6-4-4 David's Repentance
It is possible to infer that for all their spiritual closeness, David
and Bathsheba experienced a falling out of love immediately after the
incident- as with many cases of adultery and fornication. In contrast
to their previous close contact, she had to send to tell him
that she was pregnant. In addition, before David's repentance he appears
to have suffered with some kind of serious disease soon after it: "
My loins are filled with a loathsome (venereal?) disease: and there is
no soundness in my flesh" (Ps.38:7). It is even possible that David
became impotent as a result of this; for we get the impression that from
this point onwards he took no other wives, he had no more children, and
even the fail safe cure for hypothermia didn't seem to mean much to David
(1 Kings 1:1-4). Therefore " My lovers and my friends stand aloof
from my sore" (Ps. 38:11) must refer to some kind of venereal disease.
The Hebrew word translated " lovers" definitely refers to carnal
love rather than that of friendship. It may be that an intensive plural
is being used here- in which case it means 'my one great lover', i.e.
Bathsheba. We have commented earlier how Amnon's obsessive love for Tamar
was an echo of David's relationship with Bathsheba. There may be a parallel
in the way in which afterwards, " Amnon hated her exceedingly; so
that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith
he loved her" (2 Sam.13:15). All this would have been yet another
aspect of the emotional trauma which David went through at this time;
to fall out of love with the woman for which he had almost thrown away
his eternal salvation. And in addition to this, all Israel would have
got to know about what had happened- with a fair degree of exaggeration
thrown in, we can be sure.
The record stresses how much David and Bathsheba relied on sending messages
through the servants (2 Sam. 11: 3,4,5,6,19,23,27)- and remember that
Bathsheba probably couldn't read, necessitating verbal communication.
The palace servants would have gossiped and chatted about little else.
When Uriah " slept at the door of the king's house with all the servants
of his lord" after an evening with them in the bar, there can be
no doubt that he came to know the score. He must have guessed the contents
of the message which he took back to Joab; and when the command came for
him to go on a suicide mission against Rabbah, he went in conscious loyalty
to a master whose every intrigue he knew perfectly. This would explain
why he refused to go and sleep with Bathsheba; he knew what David was
up to. And David would have known that Uriah almost certainly knew what
had happened. In view of this, " I go mourning all the day long"
(Ps. 38:6) before David's repentance can be seen as the language
of an agitated breakdown. It has also been observed that the Psalms contain
several usages of language which is specifically related to leprosy. It
could be that David was struck with some form of leprosy after the sin.
“I was dumb, I opened not my mouth: because thou didst it...when thou
with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to
consume away like a moth” (Ps. 39:9,11) may all suggest David suffered
some kind of stroke, leaving him dumb and without his legendary beauty.
In all this he was brought to know the spirit of Christ crucified, in
whom there was no beauty that he should be desired, and who was dumb as
a lamb before her shearers. The links between the Bathsheba psalms about
David's repentance and the crucifixion are copious. The Lord on the cross
came to know the feelings of David after his sin, He felt a sinner although
He never committed sin, so that even when we sin we are not in that sense
separated from our Lord. He even then has a fellow feeling true with every
Long Term Effects
The nervous effects on David may well have continued throughout the rest
of his life. Despite exalting in the fact that he has now confessed his
sin and been forgiven, David uttered Ps. 32:4: " Day and night thy
hand was heavy upon me (in the days before repentance): my moisture is
(present tense) turned into the drought of summer. Selah" . Is this
not an eloquent picture of the David who was once so sure of himself,
full of vitality, now shrivelled up, at least emotionally? " Many
sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy
shall compass him about" (Ps.32:10) may also give insight here. It
does not say 'Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but the repentant will
have joy'. Instead, the contrast is made between sorrow and experiencing
God's mercy; as if to imply 'The sorrows brought about by sin will go
on and on in this life, but knowing you are surrounded by God's mercy
more than compensates'. It takes little imagination to realize how that
after his sin, David must have become a man of sorrows and acquainted
with grief, tortured with deep and manic depressions. David's repentance
comes as a relief to the reader.
