Justice and Mercy upon David
Issue No. 237
The justice of God is tempered by mercy. The level of mercy that one receives is measured by the mercy that the sinner has shown to others. James 2:13 says,
13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
This works both ways. If a person is totally merciless, then God will be merciless to him, and he will pay the last farthing (Matt. 18:34). But on the other hand, if the sinner has been merciful to others and has had compassion for others who have sinned against him, then that is the level of mercy that God will grant to him.
This principle is established by the law of equal weights and measures in Deut. 25:13-16. This is also what Jesus meant in Matt. 7:2 when He said,
2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
Of course, keep in mind that a biblical judge did not have the right to judge any man by his own standard. He was called to administer the law by the mind of Christ, and so his judgment was not supposed to be his own. He was called to be the spokesman of God, and so it was his responsibility to know the mind of Christ.
It is the same with us today. It is one thing to deliver a message of judgment that God has spoken or decreed. It is quite another to assume the role of a judge and to judge according to one’s own understanding of the law. If the supreme Judge has not authorized such a judgment, or if He has not revealed His mind, then men should not presume to know the judgment of God against any man or church or nation.
Most presumptive judges look at the sin, and then they look at the law, and on that basis alone, they judge others. The problem is that they usually do not have a revelation of the mercy factor, and they do not know how merciful the sinner has been. Hence, they do not know how much mercy ought to be applied in each individual case.
It is better not to judge at all than to judge without some revelation of the sinner’s heart. Most judgments people make today are based totally upon a law (whether God’s or man’s). Few people understand the mercy factor built into the divine law.
Nathan’s Judgment Upon David
Nathan’s judgment upon David was not really Nathan’s judgment at all. It was God’s judgment through Nathan. But even Nathan was unable to render divine judgment until David had established the level of mercy that would be necessary to make a final judgment.
David made the mistake of judging the man Nathan had presented without bothering to inquire whether the man deserved some mercy. Is it not our assumptions that bring us the most trouble? Because David judged the man with death and with fourfold restitution (2 Sam. 12:5, 6), his judgment established the fact that death and fourfold restitution would be measured to him in his own sin.
Because David had killed Uriah the Hittite and had taken his wife, we read in 2 Sam. 12:10, “the sword shall never depart from your house.” Furthermore,
11 Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your companion, and he shall lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before Israel and under the sun.”
This was fulfilled later, when David’s own son, Absalom, revolted against him and drove him from the throne. More than that, Absalom defiled David’s wives in broad daylight in front of all the people. We read of this in 2 Sam. 16:22,
22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.
David also paid fourfold restitution even as he had judged the sinner in the hypothetical case which Nathan had presented, for David lost four sons as judgment. Yet even then, David was shown mercy because he sincerely admitted his sin and repented for it. 2 Sam. 12:13, 14 says,
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. 14 However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die.”
At each step of the way, God finds a reason to extend mercy to sinners. David is not an exception, but an example of the great mercy that God shows even in His judgments. God does not abolish His law through mercy, but rather He has established mercy as a principle of law, namely, the law of equal weights and measures.
In fact, Jesus refers to mercy as one of the weightier principles of the law. Matt. 23:23 says,
23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the WEIGHTIER provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
Jesus chose His words carefully, for the Greek word for “weightier” is barus, which literally has to do with weight measurement. It truly is about the law of equal weights. In fact, one might say that mercy is one of the heavy weights of the law. Without understanding mercy in the way Nathan did, it is not possible to render righteous judgment.
Perhaps if David had rendered righteous judgment in the hypothetical case presented to him, he might have averted most (if not all) of the judgment of the law for his own sin. Yet even so, God found a way to give David a secondary level of mercy based upon his true repentance. It did not remove the judgment that his own household would bring, but it did ensure that God would restore him to the throne.
God did not treat him in the same way that He had treated Saul. Saul had never repented, but David was a man after God’s own heart—not because he was perfect, but because he had the ability to admit his sin and to repent of it.
Absalom’s Rise to Power
Some time after Bathsheba’s baby died, the next casualty of sin was David’s son, Amnon. Amnon raped his half-sister, Tamar, who was the full sister of Absalom. David was “very angry” at this (2 Sam. 13:21), but he recognized this as being part of the divine judgment against himself. Nathan had told him in 2 Sam. 12:11, “I will raise up evil against you from your own household.”
