“Thou art the man”. It was Nathan speaking. And the accusing finger of the prophet was pointed to Dayid. A dreadful chain of sins in David’s life had led to this moment. He had cohabited with Bathsheba, while her husband, Uriah, was away fighting Ammonites. When he had learned from the woman that she was with child, he added sin to sin in the attempt to prevent his adultery from becoming public. His first move was to command Joab to send him the Hittite. To conceal the real motive of the summons, he put to Uriah some questions bearing on the progress of the war and thereupon told him to go home. Having cohabited with his wife, it could be said of Uriah that he was the father of the child. But Uriah spent the night with David’s servants in the palace. He did not go to his house. It was told David and on the following day he called Uriah to his table and made him drunk in the hope that by his desire as inflamed by the wine he would be driven into the arms of his wife. But the night found him on his bed with the servants of David. However strong the excitement produced by the wine, it could not break down his determination to avoid his wife. Then David took recourse to a new artifice that made murder his minister. He commanded Uriah to return to the battle and supplied him with a letter for Joab instructing the latter to place Uriah in the hottest of the battle and then to withdraw from him that he might be smitten and die. So it was done, and Uriah died in battle. Shortly thereafter David made Bethsheba his wife.
Nine or ten months or perhaps a year had gone by since all this had taken place. In the mean time the ehild that had been conceived in adultery was born apparently in honorable wedlock. David had seen to that. He had betimes disposed of Uriah and made Bathsheba his wife.
We gaze with horror and consternation upon this black spot in David’s career. It shows to what depth it is possible for a saint to fall,—a saint I say. For despite his gross sinning, David was a believer still. For God’s people do not fall from grace. Their seed abideth in them. No one, including themselves, surely can pluck them out of Christ’s hand. So the Scriptures teach. But in this life they continue to lie in the midst of death, despite their essential goodness. In their flesh there dwells no good thing. And what they would that they do not; but what they hate, that they do. (Rom. 7:15).
Yet, however true this may be, David’s gross sinning terrifies. For he was a saint and must even be classified with the holiest of men. That the believers can allow themselves to be victimized by their depraved lusts to such extent! How the best of them should take to heart the warning of the Scriptures that they stand solely by grace. How they should watch and pray that they fall not, when they stand.
True, David had not pursued sin but had been surprised by it. He did not belong to the category of men of whom the prophets says that they assembled themselves by troops in harlot’s houses; and that as fed horses in the morning every one of them neighed after his neighbor’s wife (Jer. 5:8, 9). Being a saint, David did not, as do the wicked, walk and revel in sin, taking delight and satisfaction in it.
Yet, surely, David was far from being an innocent victim of his lusts. True, it must be supposed that his eyes had lighted on the woman as by chance and not by the direction of his will. But from this point on he did voluntarily pursue sin. He again looked on the woman now with eyes filled with adulteries. And setting his perverse thought-images before his mind’s eye, he kept them there until, as overwhelmed by his inflamed lust he could not resist the temptation to give it expression.
The Scriptures teach us that God punishes sin with sin. Though the heathen knew God, they did not honor Him as God. And in punishment of their sin God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts to dishonor their own bodies between themselves. Was David’s deep fall a case of God’s punishing sin with sin? The God-fearing Hezekiah, when healed and saved of God from the hands of the Assyrians, rendered not again according to the benefit done to him; for his heart was lifted up. (II Chron. 32:24-26). Was David’s heart lifted up and did God give him over to uncleanness through the lusts of his flesh in punishment of that sin? The Lord had taken him from deepest obscurity and set him on a throne, even making him the head of the heathen, so that a people which he knew not served him and strangers submitted themselves to him. (II Sam. 22:44). Militarily he had been wondrously successful. He had overthrown all the nations that for ages had been menacing the people of Israel from north to south. On the ruins of their kingdoms he had founded an empire as vast as any of the great kings of the East. Was as a result David’s heart lifted up? That would not at all have been strange, seeing that he was but a sinful man. Some years previous, when he perceived that the Lord had established him king over Israel he took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem and this though he knew that he was doing the forbidden thing. (Deut. 17:17). And now he was leaving the conduct of the war with the Ammonites to Joab, while he tarried in Jerusalem indulging life’s pleasures. That was wrong. His place was in the field with his soldiers. And then his summoning into his presence his neighbor’s wife for purposes of adultery, while the neighbor was away risking his life on the battle field for the cause of God—what an atrocity! What it all reveals is that he had grown unspeakably arrogant and that in his pride he had given himself over to pampering his lusts.