The Answer Of A Bad Conscience
The harsh treatment of the Ammonites, torturing them under harrows, is
indication enough of David’s bad conscience before God being shown in
his harsh treatment of others. Likewise Asa oppressed the people when
he was guilty in his conscience (2 Chron. 16:10). And the wicked Kings
of Israel usually died “without being desired” by their people, presumably
because their broken relationship with God had led to a broken relationship
between them and their brethren (e.g. 2 Chron. 21:20). The extent of David’s fall at this time may be indicated by the way he crowns himself in 2 Sam. 12:30 with the “70 pound gold crown of the Ammonite state god Milcom” (1). Whilst retaining his allegiance to Yahweh, this personal association with a pagan god seems inappropriate.
Yet there is good reason to think that David did not spiritually crash completely,
during the nine months in which he refused to fully acknowledge his sin.
Although he no longer felt confident of having God's salvation, he still
felt that God's Spirit/presence was with him. Hence he prayed in his confession:
" Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit
from me (i.e. he felt that he had these things even then). Restore unto
me the joy of salvation...thy free spirit" (Ps.51:11,12). He was
very conscious that God was so closely watching him: " Hide thy
face from my sins...against thee (have I) done this evil in thy sight"
(Ps.51:4,9). " Day and night thy hand was heavy upon me" (Ps.32:4),
he later recognized as he reflected upon God's close scrutiny of his life
during those unrepentant months.
" When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring"
(Ps.32:3) must refer to David's roaring to God in prayer (Ps.22:1)
before David's repentance, whilst keeping silent about his sin.
In the same context he laments: " I have roared by reason of the
disquietness (bad conscience) of my heart" (Ps.38:8). His very separation
from God made him pray to God the more, pleading for some form of spiritual
healing. But without realistic confession of sin, such prayer was shouting
out words into the darkness. David found that attempting to have a relationship
with God in such bad conscience only adds to the pain.
Further proof that David did not totally spiritually crash, is to be
found in his very genuine, uncontrived sense of morality that led to his
instant reaction to Nathan's parable (2 Sam. 12:5). That same parable
described David's lust as a " traveller" which came to him,
implying that this was not his usual frame of mind (and does the 'traveller'
needing sustenance of Lk. 11:6 also refer to our sinful tendencies?).
It should also be observed that Joab warned the messenger to quickly explain
to David why the soldiers approached so near the wall of Rabbah, because
he knew that David would immediately quote an example from the
history of Israel, to prove that such an approach was unwise (2 Sam. 11:21).
David's familiarity with the spiritual records of Israel's history was
therefore well known, and it presumably did not depart from him during
the nine months. Psalm 38 speaks of how the guilt of his sin weighed so
heavily upon him (Ps. 38:4 NIV), whereas Ps. 32:5 describes how the guilt
of sin has now been lifted from him- implying that he wrote Ps. 38 some
time after the sin, but before repenting properly. The point is, he didn’t
crash completely, he didn’t turn away from God in totality- he was still
writing Psalms at the time!
David's experience was so similar to ours. After sinning, we do not turn
right away from God. Like him, we strive to continue walking with God.
The trauma can only be resolved by a totality of confession of sin. "
Let not this thing displease thee" were David's words to Joab (2
Sam. 11:25). But those very Hebrew words are used again in v.27: "
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord" . It displeased
God spiritually; and it is therefore reasonable to think that David was
saying to Joab 'Now don't think that there's anything really spiritually
wrong with what I've done'. Doubtless David tried even harder to persuade
himself of this than he did Joab.
Soon after the sin, but before David's repentance, David went to
join Joab in the battle for Rabbah- perhaps to give an impression of zeal
to Bathsheba and the rest of his people. 'If brave Uriah died there, why,
I'm not afraid to be with the boys on the front line either'. After the
victory, David proudly placed the crown of Rabbah's king on his own head,
pillaging the spoil of the city rather than burning it, and then
cruelly tortured the Ammonites; " he (David personally) brought out
the people...and cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with
axes" (2 Chron.20:2,3). How true it is that one sin leads to another.
David's own bad conscience with God led him into this fit of bitterness,
in which he so needlessly tortured people who at the most only warranted
a quick death. One is left to imagine him making a great deal of how he
was doing this in vengeance for the death of Uriah. Whenever we detect
unreasonable behaviour, pride, materialism or bitterness within our own
lives, we need to ask to what degree this is related to our own lack of
good conscience with God.
More of the time in the daily round than we like to admit is spent in
bad conscience with God. Psalm 38 gives further insight into David's tragic
spiritual state. Psalm 38 appears to be David's lament of his bad conscience,
some time before he makes his confession of Ps. 51. Psalm 38 shows that
David certainly had some faith in God before his confession: " Forsake
me not...make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation" (Ps. 38:22).
Yet it is possible to intensely believe in the mercy of God, His ability
to save, and yet not have the real faith- which is to believe that this
mercy and salvation really can still apply to us personally. Thus he prays
" Make me to hear joy and gladness" (Ps. 51:8). His introspective
world of sin and self-hate found joy a paradigm impossible to relate to;
as with mercy and salvation, he knew spiritual joy existed, but seemed
unable to make this apply to him personally.
Other details in Psalm 38 fill out David's experience before David's
repentance. " Mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy
burden they are too heavy for me" (Ps. 38:4) was spoken before David's
frank confession of Ps. 51. It therefore reveals how David felt swamped
by his sense of sin; whilst recognizing it, he couldn't come to terms
with explicitly confessing it. Every child of God must have come somewhere
near to this feeling. The flesh can deceive us that just recognizing
our sin somewhere in our consciousness is all that is needed. The lesson
taught by David is that there is the need for frank and total confession;
otherwise, the bad conscience will only deepen. " I am troubled;
I am bowed down greatly" (Ps. 38:6) uses Hebrew which is elsewhere
translated 'to commit iniquity', 'to be crooked'. This is David recognizing
'I am a sinner'- but still this did not help him. Specific, uninhibited
confession was still not forthcoming. " My sorrow is continually
before me. For I will declare mine iniquity; I will
be sorry for my sin" (Ps. 38:17,18) may mean that David was so swamped
by the trauma of the sin and the distancing from God which he was experiencing,
that he could only vaguely resolve that some time in the future he would
get down to a serious prayer session, in which he would analyze and confess
his sin. But instead he goes on desperately pleading " O my God,
be not far from me. Make haste to help me..." . Our own sins so often
gives us a nagging conscience; not because we are consciously trying to
pretend that we never sinned, but because we will not make the effort
to overcome the circumstances which stop us making the mental effort necessary
to put ourselves straight with God.
However, David's genuine sorrow for his sin during this period is still
a powerful exhortation to us, whose every sin must be repented of and
forgiven after the pattern of David's repentance. The extent of
his sorrow is heavily stressed: " My sorrow is continually before
me...my sin is ever before me" (Ps. 38:17; 51:3). How much sorrow
is there for our sins? Have the years mellowed our terror at sin? Things
which once appalled us can so easily become sins of habit, the real sorrow
we once experienced on committing them can be watered down to just a vague
tickle of conscience. The significance of David's sin and repentance being
held up as an example of our own should be a good antidote against such
problems. The chilling thing is, despite all this awareness of his sin
during the nine month period, when he was told the parable by Nathan-
he just didn’t see it. Every part of the story had such relevant application,
but David was blinded to it. He knew he had sinned, but this was only
on a surface level. “Thou art the man” was still news to him. We have
commented that “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant;
for I do not forget thy commandments” (Ps. 119:176) was likely written
by David with his mind on his follies relating to Bathsheba. The point,
is in the ‘loat’ state, he still remembered the commandments. He didn’t
turn his back on God; and neither do we, in our semi-spiritual unspirituality.
We can likewise be blinded to true, personal understanding of God’s message
because of our refusal to truly repent. Corinth and the Hebrews
could not understand the strong meet of the word because they were divided;
their divisiveness hindered their understanding. Husbands and wives find
their prayers hindered unless they are themselves united.
