The story of David’s sin with Bathsheba followed by the even blacker sin of causing an innocent man’s death is used in both this year’s lesson manual and in the following 1933 seminary text is used to teach the principle of repentance following sin, and the preferable route of avoiding sin in the first place. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is a difference in tone between the two lessons, despite both lessons unequivocal condemnation of sin and frank acknowledgment of the sorrows that accompany repentance.
David, the Fallen Hero
Lesson Text: 2 Samuel 12.
Responsive Reading: Psalms 51:1-8.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” – Psalms 51:1. (The 51st Psalm was written at this time by David, and should be read)
The Message of the Lesson
The Wages of Sin
It is a sad story that we have to tell of our hero king today – much sadder than the story of the death of his loyal friend Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, while fighting against the enemies of his country. David saw Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers; and because she was very beautiful, he took her for himself. Then, to get rid of the husband, he wrote a letter to Joab, who was commanding an attack on the Ammonites, and sent the letter by the soldier himself. It read as follows: “Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.” Joab carried out the king’s wish, and “assigned Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were.” And fighting in that place of danger, Uriah was killed. After the days of mourning for her husband were over, David hastily sent for the wife and married her.
It must have been just at this time that David was called to the front by Joab. The Ammonite city of Rabbah had been taken, and only the citadel remained. Joab urged the king to come with additional forces, and thereby gain the honor of capturing the city. David complied with his commander’s request. he “gathered all the people together, and went to Rabbah, and fought against it, and took it.” Not only did he capture the city, but immense spoils as well; and after enslaving the conquered people, he returned to Jerusalem in triumph. His subjects generally knew nothing of the Uriah affair, and with this additional conquest he stood higher than ever in their regard. To them he was still the Lord’s anointed, the “man after God’s own heart.”
Perhaps David faltered himself that his sin would remain concealed. Joab was loyal to him, and certainly Bathsheba, who was now his wife would never reveal anything. It may be that she did not even know the plot against Uriah. Along with other good soldiers he had died in battle. There was nothing unusual about that. Thousands died that way every year. Everything seemed to be working out in David’s favor. So it appeared on the surface. “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” And the prophet Nathan was sent to tell him so.
We see the mighty king of Israel dressed in royal robes, seated on his throne. he is well pleased with himself. The twelve tribes of his kingdom are united and loyal to him. The people are happy and prosperous. with his great victory over the Ammonites, Israel embraces an extent of territory never before attained. all his enemies have fallen before his mighty arm. Spoils and a steady stream of tributes have filled his treasury chests. The plaudits of his subjects are ringing in his ears. Was ever a monarch so blessed and favored of God?
Then like a bolt from a clear sky the blow falls. Without announcement or ceremony, Nathan the prophet enters the royal chamber. the king is annoyed at the intrusion, but motions his attendants to retire, and the two men are alone. For a moment David is alarmed, for he sees in the stern set face of the prophet that it is some serious business that he has to communicate. Can it be that Nathan intends to question him in regard to his guilty secret? He would not dare. If the prophet tries to meddle in affairs that do not concern him, he will be given to understand his place. So David resolves.
But instead of reproof, it seemed to be simply a case of injustice which he had to bring before the king. it was the case of a rich robber, who spared his own flocks and herds to feed a traveler, and stole a poor man’s only ewe lamb to provide food for his guest. When David heard this, his sense of right was outraged. A deed so dastardly and so heartless must be punished to the limit, as an example of the king’s justice. the enforcement of the ordinary law of four-fold restitution was not severe enough. such a ruffian was none too good for the extreme penalty, and the king with an oath affirmed: “The man that hath done this thing shall surely die.”
The flash of anger was still in the king’s eye and the flush of resentment on his brow, when Nathan with calm voice and piercing eye uttered, in effect, the fateful words: “Thou art the man. Thou the king art the robber, the ruffian condemned by thy own voice to die as a malefactor.” And the prophet put before him the enormity of his crime, and his base ingratitude to God. He had taken Uriah’s wife by force, murdered her brave husband, and stood condemned, not only by God but by his own judgment, as worthy of death.
