David, the youngest son of Jesse was a lot of things. Shepherd boy, musician, giant killer, poet, and King. Oh, and he was also an adulterer, liar, and murderer. Still God called him “a man after my own heart.” I don’t really know if God meant he was “after” as in chasing and pursuing or “after” as in made in the image of. Perhaps it was both. But David’s life reminds us of one crucial truth. Even those whose hearts are after God’s heart can fall. Hard. Let’s trace David’s life quickly.
He was the youngest of his father’s sons, and was from the humble herding town of Bethlehem. When his brothers were sent to war against the Philistines, David was kept home. But at his father’s bidding he ends up taking supplies to his brothers at their camp. When he sees the giant Goliath taunting the Israeli army, David asks in apparent disgust and dismay “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the Lord?” Pretty brave kid. So after some discussion with King Saul and much ridicule from the others, the young David goes out to meet the 9-footer with a sling and 5 smooth stones. And David kills him. Ok, pretty good start for this little guy. Fast-forward a few years. God get’s fed up with Saul’s faithlessness and disobedience and tells his prophet Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king. Samuel goes, and to everyone’s surprise God has chosen the youngest son to be the next king. Saul eventually finds out, and after David’s popularity with the people grows he tries to hunt David down and kill him. David wrote many of the Psalms during this period. But eventually he is crowned King. The humble man after God’s own heart goes from the pasture to the palace by the hand of God.
But then something happens. David’s heart chases after something else. One spring day (the bible parenthetically mentions that this is the time when Kings go off to war – but David is at home) David is walking around on the roof of the palace, and he sees a woman bathing. Her name is Bathsheba and she is the wife of one of David’s soldiers, Uriah the Hittite. David has Bathsheba brought to him. He sleeps with her and she becomes pregnant. David has fallen. But not as far as he will. Rather than confess his sin, David plots a cover-up. He has Uriah brought from the battlefield. The plan is that Uriah will sleep with his wife during his king-appointed R&R and no one will know the child is David’s. Problem. Uriah is a righteous man. He refuses to enjoy to right to be with his wife while his fellow soldiers are at battle. He sleeps outside the palace door. The next night David brings him to the palace and gets him drunk hoping that the inebriation will soften his ethics. No-can-do. Uriah again sleeps on a mat outside the palace with the King’s servants. So David, the adulterer and liar, now takes a final step into the dark. He has Uriah taken back to the battlefield and moved to the front lines where he will surely be killed. But it gets worse. He instructs his general to put Uriah in the most dangerous part of the line and then retreat back from him leaving him exposed. Uriah is killed. David commits murder. The man after God’s own heart has committed adultery, deception, and murder. David then takes Bathsheba as his wife and she bears him a son.
What happens next is one of the most poignant passages in all of Scripture. Nathan, God’s prophet at the time comes to David and tells him a story. Here is the account from 2 Samuel:
The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”
Nathan then recounts to David all of his sin. The passage in 2 Samuel does not elaborate on the depth of David’s repentance. This we find in Psalm 51. And just so there is no doubt, the Psalm even states in a bit of a subtitle, “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” Psalm 51 shows us a man totally overwhelmed with the depth of his sin against God. David even says, against you, and only you have I sinned. That is a bit puzzling. Obviously David has sinned against Uriah. He has sinned against Bathsheba. He has sinned against his own family, and the whole nation of Israel. But David sees his sin first and foremost against God himself. But in his mercy God forgives David. Would we? This is a real human being who committed real atrocities against another real human being. The separation of 3000 years may lessen in our minds the gravity of the situation, but it should not. David sinned greatly in the face of God, he came to repentance, and God forgave his sin. Was this favoritism? No. The bible says that with God there is no favoritism. Did God sweep the sin under the rug? No, the Bible says that God is a just God who punishes sin. Was David punished? Surely the pain in his own heart and the nightmares that must have endured were a kind of punishment. But David could not pay for his sin. At the very least, his own life should have been taken. God showed no favoritism. God did not sweep sin under the rug. God did not sacrifice his justice, and David did not pay the price for his sin. Because someone else paid it. Jesus paid it. This is love. Scandalous, extravagant, relentless love. And it is the thing that so many people miss today. Some churches miss God’s mercy. They hold up signs and condemn people to hell, shouting hatred and vitriol in the streets, thinking that their own righteousness is enough to please God. Others miss God’s justice. They miss his holiness. They tell everybody they are ok, and that God loves them just as they are. They see God as an old grandfatherly chap that pats the sinners on the head and says “don’t worry about it. Just do better next time sport.” So who is right? Well, both and neither. God is merciful. He is also holy. Some people want his justice to be poured out, but think they don’t need his mercy. Others want his love and ignore his justice. But it is at the cross of Christ where God’s love and his justice meet. They intermingle like the blood and tears rolling down the face of Jesus as he hung on the cross. God’s love compelled him to send Jesus to save us. His justice poured the whole of his wrath for our sin on Jesus on the cross. Love and mercy, for David and for us, because of Christ. Murders, adulterers, cheaters, liars, and thieves. Loved by God and forgiven because of Christ. Scandalous. But we must have hearts like David that we see in Psalm 51, hearts of repentance. We must realize that like David, our hearts have wandered. We have taken what was not ours. We have wronged our fellow man. We have acted deviously. We have thumbed our nose at God who made us and gave us life. We must with David seek God’s forgiveness. Our cry must be the cry of David, “Have mercy on me O God, according to your unfailing love.” And he gives it, because of Christ.
In conjunction with this post I am featuring an arrangement of David’s words from Psalm 51 by my good friend Nathan Carico. Nathan is the brand new VP of Students at Visible Music College in Memphis, TN. MP3 is below.
“Sustain Me” originally appeared on the first Music for Missions album titled A Remedy Raised. The song features Nathan on guitar, Jeff Blake and Susie Bogdanowicz on vocals, and Fred Schendel on just about everything else.