Last month, we considered a man who suffered for doing the right things. Joseph suffered at the hands of others for doing good, and with great pain he taught his own sinful brothers righteousness. This month, we’ll consider the agony of a man who suffered for his own sins. David, a godly leader, suffered deeply in the knowledge that his own actions hurt his people and angered the God he loved. As sinners saved by grace, we can identify with and draw some comfort from his experience.
Recounting the Scene
There are at least two incidents in the life of David showing that he, like us, was both fallible and sinful. The first, recorded in 2 Samuel 11, is the dark chapter of Bathsheba and Uriah. In an unguarded moment, David’s purity was stained by a stare. The king of Israel and Judah acted rashly, and his failure injured a woman, killed a dedicated warrior and was profoundly evil in God’s sight.
Lust is a scary, self-corrupting darkness. It drove David to break a marriage bond and deceitfully arrange the death of a man completely obedient and dedicated to God and the kingdom. David attempted to trick Uriah and lied to the chief of his armies and his God in order to satisfy his consuming desire for Bathsheba.
Later, as a mature leader of God’s people, David’s actions brought suffering to the whole nation of Israel. By comparing Scripture, we see that God allowed Satan to fill David’s heart with pride. Despite the protests of his advisors, he ordered a census, likely to count the greatness of his kingdom. Lifted up in a moment of weakness, David’s desire to be great brought a death sentence on 70,000 innocent people (2Sa 24; 1Ch 21).
The Reality of Suffering
Despite a life of war and hardness, God describes David as a man after His own heart (1Sa 13:14). The warrior-poet pours that heart out to God in Psalm 51 concerning Bathsheba. After the prideful fall of the census, that same heart smote him deeply. Crying real tears and filled with pain, the broken king cries for forgiveness. “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest” (Psa 51:3,4 KJV).
In addition to David’s own pain, God’s prophets revealed what David’s actions did to others, too. Sin, even sin done in secret, has a way of swelling like the tide. David feels the flood. Bathsheba, like a quaking lamb before David’s wanton power, must bear the deep emotional wounds of his lust. Unwittingly, Uriah climbs through David’s web of deceit only to fall alone at the wall of Rabbah. The child dies. A family is washed away by sin.
In 2 Samuel 24, the census sent David to sleep with a multitude of swords in his service (v9). When he awoke, the news smote his heart. Gad arrived to tell David his pride would cost the kingdom dearly. He must pick the payment: years of famine, months of lost battles or days of pestilence. Too weak to stand, the grief-stricken king falls into the hand of God, saying, “You choose.” 70,000 of God’s own people would die of disease before God Himself repented and the destroying angel bowed with folded arms. O beloved! Can we count how much pain is caused by a single sin?
The Response of the Sufferer
Meditating on these scenes, we might wonder how David ever recovered. Or, given the grief he caused, we might even be tempted to ask if he should. But, let’s never forget that our God is a gracious and forgiving God. Finally at peace and looking back over his life, the penitent king softly sings, “Thy gentleness hath made me great” (2Sa 22:36; Psa 18:35).
Look carefully and you will see the gentle hand of God, seeking the best for His servant even in these awful scenes. The courtiers in Jerusalem could not raise David from his grief while Bathsheba’s child suffered. But once the baby died, David washed himself and worshipped with a new spirit. “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2Sa 12:23). Bowed before God, David trusted that the suffering would end in God’s time, and the infant would go to his Creator. Even Solomon would be born from this pain.
I struggle to consider a plague so terrible that Almighty God said, “It is enough.” Yet, through tear-rimmed eyes, David witnessed that warrior angel sheathe his sword and stay his hand. In response, David bowed himself in worship – worship bought with a price. God had dealt gently with him and he was indebted to the merciful hand of God. The cost of sin should have been higher, and he would repay what he could.
The Result of the Strife
Because of Calvary and regardless of the past, wherever a trusting, lowly heart bows before Him in repentance, our God forgives. Time and time again, the gentle hand of God lifted David from his sorrow and put his suffering aside. Rest assured, dear believer, everyone suffering under the shame and pain of a sinful act may take comfort in the words of this man so close to God’s heart, “He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger forever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psa 103:9-12 KJV).
Being truly, open-heartedly forgiven changes you. Who hasn’t paused at the apostle’s words, “and such were some of you” (1Co 6:11) and felt their heart drop in their chest? Only one thing will do for such forgiven sinners – we ourselves must drop and worship the great Lover of our souls. David bought and brought burnt offerings and peace offerings right where he was, on the threshing floor of Araunah. His sin was forgiven; the temple could wait!
Likewise, dear forgiven believer, do not be consumed by your shame and guilt. Your sins are forgiven! Look up, consider your redemption and honor the Lord Jesus right where you are; give thanks for the mercy and grace of His gentle hand!