Personal Reflections of David the King
by Fred G. Zaspel
"Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile."
These are the opening lines of a Psalm which I wrote after learning a most valuable lesson about the ways of God in dealing with a sinner. It is as I say a valuable lesson, one which I wish all would learn. It is a lesson of grace. A lesson of salvation.
But in another Psalm composed in the wake of the same event I wrote: "O Lord, rebuke me not in your wrath, neither chasten me in your hot displeasure! For Your arrows pierce me deeply, and your hand presses me down." And I wrote this because when I learned the ways of God in dealing with sinners, I learned not only of grace, but also of the haunting and devastating effects of sin.
And this is my story which I have come to share with you today. In case you don't know me, my name is David, son of Jesse, King of Israel. I am not Israel's first king, but I am her greatest king.
I say greatest king. That is all God's doing. He graciously entered into covenant relation with me, promising that my throne would endure forever. Unlike Saul, my predecessor who was rejected, I was the apple of God's eye. His love and grace were evident in everything about me. He made me a war hero, enabling me to slay the wicked giant Goliath with a stone and a sling. He made me king. He gave me military victories that were unrivaled. He used me to extend our kingdom to its farthest points. More than that, He made me one of His spokesmen, a prophet: "The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, His word was in my tongue." Greater blessing than this would be difficult to imagine. I say my position is one of greatness, and it is so because God has been kind and gracious and loving and powerful and faithful. He has befriended and blessed me in a singularly wonderful way.
But there is one chapter of my life which is not so glorious. It is a sordid and shameful chapter. And yet as I say, an event in which I learned life's most valuable lessons. Lessons I want to share with you today.
It was the Spring of the year, a time of year when we went out to do battle against our enemies. I didn't go myself this time, but I sent my military commander Joab out against the people of Ammon in their capital city of Rabbah. One evening while home I walked out on the roof of my house for some fresh air and just to get away for a few minutes. While there I noticed some activity on another rooftop nearby. I looked, and it was a woman bathing. I should have turned and gone back inside, but I remained there watching her. She was simply beautiful.
While I watched her I began to think of my greatness, my position as king. I figured I could have her if I wanted, and who would say otherwise. So I inquired about her and was told she was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Uriah was a Hittite by birth but a God fearing man who had proselytized to Judaism, and now had become a leading soldier in my army. He was away to battle now, so -- well, I took advantage of the opportunity. I sent messengers to Bathsheba and had her brought to me. I took advantage of my position, and I took advantage of her. And that night I took her into my bed.
Next morning she went home, and as far as I was concerned the matter was over. I had done it, and I had got away with it. It was over. But then one day a messenger came to me with a note from Bathsheba. She was pregnant. Quickly I sent away for Uriah, her husband, and under the guise of asking from him a report on the battle at Rabbah Ammon, I brought him home so that he could be with his wife, so that when the child would arrive he would assume it to be his. It was a good plan. I knew it would work.
He came back, gave me the report I requested, and then I sent him home. But the next morning I discovered that he did not go home at all; he had slept all night at the door of my house with my servants. So I brought him in and asked why he didn't go home to his wife. Faithful soldier that he was, he replied that He could not and would not indulge himself in such luxury while his brethren were out to war. It wouldn't be fair to them, he said.
That night I brought him in to dine with me, and I made him drunk. When finally he was so drunk he was sure to have lost his sense of propriety and will power I sent him home to his wife. But again he slept in the servants quarters and would not go home.
So I drafted a letter --battle instructions, I told him-- to Joab, and told him to put Uriah in the very front lines where the battle was fiercest. Then I told him to drive up against the city, and just when Uriah was in harm's way back away from him so that he will be slain. Uriah took the letter to Joab and unwittingly delivered his own death warrant. Some time later a messenger came to report from Joab that the mission had been carried out. Uriah was shot by an archer from atop the city walls. Uriah, and many others with him.
And so I had successfully covered myself. And when the time of Bathsheba's mourning was complete, I took her to be my wife -- another one of my wives, that is.
"But the thing which I had done displeased the Lord." He was angry with me. And for good reason. What I had done was sin -- a far cry short of God's designs for my life. His law was clear, and it expressly forbade my taking another man's wife. It plainly required that my whole life was to belong to God, that I was to love Him with all of my being, that I was to serve Him first, above all others, myself included. My whole reason for being was to glorify God -- my God. My God who had been so gracious and kind and faithful. But I refused. My sin was nothing less than rebellion. I had deliberately stepped over the line. Arrogant as I was I knew I could do it, and I knew I could get by with it. I treacherously presumed on God's patience, and from the sinful and rebellious passions of my own wicked heart I had committed adultery, I had devised a scheme to cover it, and I had plotted a murder -- a murder in which other innocent and faithful men were killed also.
And my sin didn't stop there. There was also guile, fraud, insincerity. Well, of course. Of course I made every attempt to cover my sin. My closest aids knew about it of course. But no one else. I continued on as the godly king everyone knew me to be. I attended worship at the house of the Lord. I fulfilled my duties in offering animals to be sacrificed. I prayed. My psalms were read in public worship. I could sing with all the others. I enjoyed the choirs. In every way I appeared to be a godly king. Mercifully, God contained my sin. It was occasion for His enemies to blaspheme, but He kept the matter from them. No one knew but me and a few loyal men close to me. And my good reputation was unmarred. I had successfully covered my sin.
