Deal With Personal Sin


Lesson Focus:  This lesson will help you recognize God’s willingness to forgive and your need to ask His forgiveness for specific sins in your life.

Recognize that Temptation Leads to Sin: 2 Samuel 11:2-5,14-15..

[2]  It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. [3]  And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, "Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" [4]  So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. [5]  And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, "I am pregnant." [14]  In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. [15]  In the letter he wrote, "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die."  [ESV]

Chapter 11 is a watershed in the biblical writer’s presentation of David’s life. Up to this point, David has been portrayed as the ideal servant of the Lord, scrupulously obedient to every point of the law and zealous in his execution of each command. David’s obedience resulted in the fulfillment of Torah promises and an outpouring of blessing on Israel beyond any previously known. Perhaps the most significant of the Torah promises fulfilled through David was the establishment of a dynastic covenant with messianic and eschatological implications. In this section David becomes for a moment a rebel against the Lord’s covenant, with devastating consequences. His twin sins of adultery and murder rent the tapestry of blessing woven so carefully in the previous narratives. Although David repented of the sins he had committed, irreparable damage had been done; the dynastic covenant promises graciously given to David remained, but the Torah blessings resulting from obedience vanished. In their place David began to experience the stern curses of the Torah, including loss of family and even exile. In all of this David extended the metaphorical comparison between his life and the life of Israel: even as David lost his prestige and homeland through sin, so also would the nation.

[1-5] There is no doubt that the writer is making a specific point in verse 1 when he writes that David stayed home instead of going out to battle: David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. At first sight it seems to have been a sensible decision to delegate all military responsibility to Joab so that David himself could concentrate on home affairs. However, it must be remembered that the main function of a king at this period was as a military ruler. In staying at home David was ceasing to behave as a king. Had power gone to his head? The unfolding story does not provide a reassuring answer. When leaders begin to view their leadership in terms of status rather than in terms of task, it is more than likely that they will begin to fail at the task and therefore to cease, in any meaningful sense, to be leaders. It soon becomes apparent that in remaining at home David was not overwhelmed by heavy government duties. In the early evening, that is neither at night nor in the heat of midday, he had been sleeping and was now wandering around the rooftops of the palace surveying his kingdom. He catches sight of a beautiful woman; presumably at that distance she was identified as beautiful by her figure rather than by her face. There is nothing in the text here to justify the picture of Bathsheba as behaving deliberately in an alluring manner and setting out to seduce the unworldly and innocent David. She was in her own courtyard where she might reasonably expect to be private and was undergoing ritual bathing to cleanse herself after her menstrual period. Part of the reason for informing us of that fact is to make it clear that she could not have been pregnant before David slept with her. David wanted the woman. He found out who she was, sent for her, slept with her and sent her away. This is a description, not of a great love story but of a seedy one-night stand. Bathsheba may or may not have been a willing participant in this. There is no way of telling whether she was flattered by David’s attention or felt coerced and unable to refuse the king’s command. The writer makes no judgment about Bathsheba’s guilt, but there is no doubt at all about David’s. David knew that Bathsheba was married. He also knew that her husband was a brave and committed soldier who, as might be expected, was away from home with the army. He would not therefore be a barrier to David’s lust, and the question of loyalty to his own loyal follower does not seem to have entered David’s head. David behaved as if his own desires were the only thing that mattered. He wanted Bathsheba so he took her. His obligations to other people and to God and God’s law were both set aside. David’s passionate nature, his whole-hearted commitment to the task at hand which was used so well in the service of God, could also be used in the service of his own lust. As far as we can tell, once Bathsheba left, David put the incident out of his mind and would have forgotten all about her – if it had not been for one thing, she was going to have his baby. It could be assumed that it was to David’s credit that he took some kind of responsibility when he heard Bathsheba’s news. But there is no sign of repentance or acknowledgment of guilt in his actions. He simply sought to find a way of avoiding any consequences, either for Bathsheba, or more pertinently for himself. If Uriah could be brought home, then the world could be persuaded that the baby was his. It would have been a brilliant solution if it were not for the fact that Uriah took seriously his obligations to David, to his own men and to God and His law. The no sex while on duty rule was a basic principle of war that David himself had previously supported [1 Sam. 21:5]. There is a dark comedy in the way that the story is told. Even being made drunk did not make Uriah set aside his principles. David could take away Uriah’s wife and even take away his life, but he did not have the power to take away his integrity. The contrast with David could not be more marked. In this situation, Uriah the Hittite was a more faithful Israelite than David the king.

