The greatest enemy David ever faced was himself, and with the greatest risk of failure, because it was a battle that the Lord would not fight for him. The Lord said David was a man after His own heart. (1 Samuel 13:14) I marveled at this scripture because David committed sins that were, in my view, far worse than Saul’s.
You know the story. David beheld Bathsheba bathing and fell in love with her. He fell in lust, to be more precise. He had her brought to him that night and slept with her. David knew she was another man’s wife; and he knew he was guilty of breaking God’s law. There would be no way to hide his sin because, a short time later, David learned that Bathsheba was pregnant with his child. He decided to “fix” the problem by having her husband, Uriah, brought home from the war. David assumed that, naturally, Uriah would sleep with his wife and so everyone would assume Uriah was the father of Bathsheba’s baby. Problem solved, right…?
Wrong. The problem wasn’t solved because Uriah wouldn’t return home to be with his wife. When David asked him why, Uriah replied: “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as I live, I will not do such a thing!” (2 Samuel 11:11) Uriah’s sense of honor compelled him to reject his own selfish pleasures while his fellow soldiers were on the battlefield risking their lives for the kingdom.
This complicated things for David. Since Uriah wouldn’t comply with his first scheme, David devised another scheme that was even more evil and cowardly than the first. He instructed Joab (his field general) to put Uriah at the front line of battle during the fiercest fighting, and then to pull back the troops from around Uriah so that he would be killed by the enemy. A simple solution, and the best part is David’s hands remained clean, right…?
Wrong! God, of course, saw the whole affair. (Isn’t it amazing how, when we’re sinning, we fool ourselves into forgetting that God is watching?) God sent the prophet Nathan to rebuke David. Can you imagine how Nathan must have felt when God told him he must go and confront the king and accuse him of these sinful acts? If I’d been Nathan, I’m sure I would have been reluctant. I might have said: “Lord, why send me? King David is not going to be happy to hear from me. He is the king and he can have me beheaded, if he chooses to!”
I really admire how Nathan handled the situation. He told David a parable in order to get David to render judgment in a “right versus wrong” situation. Not just some random parable, this one was an illustration of David’s own sin. And it worked brilliantly! David burned with anger toward the man in the story who behaved sinfully, and said: “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay… because he did such a thing and had no pity.” (2 Samuel 12:5-6) Then Nathan revealed the truth to David. “You are the man!” he exclaimed. He went on to state the punishment that God would bring upon David for his sins.
Next came the defining moment in David’s life. What would he say? What would he do? Would David make excuses for his actions? Would he try to justify them? He could have said, “How dare you confront me, the king, this way!” He could have said, “I make the laws. I command the army. I do what I want… and now I want to kill Nathan.” But he did none of those things.
According to Hebrew scholar Edward Chumney, the oldest manuscripts literally record a space at this point of the story, between 2 Samuel 12:12 and 12:13. Scholars understand this gap to mean David paused because he was wrestling within himself. Nathan had given him a revelation from God and now David had a choice to make with profound spiritual implications. Would he be prideful and self-righteous, or would he surrender to God in humility? Would he defend and uphold his image of himself, or would he submit to God’s judgment of him? He could live the lie if he so chose, and his pride would remain intact; he would “save face” before his kingdom. Yet, if he surrendered to God and confessed his sin, he would be heartbroken and humbled before the nation.
David surrendered to God, confessed and repented. He said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” He lay on the floor for seven days and nights, fasting and praying for the life of his unborn child. God saw that David was heartbroken and truly sorry for what he had done.
The space in the old Hebrew manuscripts is an image of the pause that occurs in everyone who is ever rebuked by God and brought to a moment of truth before Him. You will know those pivotal moments in your life because one way leads to pride and self-righteousness and the other way leads to heartbreak, humility, and healing. David’s heart had to be broken to remove the sin that had taken root so that he could return to his covenant relationship with God. Specifically, so he could return to life. This is why David explicitly said, “I have sinned against the Lord,” and why Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.” (2 Samuel 12:13)
God is good! God forgives! God heals! But first we have to do our part. We have to hear His call (or His rebuke), accept His judgment, and surrender to His Word. It’s not that God won’t save us, he cannot save us if we don’t surrender. Because His nature is pure and holy, that which is impure and unholy cannot come into His presence. He gave us free will, so He will never force us to surrender and obey. The choice is ours.
Notice that King David’s response to the Lord’s rebuke was the opposite of King Saul’s. David confessed and humbled himself before the Lord and his whole kingdom, whereas Saul was defensive and self-righteous, showing greater concern for his image than his relationship with God. That is why Saul’s kingship didn’t endure whereas David’s did.
I now interpret the scripture about David — “a man after God’s own heart” — not to mean his heart was “like” or “the same as” God’s, but that David was “in pursuit of” God’s own heart. He did whatever it took to remain in the right relationship with God, even if it meant surrendering himself and everything else. Thus, David was a fractal image of Jesus Christ — both surrendered themselves to God’s perfect will so that they, and their kingdom, would be saved.