Absalom himself counseled his sister not to press charges. 2 Sam. 13:20 he said to her, “But now, keep silent, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this matter to heart.” Absalom pretended to forgive his brother, but in fact he was already plotting his death. Verse 22 says,
22 But Absalom did not speak to Amnon either good or bad; for Absalom hated Amnon because he had violated his sister.
Two years went by, and then Absalom took revenge on his brother. He invited Amnon to a feast, but told his servants to kill Amnon when he was drunk. The plot worked, and Absalom fled to Geshur, where he remained in exile for three years. Geshur was an Aramean kingdom to the north of Israel but beyond Israel's borders.
Absalom’s lawlessness was manifested when he took the law into his own hands. This exile foreshadowed Judah’s Babylonian exile on account of their lawlessness.
Joab, David’s commander of the armed forces, succeeded in getting David to allow Absalom to return without prosecution. This prophesied of Judah’s return from Babylonian exile in the days of Ezra. But in both cases, the underlying heart problem persisted. Absalom’s heart remained merciless and rebellious; and likewise, Judah followed Absalom’s example between the Babylonian captivity and the coming of Jesus Christ.
Though Absalom returned to Judah, David would not see Absalom for another two years. Finally, Absalom set fire to Joab’s barley field, and this pressured Joab to intercede for him, so that David consented to see Absalom.
Absalom’s tactics manifested his heart. Barley is a type of overcomer, and so Absalom was willing to sacrifice overcomers to get David’s attention. David certainly loved Absalom, as the story makes clear, but David also knew that Absalom had no heart of repentance or mercy, and therefore he was not eligible for any mercy. This part of the story was intended to reveal the hearts of the priests who would later play the role of Absalom in the N.T.
Once Absalom was formally recognized by the king, he immediately began to plot to overthrow David. This story is told in 2 Samuel 15. In effect, he accused David of injustice—no doubt based upon the fact that David did not judge Amnon but had committed the judgment to God.
David’s sin had been appealed to the Divine Court. God had rendered his verdict against David, and David’s apparent paralysis was actually because he accepted and submitted to the ruling against him. But Absalom did not comprehend this and no doubt disagreed with David. So he spread the word in Israel that one could not obtain justice as long as David was king (2 Sam. 15:3).
14 Moreover, Absalom would say, “Oh that one would appoint me judge in the land, then every man who has any suit or cause could come to me, and I would give him justice.”
Absalom prided himself on his ability to render justice to the people. In this, he became a type of the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day, who also prided themselves on their knowledge of the law and their ability to render true justice. But like Absalom, the scribes and Pharisees did not know the mind of God, nor did they know the principles of mercy that were built into the law itself.
They were legalists. A legalist is one who judges by the mind of men (i.e., traditions of men). In practice, a legalist is one who applies the law without mercy. A legalist is too willing to kill for God, cloaking his self-righteousness with a religious zeal for God and His law.
God uses Absalom to Judge David
I am always amazed how God uses sinners to portray types of Christ. He is not ashamed to be identified with them, and God uses the very problem to convey prophecy of things to come.
If David had not sinned, the judgment against him would not have come upon him. Without that judgment regarding David’s own household rising up against him, Absalom would have never overthrown David and usurped his throne. If Absalom had not usurped the throne with the help of Ahithophel (David’s counselor and friend who betrayed him), we would not have had a prophetic type of the great New Testament story of Christ.
There are three primary characters in this important prophetic story: David, Ahithophel, and Absalom. In the end, Ahithophel hanged himself, David’s throne was usurped, and finally Absalom was killed at the time of David’s return.
In the New Testament, Jesus played the role of David, and the chief priests played the role of Absalom. Judas, who was Jesus’ friend, played the role of Ahithophel in betraying Him. Jesus’ throne was usurped by the chief priests with the help of Judas.
2 Sam. 15:10 tells us that Absalom was crowned in Hebron in the presence of Ahithophel (Bathsheba's grandfather and David's counselor and friend). A thousand years later, Judas, who betrayed Jesus, came from Hebron. His name was Judas Iscariot, or Ish-Kiriath, “a man from Kiriath-arba.” This was the old name for Hebron (Gen. 35:27).
Ahithophel later hanged himself (2 Sam. 17:23), and Judas later met the same fate (Matt. 27:5). So it is clear that Judas played the role of Ahithophel in betraying Jesus. In Acts 1:20 Peter quotes from Psalm 69:25 and 109:8, applying these passages to Judas, which David had originally written about Ahithophel. So it is plain that the apostles understood that Absalom’s revolt against David was a prophecy of the chief priests’ conflict with Jesus.
Rather than fight Absalom, David left Jerusalem but stopped to make a sacrifice on the top of the Mount of Olives. This prophesied of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We read in 2 Sam. 15:30,
30 And David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went, and his head was covered and he walked barefoot. Then all the people who were with him each covered his head and went on weeping as they went.