[14-17]  David’s next action seems inconceivable. Any who have read David’s story so far will be aware of his generous nature, of his care for the men under his command and of his commitment to Yahweh. And yet he had no qualms about ordering Joab to arrange for Uriah, whose only crime was being righteous, to be killed. He had become so focused on this particular problem that he lost all sense of perspective. This abuse of power seems as great if not greater than any of Saul’s acts of disobedience. Questions inevitably arise. Was David going the same way as Saul? Could this king possibly still be seen as the man after God’s own heart in the way that the young David was [1 Sam. 13:14]? Had his desire to retain power become more important than his desire to serve God?

Realize that Sin Must Be Confronted:  2 Samuel 12:7,10-12.

[7]  Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. [10]  Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ [11]  Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. [12]  For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’"  [ESV]

[7-12]  Often when a message of condemnation comes it is quite explicit. For example, it was clear to Eli from the beginning what God was saying to him, both when the message came via the prophet and via the young Samuel. But when Nathan was sent to David to convey a similar message of condemnation he approached it rather differently. He told David a story. It was not uncommon to use a fictional story in order to present a case-study of a real situation. David would have quickly realized what was going on, even if he assumed it was a normal case being presented for judgment. As the director of the department of justice, he would have been faced with many such cases and it is not surprising that he did not automatically relate Nathan’s presence to his own behavior. It is clear throughout Scripture, particularly with prophetic messages, that God works with different people in different ways. Different methods are appropriate at different times depending on the recipient, the circumstances and the point of the message. There is a lesson for all of us here particularly if we feel it is incumbent upon us to deliver a message that the recipient may not be too pleased to receive. It is possible that any lack of positive response might be the result of our failure to discover the best method of delivery rather than simply a stubborn refusal to hear. Perhaps we need to put as much prayer and thought into the way we deliver a message as we might do into whether it needs to be delivered at all – at least by us. In this particular case it seems that the real issue was not what punishment David may receive. What was really important was that both he and the people – and all future readers of the text – fully realize not only that David’s behavior was completely unacceptable and that God would not tolerate it, but also just why it was so wrong. David immediately saw the meanness and cruelty of what was involved in the story and was appalled and angry that this might have happened in his kingdom. He had no doubts whatsoever that such behavior was totally unacceptable in God’s sight. Anyone who would behave in that way deserved the severest punishment. Nathan’s terse You are the man! must have been a great shock to David, but the story had prepared him for hearing the actual message from God. His almost immediate recognition of what Nathan was talking about may mean that his conscience had already been speaking to him. Are we as ready to hear the unpleasant message and to apply it to ourselves? David had committed both adultery and murder – it may have been difficult to prove that Uriah’s death was murder, but David is left in no doubt that that is how God saw it. These offenses are clearly condemned, but the use of the story helps to bring out the fact that the abuse of power involved and the contemptible meanness of what David had done were equally abhorrent to God. God had given David so much and yet he still thought he had the right to take what belonged to someone else. In breaking the law, not only did he despise the word of the Lord, he despised God Himself by acting as if the gifts God had given him were insufficient. The one who had been granted the privilege of a special relationship with Yahweh had, in effect, spat in God’s face. The enormity of David’s sin at last dawns on him. He has sinned not only against Bathsheba and Uriah, which would have been bad enough, but against the Lord. He had acted as if God and His word were of no account. As a result of his behavior he is told that the sword shall never depart from your house. The immediate consequences of David’s behavior included the unnecessary death of several good soldiers and Joab’s increasing power over David. Here we begin to see a further range of ever-widening effects. David, in setting an example of adultery and violence, had ensured that a pattern of violence and adultery would be loosed upon his own family and within Israel. The distinction in this section between punishment and consequences becomes somewhat blurred. It seems as if David is not going to receive a direct punishment for his sin. Mercy and justice go hand in hand in the Old Testament picture of God. Punishments do not always take place in the way that the law seems to call for. Perhaps the mercy shown by God to David in this instance is presented as a deliberate contrast with the lack of mercy shown by the rich man in the parable, or by David to Uriah. Nevertheless, all the consequences of David’s actions will be allowed to stand. His sons will follow their father’s example and be caught up in violence and adultery. David’s own wives will be taken, not in secret but in broad daylight. He who had tried so hard to avoid scandal would be openly shamed. The distinction between punishment and consequence is very important at this point. The taking of David’s wives was not a direct punishment for David’s sin, but it was an indirect consequence. Scripture is very clear that in most instances God will allow the consequences of our actions to stand, even when other people get hurt in the process. In one sense, for David, living with the consequences of his sins was a greater punishment than the deserved death penalty might have been.

Rejoice that Sin Can Be Forgiven:  2 Samuel 12:13-14; Psalm 51:1-4.

[13]  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. [14]  Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die."