It is amazing how sudden David's proper repentance seems to have come.
There is no reason to be unduly afraid of a sudden, emotional confession
of sin, prompted by a certain circumstance, as David's was by Nathan's
parable. Psalm 51 may well have been prayed but moments after Nathan finished
his parable. And Psalm 32, describing the joy of David's repentance, would
have followed soon after. " Purge me...and I shall be clean...create
in me a clean heart" (Ps.51:7,10) shows that David understood the
'me' which needed cleansing as being his own mind. This was clearly a
result of the great level of self-examination which brought forth his
real repentance. " Against thee, thee only have I sinned"
(Ps.51:4) was a conclusion wrung out of so much reflection about what
he had done; as is his recognition that his " sin" had involved
many " transgressions" (Ps.51:3).
The Effect Of Forgiveness
One of the most repeated themes of the psalms of penitence is that of
coming to know God as a result of experiencing His mercy, and recognizing
how serious our sin is in His sight. " I was shapen in iniquity;
and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps.51:5) is a good example
of how the experience of sin and real repentance makes us appreciate the
essential badness of our own natures. It is through a failure to recognize
this in practice (whilst doing so in theory) which so often leads us into
temptation and eventual failure. Thus the doctrine that man's nature is
sinful and mortal is essentially practical in its outworking. The more
we recognize it, the more sensitive we will be to temptation and failure,
after the pattern of David's repentance. " In the hidden part
thou shalt make me to know wisdom" (Ps.51:6) David meditated, as
he looked forward to his knew life with God after receiving forgiveness.
His very innermost being would then be able to learn more deeply of God's
real wisdom. There is a connection between David knowing God in his "
hidden part" , and Ps.32:7: " Thou art my hiding place"
, or 'hidden part'. This shows that David felt that after his repentance,
God Himself would live in David's 'hidden part', that part of his mind
and thinking which no one else knows. Through knowing God, God would come
and live in that part which truly knew God. The tabernacling of God in
our 'hidden part' also requires us to come to know Him, as David did.
Being so certain of having received God's mercy, and therefore knowing
the joy of living in good conscience with God, led David to preach to
those around him. " Then will I teach transgressors thy ways;
and sinners shall be converted unto thee" (Ps.51:13). Note too that
Psalm 32 is a 'Maschil' psalm- 'for instruction'. If we have really
experienced the mercy of God, we will preach to others from our
personal experience. 'Preaching' will not be something which we will have
to will ourselves to do, nor will it be just a compartment of our lives.
Like David, our very existence, the very spirit of our lives, will be
an open proclamation of what God's mercy has achieved in us.
Through David's repentance he obviously learnt from his sin, as
we can from each of ours. Ps. 32:9 comments that men ought to learn from
David’s example, and not be as horses who must have their mouths kept
in with a bridle. In Ps. 39:1 David reminisces how he had earlier said
[before his sin with Bathsheba] that he would stop himself sinning by
restraining himself with a bridle. He learnt that sheer will power is
not enough; blind resolution to simply ‘obey’ will fail. Instead, it is
a living relationship with the Father, a deep sense of His glory, that
creates an environment of life where we just won’t do what David did with
Bathsheba. This was what he learnt, and this is what he was so eager to
pass on to us in the post-Bathsheba Psalms of David's repentance.
David’s experience of God’s grace stayed with him when he faced up to
the results of his errors in the future, too. From experience, he can
ask to fall into the Lord’s hand rather than man’s, because “his mercies
are great” (2 Sam. 24:14)- using the same two Hebrew words
he had used when Nathan came to him in Ps. 52:1: “Have mercy upon me…according
unto the multitude [Heb. ‘greatness’] of thy tender mercies”.
And so the experience of God’s gracious mercy over one sin fortifies us
to believe in His grace when, sadly, we fall again; although, in passing,
I think that in 2 Sam. 24, David himself didn’t really do so much wrong.
