. Your reign is over. That’s how it was for Saul, and that it how it will be for you.”
None of us would be surprised if we read that God raised up the Ammonites (or some other enemy), and that their army routed the armies of Israel, and David and all his sons fell by the sword. That is what happened to Saul. Why would the same not be true for David?
Maybe you think this is what God should have done to David. How can God allow David to remain as king after acting like this? But that is not how God dealt with David. Retribution is not God’s way with his own children. If it was, none of us would be here today.
2. Or, God might justly have said, “David has despised me and scorned me. Therefore, I will wash my hands of him. He can carry on as king, but I will leave him to his own devices. I am withdrawing my presence from his life. I am withdrawing my Spirit. He is on his own now. I will have nothing more to do with him.”
Who would be surprised at that? Is this not what we find in Romans 1? When wicked men set their hearts on evil, God gives them up (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). “You are on your own. I leave you to what you have chosen.” But that is not how God deals with his own children.
3. Or again, God might have said, “If David wants to seek me, I will forgive him. I’m always open to reconciliation, but the ball is in David’s court. He must make the first move and unless he does, I am done with him.”
Again who could complain about that? But if this was God’s response to our sin, we would all be lost forever. None of us would ever come back to God because the natural sequel to sin is not repentance, but to cover it up, hiding, and running from God!
Thank God he does not deal with his children through retribution or renunciation. What we have here is a marvelous example of the way that God lovingly deals with his own children—as a father, bringing restoration. David says, “The Lord is my shepherd… He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:1, 3). We are going to see how God restores, right here.
Notice that God restores through his own Word: “The Lord sent Nathan to David…” (2 Samuel 12:1). God takes the initiative. He is not waiting for David to make the first move. How does he break into David’s life? He sends a prophet, who speaks the Word of God.
You have the same thing in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve are hiding in the trees: “the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:9). If God had not spoken, they would never have come out of hiding.
1. The Power of God’s Word that Brings Change
Nathan said to David, “You are the man…” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:7, 13)
Nathan tells David a story. Commentators often say that Nathan told a parable, but Nathan did not say to David: “Hey, I’ve got a story to tell you.”
The king was the chief justice in the land, so it was David’s job to pass judgment on various crimes. Nathan presents his story as a case that needs the king’s verdict, and David is glad to hear the case.
Nathan tells the story of a great injustice. There were two men in a certain city: one rich, the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds. The poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. This lamb ate the poor man’s food, drank from his cup, and lay in his arms. The poor man loves the little ewe lamb that is his.
A traveler arrived at the house of the rich man. The rich man welcomed the traveler and wanted to put on a feast. But he did not want to use one of his own flock, so he steals the poor man’s lamb and prepares it for his feast.
David hears this case, and he is absolutely furious: “Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity’” (2 Samuel 12:5-6).
That was more than the law demanded. The law called for a fourfold restoration for theft of an animal (Exodus 22:1), but not the death penalty. If you are ever tempted to think that God’s judgments are harsh, remember that the judgments of sinners are typically harsher by far.
Then Nathan said to David “You are the man.” What a moment! “David, this is a picture of what you’ve done. Don’t you see that?” A few verses later David says, “I have sinned against the Lord.” After more than nine months of silence, David confesses his sin to the Lord.
This confession was the beginning of repentance in David’s life, expressed in Psalm 51. Saul said, “I have sinned,” but he continued to defy the Lord (1 Samuel 15:24). It’s possible to admit that you were wrong, and just carry on. Judas said, “I have sinned,” and he despaired of being forgiven (Matthew 27:4). It’s possible to admit your guilt, and then give in to despair. Neither one of these leads to change. David said, “I have sinned,” and he repented and was restored.
The Word of God broke through in David’s life when nothing else could. Time did not bring him to repentance. Conscience did not get him there either. Misery did not bring repentance either. But the Word of God broke through in his life when nothing else could.
Never underestimate the power of God’s Word to change a person’s life, to change your life. “My word… shall not return to me empty, but it… shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). God’s Word can bring change in your life when nothing else can or will.