Can we not see here a type of Christ on his way to the place where He was crucified? Verse 32 says (literally),
32 It happened as David had come to the top [rosh, summit, top, head, SKULL], where he bowed himself there to God. . .
Jesus was crucified at the summit of the Mount of Olives, where David worshipped God and bowed to the will of God when Absalom usurped his throne. The summit was called rosh, which means “summit, top of the head, or skull.” In Matt. 27:33 we read,
33 And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull. . .
Even as David was afflicted until his return (i.e., his “second coming”), so also has Jesus endured affliction up to the present time. Both were betrayed by friends. David wrote about Ahithophel in Psalm 55:13, 14,
13 But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar FRIEND. 14 We who had sweet fellowship together, walked in the house of God in the throng.
In the New Testament, Jesus called Judas “friend” in Matt. 26:50,
50 And Jesus said to him, “FRIEND, do what you have come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him.
We do not know how long David’s throne was usurped, for if we did, we might have a clue as to the timing of Christ’s second coming. But the time David was in exile prophesied of the interim leading to the second coming of Christ. During that time, we find David’s wives being mistreated and humiliated in public. It speaks of the Bride of Christ that has undergone the same kind of mistreatment during the past 2,000 years at the hands of those who have usurped the throne of Christ.
The chief priests were the first to usurp the throne, as Jesus prophesied in Matt. 21:38, but later the Saul Church usurped the throne of Christ as well. The rape of the Bride of Christ is seen clearly in the records of Church history.
None of this was done in secret, for God caused the high officials of the Roman Church to write of these things so that the rape would be in public and “under the sun” in order to fulfill the prophecy.
We await the day when David’s Greater Son will reclaim His throne and displace all usurpers who have oppressed the people and who have ruled by their own will instead of by the will and mind of Christ.
The Prophecy of Absalom’s Revolt
In his zeal for the law, Absalom was willing to overthrow the rightful king and usurp his throne.
In the N.T., the role of Absalom was played by the chief priests who usurped Jesus' throne for themselves. The ordinary Jews of the day played the role of Absalom's army. These were the ordinary people who had less understanding of the real motives of their leaders, and yet were manipulated to accomplish their evil purpose.
When Absalom overthrew David, David recognized the hand of God in it and did nothing to stop Absalom. In fact, he simply left Jerusalem, leaving the throne to Absalom. Jesus submitted as a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7), knowing that this was the judgment of God being laid upon Him (Isaiah 53:6), even as his father, David, had submitted to God's judgment a thousand years earlier.
We are not told how long Absalom was allowed to remain upon David's throne in Jerusalem, but we know that David eventually returned to reclaim His throne. In the battle, Absalom was killed (2 Sam. 18:14). This portion of the prophecy has to do with the second coming of Christ and has not yet been fulfilled.
Meanwhile, the people who usurped the throne of Judah have now usurped the birthright of Joseph and the name Israel as well. But Jerusalem (Absalom) will not survive in the end. Jeremiah 19:10, 11 must yet be fulfilled:
10 Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you 11 and say to them, Thus says the Lord of hosts, Just so shall I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel which cannot again be repaired . . .
Jerusalem has been broken in the past, but it has always been rebuilt (or “repaired”). The day is coming, however, when it will be broken so thoroughly that it will never be repaired.
2 Sam. 18:14 tells us that Joab thrust Absalom through with three spears while he was hanging by his hair from the oak. Absalom's abundance of hair (2 Sam. 14:26) speaks of his great pride, or arrogance. Will the Israeli state become vulnerable because of its arrogance and over-confidence? Time will tell.
One final point must be made. In spite of all that Absalom had done to his father, David loved him with all of his heart. He did not rejoice when Absalom was killed. He mourned for him (2 Sam. 18:33 to 19:4).
This too speaks of Jesus Christ. Joab, David's general, objected in 19:6, accusing him of “loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you.” He did not understand the love of Christ in David's heart. We today should follow David’s example, not hating those who usurped the throne of Christ, but recognizing that Jesus loves them as well.
Getting back to God's judgment upon David, it is apparent from this story that God knows how to work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). Although this story appears on its surface to be a story of judgment upon David for his sin, it also prophesies of Jesus, who took upon Himself the sin of the world. Though David was being judged for his own sin, God turned it into a story of how Jesus, sinless though He was, took upon Himself the sin of the world as the greatest act of Love in history.
This is how the judgments of God upon David were turned into a great message of Mercy, Love, and Hope for the world.