Perhaps the worst feature of his vile doings was his attempt at inventing excuses for his’sins instead of confessing them. Uriah was a Hittite. The race of men to which he belonged was one of the group of several Canaanite nations originally marked by the ban of God for destruction. “Thou shalt utterly destroy them.” (Deut. 30:17). All the humans without distinction of sex and age had to be smitten with the sword. No covenant might be made with these peoples. No mercy might be shown them. Marriages with them had been strictly forbidden. And the reason given is “that they teach you not to do after their abominations”. (Deut. 7:1-4).
So, Uriah was a Hittite under the curse of God. His union with Bathsheba was invalid and non-existant in the eyes of God. Any Jew could take her from him without clashing with the prohibition of God: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
That such was David’s reasoning is clearly suggested by the text. On learning that Uriah was a Hittite David, so the text reveals, sent messengers and took her in all likelihood that same evening. But David’s reasoning here was false. From Uriah’s head the ban had been lifted. For he was a true Jew. He possessed the circumcision of the heart. His marriage was a sacred thing. And how devoted this converted heathen was to the cause of Israel’s God! How great was his zeal! “The ark of God, and Israel, and Judah abide in tents,” said he to David, “and my lord Joab, and the servants of my Lord are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into my house to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As thou livest and thy soul livest, I will not do this thing.”
And then that other reasoning of David. “The sword devoureth one as well as another.” In a word, Uriah’s death was none of David’s responsibility. It was simply chargeable to the fortunes of war.
Such were his reasonings. Yet he was far from going merrily on his way. For his reasonings were not convincing. How could they be! They were thoroughly fallacious. So his heart continued to condemn him. He walked in darkness and had no peace. The Lord was hiding his face. What agonies of mind and heart were now his portion! His bones waxed old through his roaring all the day long. For night and day the hand of the Lord was heavy upon him: his moisture was turned into the drought of summer. (Ps. 82:3, 4). Conscience told him that he had sinned. But he refused to be instructed. Conscience can err. That he could be guilty of the things whereof his heart accused him was a thought too debasing for words. Thus spake his sinful pride. And therefore he kept silence.
But in the person of Nathan the prophet the Lord now confronted him with his sin. Would he refuse to hear the Lord?
But how was Nathan to proceed with this fallen saint? In the spirit of meekness, to be sure. But what was to be the prophet’s approach, his method of attack? In his present state David was a problem for the most tactful of shepherds. But he was not a problem for the Lord. He was not a problem for Nathan. For Nathan came to him with the Lord’s Word.
Nathan had a dreadful task to perform. He had to hold before David his gross sins. He came to David with a terrible message from the Lord. And this message had to be communicated. But the prophet was undaunted. The secret of his courage was his awareness that he stood before God’s face and that he spake God’s Word. He did not begin his admonition by pointing his accusing finger directly at David. He would accuse but only after this fallen saint unawares had been made to accuse himself. So the prophet took recourse to the employment of legitimate guile. He posed as one who came to David to plead the cause of a poor man outraged by his rich neighbor in the matter of a ewe-lamb. The facts in the sad case were there: the rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds. The poor man had but one little ewe lamb that he had bought and raised. The animal was dear to the man and his family. It had grown up together with him and his children. It did eat of his own morsel and drink of his own cup. It lay in his bosom and was to him as a daughter.
There came a wayfarer to the rich man, and lo! he spared to take of his own flocks and of his own herds but he took the poor man’s lamb and dressed it for the wayfaring man. What an outrage!
