Justice and Mercy upon David
Issue No. 236
Psalm 85:10 says,
10 Mercy and truth have met together; righteous-ness and peace have kissed each other.
Emotions aside, a kiss is a symbolic act of love, intimacy, and unity. When lips meet, it represents a “face to face” meeting, even as God talked to Moses face to face as a friend (Ex. 33:11). It also represents an exchange of breath, or spirit, even as God breathed into Adam's nostrils the breath of life. That was not only an act of creation but an act of divine love.
So how does this apply to the kiss between righteous-ness and peace, or between mercy and truth—as expressed by the Ark of the Covenant? The mercy seat is positioned over the tablets of the law in the Ark, for as James 2:13 says, “mercy triumphs over judgment.” But does this mean that mercy puts away the law? Does mercy annul judgment altogether?
No, that is not the meaning of a kiss. A kiss is not symbolic of one person repudiating the other, nor is it supposed to be an act of domination. It is symbolic of unity. One does not kiss his beloved and then oppress her or cast her away.
The kiss was meant to be a step toward marriage. The tables of the law represent truth, and it is joined to the mercy seat in the Ark. Again, the tables of the law represent righteousness, while the mercy seat is the source of peace or reconciliation.
The Mercy Factor in Judgment
There are those who believe that Jesus removed all judgment when He took our penalty upon Himself at the Cross. They say God put away the law at that moment. But Jesus Himself spoke of aionian judgment that was to come. And even after His death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, Paul speaks often of judgment that was to come. This even includes judgment upon believers, who will be “saved yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15).
Many of us have shown that eonian judgment is not “eternal” in the sense of being never-ending, on the grounds that the word eonian means “age-abiding” (Rotherham) or “age-during” (Young). But some who teach this then do an about-face teaching the contradictory doctrine that there is no judgment at all. In my view, one either believes in eonian judgment, or no judgment, but one cannot believe both.
For the record, I teach eonian judgment. It is limited to the ages of time and does not belong in a timeless realm of “eternity.” Nevertheless, there is a judgment, in which the evil works of man are “burned” in Moses' “fiery law,” forming first Daniel's “river of fire” and then John's “lake of fire.” But divine justice has its eonian limits, even as the 49-year Jubilee and the 40 lashes in the divine law limited our liability for sin.
It is in this very limitation that mercy triumphs over justice, for if liability for sin were to continue beyond the Jubilee or past the 40 lashes, it would be counter-productive to the purpose of justice. God's purpose for administering discipline and justice is to bring correction and restore the lawful order. It is not to punish endlessly.
The need for Justice ends, but mercy, which is rooted in love, never ends. If two athletes compete, they both may run together for a time, but if only one of them has never-ending stamina, you know which one will win in the end. Mercy cannot lose.
Our Father’s Discipline
God is our Father, and we are His children. God is therefore the One responsible to bring us to maturity as responsible adults with His law written on our hearts. Hebrews 12:5-7 says,
5. . . My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
God does not discipline (judge) His children without cause. Parents sometimes do this when they themselves are spiritually immature, and such discipline instills bitterness and rebellion in the hearts of their children.
Other parents do not discipline their children at all, and this makes them lawless in later life, thinking that life is about them, and they have little regard for the rights of others.
Other parents over-discipline their children, often with sad results. But God is not like man in this way.
Those who think that all judgment has been set aside do not understand the Fatherhood of God, for if they did, it would be apparent that God is not Doctor Spock, who started the modern idea that children should only be motivated and not disciplined. In other words, if they do something wrong, give something better for them to do in its place and get them interested in that alternate activity. The problem with this is that the child learns that his actions are never wrong, but that there are only more interesting ways to pursue life. It is a lawless approach and a counterfeit Fatherhood.
So how does God discipline His children? Obviously, He is a God of Love. The question is this: Would a God of Love discipline His children? Hebrews 12 certainly says so. God loved Israel, yet He chastised them.
Perhaps the best illustration of how mercy and justice kiss is found in Solomon's prayer when He was dedicating the Temple. 2 Chron. 6:36-39 says, in part,
36 When they sin against Thee (for there is no man who does not sin) and Thou art angry with them and dost deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to a land far off or near, 37 if they take thought in the land where they are taken captive, and REPENT in the land of their captivity, saying, “We have sinned, we have committed iniquity, and have acted wickedly” . . . 39 then hear from heaven . . . and FORGIVE Thy people who have sinned against Thee.
In other words, judgment continues as long as it takes to bring a person to repentance, for that is the purpose of judgment. Once the correction has been made, and their stiff-necked wills have been broken in going their own way, then judgment ends and truth kisses mercy in unity.
David Sets His Own Level of Mercy
When King Saul was disqualified from having a perpetual dynasty, God said to him through the prophet Samuel in 1 Sam. 13:14,
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,
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:
22 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.
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,
5 . . . “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. 6 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 have learned that 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 with mercy from the mercy seat.
David Appeals to the Divine Court
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 set aside in his case?
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. For example, earthly judges were restricted by the law of two or three witnesses. 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 see in Numbers 5:11-31, 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 Goel on 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 Baby Son
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. 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. (To be continued. . .)