2. The Principle of God’s Word that Brings Discipline
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Galatians 6:7)
God spoke to David through Nathan the prophet. When Nathan looked into David’s eyes and spoke the Word of God to him, it is as if David is standing in the presence of God and hearing the voice of God himself.
What we have here is an anticipation of the Day of Judgment. David’s palace becomes God’s courtroom when Nathan arrives and the charges against David are read. Here are the charges against David:
Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight. (2 Samuel 12:9)
You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword… and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. (2 Samuel 12:9)
Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house. (2 Samuel 12:10)
Do you see the significance of that? Notice that God’s discipline is a direct reflection of David’s sin. David sinned with the sword, and now he lives with the sword.
Here we come to an important principle that is stated repeatedly in the Bible: “Your own wickedness will correct you” (Jeremiah 2:19, NASB). Did you know that God said that?
Think about how this worked in the life of Jacob. Jacob’s great sin was deception. He was really good at it, wasn’t he? He could pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, even his own father. The Bible tells us how he pretended to be Esau and stole, by his deception, the blessing that belonged to his brother.
How did God’s discipline operate in Jacob’s life? The discipline was a reflection of his own sin. His own sin corrected him. Jacob found himself on the other side of deception, and he didn’t like it then.
He was deceived by his father-in-law, Laban, who gave him Leah as his bride instead of Rachel. Then, he was deceived by his own sons, who told him that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. These deceptions brought years of grief and pain to his life.
Jacob lived with deception until the sin he once loved became the sin he hated more than any other. This principle of reaping what you sow should bring restraint in all of our lives. Here’s how our Lord states the principle: “With the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2). Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them (Matthew 7:12).
Your own sin will correct you. So ask yourself when you are tempted to harshness, deception, or some act of unkindness, “Would I want to live on the other side of this? Would I want to be on the receiving end of this?”
This is not an easy theme, so here is some encouragement from the story of Jonah. R. T. Kendall says, “God’s chastening is not meted out in proportion to our sins but in proportion to the lesson we have to learn. The greater the work ahead, the greater the trial now.”
Why is God exercising discipline in David’s life? Because he is not done with David yet. The Bible tells us that the Lord disciplines the one he loves (Hebrews 12:6). God’s discipline in David’s life is the sure sign that God still has work for him to do! The Lord never leaves his children in their sin.
God is restoring David, and restoring is more than forgiving. Restoring is purging out what led to these great sins from David’s life, so that this man really comes to the place where he hates what he used to love.
This is God changing David to make him into a different and a better man. “All discipline seems painful…but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
3. The Promise of God’s Word that Brings Hope
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” (2 Samuel 12:13)
David said, “The man who did this shall die.” David’s sin deserved death. He had taken a life, and according to God’s law, that deserves death.
Where did God put David’s sin? He put it on Jesus. He bore our sins in his body on the tree.
“The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
“David, your life may be very hard.” The last year of his life was hard. “But you are still a child of God.” Put your name in there: “ , your life may be very hard. But you are still a child of God.”
It has been very striking to me that when Saul broke the law of God, it was all over for him. “The Lord has rejected you,” Samuel said. He never repented, and he was never restored. But when David sinned, God went after him. God disciplined him, and restored him.
Why did God do that for David? Because God made a covenant promise with David: “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men… but my steadfast love will not depart from him” (2 Samuel 7:14, 15).
The reason God went after him and restored him is that God was bound to him in a covenant promise. And if you are in Jesus Christ, you are bound to God too.
Thank God for his promise. God never abandons his children. The good shepherd goes after his own just because they are his own.
Thank God for the gift of his Word. If God did not speak, none of us would ever come to him.
We would all languish in our own sins forever and ever.
Thanks God for his gift of repentance. Genuine repentance does not come to us naturally. Every experience of repentance is a marvelous gift of God’s grace.
Thank God for his discipline. However painful the discipline of God in your life, his discipline means that he loves you and that he has not abandoned you. He still has work for you to do.
Thank God for his Son. He has sealed God’s covenant promise. “My steadfast love I will never take from you.” Why? Because he bore our sins in his body on the tree. The future for all who look to him is not retribution, and not renunciation, but restoration.
 Roger Ellsworth, The Shepherd King, p. 223, Evangelical Press, 1998.
© Colin S. Smith
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