David was “a man after God’s own heart,” chosen before the world to exemplify the royal kingship of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was both his physical descendant and his divine Savior (cf. Ps. 110). God took him from following sheep and elevated him as king of one of the great and wealthy nations of his generation (2 Sam. 7:8). He inspired him to write much of the longest book of the Bible—“the book of praises” (i.e. Psalms). David surely ranks with Abraham and Moses as one of the very greatest of the heroes of the faith (cf. Heb. 11:32). God’s dealings with him are employed by the apostle Paul to help us understand God’s gracious way of salvation for sinners who believe (Rom. 3:4–8, quoting Ps. 51:4).
Earlier chapters of 1 and 2 Samuel have shown us rich aspects of God’s grace whereby He elected a lowly shepherd to replace King Saul, and providentially guided and protected His chosen servant “through many dangers, toils and snares.” But the darker chapters we are covering this month (11–14) show us other aspects of God’s grace.
Never did David need the grace of God more than when he fell from such heights, “near to the heart of God,” to such sordid, shameful depths by committing adultery with a married woman and then having her husband murdered. Yes, grace did intervene, but David and his family ultimately paid a very high price for his disastrous fall unto the end of his days.
The sad story is so well known that it is unnecessary to repeat its details. David happened to see a beautiful woman bathing. No doubt man is “turned on” by physical sight more than anything else (hence the financial profitability of the evil pornography industry in the Western world). This good believer was suddenly inflamed by lust; it was as though his physical passions short-circuited his godly reasoning. But how very much it would cost him in the end!
Paul speaks of “the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Eph. 6:16), and these are aimed particularly at true believers (for the Devil is less interested in attacking the unregenerate, whom he already controls). When a fiery dart of the wicked one hits us, the thing to do is to jerk it out of our flesh with no pity for our feelings, dash it on the ground, and then tread upon it with our Gospel shoes (Eph. 6:15) till it is extinguished. We must not entertain temptations with such solicitous care that we end up “caving in” to them. As Martin Luther is alleged to have said, “I cannot keep a bird from flying over my head, but I can keep it from building a nest in my hair.”
It is much easier to criticize David for having tailed to take the cross to himself at this point of severe temptation than it is to do so ourselves. As we read the stories of the falls of the saints (for Scripture is always very realistic), it is wise not to feel overly critical of them but to pray, “Hold me up, and I shall be safe” (Ps. 119:117a). And let us also keep in mind what C.H. Spurgeon once said: “Do not comfort yourselves over the vices of the saints, for you do not have their virtues!”
David had the beautiful Bathsheba brought to his house, and all too soon she sent him word that she was pregnant (2 Sam. 11:5). What a storm of panic engulfed David. Imagine the horrendous public shame that would result from the high moral outrage committed by the most high and godly official in the land! Like most of us in such a situation, his first thoughts were of public opinion rather than the holy face of God. Thus, he made another very bad decision, undoubtedly worse than the first one. He attempted to deceive Bathsheba’s fine soldier husband, Uriah the Hittite. He had him brought home from battle on furlough, assuming that he would sleep with his wife, and then be none the wiser about what had really happened. But the all-encompassing providence of God did not let “nature take its course.” An unseen eye saw to it that David would not be let off the hook so easily; he would have to be brought into shame in order to receive the grace of true repentance. Since Uriah unwittingly refused to cooperate with David’s scheme, David sent Joab word to have this good man killed in battle (2 Sam. 11:15). After this wretched abuse of kingly power, David then had Bathsheba brought to his palace as another wife (2 Sam. 11:27).
Months went by without real repentance (read Ps. 32:3–4 for David’s later meditation on this terrible period). But God sent the prophet Nathan to rebuke the king for his wicked actions. David showed that he was regenerate by his humble submission to this rebuke, and by his profound brokenness (2 Sam. 12:13; Pss. 32; 51). Nathan assured him of the divine forgiveness, but also of the costly consequences of his actions: “The sword shall never depart from your house.… I will raise up adversity against you from your own house’ ” (2 Sam. 12:10–11a). The next chapters of 2 Samuel are a grim portrayal of the consequences of the sin of a saint: the death of his baby boy (2 Sam. 12:18); the incest (13:1–22) and death (13:23–29) of his son Amnon at the hand of his own brother Absalom; and finally the growing conspiracy of Absalom against the throne of his father (14:25–33). David learned (and may we learn through his costly experience, rather than our own) that saving grace does not usually suspend the law of the harvest in our earthly lives.