Brave words, these, for the humble prophet to hurl in the face of a great king! But back to these words stood God, and the poor, conscience-smitten David, utterly crushed, could only mutter: “I have sinned.” The same confession that Achan had made to Joshua, Balaam to the angel, and Saul to Samuel. In each case the sinner had broken the tenth commandment: “Thou shalt not covet.” He wanted and took something that did not belong to him, and to which he had no legal title. In the previous cases, however, the confession was spoken more in fear than in contrition; but David was genuinely repentant. He saw for the first time the enormity of his sin. Nathan’s words seared his soul as if they had been fire. What were his victories, his kingdom, his glory? Dust and ashes, nothing more. The only thing that mattered now was his forgiveness. How different in this respect was the attitude of Saul and the others! They never saw the blackness of their sins. David did. There was sincerity in his cry; his heart was in it; his very life depended on whether God would pardon his transgression.
Nathan partially reassured him. His sin would be forgiven, but the punishment could not be wholly averted. He could not avoid suffering the consequences of the evil he had done. As we sow, so shall we reap. Even God’s forgiveness cannot save us from the punishment which sin entails. David, because of his sincere repentance, was to be spared from the judgment of death which he had pronounced upon himself. But because his deed had “given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme,” the child of Bathsheba should die. So the innocent are made to suffer for the guilty. How true it is that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children. But in this case, the father was not to escape. For the great sin he had committed, he must suffer to the limit, and drink the cup of humiliation and shame to the very dregs.
Hardly had Nathan left the king before the child began to sicken, and it grew worse and worse. David saw its agony, and his distress was overpowering. His sin was ever before him. As he looked at the suffering infant, he felt that the stripes that should have fallen on himself were being inflicted on the tender frame of his child. In his terrible remorse, he fasted; he prayed that God would spare the innocent sufferer; he lay upon the earth all night in his bitter humiliation and penitence. But the child died. The prophet’s word must come to pass.
How did this tragedy happen? How did this choice man, so favored of God, so beloved by his people, come to commit a sin so hideous, a crime so revolting? The fall was too violent to have occurred on the impulse of a moment. an ugly tumor, that distorts and disfigures the physical countenance, does not break out in all its bloated hideousness at once. For days and months and years it has been feeding on the life’s blood, and weakening the body before it comes to a head. So with sin. There must be a spiritual decline before it is committed. For years David had been uniformly successful in all his enterprises. Everything he set his hand to do prospered. Wealth poured into his kingdom from every side, until he must have come to think that he could do no wrong. This led him to gratify his sensual desires, until he forgot his high ideals and lost control of his better self.
We could have wished that David’s career had ended before this dreadful day. And yet, if that had happened, we would not have had the account of his penitence. We need the lesson that his life teaches. David, more than any other character in the Bible, has made us see the consequences of sin. And by his humility and sorrow and true repentance, he has shown us the way, and the only way, that forgiveness may be obtained.
Ne’er suffer sleep thine eyes to close,
Before thy mind hath run
O’er every act and thought and word,
From dawn till set of sun.
For wrong take shame, but grateful feel
If just thy course hath been.
Such effort day by day renewed
Will ward thy soul from sin.
– Author Unknown.
Questions and Problems
1. Why was Jerusalem selected as a capital? how was it captured?
2. Tell about the conquest of the Ammonites.
3. Name two other leaders who conquered these enemies.
4. How was David made aware of his sin?
5. Tell Nathan’s parable. How did the telling of it affect David?
6. What happened when Nathan accused David of the crime he had committed?
7. What four men in our lessons have given expression to the statement: “I have sinned”?
8. Which of the ten commandments did each break?
9. What happened to David’s child?
10. Account for David’s sin.
11. What is sin? How does it differ from crime?
12. Why was David’s sin so reprehensible?
13. Uriah with other soldiers was killed in battle. Is it correct then to say that David murdered him? Why?
14. Discuss the second of the ten commandments.
15. The suggestion has been made that all accounts of immorality be eliminated from the Bible. Would this be wise? Give reasons for your answer.
16. Comparing the sin of Saul with David’s, give reasons for the rejection of Saul and the forgiveness of David.
17. In what way can we account for the sins of a man like David? By what standard should he be judged?
18. Can you name other great men who have fallen into sin? Who are they?
19. Is it possible for us to protect ourselves from sin? If so, in what way?
20. Discuss the Memory Gem.
Suggestive Closing Prayer
O God of purity and holiness, have mercy upon us. Hep us to realize that it is impossible for us to have fellowship with thee, if we walk in the paths of sin. Give us strength for every need, and courage to call on thee for help in the hour of temptation. We live in the midst of evil, and see it on every hand. Help us to keep our thoughts pure, our words clean, and our conduct holy. May we always have ringing in our ears the words of our Savior on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”