David–A Man After God’s Own Heart
A characteristic of the Old Testament is that, while the records show the strength of faith manifested by numerous men and women, their frailties are also honestly recorded. Abraham was a man of God without equal. Nevertheless, he turned aside temporarily from the path of faith more than once into eager impatience and into open violations of exact truth. In the case of Jacob too, we would have to pass over many incidents in his life to make him an ideal of most submissive resignation to the command and will of God. Also Moses, of whom it was written that he was found "faithful in all God’s house," yet he was prohibited from entering the promised land on account of presumptuous disobedience to God.
So also with David, who presented a pattern to the eyes of Israel and of the world of every manly and princely virtue, if only a single event in his life had been omitted from the record. It is to this great character that we devote this article.
Shortly after the time David may be said to have reached the pinnacle of his greatness, his inborn dignity seemed to be broken. A surprising change in his general demeanour had taken place. What is it that had produced this most surprising change? Something scarcely credible. A most atrocious crime had been committed. A two‑fold heavy guilt rests upon David’s head. He, the most pious among thousands, raised above the earth on the wings of divine inspiration, to a height which no common emotion can reach, and who is to be not only the human ancestor of the future Saviour of the world but also His personal type, stands before us, meets us suddenly, as an adulterer and a murderer!
Let us lift the veil. While the royal army was besieging the capital of the Ammonites, David, perhaps resting on his laurels, preferring to remain at Jerusalem while his faithful captain Uriah was with the host, was inflamed with adulterous passion for Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, and wickedly beguiled her to unfaithfulness. His carefully contrived attempt to conceal this crime, by sending Uriah from the camp, was frustrated; and therefore he contrived a more godless plan still, whereby Bathsheba, as a widow, might become his with the appearance of entire compliance with the law. He sent back the unsuspicious warrior to Joab, the commander‑in‑chief, with a letter, which, under the name of "Uriah’s Letter" has become notorious. It was written with the same pen with which the sweet psalmist had written his Psalms. This treacherous letter read: "Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die." (2 :Sam.11:15) Joab acted as instructed, and the base plot was carried out. Uriah, and many of his companions, were left dead on the field.
Joab sent a messenger to David to break the news of the issue of the battle, telling him that if he saw David’s wrath arising because of the reverse sustained in the battle, he was then to say in addition that Uriah was amongst the slain, and this the messenger did. But how it surprised him when David answered him with an incomprehensible and hypocritical mildness: "Thus shalt thou say unto Joab, let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devoureth one as well as another: make thy battle more strong against the city." (2 :Sam.11:25)
Unhappy David, how deep art thou fallen! How constantly the first sinful act propagates others! Murder comes after the adultery, and after the murder a sad web of dissimulation, hypocrisy and lies. And no mention of the living God! Only an appeal to a blind fate, which, according to freak, sometimes takes away this one, sometimes that one. Oh! how the word of the Lord verifies itself: "whosoever commiteth sin is the servant of sin" (John 8:34) and "of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage!" (2 Pet.2:19)
Let no one, however far advanced in holiness he may think himself to be, imagine himself set free from taking to heart that cry of Christ, "Watch and pray," and that of the apostle, "Be sober and watch." Protection and safety are only found in cleaving by a steadfast faith to God and to the grace of God.
What appears yet more incomprehensible than David’s fall is the stubbornness with which for months he strove against confessing in the sight of God the heavy guilt that lay upon him. What he suffered during this time of lying and concealment, he afterwards himself gave expression to in few but striking words, which are preserved for us in Psalm 32. Let us hear him. "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." (vv.3‑4) The lively and fervent expressions with which he naturally commences that psalm, composed, of course, after his reconciliation with God, shows a still clearer light than the words just quoted on the misery he then endured: "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." (vv.1‑2)
Of David’s fall, it may be said that "it has become the riches of the world." And David was even more the "man after God’s own heart" after his confession than he was before. How many of his most heart‑searching Psalms would never have been written if he had walked on continually to the end along the lofty path of cloudless holiness, unmoved and without wavering!
Let us turn more particularly to David’s repentance, and to the circumstances which led up to it. But first, we have to remember that we are accustomed to associate with the word "repentance" exclusively the idea of mourning over past sins. By this means many have been misled into a hasty and unwarrantable assumption that they have obtained the forgiveness promised to penitents; others, on the contrary, because they do not shed tears over their demerits, are led unnecessarily to despair of divine mercy. The truth is that our word "repentance," as it is commonly understood, does not fully represent the meaning in the original. The import of the Greek is that it is less a matter of feeling than an act of the moral will. An accurate translation is "A change of mind." Among other texts, the words of Paul in 2 Cor.7:10 make this abundantly clear: "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of; but the sorrow of the world worketh death." Here Paul certainly talks of sorrow on account of sin as an indispensable condition to salvation. He speaks of this sorrow as "godly," in opposition to a "sorrow of the world;" which latter has its foundation only in a selfish concern for the consequences of sin, instead of love to God. Literally, the passage stands thus: "The godly sorrow worketh for salvation." What further? "Repentance not to be repented of." The godly sorrow is not in itself repentance, unless repentance is understood only to mean to have sorrow. According to the original text, the sorrow toward God rather works "a change of mind with no regrets." The full meaning of repentance contains a strong emphasis on a resolute rupture with sin than on the sorrow on account of it. Perhaps the
Good News Bible even more cleanly interprets Paul’s words aright: "For the sadness that is used by God brings a change of heart that leads to salvation—and there is no regret in that! But sadness that is merely human causes death."
