The Law Applied with Mercy--Part 3, God Judges David
Feb 01, 2008
The biblical record makes it clear that David was guilty of both adultery and murder. Why, then, was David not put to death for his crimes? Was the law discarded? Or have we missed some other point of law?
I have written in the past that the earthly courts are limited in their ability to do justice. In David's time, the problem was not the law itself. The problem was that God did not entrust men on earth with the full authority to deal with every problem that might arise in the cause of justice. Earthly judges were restricted by the law of two or three witnesses, for example. Obviously, there would be many cases where such evidence was lacking, even though the suspect may have been guilty. But God understood that if men were given the authority to pass judgment according to their intuition alone, there would soon be great injustices being committed upon many innocent people. So God put those restrictions upon those called as judges.
Yet He also set up an appeals system, whereby those convicted unjustly, or victims who could not obtain justice, were able to appeal their case to the Divine Court in heaven. We saw, for example, the law of jealousy, where a man may suspect his wife of being unfaithful, but had no actual evidence of her guilt. He was allowed to take her to the priest, who would present the case to God for divine justice.
In the case of King David, we find another classic case of appealing to the Divine Court. In those days the King was the highest judge in the earthly nation. The fact that the kings were judges is seen clearly in the case of Solomon, who judged between the two women who each claimed the same baby (1 Kings 3:16-28).
What happens, then, when the highest judge in the land commits a crime? To whom does one appeal the case for justice? David was directly accountable to God. So God Himself became the Goelon behalf of the victims of injustice, according to the law (Ex. 22:21-23). God then informed the prophet Nathan, who was sent to David with a fictitious story to measure David's measure of mercy by which mercy might be measured to him as well.
David's response in 2 Sam. 11:5 and 6 was that the man should die and restore fourfold. As a result, four of David's sons died for his sin. Even so, David repented deeply, and for this reason God extended to him a certain level of mercy, for David himself did not have to die for his own sin.
The baby was the first to die (2 Sam. 12:15-17), though David fasted and prayed all night. This baby was the son of David, and as such was a type of Christ, who was to come and die for the sins of the fathers. One might object to this on the grounds that the law forbids a judge to put the children to death for the sins of their father, or to execute the father for the sins of the children (Deut. 24:16; Ezekiel 18:20).
Yet we see in the New Testament that Jesus Christ, the "Son of man" (i.e., Son of Adam), was put to death for the sin of Adam. This appears to be a violation of God's own law. But Jesus died for the sin of Adam voluntarily and even with joy (Heb. 12:2). Even though Caiaphas' motive was for one man to die for the nation (John 11:50), Jesus could have called twelve legions of angels to deliver Him from the cross (Matt. 26:53).
In the case of David's baby son, one may argue that the baby had no choice in the matter. But biblical silence about heavenly matters means little. Can God not communicate with babies? He is so limited? Did God not know the baby before his birth? In fact, the baby's spirit knew perfectly well what was happening and why, for the spirit knows all things (1 Cor. 2:11), even if one's soul (natural mind) is ignorant.
The baby, then, had a tremendous calling as a type of Christ. I believe that God communicated with the spirit of the baby, and that the innocent baby volunteered to die for the sin of his father.
But this baby was only the first of four to die. The baby fulfilled only the first part of David's verdict upon himself--that such a man deserved to die. There was still the fourfold restitution that had to be made.
The rest of David's life was spent paying this fourfold penalty. This was a source of great heart ache for David, but it was also the key to his humility. David was never given opportunity to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. Regret gave him the gift of humility, and his sin gave him a heart of mercy. For those who have a heart for God, watching others die for one's own sin is worse than death itself. It is what breaks a person's self-will and self-righteous heart and makes people truly useful in the Kingdom of God.
The next son that David lost was Amnon. The story is told in the next chapter, 2 Sam. 13. Amnon violated his half-sister, Tamar, with no witnesses to testify against him (13:9). David was very angry when he heard what had been done (13:21), but he appeared to do nothing about it. Scripture tells us that Amnon violated Tamar, but insofar as the earthly courts are concerned, the two or three witnesses were lacking.
I believe that David prayed much about it, but was not led to act as judge in the matter. I believe that he knew this was part of the divine judgment for his sin with Bathsheba. And so, He appealed the case to the Divine Court and left it in God's hands for judgment.
However, Tamar's full brother, Absalom, decided to take matters into his own hands. He scheduled a party for Amnon, with orders to assassinate Amnon while he was half drunk. The plan succeeded, and David's second son was killed.
Absalom, of course, fled the country, thinking that he would be prosecuted for murder (13:37). He remained there three years, while David mourned for him, for he understood Absalom's reasons for killing Amnon. Finally, through the intercession of Joab, David sent for Absalom (14:21). But even so, David refused to speak to him face to face for the next two years (14:28). Even Joab would not help him further. So Absalom burned Joab's barley field in order to get his attention (14:30). Only then did Joab induce David to see Absalom (14:33).
The next chapter tells us how Absalom overthrew David and usurped the throne for himself, on the grounds that David was refusing to establish justice in the land (15:3). In other words, Absalom accused David of casting aside the divine law. Absalom told people that if he were judge, then true justice would be established, and this created discontent with David's rule. "So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel" (15:6).
Absalom was then crowned king in Hebron (15:10) with the help of Ahithophel, David's counselor, who was also the grandfather of Bathsheba. Ahithophel had a son named Eliam (2 Sam. 23:34), and Bathsheba was Eliam's daughter (2 Sam. 11:3). Apparently, though Ahithophel was David's close friend and counselor, he never really forgave David for his sin with Bathsheba, nor did he understand David's refusal to judge Amnon. He apparently had no faith in the Divine Court and God's ability to judge--especially when God's judgments took years to take effect.
The story of Absalom usurping David's throne, of course, became one of the greatest prophetic types of the story of Jesus in the New Testament a thousand years later. Jesus was the "Son of David" (Matt. 15:22). The chief priests in Jerusalem played the role of Absalom and usurped Jesus' throne (Matt. 21:38). And his friend Judas played the role of Ahithophel in betraying Him.
David left Jerusalem, rather than fight Absalom, and made a sacrifice on the top of the Mount of Olives (2 Sam. 15:30). Jesus sacrificed Himself at the same location. David came again to reclaim the throne. So will Jesus.
This is the third part of a series titled "The Law Applied with Mercy." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones