“And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.
Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be’ thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon . . . .
And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD….”
The spiritual life of David had once again fallen to a low ebb, much lower than it had ever been before. Really it was a paradoxical situation. Externally he had more to make him happy than ever before; but internally sadness and gloom choked his soul. It had come upon him gradually, as the temptations of sin usually do, so that he had hardly known that he was slipping; but its effects were soon so numerous that his conscience couldn’t escape them no matter where he turned.
It had all begun when he had thought that he could withdraw from the battles of Israel and let Joab carry the responsibility for him. It had not been an easy decision to make, for it was really contrary to everything that he had always maintained as the leader of an army. It had been his firm conviction that a head of an army should always be out in the field ready to share every danger that confronted him. It was a matter of discretion, a way of maintaining the morale of the troops by providing them with an example of loyalty and courage that could be followed; but it was also a matter of justice: a commander ought not to ask of his men more than he was willing to undergo himself regardless of what the danger. But the years had been long and tiring; and he had finally came to the point where his whole being cried out for a rest, but the work of subduing the heathen enemies of Israel was not yet finished. It had all seemed so very simple. After all, he was king over Israel, and all of the other kings did it. Why should he not send out his army to fight his battles while he remained in his palace seeking some rest? It had seemed all so easy, and he had told himself that it would only be a little while. After he was rested, he would return to fight beside his men in the battle. It was only that the rest he sought never did come. His heart had known much more of rest and peace in the middle of many a raging battle than he would ever know again all through his life. First there had been just that feeling of guilt from knowing that while he sat safe within his own palace his men were marching for him out into the face of danger. But that had not lasted long. Only too soon it was replaced with his feelings of guilt with regards to Bathsheba, and then those as he tried to deceive Uriah into providing a cover-up for his sin, and then the murder of Uriah, too. It kept on coming, one thing after another until he, the great hero of unwavering courage, found himself torn apart inwardly, terrorized and unable to face squarely the deeds of his own hands and the words of his own mouth.
It was strange how this feeling affected him. It seemed to make of him a different man, almost the opposite of what he had been in the years that went before. We have an illustration of this in the capture of Rabbah, the royal city of Ammon, an event that may well have taken place rather soon after the death of Uriah even though it is not recorded for us until later. This was the conclusion of a hard fought campaign against one of Israel’s oldest enemies. It was the one that David had thought he could as well sit out in Jerusalem; and, without the leadership of the king, it had proved much more difficult than had ever been expected. But now at last the conclusion had come. The city itself had been taken and all that remained was the royal citadel in the center of the city. There was not a question but that this too could be captured rather easily; it was just that this, nonetheless, did constitute the nominal heart of the royal city and of the nation. It was thus that Joab sent a rather strange message to David, which read, “I have fought against Rabbah, and have taken the city of waters. Now therefore gather the rest of the people together, and encamp against the city, and take it: lest I take the city, and it be called after my name.”
This was a strange message indeed for Joab to be sending to David because it was so out of tune with David’s normal nature. What Joab was proposing was a farce, a pretense of a victory for no other purpose than that of gilding David’s public image. Nothing would have been more repulsive to the David of former years. To him popular recognition had never been of much concern if any; and to have to resort to pretense to obtain it would have been worse than not having it at all. But Joab was a subtle judge of people; and even from a distance he had detected a change taking place in the person of David that made all of this different. Neither was his judgment in error. Never before had David felt the need for popular approval, because he had always stood with a clear conscience before himself and before, his God. Now for many a month the heavens had stood closed against him; and even his own mind dared not try to evaluate the things that he had done. Not that he could really suppress it. There were always those excuses cropping up again and again all through every day and through most of the night too, excuses which he wanted to believe were valid but which he didn’t even dare try out on others lest, they should discover those sins which he had tried so carefully to hide. It drove him into a mental corner and left him there alone, feeling worthless before God and before himself and before everyone else, too. Thus when the message of Joab came it was like a breath of fresh air—at least, it left some possibility for something that could be done. Surely it would do him good to hear the cheering crowds and see in their faces their wild approval. He would go. He would try it. Maybe he wasn’t really as bad as he kept on thinking.
It was a clever move on the part of Joab, one in which he couldn’t lose. He could never as the cold, calculating man that he was gain for himself popular approval. Neither was he about to repeat the mistake that David had made with Saul by letting his own glory outshine that of the king. It was better to keep himself in the king’s good favor. That was where his strength lay. And it worked as far as he was concerned. There for a few days at Rabbah David had a wonderful time. He even forgot his troubles in the thrill of that last battle and the excitement of the victory celebration. Except that for David it wasn’t really worth it, for once he returned home, that old loneliness, that darkness, that terrible gloom closed on him again even worse than it had ever before. It was that very thing that had pressed Saul to the brink of despair and beyond it; and it would have pushed David that way too had it not been for the grace of his God.
How long a time transpired before Nathan visited David, we do not know exactly, just that it was sometime after the son of Bathsheba was born. The time surely must have been a dark one for David as he reflected in Psalm 32:3, 4, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the. drought of summer.” Even to think upon his sins was more than he could stand. The verdict of the law against the adultery he knew full well, to say nothing of murder. It was death, and his own hand had executed men for such; and now as the king and judge of Israel it should have been turned against himself. But how could he now stand to die, alone as he was, alienated from his own conscience and from his God with this weight of sin upon him. To fall before the face of the enemy he had never feared; but this was more than he could bear.
When finally Nathan came, sent by the command of God, David may well have met him with mixed feeling. Here was an old friend whose presence he had always enjoyed; but he was also the representative of God and the thought of God made him tremble. Nevertheless, once Nathan began to speak David began to relax. It gave him a sense of relief, the report of another’s sin. The story went like this, “There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: but the poor man had nothing save one little ewe lamb, which he had brought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And there came a traveler unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.” Intently David listened, and as he listened he began to feel better. Evidently Nathan did not know of what he had done, not even God had told him, and he, David, was still looked upon by them as a just and worthy judge. Moreover the case was clear, one that aroused his sense of righteous indignation. No, he would not cover up, he would not excuse the wicked. Quickly and sharply he answered, “As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
The measured silence that followed must have been ominous, and yet nothing compared with the paced words that followed, “Thou art the man.” Was David ever to forget it? Hard for Nathan to utter, unimaginably hard to one who was his respected king and his well-loved friend. But for David it pierced like darts to the quick. No longer was it Nathan he saw before him, but God speaking in justice while his own lips had already declared the only verdict. Each word that followed further was like an iron blow of judgment, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; and I gave thee thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil! in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house: because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”
His own lips had spoken the verdict, “As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die, and there it happened. David died, not indeed a physical death, that would have been merciful, but a death that was many, niany times worse. He died spiritually there, before Nathan as he cried out in anguish, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And now not he, but his house and his children after him, and the nation would have to bear his curse. It is something which only one who has come to see his own sins for what they really are with all of their results can appreciate—and at some time or other every Christian comes to know it.
It made the next so inexplicably amazing. Nathan went on, “The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.” But still the other followed too, “Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.” It is the tension of Christian life, a forgiving God, but a God also of justice who will not let us or anyone else forget how great is our sin, how terrible its fruits, and how amazing that there should be forgiveness still—who can understand it?