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6. David

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 failure.  

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 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.