Nathan had spoken in David’s ear a parable in which he beheld an image of his own vile self but so disguised that he failed to perceive that the culprit was he. Imagining that the prophet dealt with fact and not with fiction, David as seized by a paroxysm of indignation, pronounced sentence of death upon the heartless offender and thereby condemned himself. “As the Lord liveth, the man that has done this thing shall surely die and he shall restore the lamb fourfold because he did this thing and had no pity.” David was even more exacting than God. For the law went no farther than to demand that such an offender as that of Nathan’s parable restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep. Ex. 22:1. But David demanded that the man be put to death. Yet the man’s sin was but a faint echo of the sins that David all along had been excusing in himself. The mote in the brother’s eye had him worried and thoroughly provoked, but of the beams in his own eye he willed to take no notice. This is what sin has done to us. It has made hypocrites of us all. And so it was now Nathan’s turn to speak. Knowing David to be a man of essential goodness with a strong sense of justice, a man genuinely hateful of all oppression and violence, and therefore ready to denounce sin also in his own life, if made to see his fault, the prophet had counted on this reaction. “And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.” These were shocking words—shocking to David. Doubtless he was visibly hurt. Doubtless his eyes were filled with reproach as they met those of the prophet. It was necessary for Nathan to explain. And so he did. Careful to preface his doleful message to the king with; “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel”, the prophet continued: “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 by thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.
“And 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 from before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of the sun. For thou didst it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”
He killed Uriah with the sword of the children of Ammon. That is what his heart had been telling him all along. But he heard it now out of the Lord’s own mouth—heard that he despised the Lord’s commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not commit adultery.” Thus he did and this despite all that the Lord had done for him. It raised the terrifying question: why—why had he recompensed the Lord that evil for all His boundless love? How could he? Where lay the fault? There was but one answer. It lay solely with him. He was carnal, sold under sin. O, the amazing sinfulness of sin!
David in his carnality had sown to the flesh and in the remaining years of his life he would have to reap from the flesh corruption. The sword that by his murder of Uriah he had carried into his house would never depart from it. It would abide and sadden his life and fill his soul with anguish by its repeated killings in his own family to his dying day. Absalom would slay Amnon for the rape of Tamar. Then Absalom, as inflamed by ambition, would attempt to push David from the throne and plunge all Israel in a bloody civil war. For his treachery Adonijah would fall by the sword of Solomon.
There was still other evil that would rise up against him from his own house. Absalom would cohabit with his concubines on the roof of the palace in plain sight of all Israel and before the sun. So would the Lord bring into the open the kind of sin that David had committed in secret in order that all might know that his transgressions were being visited upon him by the Lord. All would be the Lord’s doing. For so it is written. “Behold, I will raise up evil against thee. . . .” And again: “I will take thy wives before thy eyes. . . .” And finally: “I will do this thing before all Israel. . .
To the flesh David had sown murder and adultery, and it is murder and adultery that he must reap from the flesh. For when a man sows to the flesh he reaps just what he sows, as well as when he sows in the soil of the ground. We see it in the case of David. He had sown to the flesh, in the interest of and as his sinful flesh had dictated, and he reaped from the flesh, the sinful flesh of Absalom and carnal Israel and his own wives exactly what he had sown. For God is not mocked.
Nathan had communicated his message. David had listened, silent and pensive. God had spoken to him from out of the sanctuary now by the objective voice of prophecy. He could argue with his conscience, maintaining that it erred. But would he dispute with God? Being at heart a saint, he had, and could have, but one reply: “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Just those words. And that was all. He implored not the prophet that he might be spared from the results of his sin, the killings of that terrible sword. But one thought occupied his mind. He had sinned against the Lord. The confession was good fruit, truly worthy of repentance. The Lord had brought him under the conviction of sin. And so the prophet had still another message for him from the Lord. It was this: “The Lord hath also put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.”
The word “also” has significance here. It points to David’s confession. That was God’s first work in him. The author of it was the Lord. Having done the former, the Lord did also the latter long before the confession had passed this penitent’s lips. For take notice of the tense: “The Lord hath forgiven thee.” Nathan knew; for God had told him. And therefore there was no need of the prophet adding: if thou truly repentest. For the Lord knows the heart. And He had instructed Nathan. And so the Lord still speaks to the contrite by His word as proclaimed by His prophets and applied to their hearts by Christ’s Spirit: “I forgive thee.” And here He puts the period. And so He cleansed David’s heart from its evil conscience and gave him peace. With the burden of guilt lifted from his soul and as tasting the forgiveness of His God, David again sang from the hearts: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.”—Ps. 32:1, 2.