I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest . . . .
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
David was a great man of God. His greatness was not in his sinlessness for there is something about the sin of David that made it most abhorrent among the great sins recorded in Scripture; in its own way it repels us even more than almost anything that his predecessor, King Saul had done. Still David was a great man of God, not because of his sinlessness but because when accused of his sin he bowed in repentance before God. It is really amazing. How many other men in his same situation would not have turned upon the accusing prophet in offended indignation to punish him for his presumption, as Ahab did to Micaiah when he commanded that Micaiah should be fed on bread of affliction with water of affliction until his prophecy was proved wrong, or as Herod did to John the Baptist when he cast him in prison for reproving him concerning his marriage. This is to be expected of one who rules with the power of a king. But David was different. To be sure, he had sinned two terrible sins and had used his royal power to perpetrate them both. But when the word of God came to him it broke him, it penetrated into the depths of his heart, it brought him down as a guilty slave to lie prostrate in the dust before his God. In fact, it was undoubtedly from his own pen that the first written record of his transgression proceeded in a song to be sung in public worship that all the nation might know of the sorrow which he felt for his sin. We have the words written yet in Psalm 51, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight . . .” This, and not sinlessness, is the mark of God’s true children.
In answer to his repentance, David received the assurance, “The LORD also hath put away thy sin: thou shalt not die.” But this was not the end of the matter. Regardless of his repentance, the effects of David’s sin still remained, and they too had to be answered.
David in his sin has, as nearly everybody always does, failed to take into account the fact that what he did reflected not just upon himself but also on many others. It had its effect upon other people, but in a very special and important way it reflected upon his God. After all, almost any king of any other heathen land might have done the same thing, and many of them often did together with things much worse; and yet it shocked no one for this was to be expected of them. But David was different. He stood as the representative of the God of Israel, a God of all holiness who demands purity among men. It has been His testimony from the beginning of time that wickedness will not be countenanced by Him. When then David, the royal representative of Israel’s God, acted in direct contradiction to all that God had commanded, he gave to all of the world an occasion to blaspheme the name of his God. At that moment there remained only one thing that could be done. Jehovah the God of Israel had to make evident to all the world that such sin even from his own servant David could not go unpunished. For the sake of His own name it had to be so.
The punishment which God demanded of David was of the most painful kind, especially at this moment of his life. For months David had found himself wandering in a spiritual desert. He had turned away from the paths of righteousness to seek the pleasures of the flesh, and then tried to escape and cover his tracks as though he had done nothing amiss. It meant that through all of that time he had found himself moving farther and farther away from communion with God and from the gracious virtues that had always been typical of his life. While by nature a kind and. compassionate man, his heart had grown cold and insensitive to others, their rights and their feelings. This had been why he had been able to take Bathsheba to himself without thought for her husband away at the war front of Israel. This had been why he had been able to summon Uriah home and deal with him as callously as he had. And this had been why he had been able to order Uriah’s death as he had in cold blood. It must have been for him, so used as he was to living in close communion with God, a strange and even frightening experience. It must have been terribly painful, an anguished loneliness such as he had never known, not even when forsaken and fleeing alone from Saul. And yet, such was the grip of sin upon him that he could not break it.
But now all of this was past and a new spirit had come upon him. God had come to him and had spoken, accusing him of sin in terms that could no longer be resisted. It had hurt, even as exposure of one’s sin always hurts, but it had also been a tremendous relief. Now he could return again to honesty, the kind of honesty in which he had always lived before, even if it had to be the honesty of a repentant confession. Now, with the barrier of sin out of the way, he could return once again to hold communion with his God. Now once again he could feel in his heart the warmth of love and compassion for others. All of the warmth and sensitivity of spiritual life was returned to him, and it was this that made the severity of his punishment so hard to bear because it was to be exacted not on himself but upon another.
Here is a thing which we all so frequently fail to take into consideration. We like to think of our own deeds as being pretty much our own business for which we personally hold the sole responsibility; and in a way this is so. At least from a legal point of view everyone bears the responsibility alone for his own sins. But there is more to the matter than this. The effects of our sins often spread much farther than our own life. Seldom (do we do anything in life in complete isolation from others. Life is very closely intertwined and almost everything we do reaches out in some subtle way to touch the lives of everyone about us. It is the principle set forth in the law, “I will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” It is something which every person, and particularly every parent, should take very seriously. We may try to sooth our consciences by assuring ourselves that whatever we do is after all only our own business; but the fact is quite other. Life has all of its involvements, and whenever we sin it reaches out to touch and affect the lives of many others, and in a very special way the lives of the children that come after us. It was this point that God determined to bring home to David and through his example to all of us who follow after him. Accordingly the last word of Nathan to David before leaving him was, “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 die.”
Almost immediately the word of God took effect. The child was struck and became very sick. For David it was a hard blow, harder than if he had had to bear it himself. He was a warm-hearted man with deep feelings of sympathy and compassion whenever he met the suffering of others, and as a father his heart went out to his children completely. From the very first sign of suffering the heart of David went with his child. He fasted, he wept, he lay upon the ground and cried to the Lord in hope that some way might still be found in which this child might be spared. Day after day this continued, until the whole household was upset, more because of the actions of the king than because of the sickness of the child. Again and again they came to David to try to persuade him to rise up off the ground and to take of some food to eat. But all was to no avail. David knew that there was only one who could remove the results of his terrible sin, and so he would heed none other but wrestled in prayer with his God.
Finally, on the seventh day, the child died. The, servants simply did not know what to do. If David grieved so deeply while the child was sick, what would he do when he heard that the child had actually passed away? As they said to each other, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead?”
David, however, through all of his sorrow, was not acting merely on feeling without reason. He knew what he was doing and with what purpose. Thus, he immediately detected the uncertainty of his servants as he saw them whispering together and asked them, “Is the child dead?” leaving them no choice but to answer, “He is dead.” It was then that the true enormity of David’s faith came to the fore. Rising from the earth, he went immediately to wash himself, to change his soiled and wrinkled clothing, and to go to the tabernacle of God to worship. It was much as though he was at that point repeating the great confession of Job, “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
But the servants of David could not understand it: and it testifies of the intimacy of the relationship between David and his servants that they were not afraid to ask of him an explanation. They asked, “What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.”
The answer of David came without hesitation, “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, “wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
When correctly understood, we have here a most beautiful confession. David was a man who had come to live his life in very close responsiveness to His God. He knew when it was proper to storm the heavens in prayer, and he knew when it was proper to refrain and yield himself in complete submission. His fasting and tears were not artificially devised with the hope of gaining a purpose. David was a man of deep feeling and his prayers for his son undoubtedly arose from genuine and sincere feelings. But his bond of faith that united him with his God was equally real and effective. Once he knew that the will of God was firmly established, he believed and submitted knowing that in the end the way of the Lord, no matter how hard, is always best.
It was for this reason that he could conclude with the firm confidence, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” The death of the child was after all not really a punishment to him. Where he had gone was far better. It was the sorrow of David and of Bathsheba that they would never come to share this child’s life until they too had passed that way. But as covenant parents, they had this final comfort. They would go to him. It was the one hope in which they could find comfort and peace. And meanwhile God gave to them another child. It was Solomon. The day was to come when David would know of him too, as we read, “The LORD loved him.” It was to be the comfort of David in the day when, through other of his children, he was to see more results of his sins.