Israel’s greatest King: David: rarely can there have been a life of sharper contrasts.
From obscurity to acclaim, unnoticed youngest son, alone amongst the hillside fields of Bethlehem to Goliath-slaying fame, from shepherd-boy to court musician, from desert outlaw to opulent king, from enjoying intense popularity to facing outright rebellion, without mercy to his enemies yet showing mercy to his would-be murderer (Saul), ruling in justice but making exception within the royal house, from hero to villain, from saintliness to heinous sin, from plotting murder to deep repentance.
David: psalmist and soldier, worshipper and strategist, family man and leader of a nation. The heroic ‘stuff’ is plentiful – but the Bible, with brutal honesty, also shows us the dark side: egotistical adulterer, ruthless plotter, callous murderer.
David, seeing Bathsheba, the wife of the godly but absent soldier Uriah, bathing on the roof near his palace, summons her and has sex with her. He makes her pregnant and there is a looming constitutional crisis, David’s reputation being on the brink of tatters. In order to cover up, David first directs that Uriah comes home from the battlefield so it appears that he is the father of Bathsheba’s child and, when that scheme fails, with wily cunning, orders Uriah be sent to a dangerous spot in the battlefield where he faces inevitable death. When David hears Uriah is dead, he takes Bathsheba as his wife.
But David’s sin is noticed by God and Nathan the prophet challenges David with a fitting parable, highlighting his abject sinfulness. But now, allow me the liberty of altering the story a little. Supposing…
Supposing David, in a rage, commanded the prophet Nathan to be cast into prison – or worse, to be stoned. Such voices of conscience must be silenced (such is the way of many a dictator). Meanwhile, around the land, prophets and righteous people tremble.
The child dies as predicted, but David refuses to acknowledge his guilt. The prophet is now dead. Unrepentant, David proceeds from hardness to hardness. Perhaps he blames Bathsheba for the sin. OR even Uriah? Or even God?
Supposing David’s final epitaph from the chronicler was: ‘He did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord, more than all who came before or after him.’
But, fortunately, this is not the story.
David, whose conscience was perhaps already troubling him, responded with deep remorse, blaming no one but himself. We hear him now, crying, weeping, on his knees, pleading not only for the life of the child but, “Have mercy on me, O God… For I know my transgressions… Against You, You only, have I sinned… wash me, and I will be whiter than snow… Create in me a pure heart, O God… My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart…” (Psalm 51)
Here is the cry of a broken man who, despite the depths he has fallen, is able to be honest with himself and God.
David could have joined the league of tyrannical dictators but for his attitude of deep repentance and, instead, he becomes the epitome of the returning Prodigal – and God welcomed him back.
David is in the same league as Peter, the thrice denier, who similarly suffered great remorse and repented – or Paul, the callous persecutor of the first disciples. God’s Hall of Fame is littered with flawed people – honest enough to confess their sin, blaming no one but themselves and who, after a fall, learn from their mistakes and allow God to pick them up and slowly start again.
The story of David shows us a way well-worn to many a saint: realisation – often not instant, profound honesty, confession, heartfelt repentance, putting things right as far as is possible – and a Father’s embrace.
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