Yet he perceived himself to have sinned, so the point is still established.
Yet the Bathsheba Psalms, and those written after that time, clearly
reflect how David had a sense of integrity before God. Ps. 41:4,12
is a good example: “I said, Lord, be merciful unto me: heal my soul;
for I have sinned…as for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity,
and settest me before thy face for ever”. How could David, David
the adulterer and the murderer, speak of his integrity…? Only, surely,
because he truly believed in imputed righteousness. Forgiven sinners-
and none of us are essentially any different to David- can have
genuine integrity before God and men, because of this wonderful
thing called imputed righteousness, justification by grace, call
it by whatever theological term we like. But the bottom line in
practice is that we can have genuine integrity before God and man.
Yet, of course, men are no so willing to accept this… those who
break that 11th commandment ‘Thou shalt not be caught!’ are very
often treated as if they can never have any integrity, and are for
ever second class citizens in their community. But this isn’t the
way of those who seek to reflect God’s way of dealing with sin.
David so often parallels righteousness and justice / truth (Ps.
9:8; 33:5; 37:6; 72:2; 94:15; 99:7; 103:6; 106:3). Indeed, this
parallel is so common in God's word. What it means is that the righteousness
of God is a just righteousness. It's not fake, 'I'll turn
a blind eye'. It is true, real, valid, and has integrity underpinned
in the very essential justice of God Himself. Justice and righteousness
may appear abstract ideas, mere theology. But the result is that
the person who believes God's righteousness is imputed to him or
her... will feel this, they will know it to be true, they
can by grace, in faith, quietly hold their head up before God. And
David after Bathsheba is our example. He believed and felt
this imputed righteousness. It's not so much a case of 'forgiving
ourselves' after God has forgiven us, but rather of being swamped
by this very real and legitimate sense that truly, we have been
counted righteous. And Paul in Romans holds up David after Bathsheba
as the personal example to " every one who is Godly" in
their time of spiritual need. Another example is in Psalm 86, a
Psalm where David constantly speaks of his need for God’s forgiveness
(Ps. 86:3,5,15,16). And yet David in the same Psalm can say: “Preserve
my soul; for I am holy” (Ps. 86:2). He again has this sense of his
own integrity, in the midst of realizing his need for God’s grace
and forgiveness. David's repentance is a pattern for ours,
day by day.
David And Grace
In describing his feelings after the Bathsheba experience, David
comments that he was "as a man that hears not [the taunts of
others against him], and in whose mouth are no rebukes" (Ps.
38:14). The pre-Bathsheba Psalms present David as a man who was
so easily hurt by the taunts of others, and whose mouth was indeed
full of rebuke of others. Psalm 37 speaks of the wicked without
any apparent interest in their conversion, but rather is there an
emphasis upon their condemnation, even a gloating over it, and the
[surely incorrect] fantasy that God laughs at the thought of how
He will punish the wicked in future (Ps. 37:13). God takes no
pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ez. 18:32; 33:11). David's
view of God's mercy was that it would be only according to, proportionate
to, our hope in God (Ps. 33:22)- it was only through his Bathsheba
experience that David came to know that grace is simply not proportionate
to any human virtue. Psalms 24, 25 and 26 are full of David explaining
that fellowship with God was dependent upon a man's "integrity",
walking in truth, hating sinners, personal innocency, "uprightness",
clean hands and ure heart. And throughout these Psalms, David holds
up himself as the great example. Ps. 18:23-26 has David describing
his own uprightness before God, and how God only shows His grace
to the pure and upright. How little did he understand grace! Worse
still, he several times bids God judge men according to their sins
(Ps. 5:10). It is against this background that we must understand
the significance of David's statements that after Bathsheba, after
how God did not deal with him accoding to his sin, there
were no rebukes of others now in his mouth. Realizing the extent
of his personal sin and the depth of God's grace led David to not
only be less reproachful of others; but also to be less hurt by
their unkindness to him. And in these things we surely have a great
lesson to ourselves.
(1) Baruch Halpern, David’s Secret Demons (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2001) p. 37.