[Psalm 51:1]  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. [2]  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! [3]  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. [4]  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.  [ESV]

[12:13-14]  In a remarkable display of humility and contrition, David confessed his guilt in the single most significant dimension of his sinful act: I have sinned against the Lord. David had certainly also sinned against Uriah, Bathsheba, and unnamed soldiers; but those offenses were derivative and secondary in nature. Had David not rebelled against the Lord’s Word, these persons would not have been murdered or abused. David’s confession came with immediacy, without denial, and without excuse; the Lord’s forgiveness was equally direct and unrestrained. It also was without cost: forgiveness was granted the king without requiring him first to make animal sacrifices or give great gifts to the Lord. In an unadorned fashion Nathan responded to David by declaring that the Lord also has put away your sin. The Lord’s forgiveness was also accompanied by great mercy. The Torah declared that all murderers and adulterers must die [Gen. 9:6; Exodus 21:12; Deut. 22:22]; nevertheless the Lord declared that David was not going to die. The Lord forgave David and granted him the unmerited gift of life, but he did not remove all consequences resulting from David’s sin which had utterly scorned the Lord.

[Psalm 51:1-4]  David’s sin, in which he committed adultery with Bathsheba and later, after discovering that she was pregnant, arranged to have her husband, Uriah, killed in battle, is the dark background for the psalm. But this very blackness led David to the light. David had committed two sins for which the Mosaic law provided no forgiveness. For deliberate murder and adultery death was the inevitable penalty. He knew that before God there was no forgiveness through any sacrifices which he might offer or any gifts which he might present. David begins by approaching God, whom he is asking to help him in his sinful state. But this is no simple approach. It is perceptive, moving, genuine, and profound. Two things come together in these verses. The first is a fierce, almost desperate clinging to God’s mercy. Mercy is the sole basis of any approach to God by sinners. We cannot come to God on the basis of His justice; justice strikes us with fear and causes us to hide from Him. We are not drawn to God by His wisdom; wisdom does not embolden us, though we stand in awe of it. No more does omniscience, omnipotence, or omnipresence. The only reason we dare come to God and dare hope for a solution to our sin problem is His mercy. The second striking thing in these opening verses, which comes together with the first, is David’s profound awareness of his sin and its true nature. In verse 1 he used three words to describe God’s compassion: mercy, steadfast love, and abundant mercy. In verses 1 and 2 he uses three corresponding words to describe his sin. The first word is transgressions. It refers to crossing a forbidden boundary with the thought that this is a serious rebellion. We have crossed the boundary of God’s moral law and are at war with Him. The second word is iniquity. It means perversion and refers to what we usually call original sin or the depravity of our natures. Significantly, it is the word used in the first part of verse 5, in the phrase in sin did my mother conceive me. The third word is sin itself. It means falling short or missing the mark. We miss God’s high mark of perfection, falling short of it in the same way an arrow might fall short of a target. These three words occur again later in the psalm [3,4,5,9,13]. All refer to personal failure, which David emphasizes by using the personal pronoun my. Verses 3-4, in which David confesses his sin, contains three strong statements. (1) David is aware of his sin: I know [3]. Most of our problems with sin begin at just this point. We do not confess our sins because we do not believe ourselves to be sinners, and this is because we do not recognize that what we do is sin. David was very much aware of his sin. (2) David knows that his sin is against God [4]. Sin by its very definition is against God, since it is only by God’s law that sin is defined as sin. A wrong done to our neighbor is an offense against humanity. In the eyes of the state, which measures wrongs by its own laws, that wrong may be a crime. Only before God is it a sin. And it is only because God is in the picture that even a wrong done to our neighbor is a wrong. It is because our neighbor is made in God’s image and in endowed with rights by God that it is wrong to harm him or her. (3) David confesses that sin springs from his thoroughly evil nature [5]. This is the most perceptive statement of all, for it is the equivalent of what we today call the doctrine of original sin. David recognizes that there was never a moment in his existence when he was not a sinner and in need of God’s mercy.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What do we learn about the process of temptation and sin from chapter 11 [see James 1:14-15]?  What could David have done differently to avoid giving in to this particular temptation? Apply this to your own life when you are confronted with temptations, especially those temptations which, in the past, you have had difficulty overcoming.

2.         Describe how God shows both mercy and judgment in chapter 12. Distinguish between the punishment for sin and the consequences of sinful actions. The general rule is the more heinous the sin, the more widespread the consequences. Ask God to make you more aware of the consequences of your own sinful actions.

3.         Psalm 51 is one of the most powerful statements of the depths of sin and of repentance to be found anywhere in the Bible. Describe David’s confession of his sin in Psalm 51. Note how David describes God; his sin; and his confession. John Stott writes: “We can appreciate our need of divine mercy only when we have seen the gravity of our sin.” Have you found this statement to be true in your own life?


1, 2 Samuel, Robert Bergen, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Samuel, Mary Evans, Intervarsity Press.

Psalms, Tremper Longman III, EBC, Zondervan.

Psalms, Volume 2, James Boice, Baker.

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