But there was one man from whom I could not hide my sin. That man was King David. Yes, that's right. I couldn't hide it from myself. My conscience was never free from it. I of course hadn't planned on this, but now it was an awful, living reality which became increasingly difficult to cope with. Day & night God's hand was heavy upon me. My very lifeblood seemed to be wasting away. All day long I would groan within, while on the outside I put on such a good show. It was as though the archers of heaven had shot God's arrows at my heart, and they pierced me deeply. As though His very hand was heavily pressing me down. I had so carefully protected my reputation, but I couldn't live with myself. My conscience wouldn't let me go. Even when the child was born, that, I thought, would bring the joy which I craved. But no. Every time I saw him, every time I held him in my arms, I was reminded of all that I had done. And while this new baby had so captured my heart, there was always this gnawing feeling of guilt. A realization that I was such an oh so wicked man. My iniquities had gone over my head; Like a heavy burden they were too heavy for me.
The anguish I felt in those days was unspeakable. Mental and physical. There is no soundness in my flesh. My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness. My loins are full of inflammation. My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my plague, and my strength decayed. No, I really had not covered my sin. I had not got away with it. For about a year I continued like this. My life was a living death.
Well of course, my problem was that there was someone else who knew about my sin -- all about it. That one was God. He knew it all. None of it had escaped his notice. What I had done had displeased Him greatly. And all that I was feeling through this terrible time was His doings. I felt that He had become my enemy.
Then one day Nathan, God's spokesman, the prophet, came to me with a terrible report of awful injustice. He said that in one city of my kingdom there was a poor man who had only one ewe lamb. Being his only sheep, it was more a beloved pet than a source of food. He had bought the little lamb with the money he finally scraped together, and he had nourished it from the beginning. It grew up with his children. It was part of the family. It ate from his own plate and drank from his own cup. It would lie down with its head on his chest. It was like a daughter to him.
There was also a rich man nearby who had hundreds of flocks and herds. He was very wealthy and prosperous. And one day a visitor came to the rich man's house, and to feed him the rich man refused to take one of his own sheep or cattle, but took that poor man's only lamb, slaughtered it and prepared it for his guest.
As I listened I became enraged at such a travesty, such an outrageous abuse of power. What unmitigated gall! Why, to take advantage of a man like this, to take so boldly that which was not his -- "As the Lord lives" I said, "the man who has done this shall die! And he shall restore 4-fold for the lamb, because he has done this wicked thing and had no pity." I was so angry, I wanted to carry out sentence myself.
But then Nathan looked at me and said "David, you are the man. Thus says the Lord God of Israel, I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and you have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun."
Before he was done speaking, I broke. I couldn't hide any longer. I acknowledged my transgression, and confessed to Nathan, "I have sinned! I have sinned against God, and done this evil in His sight. And I have no one to blame but myself. My own wicked heart is the source and cause of it all." And I cried out to God for mercy -- mercy, I say, for I had nothing else to plead. And as I cried to God for mercy, Nathan replied: "The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die."
And this, I say, is the greatest lesson a man can learn. That God will "put away" sin. How, you may wonder, can He do that? I wondered also. The sin was mine, and so the guilt was mine to carry -- for the rest of my life! How can God just "put it away"? God does not play games. He does not pretend. He cannot just make as though there was no sin -- that would be wrong. Nor can He just let bygones be bygones, and just dismiss the sin as though it had never happened. No, He is too holy for that, too righteous. He must keep honest books.
But you see, God is also a God of mercy. And in His mercy, Nathan was telling me, He would make a way to satisfy the demands of His righteousness and allow me to go free. We had learned as far back as the Passover itself, yes, even from Abraham and Isaac, that God would provide a substitute by whose blood our sin would be paid in full. A substitute who would provide for us a perfectly clean record and who would take to himself our record of sin. I learned that God would send His anointed one, His Son, the Messiah, and He would with us make a great exchange. He would take our sin and give us His righteousness. Our record would become His, and His record would become ours! He would, as Nathan said, "Take away sin." The great, astounding marvel that I learned that day was that God in mercy would hold Himself accountable for my sin against Him, and that He would not charge my sin to my account but to His own! As I wrote in a Psalm, God's Messiah would come and be "forsaken" in Divine displeasure. He would die under the wrath of God in my place. As I wrote in another Psalm, He would not impute my sin to me but to Him!
What all this meant was that God took the ledger book of heaven, and turned to the account for David, King of Israel. And noting that beneath the name there is a great debt owed, a whole list of transgressions -- lust, adultery, murder, deceit, lying, and on & on it goes. And in sizing up the debt, God said, "David, I'll forgive you. But I am a holy God. I cannot overlook sin. I must keep honest books. I must impute sin! So here's what I'll do. I'll put it on my own account." So the Father pulls out the ledger & turns to the page where at the top it says, Jesus Christ, spotless, God the Son, sinless, holy one -- and writes in the debit column beneath His name: lust, adultery, murder, deceit, lying. Then turns back to my page, and under my name, he writes "Spotless, sinless, pure, holy."
