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The Law Applied with Mercy--Part 2, David and Bathsheba

Jan 31, 2008

When King Saul was disqualified from having a perpetual dynasty, God said to him through the prophet Samuel in 1 Sam. 13:14,

"But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you."

Notice that God did not say that He sought for a perfect man or even a righteous man. David was neither of these. He received that perpetual dynasty, not because of his righteousness, but because in spite of imperfection, he sincerely wanted to know the heart of his heavenly Father. By contrast, Saul was more concerned with God being a god after Saul's own heart, a god who would be obedient to Saul and prosper him as he did his own will.

But the prophet Micah gives us an excellent picture of the heart of God, saying in Micah 6:8,

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."

In this simple statement we see the expression of God's heart that is pictured in the Ark of the Covenant. We are to "do justice" by not defrauding or harming others; we are to love mercy when we might have occasion to judge or to decide how to deal with injustice that has been done; and we are to walk humbly with God.

The justice and mercy portion of this is pictured in the tables of the law and the mercy seat in the Ark. "Humility is the root of all grace," wrote A. W. Tozer many years ago. Because grace and mercy are so closely intertwined, we can also say that humility is what brings mercy to sinners. This is because the primary expression of humility is repentance. One's ability to repent is generally measured by one's level of humility. If one lacks humility, then God bestows it upon that person through corrective discipline, which is called "judgment" in Scripture.

The primary purpose of judgment is to restore to the victim what has been lost and to recompense him double, four-fold, or five-fold for his trouble. The secondary purpose is to correct and restore the sinner through corrective discipline. The sinner may pay the last penny of his restitution, but if he is not ashamed and humbled by his sin, and if he remains unrepentant, then the condition of his heart has not really changed.

So the key to understanding the purpose of divine judgment is to know that God's heart and will is that the sinner repents. Peter recognized this, no doubt through painful experience when he denied even knowing Jesus, for he writes in 2 Peter 3:9 that "He is not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance." In fact, Peter reminds us in the same verse, this is one of the great purposes of TIME. A day is as a thousand years to God, and God is patient, not willing that any should perish. Time is a grace period, as I too have discovered by personal experience and in Scripture.

But getting back to King David, the one act that affected him for the rest of his life was his sin with Bathsheba. Not only did he commit adultery with her (2 Sam. 11:4), but he also arranged to have her husband killed in battle in the attempt to cover up the sin (2 Sam. 11:15). The penalty for adultery in Deut. 22:22 is death:

"If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel."

Likewise, the penalty for premeditated murder is death, for we read in Exodus 21:12-14,

" (12) He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. (13) But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand [idiom for accidental death], then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee. (14) If, however, a man acts presumptuously [intentionally with full knowledge] toward his neighbor, so as to kill him craftily, you are to take him even from My altar, that he may die."

The question, then, is why David was not executed for his sins according to the law. Did David "get away with sin"? Did God put away the law a thousand years before the cross? I say NO to both questions. The answer is found in the Ark of the Covenant, which not only houses the stone tablets of the law, but is also covered by the mercy seat. For this reason, David is a prime example by which we may understand how God applies the law with mercy without destroying the law.

God uses the law to accomplish His will, and He is not willing that anyone should perish. His wisdom is infinite, and He knows precisely how to accomplish His will without violating His law. In fact, we have already seen another example of this in Jesus' treatment of the woman caught in adultery, when He utilized the law of jealousy and the law of two or three witnesses to extend mercy to her. We now have a second great example of God's mercy in His treatment of David's sin with Bathsheba.

The first thing to notice is the final statement in the 11th chapter of second Samuel, which says, "But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord." This tells us that God had no intention of letting David get away with sin, for if He allowed this to go uncorrected, David might be encouraged to do it again and again, thinking that his position and calling as King of Israel might give him the privilege of sinning with immunity.

The first thing that God did was to allow David to judge himself. 2 Sam. 12 reads,

" (1) Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him and said, 'There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor. (2) The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. (3) But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb which he bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, and was like a daughter to him. (4) Now a traveler came to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take from his own flock for his own herd, to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; rather, he took the poor man's ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him'."

David, who had been a shepherd at one time, became very angry and passed immediate judgment upon the "rich man," saying,

"As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. And he must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion."

Nathan then told him, "You are the man."

It was the perfect trap. But why did God tell Nathan to do this? I know something of this, because God used this same principle upon me many years ago. I have learned that in general, we find it most difficult to forgive those who manifest the faults that we ourselves struggle against. Those faults are our "hot buttons." When we see others taken in those faults, we can forgive them only insofar as we are able to forgive ourselves.

And so, by the law of equal weights and measures, which we studied earlier, God judges us by the standards to which we hold others. This is what God did with David. God intended to give mercy to David, but He let David set the level of his own mercy by proposing a fictitious crime that someone else might have done. David learned a great lesson in humility and repentance that day. Because the purpose of the law is to show us our sin and to cause us to repent, God was then able to judge him from the mercy seat.

I will discuss this shortly.


This is the second part of a series titled "The Law Applied with Mercy." To view all parts, click the link below.

The Law Applied with Mercy


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Category: God's Law

Dr. Stephen Jones


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