“David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.’” (ESV – Read the chapter)
I have put off writing this note for several days. I’ve resisted because I haven’t been sure I’ve wanted to wade into this mess. I’ve read this passage before many times because I’ve read this story many times. But, I’ve struggled with it this time in ways I haven’t before. Rather than just sitting on it, though, I decided to let you in on the struggle. Here goes…
First, God’s display of grace to David is huge. David was the one who had sinned. He deserved the punishment. He had engineered the murder of Uriah. He deserved the be the one who died. And yet he didn’t die. Someone else did in his place. Oh, he paid for his sin. He had to endure the death of his infant son here and the rest of the narrative of 2 Samuel shows how the sword would never depart from his family. But he didn’t die. And God didn’t write him off either like He did Saul.
And think about the comparison too. God announced to Saul that he was going to be the last of his dynasty and shouldn’t expect any more help from God along the way either after he refused to kill a bunch of people. David had a man murdered and God “put away” his sin. What’s the difference? How is this not unfair of God?
Well, for starters, let’s dispel the notion that God operates on the principle of fairness as we might define it. He doesn’t. He operates on the principle of justice and that justice is administered on the principle of love. This means God is always going to do what’s right, not necessarily what’s fair. And, His doing of what’s right is going to be influenced by His love for us, that is, His dogged intention to move us in the direction of who He created us to be.
At their core, the sin of both David here and also of Saul with the Amalekites was disobedience to God’s command. Saul’s disobedience was spurred on by pride, not a misplaced sense of mercy. David’s disobedience was spurred on by lust. For Saul, it is almost certain that this was not a first offense responded to with overwhelming harshness. This was likely a final straw in a pattern of sinful disobedience. His pride had been slowly growing since he took over as king and this was his final test which he failed miserably. For David, this surely wasn’t a first offense issue, but neither was pridefully resisting the Lord’s command his pattern either.
The more important thing for now is how each man responded to being called out for his sin. Saul maintained his pride and refused to acknowledge that he did anything wrong. Ever. David, on the other hand, immediately confessed with humility: “I have sinned against the Lord.” Saul was incorrigibly committed to his path of pridefully resisting the Lord’s leadership and direction. He was a king just like all the other nations had. He had rejected God’s mercy and would receive only judgment. David, however, was humble in spirit and owned up to his sin with a clear desire to get right with God again (this is expressed beautifully in Psalm 51). He didn’t resist the reaching of God’s love and so God was able to continue moving him down the path He had set him on.
Here’s the principle for us: God responds to repentance. In fact, this is even more true for us than it was with David. When we are willing to own our sin and move in His direction again, God in Christ is ready to go with us, or rather, He’s ready to have us go with Him. Sin always messes everything up. But, God’s grace is big enough to overcome it. Jesus has already paid our price and so if we are willing to receive it, there is forgiveness available to us in abundance. There will be consequences still, but grace is bigger. Let’s receive it and move forward toward becoming who God made us to be.