"Me?" I thought. "Me, sinless? Me, holy? Me, pure? Me, clean? "Oh, Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile."
I say, I learned a lesson in grace. That God will forgive sin -- not because I deserved it, but because I didn't deserve it. And because He is a gracious God. My sin was paid for at His expense, and I was given by grace a clean record. According to His lovingkindness, the multitude of His tender mercies, he had mercy on me. He blotted out my transgressions, washed me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleansed me from all my sin. By rights I should have died. By rights I should have perished in hell forever. But instead, I am washed whiter than snow, and these bones which He had broken, now rejoice in the knowledge of forgiveness.
Today, when I go to the place of worship, it is with an entirely different attitude. No longer is it difficult. No more a drudgery. I sing aloud of His righteousness, and rejoice in Him who is both uncompromisingly holy and infinitely gracious. And in those symbols of our religion --the sacrifices, the altar and all-- I see happy pictures of a glorious God who provided Himself for my sin.
But there was another lesson I learned. A lesson I learned that day and have learned over and over again since. It is a lesson in the effects of sin. Some of those effects I have already mentioned. But there is more. When in hypocritical rage I demanded four-fold payment from that rich man, I not only cited Moses' law, ironically I outlined the effects of sin as they would come to me.
God forgave me, but he said, "That baby which Bathsheba has borne to you as a result of your adulterous act -- it will die." I put on sackcloth and went up into my bedchamber, and poured out my soul before God, and pled with Him to spare the child. But the child died, and you can only imagine how my heart was broken over the loss of this child whom I loved.
But then there was more. I had a beautiful daughter by the name of Tamar. Her half-brother Amnon looked on her and lusted after her, and feigned himself sick, and requested that I send her to be his nurse. And when she went into his bedroom, he raped her, his own sister. When I heard of it, I cried out to God -- and remembered again my sin and that I had said, "the man shall restore four-fold."
My son Absolom, Tamar's brother wanted to kill Amnon for what he had done to his sister, but I heard of it and intervened. Sometime later, at a festive occasion, Absolom had Amnon slain. The sword still had not departed from my house. And as I cried out to God in grief I remembered again, "He shall restore fourfold."
Absolom was the apple of my eye. He was tall and handsome, with flowing black hair. But he had ambitions -- ambitions for my throne. He would stand outside the palace when people came to judgment, and he would say, "It's too bad my father didn't give you a square deal. When I become king, I'll see that you get what you have coming to you. I'll give you a fair deal." And he turned the hearts of the people away from me, his own father, and he led in a rebellion against me. To save my life I had to flee Jerusalem from my own son. He even took my wives, put a tent atop my house and took my wives to be his before all Israel, before the sun. And all Israel knew it, just as Nathan had said.
Over beyond the Jordan my faithful followers gathered to me -- veterans of my earlier wars, and though they were far outnumbered, they were men of superior skill in the art of war. And they went back against Absolom. And as they went out to battle w/Absolom, I told the captain, "spare the young man, Absolom" And as I waited at the gate of the city, they went out to fight. Absolom was riding a beautiful white mule, and when he rode under the extended limb of an oak tree, his head was caught in the limb, and the mule passed from under him and left him hanging. Then when Joab came along, he thrust him through with a javelin.
When the messengers came to tell me of the victory, I was standing on the gate of the city looking toward the battlefield. And I saw the first runner come over the horizon, and I waited, and finally he came and fell on his knees before me and told me of the victory. I was just about to ask about my son Absolom when I saw another runner coming, so I anxiously waited until he got within earshot and said, "What of my son Absolom?" And the messenger said, "I would that all of the kings enemies were as thy son."
I just turned and went back up the stairs to the apartment above the walls of the city. And from there they all could hear me crying, "O Absolom, Absolom, my son Absolom! Would God I had died for thee!"
You see, I say to you as one who knows -- The way of the transgressor is hard. Sin is just not worth it. The effects of sin are just too great. If I could only have seen the effects of my sin ahead of time, it probably would have made a difference. But see them or not, God had warned me of it, and I had refused to listen.
Yes, my position is one of greatness. But my story is considerably less impressive. But from it I do have these two lessons to teach you. The first is one of comfort, and it is this: even great sins can be forgiven. God is a merciful God, and going to Him in repentance for sin you will find Him merciful, and ready to forgive. That I should be the beloved apple of God's eye is strong testimony to His grace. He is gracious, and He is ever so kind. Even great sins can be forgiven.
But the second lesson is one of caution, and it is this: Sin has effects. He that covers his sin shall not prosper. The way of the transgressor is hard. Sin has effects. Don't ever kid yourself -- sin is never worth it. It is just too dangerous. The gratification it promises is so illusive, so deceiving -- like a trap, it will spring shut on you, catch you, and then it will be too late. You'll be left with it.
And that's my story. I trust you will learn from it. May God have it so.