Heaven had shut itself against David, and his harp would be standing silent, perhaps covered with dust in a corner. Yet over him God kept watch; He who is "merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." (Exod.34:6) He never forsakes those who once in sincerity have given to Him their heart and hand. "He knows," as David wrote later, "our frame; He remembers that we are dust." (Psa.103:14 RSV)
So far we have heard nothing of Nathan, the friend and counsellor of the king. Suddenly there came to him, in the way of an immediate revelation, a commission from God to go to the king’s, palace. Nathan laid before him, as the supreme judge of the land, a case for his decision. The story was in fact a parable. (See 2 Sam.12:1‑14) David reacted, almost in simplicity, into the snare that was laid for him; or was he bribing his own conscience, when in flaming anger he said "The man that hath done this thing shall surely die?" (v.5) What do we say about the king’s blindness? How true are Paul’s words: "wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself." (Rom.2:1) How frequently does one hear the backbiter declare against the ruling passion for slander. That is the "deceitfulness of sin." None of the similitudes of our Lord is more frequently verified in daily experience than that of the blinded man who does not see the beam that is in his own eye, while he manifests a scornful displeasure in his neighbour’s eye. Whoever arrives at a thorough knowledge of himself will always have forbearance and mildness toward others, and will on all occasions be much more inclined to leave the final decision with Him whose "eyes are as a flame of fire," than to pronounce sentence by his own presumptuous authority with the importance of a judge over his fallen brother.
To revert to Nathan, as he stood in the king’s presence: with solemn earnestness the prophet looks at the king and says, with all becoming respect, but not less firmly and fearlessly, "Thou art the man!" (v.7) The king is overwhelmed, the words ringing in his ears: "Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight?" (v.9) But, thank God, it came to pass that David’s heart, instead of being benumbed, was only softened in deepest humiliation and shame, and encouraged him to open confession. The fire of repentance, which had been long kindling within him, now broke forth into a clear flame; and with inexpressible emotion agitating his contrite spirit, which was now set free from the phantom by which it had so long been bound, and from the cunningly‑contrived deadly falsehoods by which he had endeavoured to weaken the complaints of his conscience, he broke out aloud in frank confession, "I have sinned against the LORD." (v.13) Scarcely has he uttered this confession, when he hears from the mouth of the prophet, the absolving word: "The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." (v.13) Oh the blessedness of repentance toward God, when it reaches its fulness in a decided breach with sin! The cry, when it is sincere and bathed in godly sorrow, "I have sinned," how it releases the burdened heart!
What passed in the inner recesses of David’s heart, he has recorded in the fifty‑first Psalm, left behind as evidence of his genuine conversion, and as an example to Christian believers of penitential prayer. Let us examine this precious legacy, and may the Lord create in our hearts a clear and continuous echo of its contents!
"O God," he says. He had not yet found full confidence to say, "My God." He prays, "O God...have mercy upon me...according to Thy loving‑kindness: according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions." David strengthens his petition first of all by an appeal to the earnestness of his repentance: "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." (vv.3‑4)
Laying claim to God’s mercy, he supports his position further by referring to the universality of human corruption; certainly not, however, as if thereby his guilt was lessened: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." (v.5) "Behold" he continues, "Thou desirest truth in the inward parts:" (true rectitude in the innermost disposition and aim). But whence is this obtained? "In the hidden part Thou shalt make me to know wisdom." (v.6) But how shall this be done? By pardon of sin and the communication of the Spirit. With a fundamental comprehension of the types and symbols appertaining to the holy tabernacle and the Levitical ordinances of divine worship, as shadowing the atoning work of the future great Mediator and High Priest, the psalmist prays: "Purge me with hyssop" (v.7) (do in reality to me what is typically done by the priest for those who are, according to the Levitical law, impure, when he sprinkles on them, by means of a branch of hyssop, water in which has been mixed the ashes of a red heifer)–"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy holy spirit from me…Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways" (this he does in the thirty‑second Psalm); "and sinners shall be converted unto Thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of Thy righteousness…for Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." (vv.7‑14,16‑17)
That this penitential prayer, enlightened and full of earnestness, pierced through the clouds, and found an audience with God, the king has himself testified in the thirty‑second Psalm. "I said" (he thus bears record), "I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." (v.5) Thus the gracious announcement made by Nathan is sealed to him by God in the holy tabernacle in an immediate manner, and now for the first time, with fulness of joy, he is able to sing Psalm 103: "Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name...forget not all His benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities;…who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies." (vv.1‑4) How blessed the king is now! Free and unburdened he now stands again before God. He continues to pray, "Cleanse Thou me from secret faults." (Psa.19:12) He is now again wholly "the man according to God’s own heart" which he formerly was. Yes, he is now more than ever he was before, after he has come forth freed from all the dross of selfishness and self‑love, and seven times purified as gold from the furnace of thorough self‑condemnation. He is now among those who are poor and of a contrite spirit, and tremble at God’s word! And we, who have received Christ as Saviour, do we not, more thoroughly than the holy men under the old covenant, know God as our Father, who through Christ "will abundantly pardon?" (Isa.55:7) Indeed, to the very end of our lives on earth, those words of the apostle John hold true: "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:7‑9)
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